We must confront each and every tangle
by Cheryl Murphy
Cheryl Murphy was a Catholic School teacher for 26 years grades K-8 teaching all subjects including Music, Art, Technology, and Spanish, and then was a public school para-professional for three years. She lives in Davis with her husband and daughter. She gardens, make processional worship banners, and writes sci-fi fantasy in her spare time.
Sometimes I think life is made up of bundles of relationship-knots that only God in His/Her time can unravel. One of those relationship knots is made up of tangled threads of how women are perceived, and that affects full human interaction.
Women around the world are simply and generally disrespected and limited in opportunities, and that prejudice limits all societies and cultures. There is so much disrespect knotted up in cultural practices that three of the eight millennium goals of the United Nations to address are specifically for women: access to basic education; access to healthcare especially for women of child-birthing age; and safety from violence as women are easy targets of domestic, political and military violence.
These goals need to be articulated even though they are so painfully obvious; and yet the disrespect is often unattended to because it is deeply woven into the everyday fabric of every culture, though the pattern is sometimes more heavily obvious than some. Shamefully on every list of marginalized people throughout the worlds, most are women.
When a person is disrespected, denigrated, bullied, considered “less than,” and allowed only limited economic/social/political benefits they are trapped. They are figuratively pushed into a corner, and the only action left is to protect the most basic part of one’s being: one’s body. But when a woman’s body is involved, a different morality is perceived. All sorts of bundled images and roles not reciprocally dumped onto males are knotted around a woman’s body: virginity, motherhood, prostitution, societal burdening, and cultural scapegoating to name a few.
Just focusing on one of the moral difficulties linked to culture and a woman’s body is that of an unwed motherhood due to rape. She can be killed in many societies while her rapist lives freely or is willingly hidden by his relatives who honor his maleness. In some cases a family feud and retaliation might be ignited by such a circumstance, but still, it is the woman who is stoned or shot because she is no longer “pure.” If she had resisted her rapist or defied a male who wanted to marry her and forced himself upon her, she can still be killed or maimed because his unchecked desires are not the issue, but rather her very existence – as most recently exemplified in Middle Eastern and other overtly macho cultures.
Again, it is the woman’s existence and equal value as a human being that is questioned right down to her body. It is a form of moral psychosis.
To stretch the focus further, in most parts of the world the unwed mother is considered a burden on society because of her adjudged lack of morals as determined by the culture. She is not a heroine for allowing life to continue even though it would probably cause great personal hardship to her for the rest of her life.
There is, of course, the extreme example of the once-married Nadija Suleman, the deceptive “Octomom” who deliberately contrived to become pregnant artificially. She was unable to choose which embryos would be terminated, and thus all lived. Setting aside Ms. Suleman’s initiating motives to focus on the result of multiple births, such a woman as she could never “win” respect in any culture, for if she had allowed the majority of the embryos to die she would be considered a killer rather than a prudent mother. Yet, she is definitely not considered a good woman because she brought forth life she couldn’t provide for and is not part of a functioning family; and even if she could independently provide for her children financially, the fact that she “dropped a litter of eight” makes her both a freak and a focus of the moral majority who liberally judges so many others.
However, a woman birthing one or eight babies at once still deserves basic human respect regardless of the circumstances of pregnancy or her cloudy rationality. She need not be left on her own by people hoping she would fail and the children taken away by a CPS group; she need not be humiliated into earning support money by performing at the Playhouse Gentlemen’s Club in Florida for the sake of her children as did Ms. Suleman recently. Jimmy Kimmel Live had a field day of derisive fun with that tragedy. What this extreme example pulls out of society for all to see is real moral psychosis in that she is criticized by hypocrites who at best verbally honor her act of heroism by allowing all the embryos to live, yet they will not help her in any practical or honorable way. There is no way she can be respected, and it is the children and all women who are condemned.
Beyond this example of revealed tangled moral attitudes is the real underlying issue which is that women are not valued as full human beings, for if they were truly cherished, their births would not be disappointments to anyone; they would not be treated as outsiders to opportunities or silly beings to be patronized and kept in their place; and the pro-life vs. woman’s-right-to-choose polarizing positions would lose their distinct energies because neither of these politicized positions deal with the real one! Rather, they both focus on women with their backs against the wall, pregnant women who are cornered and can only fight with their last weapon: their bodies. For a woman facing cultural bullying, that corner defense is, “This is my body and my choice!”
What would happen if these polarized moral groups treated women as whole beings instead of just focusing on part of the larger issue? What if they joined forces to confront and derail the greater evil that keeps women and men silent accomplices and participants of bullying global denigration of half the world’s population?
Both opposing positions are supported by faith-filled people and others who ignore the real disgrace! Thus their concern for women’s wellbeing becomes a sham because of that disregard of the larger issue. If the clashing groups united over the real issue instead of falling into the greater evil of dividing their strength, then real change would be compelled. Women would not be facing a morally charged dilemma imposed upon them by a coercing perception that backs them against a wall so that they feel that they must unwillingly choose between their own lives and that of their unborn children’s to comply with a skewed cultural morality.
What we have are patronizing, figurative and literal cover-ups that separation is neither equal nor protective of women. One may say that sharia is the answer to honor females, yet women, especially young women and widows are allowed to wither in such hidden and forced, limiting “shelterings.” One may say that a burkah or imposed religious habit which gives the illusion of safety and respect is the answer, ignoring the fact that breathing and seclusion in such unchosen garb contributes to a documented high depression rate among women. It is the women who are again forced to hide themselves because they are blamed for the lack of self-control and respect of men around them.
One may even pooh-pooh that there is any greater issue of respect at all, and ridicule women to the degree Tosh did in one of his recent comedic moments; when he was called on his perverse attitude by two offended women, he encouraged the audience to consider how funny it would be to rape these women for their challenge since they should have known better than to challenge him. If he incited an attack upon the women, it wouldn’t be his responsibility, but rather, the women themselves he implied.
Ultimately beyond the physical dangers, one may pay no heed to the intelligence and faith of women themselves by denying them the right to education and health care; by denying them the right to protect and care for others and themselves; by denying them the right to express their faith as completely as their male counterparts, or by denying them the right to be considered and treated as equals as God made both male and female at the same time of the same substance.
Of course, even in America, we can’t say our hands are clean of this disrespect. For example, in America women can vote, be doctors, senators, lawyers or truck drivers; but women are still on a separate list of candidates for any political position. This man, this man, and this man are eligible for a position, and then there are the women who many have similar qualifications as their male counterparts, but are segregated onto another list as distant possibilities for appointment since their femaleness is considered before their qualifications as was recently exposed by the press.
And I don’t know how these bundled knots of cultural disrespect can be unknotted except by confronting one tangle at a time. Treatment of moral psychosis is too pervasive to merely cause legislative action, and needs active attention by everyone. Definitely, squabbling, polarized groups are not helpful in the long run because strength is divided. Ignoring the reality of this global problem to become accomplices of denigration allows it to be an “acceptable” joke endangering women’s lives. This shameful perception of women as “less than” is wrong, and rather than shrug one’s shoulders and claim it is too great a relationship knot to change, even a small effort of healing for human wholeness is better than none.