War On Women?

Peggy Noonan, respected right-wing Wall Street Journal columnist, recently made headlines by exclaiming that there is currently a war on women going on in the US. At face value, her statement might seem hyperbolic. However, the way that reproductive rights and policies concerning a women’s body have become a national priority, the way that many (Republican-run) states simultaneously are engaging in legislation to curtail a woman’s power over her own body – all of this does wind up to a war, for literally a woman’s physical well-being – even the lives of some women – may be at stake. The real problem with Rush Limbaugh’s controversial Sandra Fluke comments, is not the comments themselves, but the culture that gives rise to the type of rhetoric against women that Rush engaged in – sure, Rush stepped over the boundary, but he stepped over it in degree, not in kind.

I would like to argue however, that the recent war on women is, in effect, a war on men, although this war might not be as obvious. First of all, many anti-choice activists* do still believe in an exception in cases of rape or incest (though there are also campaigns to limit such exceptions). This becomes problematic, for a few reasons: 1. Rape is notoriously hard to convict. Would women only be able to get an abortion if the man they accuses is convicted – since if not, the rape is only an alleged rape, in the eyes of the law? If so, by the time he is convicted, the woman could be in the third trimester, which is both physically more problematic and morally, to some people. Or she could even have given birth. Of course, he also might not get convicted at all. 2. If a woman only has to accuse a man of rape, but not get a conviction, in order to get an abortion, then men could be unjustly accused of rape.** This is not because women are monsters, but because they are human, and humans in desperate situations will do desperate things, or harm others – and yes, some women in need of abortions may be just that desperate. This could result in false accusations against men, leading innocent men to spend time in jail, and for their lives to be ruined – even if they are not convicted, their reputation will most likely be completely shattered, and their family life may be as well. This is leaving aside that many women fear to come forward against the rapist, or may suffer from Rape Trauma Syndrome, which may prevent them from coming forward, so even if legally women who are raped may pursue abortions, in reality, many rape victims who might otherwise pursue abortions, will not do so. 3. Even if a woman does not need to legally press charges, merely to say she has been raped, the minute she has to say that, the same conditions apply as in 2, both in terms of women not coming forward, and in terms of innocent men having their lives ruined, though in this case it is merely reputation damage and not jail-time. (Remember, reputation damage easily leads to loss of livelihood.) Even if advocates of no-abortion-except-in-rape and incest provided legislation on how a woman would go about applying for such an exception (which they have yet to do satisfactorily), and even if they provided a confidential process, could they really guarrantee such confidentiality? Extreme safeguards would be needed. But of course, the anti-abortionists are too busy trying to invade women’s bodies (hello, inter-vaginal ultrasound), to worry about such petty details.

While anti-abortion laws tend to result in unhealthy and illegal abortions, as opposed to less sex, in reality, if anti-abortionists are right about the whol celibacy thing, straight men, at least, will suffer. Kiss the cunt good-bye, because you won’t have it once the anti-abortion laws come into effect – especially if they’re combined with anti-birth-control laws. Or maybe you will have it, but be prepared for lots of guilt and fear, as well as the potential of having to stand over your girlfriend’s vagina with a hanger, or to accept fatherhood a bit earlier than you wanted to.

Then, let’s add in the fact that women are wives, mothers, co-workers, sisters, and friends. Men have to live with women – even if they’re gay, unless they’ve been exiled to some sort of male-topia in a secret island. This means that, when women are opressed, all men suffer: Living with opressed people sucks. Opressed people tend to be moody, and to plot revenge against their opressors. Think “Fatal Attraction” on crack. (Of course, “Fatal Attraction” engages in too many negative stereotypes of women to count, but it’s a handy cultural reference.)

This was recognized by Leopold Von Sacher-Massoch, whose name gave rise to the term “massichism”. In his seminal work, “Venus in Furs”, published in 1870, Sacher-Massoch wrote of women, that “She can be only his slave or his despot, but never his companion. This she can only be when she has the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and in work”. (I am not so crazy about this translation, but misplaced my copy, so am using a translation from this edition: http://www.amazon.com/Venus-Furs-Leopold-Von-Sacher-Masoch/dp/1456314874/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1331610193&sr=8-2#reader_1456314874 ).

It is time to stop dichtomizing between the war on women and the war on men, the rights of women and the rights of men – as long as we’re forced to share this earth with each other, a violation of women’s rights affects men – and vice versa. Time to discuss the way male victims of sexual harrasment are overlooked by our society, not because we are “gender egalitarian” – though yes, I suppose I will spitefully acknowledge that I probably fall under that label – but because we are feminists. But this applies to men as well – so many men see feminism as a “women’s thing” – and why shouldn’t they? In labeling our rights as “women’s rights”, and not as “human rights”, we have not only missed an opportunity to re-define the term human in Western culture, forcing it to encompass both genders (see Simone de Beauvoir for more on this topic), but also sent a message that our rights are not the direct concern of men – even though they are – or at least, they should be. If we want to win, we need to start recruiting more male feminists. This means not only re-defining our terms, but also acknowledging certain “male rights” that fit right in with the feminist agenda – an agenda which should be about humanizing the human, regardless of gender – women do come first, just because since they have a longer and deeper history of dehumanization, there is more work to be done.

That is why I resent being labeled a feminist: Fighting for women’s rights doesn’t make me a feminist – it makes me a humanist. So let’s start fighting, because in the US, as well as around the globe, there is a war being waged against half of the human population, based on the sole criteria that they happen to have a vagina. (I wonder how many times I can fit the term “vagina” into one blog post.)

By the way, the global war against women has been excellently documented in Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wu Dunn’s “Half the Sky” (http://www.amazon.com/Half-Sky-Oppression-Opportunity-Worldwide/dp/0307387097/ref=pd_sim_b_1 ), but it makes for heavy reading, so you might want to balance it out with “Venus in Furs”, which is both well-written and entertaining.

* I use the term anti-choice, and not pro-life or anti-abortion, because although I am pro-choice, I am also pro-life – I think human life is extremely precious – and I am anti-abortion – I do think that abortions are bad, I just think a) sometimes they are necessary b) I can’t force other women to adhere to my own moral values. It’s called freedom – I am pretty sure that word appears somewhere in the Constitution…..

** While women might also falsely accuse if a conviction is needed, they are less likely to do so, since they would probably figure that it would be impossible to prove, and therefore, pointless to accuse in the first place. If all that is needed is a legal accusation however, the burden of proof is lowered, leading to a higher possibility of false accusation.

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