The Treatment of Women

Having just completed the first draft of my novel ‘Making Friends with the Crocodile’, which concerns in particular the way women are regarded in society, I feel inspired to put out this post today. I previously published a version of it on my travel and photography site, and republish it here with a couple of changes and updates.

It would be impossible to document all of the humiliations, injustices and degradations that women throughout the centuries have had to put up with in almost every part of the world. That they should continue to do so, even in the 21st century, is an absolute disgrace. The way the Taliban treat and regard women is well documented and needs little further comment. They routinely deny women education, healthcare or any freedoms. They can be bought and sold and married against their will. They have no legal rights. They can be killed with impunity. It is difficult to imagine how a society in which women are actually treated worse could ever be constructed.

However, the so-called Islamic State go one step further than this, and are happy to buy and sell captured women in slave markets as sex slaves, surely the ultimate degradation.

Yet, over a huge part of the globe, women are subject to treatment little better than this, and there is probably no country where they can be said to be genuinely equal to men. Certainly in the west, we like to think of ourselves as modern, liberal, forward looking and fair, so how can it be that such a situation still exists?

There are three basic reasons why men have always been able to regard and treat women as inferiors:

1) They have controlled and governed communities and societies through their greater physical strength. This, in turn, has led to their creation and codifying of the rules surrounding and governing these societies, and, in turn, the creation of their religious books that gave an even greater authority for the subjugation of women. This strength also effectively prevents any ‘rebellion’ by women.

2) Men’s stronger sexual urges. This (the ‘testosterone effect’ in male teenagers, for example), coupled with their greater strength, has allowed men to both physically dominate women and also to subject them to almost constant pregnancy and motherhood.

3) Women bear children. Neither pregnancy nor motherhood are helpful in resisting men’s dominance.

In the west, centuries of brainwashing have led to a situation where, although women no longer daily face a physically perilous existence, inequality lives on in other, often demeaning, ways. Although no longer in danger of being burnt as witches, being sold into servitude or (generally) forced into marriage, they are still way behind men when it comes to the labour market. It is comparatively recently that they have been allowed to train as front line troops in the army or join the clergy in the Church of England, and still encounter stiff resistance if they wish to do so. The Catholic Church still forbids them to hold any post and so we see an exodus of many ‘traditional’ members of the Church of England to the Catholic fold, which has enterprisingly created a ‘special’ niche for those who cannot bear to see women treated as equals.

There are still very few women in high-powered jobs, and those who are still struggle to earn pay similar to a man in a comparable job. Interestingly, the reason often given for that is that ‘market forces’ dictate these pay scales. This is, naturally, a male-dominated market. Women are vastly over-represented, however, in low-paid and part time jobs.

Centuries of brainwashing have also trained them for a role as mannequins, or Barbie dolls; putting on make-up is essential before they go to work, attend meetings, go on a date or almost anything else. Their natural selves are not fit to show men. And if there is anyone who might be in any doubt about this, they need only take a glance at the blizzard of adverts on television or in magazines. And high heels are the obvious descendants of oriental foot-binding; a painful, dangerous and degrading practice designed solely to appeal to men and make running away impossible. I do not understand why any woman still falls for it. And those magazines; the ones aimed at women still manage to create the impression that life is all about make-up and home-making.

In many other parts of the world, though, life as a woman is not only demeaning but can still be ‘nasty, brutish and short’. One of the most common ways to control women, is to deny them the right to work. This might be justified as being degrading for the woman and her husband, or that she must be kept away from other men (because she will ‘stray’), or that she needs to be at home to raise children. This effectively means that she is then working full-time at home, but obviously without any financial reward or freedom. Along with refusing females education, this is another way to force them to remain at home in a state of virtual slavery. Commonly, they will have to work on any land that the family have – weeding and planting, looking after animals, etc – yet will be denied the chance to earn a wage.

This segregation is invariably justified on the grounds that women are sexually provocative and evil. They are temptresses that must be kept away from the eyes of all men except the husband. Hence they are dressed from head to toe in all-enveloping clothing, they are not allowed to speak to any males except close relatives, they are locked up in Zenana – women’s quarters, where they have to peer out at the world through heavily carved screens, whilst men are free to go around at will. Even in more humble dwellings, they are largely confined to the house, having to hide when male visitors come. Hence they cannot go out and work within the society. And this attitude, that women are naturally evil, tempting men against their will, is reflected in the punishments that many societies mete out to those that break their taboos.

The most extreme example is that where, in one or two societies, if a man is accused of rape, the woman is commonly held to be culpable since she must have tempted the man concerned, otherwise the incident would not have happened. The woman then is sometimes executed, although being the victim, whilst the perpetrator is either set free or given a minimal sentence. Rape, also, is frequently used in war situations to ‘control’ a population. Another medieval survival is the practice of confining women to their quarters during menstruation, on the grounds that they are ‘unclean’. Although the ‘punishment’ is not particularly onerous, the insult is that it further demeans women for simply being women. And then, whilst it tends to be perfectly permissible for men to walk around with bare arms and head, and frequently torso and legs, women that do not cover up from head to foot will feel the full rigor of society’s displeasure – usually physical punishments such as lashing or incarceration.

Suttee – who would still believe that the practice still exists? Yet there have been cases comparatively recently of women being forced onto the funeral pyres of their deceased husband, possibly due more to the family not wanting an inconvenient daughter in law in the house, than to any religious urges. There are also still cases of bride murders, when the dowry has not been up to the expectations of the groom’s family. That the dowry system still exists at all is an insult; the bride’s family having to pay the groom’s family for taking an unproductive woman into the household.

Then there is the lack of healthcare, education or voting rights, the forced marriages, the child brides purchased by the old men, the genital mutilation, the sexual trafficking…the list seems depressingly endless. 1975 was designated International Women’s Year by the United Nations – 40 years ago. Not much seems to have changed since then.

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9 thoughts on “The Treatment of Women

  1. Sadly, this all sounds depressingly true. I just checked Google and found that the stable status quo for the number of female world leaders at any one time is 20 and that the highest figure so far is 22. When you consider that there are around 190 countries in the world today and that women make up half the global population, this is pretty pathetic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, ten percent or so. The only bright spot is that at least it is a higher figure than would have been the case before. Historically, if you exclude the women who became leaders by ‘accident’, for example Elizabeth I of England who became queen only because there was no male heir, then female leaders were extremely rare. And it is a discussion that we are at least having in England, now.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I guess you’re right. Quite possibly the most optimistic way of looking at the situation is to take the long view and put things in their historical perspective.

        I can’t help wishing things would move along a bit more quickly, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sad yet true. I am teaching my daughter that she can be anything she wants to be, that no one can tell her ‘she can’t’ simply because she is female. That there is nothing wrong with being intelligent and defending her opinion. And yet I know how fortunate we are even to have these options, simply because we live in a society where we are ‘allowed’ to hold such opinions – my heart aches for women across the globe for whom the basic freedom to simply live as they would wish to is taken from them. Equality shouldn’t be this difficult to achieve.

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  3. I totally agree with what you say. We are lucky, really, yet although we live in a society where virtually no person in any position of power would dare to say that women are inferior to men, or that they are second class citizens, or to use any similar phrase, it is remarkable that there are so many ‘little’ discriminations, and still so much misogyny.

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  4. I agree with everything here. Another depressing element of the gender inequality that urgently need addressing is the utter waste of talent it engenders. There are amazing women everywhere in life and yet their achievements are frequently either dismissed or ignored. How many female artists can we name, how many composers? Women in the developing world have been deliberately refused the opportunity of education and we all know that this is because the last thing the ruling men want is an educated female population to question their unjust rule. The media perpetuates the myth of the superiority of the male by portraying women as entirely sexual creatures, concentrating on their appearance and ‘desirability’ and ignoring their essential contributions to science, politics, academia, and every other field of human endeavour. We waste so much by denying the ability of women. And we insult the whole of the gender by clinging to ancient portrayals of women in so-called sacred texts designed to ensure male domination and permit the view that women are, essentially, the property of the men who claim them. Almost every organised religion perpetuates and encourages this ancient control myth; perhaps we need to radically alter our relationship with those who continue to uphold the supremacy of ancient religious myth, dogma and tradition over common sense and scientific fact?

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    1. Yes, yes and yes. And, of course, half of the world’s population is female. Three and a half billion people. Leaving aside the comparative few who nowadays have opportunities similar to men, that is an incredible waste of talent; all of those books and paintings and symphonies and inventions that will never now happen, all of those unnecessary deaths in countries where dangerous practices could have been all but erradicated by educating women, all of those political leaders who might have been more inclined to resolve differences rather than go to war (okay, that’s not a good example in the UK!). But even in the ‘civilised’ west, we can see how women are still viewed by many men by listening to the remarks of public figures such as Donald Trump. Depressing.

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