Lately, I have been considering just what it means to be a woman. I heard an NPR broadcast on Marketplace with Melinda Gates not too long ago about Time Poverty and women. In it, she is discusses how, across the globe, women are tasked with an over-sized burden of unpaid work such as family care, child care, housekeeping, etc. She tells the story of a young girl in Africa. Of all of the things that this girl wants, she asks for the headlamp of Melinda's daughter so that she has time to study at 10:30 at night, after all of her chores are done. This is compared to her brother who studies at 4:30 in the afternoon.
In Salt Lake City, UT, where I lived until I was 10, we were Mormon. I remember my mother often saying that the women there were like Super Women. They truly tried to care for their families while baking, cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, and having way more children than I ever wanted. In Charleston, SC, where I lived through high school, and much of my adulthood, I was consistently under the pressure of the "Church" which has invaded, informed, and molded Southern society with moral and social rules of conduct. Over the years, I have often been called a lazy woman. I have been accused of not properly caring for my children. My son went to private Catholic School until the 5th grade. Though I worked my behind off to pay the tuition, the child care, and to buy the stupid uniforms, I would have notes sent home if there was a stain on his white shirt. Never mind that I was the sole breadwinner. Never mind that I worked all day, rushed to pick up my children after school, got home to fix dinner, bathe the children, then had to put them to bed. There was no time for anything else. Is a spot on a white shirt of a young boy really that big of a deal - particularly when the uniforms were $20 per shirt?!
Never mind that I was the sole breadwinner. Never mind that I worked all day, rushed to pick up my children after school, got home to fix dinner, bathe the children, then had to put them to bed. There was no time for anything else. Is a spot on a white shirt of a young boy really that big of a deal...
Of course, the days of daily childcare are long past for me, but I still have frequent discussions with my partner about household tasks. We both work full time. I run my own business as a massage therapist, and it is a physically and mentally taxing job. He is a marine contractor, and it is also a physically demanding job. We both get home at roughly the same time, and we contribute fairly equally to the overall budget. Yet, even we have the occasional flare up over chores at home. A recent argument that occurred was over who was going to stop in at the grocery store after work. These problems happen for all women, and I would consider myself a fortunate one. I, at least, have the maturity and means to negotiate with a level of power in my relationship. Not all women are that fortunate.
This leads me to another problem, though. Why is it that women, who make up the vast majority of the human population, and are considered a god-like Mother figure to every child born of a woman, are often subjugated, marginalized, and abused? Women are the vessel that brings forth life from the Spirit World. Women's hands are the ones that rock the cradle. Women's arms are the ones that embrace the bodies of their lovers and husbands. It is the hug of Mom that soothes you when you are sick. It is her late night whispers into the ear of her man that shape his heart and mind. Why is it, then, that women do not exercise their power to negotiate a fairer existence? I often think about the wives of powerful politicians and wonder why they allow their husbands to pass laws that are so clearly discriminatory and horrible for women and society at large.
It is too easy to blame men for our condition. The problem with this, though, is that in blaming men, we give up our very power to change our situation. We are all the victims of history, religion, social policy and genders roles. We find ourselves defaulting into roles created for us, and never even stopping to wonder why. Would we honestly still be discussing women's access to birth-control if we, as women, just said to our men: no birth control, no sex?
This does lead me to another question...one of sexual violence against women. I think that most women, at some point, have allowed ourselves to be coerced into sex that we did not want. It does occur to me, though, that were a man to actually attempt to rape me, I would be so disgusted by him that I would laugh with ridicule and contempt. After all, what is rape but a power struggle? Rape is intended to exert power against someone. I wonder, were I to respond with laughter, would my rapist be able to proceed? I may well end up beaten or dead, but I would not be a victim of rape. Even as I type this, I find myself reacting with rage at the thought of someone even trying.
And so, this leads me back to our participation in our own subjugation. As a 5'4", overweight woman, I would be little challenge against physical threat, and yet, I do not fear such things. Physical might isn't what wins the day. Think for a moment about the Grand Canyon. This amazing formation was carved into rock by water. Water is changeable, formless, passive and aggressive. Water as a hurricane can decimate land. Water as a river can nourish land. Water, as a steady dripping on your forehead, can drive you insane. Water is necessary for life, but an overabundance can take your life.
I wonder, what would society look like, if women refused to participate in their own subjugation. Would we finally have a fairer distribution of household and child-rearing tasks? Would our contribution be valued? Would we stop having ridiculous old men dictating to us about our clothing, morality, and sexual rights? If we recognized that we have power and influence, if we only use it, what could we accomplish?
Lest you think this is an anti-male post, let me assure you that it is not. I have a father who has shaped me into an educated, strong and independent woman. I have a son who understands and values women. I have a partner that works with me to create our lives that we enjoy together. Men are a source of love and protection. Men are meant to be our partners and assist us where we are weak. Through a true blending, we create a stronger unit for our families and society. There cannot be a whole unit if one partner is considered inferior. It is not through sexual warfare that we will succeed in equality. It is through embracing all that it means to be a woman, that we can restore our power. We are beloved daughters, worshiped mothers, favorite grandmothers, cherished care-takers, as well as steely and powerful leaders. Our hearts, so often maligned as weak, are the source of our greatest strength. It is time that we recognize and celebrate women for what we are: the moral and spiritual guide for the world.