Self-Defense & Violence Prevention Blog

news and commentary about security, self-defense, and topics like violent crime prevention and bullying

The Continued Subjugation of Women in Society

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!

By | February 27th, 2008 | SHOW COMMENTS (8)


I am the creator of this website, which I use to post about self-defense and violence prevention. I have two children who I love so much. I want them to be proud of me, and I hope what I do here contributes to that. Please let me know what you think about my posts by leaving a comment below. I throw my opinions around pretty openly here, but I am totally open to opposing viewpoints and a productive discussion. So please post a comment. And follow me on Twitter: @scottmhughes

8 Responses

  1. Jill says

    Scott, You have a great attitude, I enjoyed this post as well as a lot of your women’s self defense and assault prevention posts. Really nice to know there are male advocates for women’s self defense who also want to get to the root cause of violence against women. I wanted to see what you think of Robocopp–we are using technology to aid in the prevention of violence. We donate a portion of profits to organizations fighting human trafficking. Will you take a look at our work?

    All the best, and thanks for writing about Voltairine–super inspiring!

  2. GirlFriend says

    Interesting view points on how women are treated and viewed. I appreciate reading all the peoples comments and thoughts…

  3. Urban Security Tech says

    This will probably start a war, but when you leave the raising of the children up to day cares, while the mothers are out fighting for equality in the workplace, you won’t find that anyone is teaching males to “respect” women, or females that they aren’t “inferior” just because they choose to raise their children and provide a warm, loving home life.

    Our desire for more “things” and our economy has forced even the women who choose to raise their children themselves and be a housewife (no, that is NOT a dirty word – and certainly not a job that is inferior to any other) out into the workforce, having to fight every step of the way.

    What happened to mothers teaching their young sons to stand up when a woman walks in the room, hold a door open for a lady, give an elderly person their seat? They don’t have time to teach sons these things, because they’re out competing with their fathers for jobs, to “prove themselves” – to who? Themselves? Men? Other women? I salute the women who are proud of being wives and mothers, who are home raising their children with morals (wow – don’t find those in day care).

    And yes, I’ve had to be out in the workplace, fighting for a paycheck, most of my life – but it was not my choice – I have the women’s libbers to thank for that – and our economy. I would much have preferred raising my children, having a hot meal on the table when the family got home. I enjoyed those things – and never considered them beneath me.

    However – when it comes to rape, I don’t find there is a reason – none – the rapist is an animal. He rates right down there with the abusive husband. And I have no problem in using a TASER or stun gun or any weapon at hand to fight back.

  4. Phil says

    SCOTT!!! Remember it is not called the war of the sexes for nothing! You turncoat you! Shame on you, giving comfort to the enemy. Just joking, my wife and I are about as progressive as they come, we even owned a cannabis dispensary for a couple of years. She has always made an interesting point or two about women’s liberation. Firstmost she always makes a point that women in the western world have little clue how good they actually have it, that 19 out of 20 women in the world are still basically chattel property. Her secondmost point is that ALL women who are not currently chattel property are just a technological heartbeat away from being chattel property once again. When the weird times come and money does not work anymore most women will have the good sense to align themselves with a man for their protection. Rape gangs are hard to deal with without one. Sounds sexist I know, but remember these statements are from a very pragmatic farm girl.

  5. Grace says

    I disagree w/the anti religion talk. I think the bible is full of images of women as teachers-Pricilla, many prophets-Ana, Miriam, phillips 4 daughters, and women in general. business owners-Lydia,Pricilla+many prominent women, and rebels-Rayhab &pharoah’s daughter etc.etc.

    And I don’tagree with the whole bit about clothes and sexual “freedom.” I think there is no freedom in acting out sexually for men or women. There are responsible choices and consequenes for irresponsible choices.

    But I agree that magazines and the media in general have tricked women(& men) into wasting their time focusing on their looks rather than the content of their lives- as if being sexually available and provacative is power.

    The whole rape and molestation of women & children is too complicated to address in a sentence – but yes I think perps of these crimes are trying to have power over someone and so caught up in addictive cycles of behavior that they are probably not even aware of their own evil

    I think to continue to move our society forward in this area- we may need to pursue prosecutuion of these crimes as hate crimes against women and look at some ads on bill boards as hate speech against women. And pursue change there – as some groups are doing in the EU.

    Peace & blessings,

  6. Linda says

    well, well, where to start. I agree tht a more active fight to ensure women’s rights is needed by govts, NGOs, society etc. i don’t believe tht women can do it all on their won as they hve to live in a society along with men – thus men hve to be part of the solution. Yes, being a woman IS confusing sometimes – be this but be that is something that exists. i feel tht men shld respect women for their contribution to society – wht they add shld be celebrated – feminine qualities shld be celebrated as they play a vital role. wht women where does play a role in hw u c thm but is tht all women r worth? wht abt the work they do? why don’t we talk abt tht? as for blaming religion – i’ll stick my neck out & state tht i don’t think there is anything wrong with submitting to a man – a man who respects u, values u, loves u…etc coz it can’t be a punishment in such conditions coz it will come naturally as u give to the one u love. the PROBLEM is tht MEN abuse their roles in society and life for THEIR own benefit! Selfishness – heck it’s a crime!

  7. lisa says

    I do believe that about religion also, which is what really turned me off to it. Im not walking behind any man, and hes not “ruling” our home. Probably why I am still single. BUT.. I see so many contradictions in religion, they subjugate woman, but then claim we are all equal. I also believe that is what has turned off the younger generation to religion. And those damn women on CNN wearing those Burkas arent helping us either.

  8. Kitchen Cabinets Los Angeles says

    I don’t like to criticize other peoples life styles.
    But it can not go unsaid when talking about this subject, that RELIGION plays a
    There are too few exceptions to this in the religious world.
    This is not said in a spirit to attack religion.
    Still it is THE BASS CAUSE of attacks on women. From the complained about predestined gender role Teaching,To not teaching girls to read, to female circumcision, To rape.
    You want to get a different attitude in society?
    Start by changing the attitude of people around you, Get your family away from these churches,they teach the gender roles, and perpetuate the problem.
    In most religions The man is everything,
    The woman should stay home “barefoot and pregnant” and dam well like it!
    Remember that when talking to any clergy.
    Remember that the only difference between great sex, and Rape is a good sales job.


(no http, so not