Sunday, June 2, 2013

"Open Season on Women"

A while back, in my post about Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, I wrote that it sometimes seems to me these days it is "open season on women." I took that phrase out and put it back into the post several times before I convinced myself that it wasn't hyperbole.

Since then, that phrase and the reports of brutal rapes (some of them done in public) in India, Afghanistan, California and Canada that caused me to write it in the first place have niggled at the edges of my consciousness. The horror of those attacks isn't something I want to think about. I don't want to think that in the United States of America boys would attack a girl, film the assault and make the film public -- adding humiliation on top of sexual battery -- to the point the girl chose suicide rather than facing people who may have witnessed the her debasement. How can this be in our country? 

As a woman and as the mother of a daughter, I want women to be able to live their lives without fear. I would like to believe that the efforts of the women and men who have labored for gender (and race and religious, etc.) equality would have made more progress than this. News reports and my heart tell me that I'd be naive to believe that.

I am old enough to remember when it was more or less unquestioned among everyone I knew that if a woman was raped, she somehow invited it. Perhaps it was because: her skirt was too short (it was the Sixties); her blouse was too tight; she wasn't wearing a bra; she was out in public at night (when she should have been safely locked away at home). [Choose any or all that apply.] Rape was considered to be a sexual act. The woman somehow caused the man to be so aroused that he couldn't help himself -- and that was her fault, not his.

That is the kind of bullshit that has oppressed women since humans started walking upright. Too many people still believe it. In reality, I think rape should be classified as a hate crime. It's not about sex, it's about power. Gang rape is not sex. It's battery using a penis for a weapon.

This problem of rape (especially violent gang rape) seems to be getting worse, not better. Evidently men who feel powerless are prone to take out their frustration on the only people they feel have less power than they do: women and children. We can't solve this only by empowering women to be strong and defend themselves. Too much of that actually might make the problem worse.

It seems to me that both men and women need to learn to behave as though all people have personal worth and dignity simply by virtue of being human. Even if they can't actually believe it at first, acting "as if" would be a huge improvement. People who respect and honor the sanctity of both their own existence that of others will do no harm to another. People who act in a respectful manner may ultimately come to actually feel respect for the Other. 

But, how on earth can we get from here to there?  

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