Maya Stiles Parsons SpierColumnist, Editor-in-Chief
- October 15, 2014 in Columnists
We belong to ourselves, thank you very much — now let go
For here lies the corner stone of all the injustices done woman, the wrong idea from which all other wrongs proceed. She is not acknowledged as mistress of herself. For her cradle to her grave she is another’s. We do indeed need and demand the other rights of which I have spoken, but let us first obtain OURSELVES.”
About half a bazillion years ago, I used to defend my tendency to read female authors almost exclusively because I found it was a rare male author who could write a good female character. No matter how good the basic story was, by the time I’d endured 100 pages of either a rigid, angry, plain woman who was clearly so because of her intelligence and competence or some decorticate woman-as-decoration-and-sex-toy, I was not only ready to throw the book across the room, I wanted to dive through the pages, find the author and strangle him.
I knew why this was, of course. Women have always had to understand men. We had to if we were to survive economically in a world where avenues of independence were denied women until very recently and because if we didn’t understand the men who created and circumscribed our lives and our world, they could very well kill us. The inferior social creatures (women) are by definition at the mercy of the superior social creatures (men), so we get men pretty much on every level. We’ve made a study of them. We’ve had to.
Men, on the other hand, until quite recently, have had no need whatsoever to understand women. After all, traditionally they acquired us like couches and who needs to understand a couch? A couch is serviceable furniture and as long as it fulfills its basic function, nothing more is required.
I double-checked this theory of mine with numerous people of both genders and many walks of life and most concurred — it made sense to them, too.
Fast forward to one of my guilty pleasures — reality TV. Hubby and I were watching Big Brother this summer. Pretty young man takes a shine to truly gorgeous young woman. It’s immediately apparent not only that he takes interest to mean ownership, the other young men in the house agree and acknowledge that this is valid. He likes her, therefore he owns her. Never mind this young woman could not be less interested. Young man struts about, declaring that this young woman is his territory and all the other young men back away from his turf. He eats a food he truly detests to get a “date” with her and immediately feels entitled to enforce this expectation of access. He has announced his interest and now he’s entitled. She endures the date; denies his access. He is miffed and feels wronged.
Nobody seems appalled by this. Long after this young woman has made it amply clear that she has no interest whatsoever, he persists in behaving as if she is “his.”
Fast forward to a post I shared on Facebook about a man who shot and killed Mary Spears, a mother of three, in the head because she refused to go out on a date with him (http://nydn.us/Zc7VxD). His interest equaled ownership and the lack of cooperation from his newly acquired property enraged him. If he couldn’t have this couch…er…woman, then nobody else could have her either. Not her children. Not her family. Not the only one to whom this woman truly belonged — herself.
This post was associated with the wonderful group, Moms Demand Action, which is about stopping the horrific gun violence in this country, and it rightfully belonged there (https://www.facebook.com/MomsDemandAction/photos/a.300767940041133.70846.300719666712627/648576018593655/?type=1&fref=nf). If that man, not identified in the article, had been stopped from owning a gun — as he would have been had reasonable gun control laws been in place — there is some chance that young woman would be alive today.
What I want address, however, is the global cultural assumption that women are acquirable property and that if women resist the idea that they are now owned by whatever man decides he wants them, that this is an offense warranting violent retaliation.
- This is why society abandons battered women, because we’re considered domestic property and one doesn’t interfere with a “man’s family.”
- This is what’s behind acid attacks in India – throwing acid into the faces of women who refuse the advances of men.
- This is what drives the so-called “honor” killings – the idea that women are the property of their families and disobedient property must be disposed of.
- This is the motivation for Female Genital Mutilation – control the evil of women’s sexuality because, uncontrolled, it causes disobedience to patriarchal mores.
- This is why women are trafficked at a horrendous rate worldwide, but not so much men – because the idea that women are a commodity is commonly accepted.
- This is why Elliot Rodger (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/deranged-santa-barbara-california-killer-tied-premeditated-youtube-video-reports-article-1.1804354) went on his shooting spree – because he felt entitled to a woman and that entitlement went unfulfilled.
The list is endless and millenia old.
Patriarchal men still see us as property to be acquired. Couches. Furniture. The animated equivalent of the Real Doll sex toy (Google it if you’re that curious) — posable, movable, dressable. He can change her hair, her eyes. She’ll stay where you put her and is receptive at his whim. She has no will of her own, no wishes, no dreams. She’s furniture, she’s property and his to do with as he wishes.
It’s as old as historical memory and as fresh as the latest generation of young men.
How do we stop it? For one thing, we have to accept that it’s a lot like stopping a huge freight train with a lot of inertia. It’s going to take intense amounts of work and some time. First, though, women must refuse to participate in systems that perpetrate this horrific status quo even if all we can safely do is stop making excuses for it and accept that while many things about diverse cultures are marvelous, some are not and must be eliminated.
Men must not only wake up, they must put their defensive egos aside and take a good, hard look in the mirror to see how much, if any, of this they perpetuate. Then they must be vigilant toward both themselves and other men, squashing this attitude and these behaviors the minute they emerge, because it’s the society of men that informs and shapes the attitudes that men in general have toward women.
If we don’t, it’s simple. It will keep on happening. It will happen to our sisters, our daughters, our mothers and ourselves. And it will be our husbands, our lovers, our sons, our brothers, our fathers and uncles who do it – harming themselves as well as us, even if they don’t realize it.
It’s time, long overdue, to be just one species again.
- October 31, 2014 at 10:03 am