As a feminist and a writer, I spend a lot of time reading up on the situation of women around the world. Cultures that are different from ours give us a chance to discuss ideas and compare results. For example, I learned recently that Rwanda has the highest number of female parliamentarians at 63.8%. Cool, huh?
Then I came across an article I had read back when Time originally published it. It’s a good read if you have a moment. For those who don’t, the gist is that in Saudi Arabia a woman’s name is considered so private that it is often shameful or embarrassing to refer to her by her name. She is called “auntie” or “teacher” or “Hank’s wife” but not called by her name. Her identity as an individual is literally considered so shameful that she is only referred to in her relation to other people. Growing up in a culture that was the last in the world to allow women to drive cars, and where women are routinely killed for “bringing dishonor on the family” by being the victim of rape means around sixteen million women live under this oppression just in Saudi Arabia. A Pakistani celebrity divorced an abusive husband and said she believed in equality, and that she loved herself just how she was. Her brother drugged her and strangled her to death, and in his confession says, “I am proud of what I did. Girls are born to stay home and follow traditions. My sister never did that.” He is a drug addict by his own admission, but his shame is tolerated without question in a country that has a very negative view of drug use. Simply speaking to a man is grounds for an honor killing, or refusing to account for one’s whereabouts if asked by a male relative.
Cruise on over to the United States, where it isn’t that bad. But there are some distressing parallels about the entitlement of male privilege and the way it affects women all over the country. Rape culture perpetuates “boys will be boys” stereotypes while women are victimized. For perspective, if one in six men suffered from a brutal disease that caused them lifelong pain and trauma, imagine how hard they would work to cure it. Unequal pay and discrimination make it difficult for women to support themselves, or for single mothers to provide for their family. This is a major factor in domestic violence, where a mother will sacrifice her safety to make sure their children are fed and clothed.
In 2015, the United Nations sent three human rights experts to observe the United States and how women are treated by society, by government and by law. The report was heard round the world, and you can read the 2015 version I am referencing here. Efforts by the Obama administration were praised, specifically the 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces that protects women’s right to fair pay and not allowing companies to use forced arbitration that allow discriminatory employers to restrict an employee’s right to be heard in court for allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct. The 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces act also kept government from issuing contracts to employers who did not meet certain fair pay and safety requirements. It was revoked in March of 2017, not long after the Trump administration began a series of changes that greatly affected women in the workplace.
The United Nations committee pointed out that the United States is only one of three countries that does not guarantee women paid maternity leave. Given the struggle to ensure access to birth control and solutions that allow women to make reproductive choices, the experts concluded (correctly) that this is a barrier to steady employment in a nation that has over twenty-five million single mothers according to the United States Census Bureau.
“The lack of accommodation in the workplace to women’s pregnancy, birth and post-natal needs is shocking,” Raday said. “Unthinkable in any society, and certainly one of the richest societies in the world.” – Huffington Post
Women are only 21% of our Senate, and 19% of the House of Representatives. This puts us behind many nations in the world who enjoy stable and productive governments. We were given protections by the Obama administration and saw many fall in Trump’s first year. Our freedom, our autonomy, depends on the whim of men in power. The now famous picture of a table of white men, without a woman or a minority present, determining the fate of women’s healthcare says a lot about the attempt to represent and serve female constituents.
But this was about names, right? Here in the United States, women are still referred to by their names, so we have that going for us, right?
We know the name of Brock Turner, the one media referred to as the Stanford swimmer. He is a convicted rapist who hurt and humiliated a young woman so badly that a witness cried on the stand while retelling the events. But we do not know the name of his victim, called “Emily Doe” to protect her. To protect her from what? Perhaps from hearing that her rape called “twenty minutes of action” by Brock’s father. Or perhaps protect her from a judge who sentenced Turner so lightly that a recall effort was launched by a Stanford law professor. The judge gave such a light sentence so that Brock’s life wasn’t ruined, despite the fact that he penetrated an unconscious person’s vagina with a foreign object. Alcohol was used to excuse his actions and in the same breath used to condemn her. A young woman was sacrificed in front of the entire nation to protect the future of the man who decided to rape her. One cannot blame her or women everywhere from feeling vulnerable after these events and the outcome.
We do not know the names of the women who had to sign arbitration agreements to work for an employer that paid enough to support their family. They were denied their time in court and often face a stacked deck that favors ambiguity on the part of the employer, rather than allowing a jury or a judge to take the facts and determine how the law applies to their case.
We do not know the names of women who are denied feminine hygiene items in jails and prisons around the country. We do not know the names of the female inmates who deliver while handcuffed to a bed.
We do not know the names of the women who are not paid fair and equal wages because the Trump administration has moved to protect businesses over people and prevent simple transparency. If businesses are not discriminating there is no reason to hide this information. Some businesses voluntarily disclose the information, so it can be done… it just isn’t.
We do not know the names of the women who were sterilized against their will because in many cases, the women themselves were unaware that they were denied motherhood. For the offense of coming off as “feeble-minded” or such scandalous behavior as wearing men’s pants, a woman could be sterilized against her will, and in some cases without ever notifying her it was done at all. This was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Buck v. Bell (which has never officially been overturned though it is essentially rendered toothless). The New Yorker wrote an amazing piece about the case and the way it changed the lives of women everywhere. American citizens.
The story of these women have been buried. We are not allowed to name them, which is yet another abuse piled on. If we live in a society where female victims are hidden for our comfort, when we make rape and domestic violence and incest matters so unspeakable that the victims are hidden for our own comfort and we have failed as human beings. To sacrifice victims so we can ignore the reality of these crimes, or to protect the future of perpetrators of such crimes is literally saying women don’t matter as much as our society’s polite table talk and the happiness of white boys who commit felonies. It’s what we hear, and we’re not hearing it wrong. In many states, women have to pay out of pocket for the medical costs associated with their rape, and poverty traps that are particularly hard for single women or single mothers to escape mean insurance and that extra money are simply not an option.
So before we look down our noses on Saudi Arabia and the plight of women in “those other, lesser countries” we need to consider that the United Nations sent experts who expressed dismay at how the United States treats women. We need to take a fresh look at the parallels between our society’s poor treatment of women and Saudi Arabia, where our current misogynistic paths reach their inevitable conclusion. We need to look at our language, where a woman’s prefix tells her marital status and a man is always a mister. We need to look at our tendencies, and figure out why we talk about how many women are raped but never talk about how many rapists must be walking among us.
Unlike men, women never know when their rights will be voted away or dictated into oblivion. We watch assault after assault on our rights, and know that even the sloppiest archer hits the target if given enough tries. We live in fear because a bunch of white guys at a table treat us like items instead of people. We fear politics because politicians who say our bodies can “shut down” pregnancies in the case of rape are also members of the House of Committee on Science, Space and Technology. We have to be afraid and fight hard for our protection, because they are forever under assault from politicians, religious groups and men who confuse governance with entitlement.
#MeToo started a powerful movement. Let us continue the fight and end this stupidity once and for all. Everywhere.