Burrage: Women’s marchers are attacking the very basis of sexism and violence
In the wake of the historic Women’s March, which represented the largest collective demonstration in American history, many people have made criticisms about the relatively easy life women in the US enjoy. Our own governor, Paul LePage, even said “get over yourselves” in the days following. These attitudes are based in the idea that American women are much better off compared to those in the rest of the world. In some ways, that is a legitimate observation, but to negate wholesale the challenges women face in the US in this way would be gravely irresponsible considering pervasiveness of sexual, emotional, and mental abuse.
The basis of sexual assault and harassment and the culture in which they thrive can be seen in the entertainment we consume and create in the US. The oversexualization of women’s and, sadly, girl’s bodies is pervasive in movies, advertisements, television, and backroom joking. The history of this objectification is overwhelmingly present in traditional ideas that say women exist solely to produce children and tend to men. And while the people who support these ideas conveniently cite the integrity of the family unit, they have also laid a foundation which serves to justify less righteous acts.
We’re all familiar with the archetype of the man who is upset when dinner isn’t ready when he gets home and the scenes from The Honeymooners wherein Ralph threatens Alice with physical violence. For some, these archetypes and fictional scenarios are reality.
Domestic and social violence against women plagues our society. This is not to diminish the violence that happens against men and between men and others in different types of relationships. But the fact remains that domestic violence against women happens at an especially disproportionate rate.
The National Organization for Women reported that an average of three women per day are murdered due to domestic violence; an average of 600 women per day report (keyword: report) sexual violence; and one in five report rape and attempted rape. These statistics are greatly influenced by our culture steeped in the oversexualization and objectification of women and oftentimes the domination attitude we as a society encourage among men.
At the more extreme end, we find situations like sexual slavery which takes many forms. Most people are familiar with the pimp-sexworker relationship in which the pimp exploits the sexworker. Again, for some, of all ages, these anecdotes are a painful reality. For one haunting example, read a 2016 article in The Atlantic titled When Sex Traffic Goes Unnoticed in America, which describes in explicit detail the situation of a 17-year old who was lured away from her family to be enslaved by a predatory pimp.
But the challenges women face are not always hallmarked by physical violence and exploitation. Many confront sexual harassment, often in the form of unwanted attention and cat-calls as well as workplace discrimination and pay inequality. These situations are supported by subtle assumptions about the physical, emotional, and intellectual aptitude of women.
Though they vary in degree and severity, the challenges that women face in the US are part of a hierarchy of violence. Much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, violence against women depends on a solid base to reach its pinnacle.
In this way, the base is made of not so subtle assumptions about gender differences as well as designated words such as “bitch”. The middle is comprised of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. And at the top, rape and murder represent the most drastic forms of discrimination, hate, and objectification.
In far too many places in the world, there are women who face acid attacks, gang rapes in public, as well as threats and promises of physical violence just for seeking education. In some places women cannot drive or even be seen in public without a man. But it would be naive to use these instances of violence to negate the trauma of other women.
To the contrary, we must see violence against women as part of a more global hierarchy. When we move beyond the narrow scope of nationalism, we can see womankind as a whole. Women who are traversing various places on the hierarchy struggle in their own ways and so do the women who support them. In many ways, the emotional, physical, and intellectual abuse of women is collective.
If we accept this reality, we can see that murder doesn’t trump rape, rape doesn’t trump domestic violence, and domestic violence doesn’t trump workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. They all depend on each other and in this way, they are each complicit in the maintenance of the hierarchy.
The Women’s March – again, the largest mass demonstration in US history – cannot simply be dismissed as just a group of lazy, whiny complainers. When we look at women’s issues through the limited and divisive lens of partisanship, we do as disservice to those who suffer every day. If anything, the mass demonstration showed that there is a broad base of women and their supporters who are ready to mobilize and fight.
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