Thursday, March 03, 2011

Gender, Sex and Politics

When I first saw the Center for Women's Rights poll results from 2008 showing that sexual harassment of women in Egypt was widespread, I got to wondering more about what they meant by sexual harassment and whether this was really true.

I found several articles that laid out the problem and defined what had been going on there. This was all of course, before the overthrow of Mubarak. It was long before the stripping and brutal beating of an American, female journalist where the men not only groped and hit her but pinched her hard enough to make it look at first like bites. It might be though you can see from what that came by reading these articles.

I understand that many cultures have men who sexually abuse women if they can get away with it. I also understand not all men in any group act this way. There are men who respect women and feel an obligation to protect them as much as possible. I am married to a man like that. My son and son-in-law are men like that. I have many male friends who are men like that, but unfortunately, even in this country, there are some men who are not like that.

Some years back they did a poll on college men in the United States. 25% answered they would rape a woman if they could get away with it. College men are supposed to represent educated men who have learned to appreciate higher values. Obviously not. Does anybody think the numbers would be lower in other social groups. My experience with men (and that includes in Christian groups) is that they would not be. They don't do such because there are penalties, take away the penalties and a certain percentage won't act any differently than those in Egypt.

My concern on this comes on several things. One is, of course, what will happen next in Egypt? When crowd photos were shown, most of the women wore robes and hair covering. That doesn't guarantee the women will not have civil rights, but it's not a good sign-- not when you don't see any women other than covered up. For the men to believe they have a right to sexually grope any woman they can (read first link above), that makes it seem even more unlikely.

Doubtless men in the United States, those reading this even, consider their culture far above such behavior. Most of the ones I know are; and yet...and yet. How many American women have suffered similarly?

I have read that 25% of American women were raped or sexually assaulted. Of the women who have survived rapes or rape attempts (17.6%) 21.6% were younger than 12 when it happened. (8% of men have said they were either raped or sexually assaulted). [more on those statistics]

Those are pretty high numbers for us to feel smug about being more advanced as a culture. How many women have kept their mouths shut? How many have refused to get justice for their daughters when they find it has been done to them? What are the real figures?

The first thing the Republicans did, once they got in power in the House, was submit laws attempting to limit abortions (heading toward taking it away from the choice of the woman for that of the government) even in the case of incest they sought to require there must be proof of force. They backed off but last I heard they are still trying to get that through despite the fact that for a minor to be raped necessarily means it is forced and a felony.

They also are eager to cut all funding for Planned Parenthood where many women have gotten birth control advice, prescriptions, free vaginal exams, breast cancer screenings, and health exams. When I was in college and about to be married, I was one of them. They provided my first such exam and my first birth control pills.

Republican leaders in the House maybe don't know all the good Planned Parenthood does. Actually I don't think they care. Evidently they saw another of those manipulated videos put out by the ones who did the Breitbart ones, pasted together segments, taking what one agent said in one Planned Parenthood office (someone who was fired for it) as part of a right wing sting, and it was all the excuse they needed. The women who might die because of their action, what's that to them? They know it satisfies their extreme right base.

I think women from all walks of life better think about where this is heading. Planned Parenthood is not permitted to do abortions with federal dollars as the law now stands. That's not good enough for the fundamentalists. The result of less birth control will be more unwanted pregnancies but this is not about logic. It's about religious fanaticism.

Nobody forces someone to have an abortion. The most recent attack by the pro-life forces is accusing those of doing abortions as guilty of ethnic cleansing. This accusation is almost so despicable as to seem beyond them, but it's not. Clean air means more pollution, patriot act means torture and no trial and on it goes.

Nobody goes into any home and demands the pregnant women have abortions rather than carry their babies to term. This is a choice. It is one that the left wing would try to make less difficult by urging government programs to enable women to keep their babies. Who wants to end those programs? If women are informed as to methods of birth control, more won't be getting pregnant when they didn't plan it.

What we are seeing from the right wing is the opposite of what they claim. They say they are about liberty but what they do is take away the rights of women to make the choice themselves. It's about making it as hard on her to make that choice as they possibly can.

The irony is those same people then walk away from all responsibility to the child as soon as its born. They don't want to provide medical care, food or even schooling. In this case, they also want to take away a place lower income women can go for examinations and birth control.

What kind of people would find limiting the freedom and health care of women as their first priority? Fundamentalism takes away freedom from others and that's the truth of it. Often those doing such things are hypocrites regarding their personal lives.

The very men who will vote against such help for poor women are the same ones who will put an ad in Craig's List advertising for sexual services from women or in the recent case evidently also from transsexuals. Sure not all of them are like him, but too many are like Newt Gingrich who worked to impeach Bill Clinton for sexual sins while he was busily embroiled in his own. They think they are too slick to get caught and a certain percentage of them are.

The issue here is a hard won freedom for women to know that if they do get pregnant, when they had not intended to do so, when they cannot afford emotionally or physically to raise a child, they have the right to decide what to do about that. The issue is also what does it say about those who would take that choice from women?

The party that talks so much about liberty is one that uses their political might to take away that freedom, who will make it harder for women to even get medical help if they don't have money. As many people have said, make it easier to get birth control, help the women who do get pregnant and need help to raise the baby, and let the women make the choice.

Some might think these topics don't relate, but I think they do-- it's an attitude. It's about how women are seen by those in power. In our country as well as almost everywhere around the world, the power is in the hands of men.

You know even women themselves can be convinced they should not have power over their own lives. That happens most through religions. It happens when women are convinced they cannot be trusted with power, that they are at fault when something goes wrong. We, who know that is not the case, male and female, need to speak up on this issue. It should not be right versus left but right versus wrong.



I am a 70 year old that has, over my long life, witnessed the flagrant abuse of women, men, children, poor, low income, (and now middle income) plus elders. I call these groups the disenfranchised.

Women have been the objects of men since time eternity. We had a few movements in the U.S. that brought about positive changes for women. But now we appear to be at risk of losing ground again and are perhaps heading back toward the loss of rights for women.

But the times are not just focused on women. It's also targeted against this whole disenfranchised group. This group is up against a ruling class consisting of wealth, politics, and institutional religion that are the new "decider" groups -- deciding which direction we should travel. Woman are the pawns as well as all the disenfranchised of this ruling group

Perhaps if the disenfranchised groups could join together and take a stance involving a common ground, representing their needs and concerns they could turn around this ruling class. Perhaps they could achieve stabilization of what we already have.

Keeping us divided helps the ruling group. I would invite all the players of the disenfranchised to take a stance and work together to stand against this fascist ruling class.

-- barbara

joared said...

Religion, unfortunately, enters into this mix. We have as much to fear in this country as women do in all those Middle Eastern and African nations so many cite as having such abusive males. Current extremists are pulling us backwards toward an increasing paternalistic society.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the links and your thoughtful post about this issue. My view is that anywhere in the world you go there is physical and emotional abuse of women happening on different levels in different places, some more severe than in others. Is it any surprise that there are movements for women to claim their own "power" to be safe? Maybe to the extremists but not to me. --- Julie

Ingineer66 said...

Interesting blog. Another thing that goes on in these Muslim countries is the sexual exploitation of young boys. Homosexuality is illegal, but somehow it is ok to have sex with a boy. They have some crazy ideas that are the pinnacle of hypocrisy.

In the reports from Egypt, I did see quite a few women that were not covered up, that is why I think the Muslim Brotherhood will have a tough time getting significant power. But you never know, things can change quickly in a revolutionary process.

Anonymous said...

To Ingineer66:

That's a great addition to the conversation, too. Could be a blog post in itself. Thanks. --- Julie

Anonymous said...

Hi Rain, This is a follow-up on my comment about women gaining the right to be safe from physical and emotional abuse. Daily Beast has an article by Amana Khan about the Pink Gang in India. A womens' group led by Sampat Devi Pal, started as a vigilante group who would beat up the men who beat up their wives. They also exposed corrupt officials. They are gaining legitimacy by being voted into government. The movement started in an unorthodox manner. However, these women have really impressed me! --- Julie