In the 19th century, the moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In the 21st century, let’s make it gender equality. As part of Fair Observer's 360° series, The Middle East: Fighting for Women's Rights, Sara El-Yafi reflects on the plight of women around the world.
Abuse of the feminine, which is historically abuse of the weak, is a deviant offshoot of the more general human male quest to dominate nature. Nature: this wild power that lacks an endowment of consciousness; this vastness of savagery that makes man feel as vulnerable and powerless as he can be. Indeed, the frail man understood early on that his survival hinged upon his domination of nature. The more he owned and dominated the savage nature, the more powerful he was, the more secure he was. And thus, the battle for domination began. A battle that would be fought only by the males, leaving women out of it for their efficiency in warfare never panned out to be substantial at all. Women are liabilities. And with time, women, seen as devoid of real worthiness to amass power, receded in importance in nation-building and were reneged to the ranks of breeding accessories, tools of procreation for a male higher purpose.
In fact, after Plato, ca. 400 BC, advocated that girls should be brought up on equal terms with boys because their value was of equal worth, the only figure of name and note to demand equality for women was another Greek philosopher, Epicurus, 100 years after Plato. And then after him, not a single human being, not a single current, ideology or train of thought ever mentioned women again until the 18th century when the French Revolution brought an uproar of liberal ideas.
That is a period of 2,200 years of female oppression. Can you imagine? Twenty-two centuries of human civilization and advancement completely devoid of any word on female rights or gender equality.
In all these historical instances, in every society everywhere in the world, women, like nature and animals, were considered savage natural resources to be used, ruled and enjoyed by men in service of the higher male purpose of domination and expansion, all at the expense of their own wellbeing. The precept is as old as the Genesis 3:16 put it: "To the women God said: 'I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth your children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.'" A precept repeated until today in religious ceremonies.
Let’s just say that we are the less lucky ones of the two genders. Freud said it best: “Anatomy is destiny.” And coupled with this fateful biblical destiny, subjugation was forced down all women’s throats as men and their misogynistic laws, misogynistic ideologies, misogynistic societies, and misogynistic ecosystems gave man the superseding power to use and abuse his women at his whim because women were never as effective at domination and expansion as men, and every single woman was forced to abide. After all, isn’t it God’s ordinance?
The strong urge to penetrate, take over, subdue, and explode is almost exclusively male. It is bound up with the desire to overpower in both an intellectual and a sexual sense. And a woman who demonstrates those traits is condemned for insolence and lacking “femininity,” and nobody likes a woman who isn’t “feminine.” As if feminine must mean shackled, obedient and miserable, as opposed to free, strong and loving.
But men refused to understand; it was beneath them. Belief and “local customs” were so interlinked that human dignity, compassion and equality between genders was never allowed to surface. Instead, they chose to understand that it was because of “local customs” that over 80 million women have had their clitorises and labia slashed off and their vulvas sewn shut in order to make them more marriageable and unable to derive pleasure from sex because that is a male right; and thus never be a threat to wander away from their husbands’ cold bed into some more pleasurable environment, and never be a threat to their husbands’ misogynistic societies by having their voices heard.
The same men that chose to understand that it is “local customs” for women to get slapped, punched, raped, abused and generally beaten on a regular basis in case of an affront, and, as it was so proudly said in my country, have spousal abuse be confined to “family matters” and not legal courts because governmental interferences in family matters is ungodly.
Around the World
Did you know that worldwide, 40-70% of all female murder victims are killed by an intimate partner? And that around the world at least one woman in every three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in her lifetime, most often by a member of her own family?
Here are more heartbreaking stats: 107 million females are “missing” from the globe today; every year, at least another two million girls worldwide disappear because of gender discrimination — where men decide that it can be “local customs” that 500,000 girls are routinely kidnapped and trafficked into brothels each year. In some developing nations like Ethiopia, it is “local customs” that families nourish the boys but not the girls because boys need to be strong, while girls, well, don’t. Or how in India, girls from one to five years old are 50% more likely to die than boys the same age, because parents take the boys to the hospital but not the girls. Or how in Afghanistan, a man buys medication for his son but not for his wife because a son is an “indispensable treasure” while a wife is “replaceable.” Or how in China, it is “local customs” for a huge number of sex-selective abortions to be performed to get rid of daughters. Or how in India, bride-burning (punishing a woman for inadequate dowry) takes place approximately once every two hours. Or in Pakistan, in the last nine years, how 5,000 women and girls have been doused in kerosene and set alight by family members or in-laws — or they have been seared in acid which disfigures and blinds them for disobedience. Or how in Lebanon, women can get jailed for 20+ years for "adultery" when framed by the husband while men don’t. But I thought that the Sheikhs said that such issues are “family matters” to be settled at home?
And if she belongs to a society of “higher standing” where laws may be “modern” enough to protect her from abuse, then the man is more civilized, beats her less but still doesn’t think she’s equal. But, in fact, he neglects and demeans her, fills her with insecurities and curtails her ambitions because, God forbid, she may emerge to be stronger or wiser or better than him.
So men choose to understand that it is “local customs” for a woman to have to be less smart than them, but look attractive enough to be desirable to them to want to mate. But not too attractive in order for her not to “lure” sex demands from her moronic boss who works at her firm where she gets paid less than men for the same work, does not rise beyond a certain level, and gets harassed all day long by her oversexed male colleagues.
Probably better to stay home then where nobody will bother her except her ungrateful kids who will grow up to be blasé about her sacrifices, take her for granted, and maybe even hate her because she didn’t let them do coke at 16.
So she tries to be a devoted wife, at least that pays off in integrity, until the day where her sexagenarian husband decides to dump her for someone born in the 90s whose milk glands hadn’t sagged yet. And that is notwithstanding her pap smears, mammograms, hysterectomies, mastectomies, miscarriages, labor pains, childbirth pain, post-partum depressions, episiotomies, stretch marks, body changes, pre-menstrual syndrome, menstruation, menopause, mental hormonal imbalances.
Well what’s not to love. Let’s look at the bright side of things: Thank you for letting us get into the lifeboat first.
I Salute You
In honor of all the women in this world: the sacrificing mothers; the loving sisters; the cherishing daughters; the adoring grandmothers; the beseeching wives; the hopeful single women; the hopeless married women; the beaten females; the cheated women; the cheating women; the jealous girlfriends; the confident and the insecure; the battered and the disfigured; the malnourished and the neglected; the healthy and the admired; the faithful and the unfaithful; the mothers who stay for their kids and the ones who leave without their kids; the rich and the poor matriarchs; the war survivors and the war victims; the abuse survivors and the abuse victims; the female activists; the powerful professionals and the downtrodden prostitutes, I salute you.
In the words of the activist Nicholas Kristof: In the 19th century, the moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In the 21st century, let’s make it gender equality.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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