Half the world……..
As an Indian girl, you figure it out young.
Girls are at the bottom of the food chain, boys get a pass by dint of being boys. Women should keep their mouths shut or whisper, men can say what they want. Blind duty and obedience defined a “good woman” and anything else would bring shame. That’s the backdrop against which the Indian rape case took place, and many more will take place. This case hit home for me, I suppose it could have been me – but years ago my parents decided to immigrate and leave behind all they knew, and at the time my mother felt that India was a suboptimal culture for girls and women. So they stayed because they had a daughter who was born in the US. I am grateful for that choice – but the picture isn’t always much better here.
Jump a few oceans to the US, where the Violence Against Women Act has didn’t pass the House. An act that has been kept alive for years across bipartisan Congresses, and afforded some very important protections to vulnerable women and subgroups of women. People say this shouldn’t be just about violence against women, but violence in general. But on this one, I beg to differ.
This is very much about gender and gender politics. Yes all violence is bad, but women bear a unique burden. And we are sliding further backward every day. As the economy goes south, and globalization commodifies human beings – women are going to get disproportionately hurt. Human trafficking of girls and women is a growth industry, giving drugs and guns a run for their money. Girls and women are rendered voiceless and are still socialized to be silent in most of the world. Where we don’t render women voiceless, we sexualize them – we don’t see television shows about girls getting doctorates or building schools, but there are cottage industries devoted to lingerie models.
We have created cultures where baby girls are hated as they come out of the womb and viewed as a liability. The cowards who prey on women see them as a threat – so they use existing and outdated constructs to maintain power structures, and violence to keep them in place. Women are hobbled and terrorized around the world and perhaps a cynic could say anatomy is destiny – but at the end of the day, the collective anxiety of most patriarchal cultures rely on antiquated constructs like forced marriages that render women financially dependent, lack of adequate childcare so that having a child makes a woman economically trapped, cultural constructions of shame, and draconian religious codes that use mythology as a means to minimize women and rationalize their maltreatment. Violence and particularly sexual violence against women is a global epidemic that is sanctioned in much of the world – and even idolized in some subcultures (listen to some popular song lyrics).
Our legal and law enforcement systems provide minimal protection to women who often have to suck it up because they have dependent children or they are economically screwed because they placed their fiscal and personal trust in a man who subsequently betrayed and harmed them. In the US, the data show that restraining orders all but guarantee that a woman is going to get the crap kicked out of her or worse. It doesn’t end there, the legacy of violence against girls and women shape their decision making and sense of identity for a lifetime – with a greater likelihood of future decisions that will not facilitate economic independence, and decisions that even place their health at risk. Trauma steals the life of the living.
This isn’t just GOP – but the Far Right seems to think empathy has gone the way of the dinosaur – since most old dudes in the GOP aren’t women, why the hell should they protect them? I have seen too many women’s lives destroyed by violence – beautiful, strong women who were silenced by culturally mandated patriarchy, intimidation, and the attendant lack of opportunity that follows.
I would love to see dignity returned to all women, with no more hiding under anachronism and so called “tradition”. We can break these archetypes. Too many generations of women have been silenced. This has to end now.
We MUST educate girls and women, give them means of becoming financially independent, stop selling them a bad bill of goods that fosters economic dependence via early marriage, create different models of childcare so women can be mothers and maintain economic independence, promulgate shifts in a media that sexualizes girls and women, and socialize boys and men differently.
And finally, we must re-write the myths and the fairy tales. Dump the blind obedience and the use of fear as a means of controlling half of the population.
I sat at a meeting in Capetown, South Africa this summer speaking about and listening to stories of human trafficking. The problem was so enormous that it felt unfixable. All of us grieved – for the girls and women this will happen to today, to whom it has already happened, and for the futures they lost. Globally, money has supplanted dignity, cruelty has supplanted kindness. They don’t need our grief, they need our help.
As an Indian woman, I still experienced the power of shame as an adult when I made decisions with which my family and culture did not agree – despite my financial independence and freedoms, and it still stung. I cannot imagine the horrors that girls and women around the world who do not have my privileges face in the name of minimal opportunity and valuation of family pride over the welfare of its members. It is for these reasons that rape and violence can be used to truncate opportunity for women. Remove the ancient codes of so called “honor” and set your damned daughters free. Until we change the collective unconscious of these cultures, until women in parts of the world stop heaving sighs of relief when they deliver a boy instead of a girl, until we address poverty so that girls and women don’t have to make ultimate sacrifices to survive- we’re pretty much screwed and these violent acts will continue and continue.
The changes we need in India and the rest of the world will not happen in my lifetime. Hope to heaven it happens for my daughters.