Monday, December 6, 2010

Liberty and justice for all

Of all of the topics that preoccupy me in this life, fairness and justice for women are at the top of the list. No matter how I twist and turn the topic, I am always left with the crystal-clear knowledge that a world that permits or allows injustice toward women to occur or to continue is only half a world or not a world at all. It is not a world worth preserving if half of its citizens are denied their rights, trodden into submission (either physically or verbally or both), ignored or diminished in any way. It does not matter to me if this occurs in the presumably civilized parts of the world or in less civilized parts of the world. It does not matter to me if it is a religion or an ideology or a movement or an institution that stands behind the injustice. What matters to me is ridding the world of any of these that cause women of any age pain and suffering. You can of course do it through education but you can also do it through law-giving, in any culture. It is a matter of doing it and not just talking about it. We should be more preoccupied with this as a society.

I don’t understand how men, who practice any form of injustice toward women, don’t see that a world where women do not have the freedoms they enjoy is not a good world to live in. But of course I am thinking in a utopian way. I have faith that if educated enough, these men will understand this and make the necessary changes so that women can enjoy a good life with liberty and justice. But my faith is often tested because sometimes I see that even educated and intelligent men who ought to know better, don’t. They are unjust toward the women in their lives. They dismiss their opinions and feelings, they deride their ambitions and dreams, they demand full attention at all times so that these women don’t ever have the opportunities to realize themselves and they misuse them. This can manifest itself in many ways—men who never take responsibility at home, never learn to cook or clean or take care of the children, men who have to suddenly travel for business for months at a time when their wives want to pursue higher education, men who leave all the nurturing and care-giving to the women in their lives so that they (men) can pursue their careers, men who say they’re going to help and never do, men who fool around but still want to be married, and men who require that women look like life-size plastic dolls (I knew one man who actually insisted that his wife undergo painful plastic surgery in her 30s in order to please him). Some women give in and give up at a very early point in life. Others give in and give up later in life. I’d like to say that in 2010 that we’ve come very far in terms of women’s rights and freedoms. But we haven’t come as far as we think or as far as the media would like us to think we’ve come. And all I have to do is turn on the TV to realize that women are still being exploited and still letting themselves be exploited—the show Jersey Shore, Big Brother, most of the MTV videos, any of the Real Housewives shows, the Kardashian Sisters—and the list goes on; mindless and mind-numbing TV that just perpetuates the image of women as brainless no-ambition empty heads. There are still women in my generation who think that because they gave up themselves and their dreams and ambitions for a man that this means he will love them and take care of them forever, because he will surely recognize their sacrifices and loyalty. But he doesn't. There are even young women in the present who think this way. Where does this type of thinking come from? Are they told at the dinner table that if you just blindly serve a man for the rest of your life that he will be there forever for you? What do their mothers tell them? Are their mothers feminist and the daughters anti-feminist as a backlash? Any relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship, parent-child, or boss-employee, can become unbalanced over time if both people in that relationship are not always working to uphold the balance. It means actively participating as an equal partner and working on a daily basis for fairness and equal rights. Cleaning the kitchen once or making a meal once or twice a year does not qualify as balanced to me, especially if both partners in a marriage work full-time. It means stepping up to the plate without always being asked to do so. It means taking your share of the responsibility for the life you share with another person.

Relationship partners have to allow for change, otherwise the relationship will slowly die. This is true as much for friendships as it is for marriages. Partners have to find new and common interests in order for the relationships to be viable. The aim is not to prevent change, but rather to navigate through the inevitable changes that come with age and life and loss. Parents die, children grow up, jobs end, interests change, and all of it is inevitable. What are we going to do with it all if the goal is to prevent relationships from changing? Perhaps one partner wants to travel and the other does not. Who has the right to prevent either one from doing what each would like to do? The best would be to compromise—travel to please another person and stay home to please another person, but those have to be choices that are not forced upon another person. I know several older women whose husbands would never have considered traveling, even when they retired. They required rather that their wives were there each evening to serve them their dinners. I thought this was unfair even when I was a child. Why would these men not consider sharing their wives’ interests after their wives had taken care of the home all the years their husbands worked? I don’t get it. I watched the movie Shirley Valentine recently on cable (I saw it for the first time when it came out in 1989) and that was exactly the theme of the movie. Shirley left for a short vacation in Greece after trying very hard over a period of time to persuade her husband to join her. He ignored her and made fun of her, as did her daughter; she decided to go anyway, and it changed her life. I didn’t get what was so threatening to her husband—why he couldn’t have joined her from the start. But it took him the length of the movie to get his ass in gear and to fly to Greece, but only when he realized she wasn’t coming back to her old life in England. I applaud her guts. Not many women would have done that, and that was the point. She had courage, she had changed, she wanted to share that with her husband, he didn’t want her to change and ignored her, but he was forced to deal with it anyway. And that is the point--we are forced anyway to deal with change. It smacks us in the face. Why not welcome it together, embrace it, and navigate through it together, for better or for worse? Then there is liberty and justice for all. 

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