In the beginning, most cultures were matriarchal. Archeological digs support this, over and over again. Women signified birth, growth, regeneration, nurture.
And then something happened. I don’t know what, probably some war in some distant land in some distant time. And women became victims. They likely struggled to save their children, their homes, and their lives. But warriors ran rough-shod over them.
And the world changed. Owning became more important than nurturing, power more important than family. And women, physically weaker, became objects, possessions. They were bought, sold, traded. Oh, sure, it was called a dowry, or brideprice—but it was the buying and selling of women.
In medieval Europe, as late as the 1600’s, rape was considered destruction of property—not an act of violence against a woman. Artemisia Gentileschi, a seventeenth century artist, was raped. She knew her attacker; the best she and her father could do was have him charged with destruction of property. Artemisia, not a virgin anymore, would have trouble finding a husband. Kind-a Neanderthal.
There are places in our world, in 2012, where women are still the property of their fathers, then husbands. Places where women are told what to wear, to whom they may speak, what to think. Places where it is unlawful to educate women. Look at the little girl from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai. Shot because she was going to school and keeping a blog about equality. Shot! Oh, you say, that’s the Middle East. Things are different there. But human beings are human beings—we must come to the realization that we are all in this together (There is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here [Don Henley]). Pakistan is a U. S. ally. Ally—“A person who helps or cooperates with another; a supporter, an associate; a friend; Something which is similar to another thing in nature or characteristics, or placed near it in classification; Something which acts as an auxiliary or support to something else.” (OED) Pakistan is our ally; that puts it a whole lot closer to us than you may want to believe.
Women began a long journey back to, if not dominance, then equality. The right to vote cost lives. Cost lives! So, ladies, if you didn’t vote in the last election… think about that. In the most recent presidential election, women made up 53% of the electorate. Women have been considered a “special interest group” by both parties. In other words, side lined, marginalized, spoken to with condescension. 53%–a majority, no just a special interest…
The biggest argument I remember my parents having, some time in the 1960’s, was about money. My mother, a registered nurse, and hospital administrator, wanted to get a credit card in her own name. She was told by the credit card company that she had to have my father’s permission. Really? She didn’t need his income to qualify, just his permission, as though she were his possession, a special interest. Not an ally.
I have a student in my class, a young man, who insists upon calling me honey, or sweetheart, or darlin’. Hello? I am a college professor; I have more school under my belt than he has years alive. Don’t honey me! I have worked hard for the title of professor. Use it. Someone in the class said to me, “that’s just how he talks.” Just a boys being boys sort of thing. Calling me honey is derogatory – it puts me in my place in his world. It implies an intimacy on his terms—whether I like it or not. Sadly, he has yet to come to the realization, that my classroom is my world and my rules.
Women have fought long and hard to be de-objectified; to have rape defined as a violent act, an invasion, and never legitimate; to have independent credit reports; to even keep their own names. Why are women so outraged by the comments of recent politicians? Artemisia Gentileschi, Malala Yousafzai, my mother, that’s why. Women continue to have to fight for control of their bodies, their medical choices, their pay scale!
What’s wrong with beauty pageants? That was the question on my Facebook wall. All of the above. Pageants send the message that a woman must, above all else look good. She must be beautiful (whatever that means), obedient, quiet—demure. She must be ok with being called honey, and knowing that how she looked is why she could afford an education (about which I could write another whole essay!). I don’t know that it’s a “gateway” to objectification, but it certainly is a window that young women should not look through with rose colored glasses… It is a snapshot, flashback of the way women have been treated… Why don’t the judges just put for sale signs on the models?
I tried to reply to the Facebook post last night, but I was too angry. I was angry for every young girl who thinks auctioning her body to improve her mind is acceptable. I was angry about the patriarchal system that told her this was a viable plan. I’m angry at the women who continue to play the “I’m a pretty girl” card and expect something in return – women who think being smart is bad for them. Sarah Palin springs to mind in both instances. I was angry for all of the young girls denied education based upon gender. I was angry for all of the women who have risked their lives to make the world a better place for their daughters and granddaughters, only to be called honey, or not allowed credit without male permission. I was angry for every woman in America, where rape has been redefined. I was angry because in four hundred years we have not moved so very far from Artemisia.