Even When Her Shackles are Different: Why Feminism Matters to Me
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” ~ Audre Lorde
It all started at Halloween. I finally got angry.
Gumby for women costume vs. the men's version). It wasn't the first year I've bemoaned this ridiculous trend of ridiculous costumes.
But it was the first year my seven year old son noticed. Sitting next to me on the couch, browsing a catalog of costumes that had come in the mail, he flipped to the page of half dressed women, pointed to the Sexy Spiderman costume, and said, "Girls are weird. That doesn't even make sense!"
At that moment, hundreds of conversations flashed through my mind, conversations I've sat through and overheard and read online, conversations about gender roles and submitting to husbands and who can preach in church and what modest really means and whether moms should work or stay at home and whether feminists are angry and why men are better suited to lead and so much more. I recalled all of the passionate arguments from people who swore, who promised, who begged, who logically laid out their argument, all so sure that God designed this world with men in the driver's seat and women riding shotgun. Men leading, women breeding. It was God's plan for us, I was told, and it was beautiful if I could just submit myself enough to see it. If I could just be quiet and become less and shrink down into this here box, this tiny little box, then I could understand how it was God's plan for women to act one way and men to act this other way.
I looked at my son, all those voices bouncing around in my head, and I worried those voices would be so much louder than his father and I could be, that they would just drown us out in the end.
A few days later, I started watching the PBS documentary Half the Sky, and I had to stop it before the first half was over because I couldn't take it one second more, couldn't watch one more girl who had been raped or beaten or sold into slavery or sold into marriage. Watching those stories, seeing the faces of the women and the girls who had survived those things, all I could think was that none of this seems like a plan. No, this seems like the undoing of plans, like the sad, degenerative, unwinding of hope one little girl at a time. This seems like the systematic undoing of the well-being of half the inhabitants of this planet.
And I think of the conversations of women's roles we are having here, the charged admonitions of what women should and should not do. And though, yes, our chains are loose compared to those of the women in the documentary, I see how they are still the same chains. These things we explain on a small scale, these things we couch in the language of submission and complementarianism, modesty and purity, faith and feminism, these are reflections of the larger women’s rights issues at play in the world.
I think ultimately we have to face up to the fact that the gender inequality that feels annoying and restrictive here at home is the same force at work in gender inequality across the planet that is used to justify arranged marriages, genital mutilation, widespread systematic rape, and the selling of girls as sex slaves.
The attitude that drives the tendency to silence women in church is the same attitude that can justify women’s Halloween costumes being ridiculous odes to women as sex objects. It is the attitude, the belief, that women are less than men. Less talented, less intelligent, less worthy of respect, less important, less valuable, less deserving of the ability to control what happens to their own bodies. And this is the exact same attitude that justifies the atrocious treatment of women in Sierra Leone or Kolkata or Somaliland.
And yes, it makes me angry. It makes a lot of us angry.
So you see, when we say that we are angry about the inequality of women, we don’t just mean we really wish society was over this Halloween-style objectification of our bodies. What we mean is that we see in that seemingly innocuous objectification the same menace that cuts the hearts out of women in varying degrees all over the planet. We see the same attitude that can argue for capturing little girls and selling them into a life of sex slavery. We mean that although we recognize that there is a difference between the two, the similarity between the two is not as veiled as you who love to call us angry seem to think it is. We mean that we see you devaluing us, and though the U.S. brand of devaluation may appear a more petty and flexible version, we see that it is the same engine that drives the more sinister crimes against women being perpetrated right out in the open all over the world.
And it also means that, though you defend these petty forms of devaluation as harmless, we see that you aren’t fighting against the extreme forms of devaluation out there. You aren’t talking about them, you aren’t trying to stop them, and you aren’t standing up for the women who are trying to stop them. And in ignoring those extreme forms of devaluation, what you are saying is that you don’t think the devaluation of women is a problem no matter how violent and extreme it becomes.
What you are saying, what we are hearing, is that you want to be strong not because God promotes biblical manhood, not because you want to take on the burden of protecting us. You are saying you want to be strong so you can keep us under your heel.
See, these are not unrelated problems. These are all the same problem, different links of the same chain. And the reason some of us are angry is because we have seen how interconnected all of these issues really are. And it matters because these are our lives, tied up in these archaic knots of devaluation and fear and abuse. Feminism matters because it is a torch that burns to sustain the life and the hope and the respect and the freedom of half of earth's population.
It matters because someone has to look my son in the eye and explain the difference between a Sexy Librarian costume and the real, live woman who helps him pick out his next great chapter book at school. It matters because my son will likely marry one of your daughters, and together chances are they will have a son or a daughter of their own. It matters because we have not been loud enough yet. Not angry enough. Not just yet.
Today, I am participating in day two of Feminisms Fest talking about why feminism matters to me. I hope you will click over to read all of the stories on this important topic.
Image credit, used under creative commons license.