Sunday, April 22, 2012

Not Such a Long Way After All, Baby

 “The courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying.”
-       Aristotle

“Women are capable of education, but they are not made for activities which demand a universal faculty such as the more advanced sciences, philosophy and certain forms of artistic production. ... Women regulate their actions not by the demands of universality, but by arbitrary inclinations and opinions.” 
-       Hegel

Women are being threatened. Again. At first I was surprised that we seemed to be moving backwards in this seemingly endless American election season. Then I was outraged. Now I’ve come to accept that men have always felt this way about women.  This journey from denial to acceptance is neither more remarkable than the taste of bitter ashes; nor more puzzling than the long history of man’s inhumanity to women. But there’s still the question of why women continue to passively accept or even actively collude in their domination by men.

I think I’ve found a big answer to part of this question - by recently learning about the plight of a typical Afghan woman who passively accepts her lot in life. This girl was married off at age 11 to a husband who expects his wife to wait on him hand and foot until she dies young, probably in childbirth. Why doesn’t she strangle the man in bed or poison his dinner?

Despite the risk of having my head explode from the cognitive dissonance of attempting to equate the horrific fate of an 11-year old Afghan bride to that of a “working mom” like Ann Romney (after all, neither of them have every been “gainfully" employed) I have developed a theory about why. Women everywhere accept our various fates because we have no expectation of any alternative choice.

The young Afghan woman who flees from an abusive husband is guilty of committing a “moral crime” for which she can be indefinitely imprisonedHer “choice” is to return to her father’s house where she will be murdered for bringing dishonor; to live as a beggar and never see her children again; or to return to the abusive husband. For very similar reasons, American women will watch as American men move us in pretty much the same direction as the customs prevailing in Afghanistan. Apart from the feeble power of our vote in an electoral system increasingly corrupted by corporations and politicians, what choice do we have?

I was not only a working mom, I was a single mom with a full time job who attended law school at night. I was fortunate. I had the choice to leave a bad marriage, to find an underpaying job, to attend school to improve my income potential. But I didn’t have a choice about making 77% of a man’s salary; of paying for birth control if I chose to engage in intercourse; of leaving my young child in the care of someone else while I worked and attended school; of paying 20% of my salary for such day care; or of being exhausted every day and every night for years.

Generally speaking, the sexes are different. Men are generally larger and have stronger muscles. Women are generally smaller and possess less physical strength (although my own experience is that women have more endurance).  When survival depended on physical prowess, men had a clear advantage and could even be considered superior – again, generally speaking.  Thus evolved a rule that made perfect sense: because women generally aren’t able to kick the shit out of men, men got to kick the shit out of women. A perfectly reasonable rule. To. A. Caveman. To cavemen like Aristotle and Hegel, or many American politicians. The kicking can be literal, as it is to the young mother in Afghanistan; or metaphorical as it was in the workplace and marketplace to me.

But that was then. I might have belonged to the first generation of feminists who had access to reliable birth control, but I was also part of a generation of women who still wanted to become mothers, even though many of us couldn’t be stay-at-home moms. But today, many daughters of my generation of moms are choosing to postpone motherhood for a professional career; and even to forgo motherhood entirely.

So, my theory about why women often permit men to kick the shit out of them is that they allow it for the sake of their children. I suspect some men realize this dirty little secret and hence the “war on woman’s health” which is actually more of a war on a woman’s choice about whether or not to bear children.  While many mothers of my generation probably consider the greatest accomplishment in their lives to be their children, I now understand why more and more of our daughters do not see motherhood as their greatest potential achievement.  In this regard, our daughters are smarter than we were. They exercised a very fundamental choice. They have found a way to break the cycle of passive acceptance of generations of unfair and cruel treatment at the hands of their male relatives.

These days, survival no longer depends on relative brute strength, at least in America. Women have brains every bit as capable of men; many would argue more capable. Once no longer hampered by the imposed long term "weaknesses" of childbearing, women may no longer passively permit men to kick the shit out of them. I hope I live to see the day men figure this out. Maybe I already have.

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