Those of us living in “first world” countries like the United States are aware enough of the privileged lives we lead to make fun of ourselves. When someone whines about her cell phone battery not lasting an entire day, and someone else complains that her nine-pump vanilla breve latte was cold by the time she got to the office, we say “first world problems, I know” almost apologetically. If these little irritants that we contend with daily are the worst injustices we face in life, how amazingly lucky we are.
Just this week at the 2015 Social Good Summit, actress and activist Sienna Miller was part of a joint panel discussing women in crisis. She has recently returned from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I cannot make myself read these stories. I started reading one paragraph that began “I met two-year-olds that had been gang-raped.” And something broke inside me.
I work hard to avoid certain news outlets. I don’t watch news on television anymore. I can’t. It’s relentlessly dismal. Yet I am not able to stick my fingers in my ears, close my eyes and say “Lalalala! I can’t hear you!” no matter how much I try.
I know about women being stoned to death or beheaded. Sometimes by their own families. Honor killings. Sisters being offered up to be gang-raped to death as atonement for their brother’s affair with a married woman. Young girls, children, being sold into sex slavery. 125 million girls and women have been mutilated and sometimes killed in barbaric procedures to alter their genitals for religious and cultural reasons. These things are happening all over the world and even in our “first world” countries.
Patriarchal religions have existed for millennia. I just read Genesis and Esther from the Old Testament (Torah) for a class I’m taking for my MFA. It had been years since I had read those stories and it was eye-opening to me to see the roots of misogyny in these familiar stories. Like a fairy tale, the docile, obedient, subservient woman gets to marry the king and save her people. The disobedient woman is turned into a pillar of salt. Virgin daughters are offered up to barbaric men to do whatever they want with, as long as the men in the house are spared.
I know how this happens. I know how we get to the point where we see women as inferior to men. Interchangeable. Disposable. Less than. It happened to me in the name of Christianity.
Like boiling a frog, it started out slowly. The water was a comfortable temperature and seemed like a lovely place to be. I was young, happy, hopeful. The temperature was turned up ever so slowly, over time, so I didn’t notice right away. By the time it was hot enough to cook me through and through, I was able, fortunately, to leap from the pot.
The group I was in was part of an international organization. Independent groups who all believed the same about “discipleship” and fatherhood, who came together and elevated a group of men to be the head of it all. It was like every other pyramid scheme you ever heard of except it didn’t just make money for the top people and fleece the people at the bottom. It wasn’t just about money. It was about souls. Hearts and minds. People who were completely untrained and unqualified to even be a boy scout leader were now “pastors” responsible for the lives of their little individual groups. Each man had a pastor. Every married woman was subject to her husband. All the single women had to have a married pastor whose wife also helped shepherd the unmarried women. It was all biblical. The Bible is handy that way. You can find justification for almost anything in the Bible.
We can see how easily reasonable men can be persuaded that God wants them to keep their wives in line or else. We can see how women who don’t have an option for themselves or their children can become trapped. And before you know it, someone is burning books and punishing people for not following the rules, and pretty soon you have a whole group ready to drink the kool aid.
Patriarchal, paternalistic, controlling, authoritative, judgmental, devastating. If women are property, subjected to the authority of men, nothing will change. Not materially. Unless men’s attitudes about the equality of women change, we will continue to see headlines like this one, “Women refugees face rape, displacement and death.” I am not hopeful. What I see is a tsunami coming. Millions of men who believe that Allah, God, Jehovah has made them superior to women. And he has given them the power and the right, even the responsibility, to control women and use them as they see fit. There is one chance, I believe, to avoid having this wave blast us all back to our barbaric past. And that is if men of good conscience resist. Women alone will not be able to prevail if the men of the world are determined to rule them.
Note: Recently ISIS released a “rape handbook” for their fighters with guidelines on how to treat sex slaves. Really.
If you want to see a perfect illustration of the true plight of women in enlightened countries, just Google “women jokes”.