Tuesday, January 8, 2013

We've come a long way?

I like to think that the status of women in the world has evolved and gotten better since when I was a child. Certainly that seems to be the case when one looks at the number of women in the workforce at present compared to that number in my mother’s generation. 'We’ve come a long way, baby' as the old Virginia Slims cigarette TV ad used to tell us. We have much more independence and mobility than our mothers did; we are better educated, and many of us are financially secure and able to take care of ourselves. Marriage is no longer necessarily viewed as the best way for a woman to achieve financial security, and single women are no longer labeled as unsuccessful because they are not together with a man. However, old ideas die hard in some societies, so you will find men and women in modern societies who will defend the old ways of doing things—women should be married to men who are the breadwinners, and they should stay home and take care of the house and family. They should not be pursuing careers or earning more money than their husbands. Overall however, there has been progress since I was a child, and it makes me happy to see that; it gives me hope for the future.

But we are often lulled into a false sense of security concerning women’s rights and status; we assume that equality and balance have been achieved, when in fact they have not. Something happens to burst the bubble and forces us to face the fact that many women in this world suffer injustice every day of their lives, regardless of the society they live in—modern, aware, and flexible, or old-style and rigid. Psychological abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, rape, arranged marriage against their will, societal clamping down on the rights of women in the form of telling them how to act, speak or dress—all of these point toward a hatred of women that seems to be increasing in the world we live in. Recently, there have been several prominent displays of misogyny that have been well-covered by the media. I need only read about the recent rape, mutilation and murder of a young woman in New Delhi India, or about the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to say that girls should be able to get an education, or about the fifteen year old girl whose parents sold her into marriage to a ninety year old man in Saudi Arabia. But it’s not just in these cultures where misogyny is rampant, even though these particular incidents are truly horrific. Take a look at our own ‘modern’ societies—women strangled by abusive husbands (as just recently happened in the town where I grew up); physical abuse of women (hitting, battering) at the hands of insecure men who do not want their wives or girlfriends to be better educated or more informed than they are; women married to abusive alcoholic men who destroy not only their lives but those of their children as well (in yet another tale of a young woman with a child who needs to leave her abuser but who ‘loves’ him and thinks he will change if only she loves him well enough). Psychological and verbal abuse in the form of mind games, emotional blackmail, sexual harassment, rude or threatening behavior, being frozen out, lack of praise or acknowledgment of any kind; this can go on in intimate personal relationships, but also in modern workplaces—I have witnessed such behavior during my thirty years in the workplace, and it is more frequent than you might think or want to believe. No matter how often I hear that women also abuse men, even if that is true, you need only take a look at statistics in order to find the truth—that far many more men abuse and kill women than vice versa. It is further proof that men retain the bulk of power in this world, that many of them do not want to relinquish that power, and that women have much work ahead of them before they have truly achieved equality and balance in personal and work relationships. I hope I see that day in my lifetime. It would make me incredibly happy to see that women become truly valued for who they are, not for their monetary worth as property to men or to their families. In the meantime, both men and women need to work together to create a world society that values women as much as it does men. Until that happens, the world will not be a safe place for women to live in. And a world that is not safe for women to live in, will ultimately become an unpleasant world for men to live in as well. We cannot rule out that perhaps one day, women will rise up en masse against their abusers, attackers, rapists and harassers. It will be interesting to see the outcome of such an uprising. I hope I see that in my lifetime as well.  

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