Last night, I dressed up, ate tiramisu with my hands, and watched five lovely men compete for Mr. WoCC (Women of Color Collective). To say that it was a fun night would be an understatement (Thanks AJ!).
At one point, the men were asked to name which woman inspires them the most (second to their mother). One cited a college professor who inspired his course of study; all the others said their sister or their girlfriend. All gave good reasons for naming their choices, but I was still struck by the homogeneity of their answers.
I do not doubt that their girlfriends or sisters mean a great deal to them. My father will forever remain the most inspiring man in my life. But I could not help but wish that they had given answers besides women in their lives.
I wanted a sign that these men paid attention to inspirational women in the news and knew enough to say about them.
Women feel that for men all the time. We can name great men who do great things. The news is full of stories about these men. But the news is also full of stories about the women as well.
I could not help but feel that women were always someone’s sister/mother/girlfriend, and not a woman by herself. This perspective erodes women’s independence, and it places women in a secondary position in society, unable to have our own voices and carry out our own wills.
We see this attitude in society, when women are advised to pretend they have a boyfriend in order to stave off unwanted male attention — it is more effective to make up the existence of a man than to say that you, yourself, do not want this man’s attention. That man will respect the “territory” of another man more than your autonomy.
We see this attitude in politics, when entire legislatures dedicate hours of debate to decide what to do to help the women. The female autonomy is not recognized; we are damsels in distress, in need of direction and protection. These are mothers of fetuses, who need to be banned from the right to choose.
We see this attitude in Marco Rubio. It is nothing new to see Republicans take on anti-abortion stances; in fact, it has come out in full force this election cycle with the furor surrounding Planned Parenthood.
In an interview, Mr. Rubio stated that he would not support a rape exception to a statute banning abortions. When discussing the trauma of a woman becoming pregnant through rape, Mr. Rubio said, “I get it . . . I really do. And that’s why this issue is so difficult.”
He gets it, he says. But the reality is, he does not. And he never will.
He’s a man. He will never, ever, have to think about pregnancy, be it planned or not. He will never have to think about having to birth a child as a result of a traumatic experience. He may never even have to fear rape. Women walk down the street and have to remain alert for fear of predators; men don’t. There’s a saying that is all too true: a man finds himself in a room full of women and he’s ecstatic, a woman finds herself in a room full of men and she’s terrified. Rubio will never understand the fear of rape. Nor will he understand the problems of pregnancy — its financial costs, the potential repercussions on professional life, etc.
Rubio has never been raped. I’m a woman, and even I would never say to a rape victim that I “get it.” Because no one gets it, even remotely, unless you’ve been through it. To say that is insulting to the trauma, pain, and myriad of emotions the victims are living. When a woman is raped, she endures the pain of the act, but then goes through it again when reporting it — if she does report it. In that act of reporting violence that was done to you, the woman must endure the judgment and skepticism of the people who are supposed to be helping her, as well as the stigma from society.
Rubio is a congressman, who is running for president. He is privileged and has resources. Some women can’t afford to have children, and doing so would be ruinous. Some women cannot take time off to have the child and care for it. Other women do not have long maternity leave, but also do not have alternate resources for child care. Some women cannot afford the formula, diapers, and other items needed for raising a baby. Beyond that, some women cannot afford proper medical care during pregnancy, which would be detrimental to the baby.
To have a man forcefully impregnate her and then force her to have a child is punishing her twice, and it is absurd. He most certainly does not understand this.
Women make up more than half the American population, and having a group of men who will never understand the female experience is patently absurd. To say that men do not understand is not an insult; it’s a fact. I, as an Asian American, will never understand the African American experience, but I can still be a listener, an ally, and an advocate. Men can, and should, do the same for women.
There are many aspects of modern society that are, unfortunately, not vestiges of the past when they should be. But men telling women what they can and cannot do should be a thing of the past, and it is something that is among the easier of which to rid ourselves. Men limiting women’s actions should be limited to fathers and daughters, not congressmen and the entire nation. The idea that many men feel that they can do this dehumanizes women and hinders the progress women have made.
Women already face hurdles in this modern world, beyond bodily autonomy. The world scrutinizes our appearance, and so we scrutinize ourselves. Women are systemically barred from fulfilling their dual ambitions of being a professional and being a mother, two worlds which should not be mutually exclusive (and certainly aren’t for men). Tort law says that express consent is necessary during medical procedures (“invasions of the body”), but for women, express consent is not enough. Instead, we need the consent of men we will never know and never meet, and we must travel far in order to even see an abortion clinic.
Nothing about this system will change unless we do something about it. There are many men who say that they became feminists after they had a daughter, because they did not want their beloved child to face difficulties and discrimination based solely on her sex. I applaud these men. But let us not forget that these same men did not see their wives as reason enough to fight for women’s rights.
These are views that are engrained in society, in both men and women. It is not enough simply for me to blog about it, or for my friends to talk about it. There needs to be more. But talking about it, with more people, is a start.
So let’s take step one. Pay attention to women on the news. Remember their feats and how they shape the world.
Let a woman inspire you.