Writer, Editor, Stand-Up Comedian

Fighting words

Posted: May 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | 2 Comments »

Image from the Invisible Girl Project http://www.invisiblegirlproject.org/the-problem.html


Women’s oppression, he said, was a myth created by the Judeo-Christian West as a tool of capitalism.

I nearly fall on the ground. Maybe I had misunderstood.

But no, there he was, asking if it was wrong for women to wear burqua, and whether or not it had been the oppressive Judeo-Christian Western capitalist complex that had convinced women, say, in Afghanistan, that they should wear anything else. These women had been locked in their traditional lifestyle, which included Sha’ria Law and mandatory burqua, for hundreds of years. Who were we to say they were wrong? What good is an education, anyway? Just to teach them they should buy more things?

Maybe I had read The Kite Runner one too many times. Maybe I had gone to a feminist school and so imbibed the feminist Kool Aid at a young age. Maybe all that university education had warped my mind. But I can’t imagine that anyone would voluntarily choose to be locked in her home, forbidden to leave without a man escorting her. Or that a person would choose to be stoned for talking to a man who wasn’t her husband. Call me crazy.

He argued the same thing I feel: that motherhood is one of the highest callings anyone can follow. We shape lives. What could be more important than that? But then he drifted off point, saying that feminism had poisoned that well for women and motherhood was now despised. I don’t agree that feminism has ruined motherhood as a career; if anything, feminism made women even more oppressed in one key way, in that instead of seeing full-time motherhood as a noble and legitimate career, women are now encouraged or in some ways obliged to seek work outside the home, often in addition to working in the home in all the same traditional ways their own mothers worked a generation ago. There was no corresponding global men’s movement when feminism dawned, and so men still expect women to be the same as they were before feminism, but women don’t want to—or don’t have to. Women still do most of the unpaid work in the home that permits men to be CEOs and artists and bulldozer drivers, but that unpaid work does not count toward the GDP and women’s housework goes unaccounted for. That’s not a construct of the Judeo-Christian Western perspective. It’s a fact.

He countered that men’s oppression is as real as women’s. Yes, it is, I agreed. But let’s not imagine that the two are at all comparable. Women’s oppression is much more pervasive and much more insidious. We were watching a street parade at the moment and he had just observed a young man walking around in only a towel and a lei. Women’s oppression means that if a woman had chosen the same costume, she would be targeted and very likely attacked. I pointed out the difference and he replied, “Yeah, but some women…” I interrupted. Don’t go there, man. Don’t go there. Because he was about to say that some women, by the way they dressed, by the way they carried themselves, were looking to be raped.

One in ten, or as many as one in three women (depends on your country and whose statistics you believe) is the victim of sexual violence. In our country, Trinidad and Tobago, as many as one in three women might be the victim of domestic violence. Yes, men get raped too. Yes, men are victims of domestic violence too. But even with the admitted underreporting of such crimes, men do not suffer sexual or domestic violence nearly as frequently as women. And when women are beaten or raped, they are often blamed for provoking it, as my friend was about to do. As my friend continued to do, saying women started fights with men and then called the police when the men retaliated. And, he went on, who’s to say that rape is the worst kind of pain a person could experience? What about the mental pain of men who—

Rape can be non-violent, it’s true. But it is still physical torture and can be extremely physically violent. A torn vagina, a ruptured anus, an unwanted pregnancy can all result from a rape. Don’t tell me it isn’t all that bad.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a dyed-in-the-wool feminist who cares about women’s oppression. Does he see me as an alarmist? A hysterical, overreacting woman? Does he really think that women don’t have it all that bad? That a man’s circumcision is as bad as female circumcision? That women ask to be beaten and raped? That women’s traditional place is inviolate and that women like me who work outside the home and have careers are just disrupting the natural order? That the number of men killed as soldiers in wars makes up for the number of girls killed in utero and early childhood in places like India and China?


2 Comments on “Fighting words”

  1. 1 Trinidad & Tobago: Oppression of Women · Global Voices said at 1:42 pm on May 26th, 2011:

    […] by the Judeo-Christian West as a tool of capitalism. I nearly fall on the ground”: And then, Lisa Allen-Agostini writes a must-read post about it. […]

  2. 2 Jumbie said at 2:19 am on May 27th, 2011:

    I feel sorry for your ‘friend’.

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