International Women’s Day

Today, on International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to re-post this piece I put up several years ago. It seems that nothing has changed.

salt-workers

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 comparatively 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, while 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 rigour 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 husbands, 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 – 44 years ago. Not much seems to have changed since then.

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18 thoughts on “International Women’s Day

  1. Yes. I agree with this post completely! It’s been so long and yes there has been ‘some change’ but when we still look at todays reality, not much has really changed. It is sad and disgusting. The rituals that we follow, the way we are biased against women, is all very menial.
    It is high time we understand how and where we are wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with much of what you write here, Mick. Unequal pay for women (when performing the same tasks as men) is, obviously unjustifiable. And, obviously only a religious zealot would attempt to defend the barbarity of Islamic State or the Taliban.

    I have, however met a number of articulate young Muslim women who wear the head scarf. One 19-year-old young woman to whom I spoke only a few days ago told me that it was “her choice”. As someone who is blind and needs assistance in shopping, this lady let me take her arm and conducted me round the suparmarket, so obviously had no issue in interacting with men.

    Of course there are Muslim (and other women) who are subjugated by men, however we can not assume that because a lady chooses to cover parts of her body she is, necessarily being compelled (either by custom or literally so) to take such action.

    I think that there is sometimes a tendency amongst liberals (with a small l) to assume that anyone who doesn’t act in accordance with what are (loosely) termed “liberal” norms, (For example not covering up) must be suffering from what Marxist would term as “false consciousness”. Just as the Marxist sees any member of the “proletariat” who doesn’t accept Marxism, as suffering from “false consciousness”,, so a certain kind of liberal sees the Muslim lady who chooses to cover herself as being a dupe of men.

    The true liberal (irrespective of party allegance) does, in my view, accept the right of others to do things of which they disapprove, such as covering up. As a liberal (with a small l), I have no personal objection to a lady covering up, in the same way that I do not object to a woman’s choice to wear a short dress. Although, personally I think its sad when a lady covers herself so only her eyes are vissible. However (provided no force is used), choices need to be respected.

    Best – Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s quite a difficult one, Kevin. I am always in two minds over this, since I obviously have no problem with someone choosing of their own free will to adopt a particular style of clothing, and obviously we are all different, in that some people prefer to ‘flaunt what they’ve got’ and some prefer to dress modestly at all times.

      But the society you are brought up in inevitably plays its part in this. In Victorian England, for example, no woman would dream of entering church with their head uncovered, and few would even be seen outside their home without a hat. Society had taught them it was disrespectful and immodest, and this society was underpinned by the teachings of the church.

      In the same way, Islam and Islamic society teaches that women should always remain covered, and even someone who thinks they have freed themselves from the constricts of their upbringing invariably carries a certain amount of it with them.

      In this way, I respect the choice, but dislike that it is almost certainly the result of an upbringing that teaches a woman is somehow bad if she allows her head to be seen.

      Thanks for the comment, Kevin.

      Regards, Mick

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Many thanks for your response, Mick.
        I agree that both upbringing and society as a whole plays a part in shaping who we are. However, in the West at least, people have access to a variety of lifestyles and perspectives so it is much easier in the context of a liberal society to make one’s own choices.

        Another Muslim young woman to whom I spoke, said that her parents didn’t approve of her decision to wear a headscarf, so family does not, necessarily determine choice.

        Growing up in Liverpool, many of the people with whom I came into contact where of the left. Through a combination of my own life experience, studies and (perhaps) also as a reaction against this fact, I am not a socialist (although many of my friends are)!

        Best – Kevin

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Certainly, we often react against our upbringings, especially when we reach that rebellious yoof stage. I did the same, for example, my parents being lifelong Conservatives, me heading in the other direction.

          But it has been said that we never entirely escape our upbringing, and I’m sure that is true. We frequently find we retain many prejudices and beliefs from then, almost against our better judgement.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Your point about people never completely escaping their upbringing is an interesting one, Mick. There may be an element of truth in what you say. But the wise amongst us can recognise our biases and take action to remedy them.

            I remember being told that my late grandfather, who I loved dearly, remarked of Enoch Powell that “Enoch was right”. Growing up I had no idea that he held such views – I certainly have no recollection of him voicing them. And I doubt that they rubbed off on me (I’m certainly no admirer of “The Rivers of Blood Speech”!

            As an aside, its interesting how good people can hold highly reprehensible views, yet be thoroughly decent human beings. Perhaps that is why even amongst couples, how each one votes sometimes remains a secret between them and the ballot box!

            Best – Kevin

            Liked by 1 person

            1. My comment is based upon my own experience. My own father said ‘Enoch was right’ as well, and although he was a kind and lovely man, his views were very much to the right on immigration, but in this he was doing little more than echoing the times and the times he was raised in.

              Since my formative years were the 1950’s – early 1970’s, I absorbed a lot of that and when a child, of course, never questioned it. It was only in my mid-teens that I began to. And although my views are totally different from my fathers, I am realistic enough to know that the remnants of those views are still somewhere deep inside me and that I have work hard sometimes to ensure they don’t inadvertently surface.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. That is fascinating, Mick.

                As part of my job, I have participated in an unconscious bias course. This was certainly an interesting and informative experience. In essence the course said (I believe rightly), that we all have biaises but, provided we are aware of them, and take steps to counteract them, we can reasonablly do no more.

                Sometimes biases can be funny. For example I often respond with “pardon” when someone remarks that, as a blind person I must have very good hearing …! At other times they are, of course noxious, as is exemplified in your post which shows how women are often treated badly due to the biased view that they are inferior.

                Best – Kevin

                Liked by 1 person

                1. I think that course has it exactly right. As long as we are aware of these biases, we can counteract them. If we stick our heads in the sand and deny their existence, they will just surface at the most inopportune moments.

                  I like the ‘pardon’ response – you presumably decided long ago it was an appropriate reply and stuck with it. I have stock replies to certain situations, as I suppose we all do.

                  Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree that women have to face some sort of discrimination. In many Asian countries, it is women who dominate the society, especially in work. This holds true for Thailand where you will only see women working everywhere. Despite this, there are so many stories of divorce and domestic violence.

    Liked by 1 person

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