I just finished reading a great book, Exquisite Rebel: The Essays of Voltairine de Cleyre-Feminist, Anarchist, Genius. I love Voltairine de Cleyre’s writing.
Among other topics, her essays have me considering feminism and the treatment of women in society. In this blog, I often point out how much rapes and sexual victimization occur. I assume that the continued systemic subjugation of women in society helps contribute to the occurrence of rape and sexual victimization against women.
Most psychologists say that a perverted desire for power motivates rapists and sexual assailants, not an extreme desire for sex. That makes sense, considering the assailants could “get off” in other ways with much less danger. Many different factors can cause the types of perversions that lead to a person becoming so perversely and violently power-hungry. Nonetheless, the fact that their perversion develops into a desire to violently subjugate women sexually seems like a manifestation of society’s subjugation of women. Society may not tell men to rape women specifically, but it does instruct men to subjugate women, and that subjugation manifests as rape sometimes.
I believe that less rapes and sexual victimizations would occur if society did not treat women as inferiors. I believe that less rapes would occur if our culture respected women more and treated men and women fairly.
More importantly, if society empowered women as it empowers men, then I believe we would not overlook the problem of rape and sexual victimization. Like most governments, the United States government loves to spend money and loves to wage “wars”–both metaphorical like the war on drugs and real like the war in Iraq. But the same governments and politicians will not do what we need to do in order to end rape. Despite the extreme horridness of the act, the people in our society have not made it a priority to end rape. Perhaps that happens because society sees rape as a women’s problem, sees women as inferior, and thus sees rape as an inferior problem not worth solving.
In addition to its relationship to rape, the societal subjugation of women acts as a form of victimization in itself. It not only causes other problems, but it is a problem in itself. If we want a fair and free society, then we cannot tolerate the subjugation of women.
I doubt that men alone could give women freedom. Masters generally cannot give freedom to slaves because that act still implies that the masters have claim over the slaves. In other words, men cannot really give women freedom because that means that men still control society. Women must demand freedom and take it for themselves. To that end, I believe that we must all work-together, making a consistent effort to end the social traditions that subjugate women.
In response to the claim that women cannot rough it like men, Voltairine de Cleyre wrote, “Train any animal, or any plant, as you train your girls, and it won’t be able to rough it either.” She made note of how the social subjugation of women starts with how people generally raise children. From earliest childhood, we instill gender roles into kids, teaching boys to dominate and women to submit.
Of course, gender roles also place restrictions on men and boys as the gender roles do with women and girls. Instead of letting each child develop naturally, we force each child to accept a certain role based on the child’s gender.
If many girls naturally develop femininity, then good for them. If not, then good for them just the same. If many boys naturally develop masculinity, then good for them. If not, then good for them just the same. We do not need to force gender roles onto children.
I do not doubt that women and men tend to have some physiological and psychological differences stemming from genetics. But I bet that most of the common gender roles would not exist if not for social conditioning. In other words, nurture more than nature causes gender roles.
Worse yet, our society treats naturally feminine traits as inferior to naturally masculine traits. That unfairly subjugates women. For example, even if men and women naturally tend to think differently, we cannot refer to either way of thinking as superior.
Also, in one of her essays, Voltairine de Cleyre made another point which I had not considered much beforehand. She pointed out that society treats the female body as obscene. Namely, we force women to wear clothes. Also, traditionalists in society will harshly criticize women who show off their bodies and who dress liberally. Voltairine de Cleyre said that society treats women worse than animals by forcing them to wear clothes, pointing out that we would charge a person with animal cruelty if the person covered up a horse or a dog with such restricting clothes.
Of course, the forced clothing only makes up part of the sexual subjugation of women. Our culture has a horrible double standard when it comes to sexuality and gender. Our society does not allow women to express themselves sexually like men can, but instead the women must follow a strict standard of so-called purity and wholesomeness. When women exercise the freedom of men in regards to sexuality, they get insulted, called sluts, and treated like trash. The people in society subjugate women by making women repress their own sexuality and by insulting women when they do not repress it.
Ironically, society also treats women like sex objects. While on the one hand we tell women to remain pure and wholesome, on the other hand we make them feel as though they mainly only have value insomuch as they provide sexual gratification to men. Society constantly pushes women to lose weight, dress up, wear high heels, get implants, and so and so forth. Magazines and commercials make women feel physically insecure and convince them to focus on their looks. We not only make them repress their own sexuality, but we also make women the object of men’s sexuality.
I love the way women look, but they have much more in them for us to value than their looks. More importantly, a woman can have value in the same way any human can have value that matters far more than physical attractiveness. We must not hold a person to a different set of values because of the person’s gender.
The subjugation of women will not go away if we ignore it. We must actively find ways to counter and undo the ways that society instills gender roles. We must eliminate double standards based on gender. And we must start respecting women’s freedom just as we must respect men’s freedom. We must respect all people’s freedom and not berate people who do not conform to gender roles.
What do you think? Please post comments with your opinions about gender roles and our society’s treatment of women. Thanks!