And then he tried to explain it away in some way that didn’t seem anti-female. I’m not writing any thing new here. We all know — don’t we? — that in many if not most societies women still fall in the category of seriously second class citizen? Where are the exceptions? Iceland? Maybe? Icelandic women still earn 14% less than their male counterparts, and make up only 41% of Parliament.
I still remember the day I realized — out loud, in my mind — that girls were second-class to boys. I was in Brooklyn with my Mom and older brother and standing on the sidewalk outside my Grandma Anna’s apartment. My younger cousin Neil was in his pram guided by my Aunt Rose. My Aunt Mildred was also there. My thought was: Boys are the preferred children, but there’s a silver lining, which is I won’t have to grow up to be a soldier and go to war. I’d figured it out. I know how I knew about boys being preferred, but how the fuck did I know about soldiers and war? I was four years old.
Despite the fact that I knew about this discrimination from an early age, I was still susceptible to the conditioning I received and many of the myths I learned — though the myth of boys being smarter was never my direct experience. I knew I was smart but that didn’t translate for me to do anything particular with my intelligence. I remember walking a mental tightrope between being a good girl and a bad girl. Good girls were sweet, obedient, helpful, kind, clean, good students but humble, without ambition except for a good husband and children, and more than anything else, pleasing to others. I strived for this. As part of this “pleasing”, it was “good” to please boys, but not too much. Where the line was drawn was anyone’s guess.
Oh yes, I did like (and ponder) this song when I was nine years old.
Rock and roll lyrics, which I listened to a lot from the time I was about 8 or 9, didn’t help much. Most of them were about being treated badly and coming back for more.
When I became aware of women’s liberation in 1969, I was happy for it, but managed not to get too involved. I was 22, I liked boys and even though I felt myself very much of a second-class citizen as a woman in the anti-imperialist movement, I also thought that was just how things were. How men were. How women were. My expectations were low, and met.
I was slow, really very slow to anger, to feel my anger, and my fear. The evidence of why I should be angry and afraid is abundant, always was, but I didn’t let myself see too much of it. Now, it makes daily appearances; I’m no longer successful at avoiding it. How Hillary was/ and still is vilified beyond ANYTHING reserved for male politicians. How Trump gets away with spectacularly bad (including crudely sexist and predatory, though not limited to that by a long shot) behavior as if he’s America’s favorite “bad boy”. Anita Hill. Christine Blasey-Ford. The ongoing attempt by the heinous far right to take away women’s health and reproductive rights and put us in prison, maybe even kill us if we don’t comply. Such is their pro-life-ness.
Today I read two articles, one about the 20 violent murders of young women in Australia so far this year (2019), and another from the NY Times Magazine of April, 2019 about women’s seriously second-class status as scientists at the Salk Institute, and in other scientific arenas as well.
This morning, Maggie Doyne posted a film trailer on Instagram, which I re-posted to my Facebook page, and which I can’t stop thinking about. The film was made by Brian Lindstrom (Cheryl Strayed’s husband) and just premiered at the documentary film festival in Telluride, Colorado. It tells the story of the abuse girls and young women suffer in their own families because of mythology that women are impure and basically evil when they have their periods. I knew there was backward thinking about menstruation in the world, but I didn’t know the extent of the mythologies and cruelty young girls and women endure. How severely it harms them. I’m sure there are other menstruation-related mythologies just as harm-inducing in other countries as well.
Thinking about the girls in Nepal got me thinking about a story I’d read (or seen) years ago about how they have jails in the middle east (I believe this was in Jordan) for girls who were raped. They’re jailed not because they are criminal or responsible in any way, but because if they’re not locked up, their families will kill them. These are called honor killings. Thinking about that had me thinking about girls and women in Afghanistan or other places wearing burkas. I have no issue with women covering their heads for religious reasons, but to cover their entire body from head to toe, is obviously meant to keep them as a non-person in their community, to eliminate their right to be, and is also a de-facto punishment simply for being female.
One summer I visited Anna in NYC. On a sizzling hot day, we tried to go to the movies for an air-conditioned experience, but seems like everyone else in the city had the same idea. Tickets were sold out. Finally we headed out to the Staten Island ferry, hoping it would be at least a little cooler on the water. It was, but only slightly. Anna and I were in tank tops and faint from the heat. On the ferry, I noticed two couples in particular. One was a Muslim couple, the woman covered up, not in a burkha but long sleeves and a head scarf, while her husband sported a peach-colored cotton knit short-sleeved Izod shirt. The other couple was an orthodox Jewish couple. The woman once again with long sleeves, a long skirt and a dark cardigan sweater, and on her head a wig. Her husband sported a white cotton long sleeve shirt, with his shirt sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The weather heated me from outside; inside I was seething from witnessing this oppressive discrimination, imagining how over-heated and uncomfortable these two womens’ bodies were.
I know that I was a raucously happy and energetic child.
I had a voice. But it left me quite young. I traded it in for whatever acceptance and praise I could garner, from my family, from young men, and from society. I was a rebel, but my oppression and that of other girls and women wasn’t my cause.
Anyway, no doubt, to be continued.