We know how it feels…to be a non-being, confined in a cage..to always be known by the name of our father, brother or husband, and have no identity of our own. This lament from an Afghan girl could be chiseled on the gravestones of most women throughout human history. Female oppression is so pervasive, it seems normal in many societies.
When prejudice is common, it becomes invisible even to the oppressed. Some women may see the evil yet defend the practice. Low status is better than no status. India’s attempt to rid itself of child marriages illustrates the dilemma. Mothers living in poverty see the reform as threatening. How are they and their offspring to survive if their daughters are no longer assets but additional mouths to satisfy? There is no one to feed us. I don’t know if my family can survive, one mother wailed despite her knowledge that child brides die in greater numbers than older women.
Treating women like cattle takes a subtler form in western cultures. In this country, state legislators think nothing of proposing bills that intrude upon a woman’s privacy. Abortion bans are common, but in one state, women not only must carry a fetus to a term like a dairy cow but their menstrual cycles are subject to public record.
Few women, rich or poor, educated or uneducated escape the patriarchy. When a Fox news reporter fact-checked Donald Trump’s claim that Arizona’s voting machines had “rigged” the election in 2020, she exposed his statement as a lie. To her surprise, her male colleagues took umbrage and demanded that she be fired. Management listened. Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott said the reporter had a serious nerve doing this and if this gets picked up viewers are going to be disgusted. In the end, the reporter withdrew her statement and gave the truth to a lie.
Another case concerns CNN newscaster Don Lemmon’s recent comment about Nikki Haley. When she announced her decision to seek the presidential nomination of her party, his reaction gave women of all persuasions a reason to blanch. Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in their prime in 20s and 30s and maybe 40s When he linked a woman’s worth to her reproductive years, he sounded like a member of the Taliban.
Recently two female heads of state resigned from their high office. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon gave her reason. …the brutality of life as a politician had taken a toll on her New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden’s made a similar confession. She hadn’t enough in the tank to carry on. Helen Clark, Arden’s New Zealand predecessor understood. … in this era of social media, clickbait. And 24/7 media cycles, Jacinda has faced a level of hatred and vitriol which in my experience is unprecedented in our country.
Were these women of weak character? Their circumstances weren’t amiss. Neither faced strong opposition in an upcoming primary or were touched by scandal. Yet, they turned their back on power and took a stand against the growing meanness in the world.
Perhaps these women are outliers of a feminine way, one that rejects the will to power and the shibboleth that might is right. If we listen, we can hear those savage drums, too. To protect the young in a crumbling economy, one Yale professor proposes to euthanize Japan’s elderly. Texas, legislators plan to strip Chinese American citizens of their right to own land, even a home.
The wickedness leveled against women over the centuries has taken its toll. Discrimination, once it’s legitimized, seeps into every corner of society.
A civilization that draws strength from this form of hate and fear lacks cohesion and will implode. That’s what Scotland’s Sturgeon and New Zealand’s Arden want us to see. Power for the sake of power corrupts. Power used for the common good heals.
One day, should this truth find a wider audience, women will find themselves at the forefront of change. Having freed themselves, their instinct will be to achieve that freedom for others.
What will it be like, this world with no aliens? Without wars of conquest, insurrections, or mass shootings, what might we witness?
I suspect what we will see is children laughing in the rain.