Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Oppression of Women, Subtle or Otherwise

At first glance this blog may appear divisive, but in fact it's just me trying to achieve what I'm always trying to achieve - balance.

Identifying as a feminist I seek equality. I do not believe women are superior. I am just trying to do away with the idea that men are superior.

One of the ways men like to believe they are superior is that they are not afflicted by the unstabling effects of female hormones. They completely overlook how they are afflicted by the unstabling effects of male hormones. Testosterone can lead to aggression. There is no question about this. This is not an excuse, however.

Before we begin, I'd like you to think about why men tend to be the dominant sex. I think it's been conclusively proven that men are no more intelligent than women, or more hard-working, or more ambitious. In fact the usual final excuse given is that men are stronger than women. While there are plenty of women who are stronger than some men, that's not the correct way to look at this. What you have to do is look at who the leaders are. They tend to be older men. They are rarely stronger than their younger counterparts. Some of them are even infirm. Physical strength is not a pre-requisite for leadership.

These older or weaker men lead because the people around them allow them to lead. They could be easily usurped. But they have some characteristic which commands respect. It may be fear of their physically stronger colleagues, relatives, or paid henchmen of course. Fear remains a very powerful motivation to show respect, so it works just fine. But the fact that their supporters exist at all suggests that they exude some kind of charismatic power. In some instances the position is respected rather than the individual and their guards would protect them regardless. Within a system such as a monarchy, the title is all that's required. The King can be a child.

Male strength is not disputed. By the time they reached puberty my sons could lift heavier objects than I could, and in a fist fight I wouldn't stand a chance against a man. But does that make a person superior? Does it give him the right to be cruel to those physically weaker than him? Most importantly does it give him the right to make decisions for those physically weaker than him?

Does it gives him the right to oppress women based on the excuse that they are physically weaker? To reduce her opportunities and freedoms because he is physically stronger? That is the mindset of the bully.

But in fact quite often when men refer to women as the weaker sex, they are not talking about weightlifting. It is a suggestion that a woman's mind is inferior, that her ability to rationalize is impeded by her lack of biceps. It's patently absurd, but unfortunately if she is brought up to believe that her opinions are not valid, that the men in her life are the only people who know what is right for her, there is a risk that she may believe it. If women are taught, and believe that they can't do many things that men can do (despite physical strength not being involved at all) then they can't. It's a self-fulfilling belief.

On the other hand some women do not believe this, no matter how hard it is impressed upon them from an early age. They rebel, they fight back, and after a long struggle, at least western women finally have almost achieved equality in many areas. The fact that I had to use the word "almost" there is telling. There do remain plenty of inequalities, and if you honestly don't know what they are by now, get off my blog. Seriously.

Now then. If we agree that the only real difference between us is physical strength, there has to be some other reason for this type of inequality.The question is: what happens when those who put themselves in charge want to assert their dominance?

Remember the basic idea about hormones:

Female hormones apparently, make women emotional, unpredictable, or even "unstable".

Male hormones lead to aggression.

Here's the upshot of that.


There are articles published, and then inevitably "memes" drawn from those articles, suggesting that violence by men is the leading cause of death among women, despite "cause of death" data to the contrary. So, this may or may not be true in the long term, depending on how you look at it. Certainly a very high number of women die by suicide (it's the leading cause of death among women in a number of Asian countries) and obviously, this could be linked. It's probably impossible to establish the facts, and I'll leave it to others to argue that one out.

But the WHO does have the following to say about violence towards women:

"Violence against women is widespread around the world. Recent figures indicate that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. On average, 30% of women who have been in a relationship experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.
Globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.
Women who have been physically or sexually abused have higher rates of mental ill-health, unintended pregnancies, abortions and miscarriages than non-abused women. Women exposed to partner violence are twice as likely to be depressed, almost twice as likely to have alcohol use disorders, and 1.5 times more likely to have HIV or another sexually transmitted infection. 42% of them have experienced injuries as a result. Increasingly in many conflicts, sexual violence is also used as a tactic of war."

So "cause of death" isn't always the cause of death.

And like a parasite or virus that doesn't kill its host because it needs it, men who are violent towards women tend to stop short of killing them. They may be very careful not to beat her so badly she can't work or bear more children. They may restrict themselves to verbal or mental abuse, because if enough damage is done to her self-esteem and her will, she's both compliant and still fully able.

Not all men are abusive. Not all men are bullies. But if the society a man lives in defends or encourages such abuse, even a good man will go along with it. Not only does he think it is justified morally, he may not even question it at all.

We don't have to look far away for examples of this. This is not something "ignorant foreigners" do. Western society was built on a solid foundation of wife beating.

One my first date with my husband, I told him what my mother had taught me. If you ever lay a hand on me, you'll never see me again. My husband is not a violent man, I really had no need to warn him, but you don't know that when you first meet a person. I meant it too. No second chances. My boys have been raised in the certainty that it's wrong to hit a woman, and now my grandsons know the same.

Think all boys in the west are raised this way? You know that's not the case. Many learn by example, by seeing violence in the home. They may be told it's wrong a thousand times, but what other messages do they get?

One of the more subtle ways that men are taught that it's OK to oppress women is in music. I will never forget my mother's absolute horror and disgust at this song:

Mick was my idol, you understand, and to hear her disapproval was all the more powerful.

But that was almost 5 decades ago, we've moved on so far since then, haven't we?


There are more songs promoting or glorifying oppression, coercion, and violence towards women than ever. I am not going to name them or share them, they do not deserve the exposure, but you know they are out there, and I'm sure you've heard some of them.

Thankfully, there are also these:

OK, I've rambled on even more than usual. What's my point. My point is that it's still happening. After all this time. After all the efforts that have been made. After suffrage, and women's lib, and post-modern sensibilities. In some ways it is getting worse instead of better. The backlash against women's equality by conservatives aims to put us back 50 years.

It would be so easy if we could turn the blame game around, and just blame men for it, but we get nonsense like this:

Women being paid less than men for doing the exact same job is the thin end of the wedge. It is vital that employment equality happens because if it doesn't, the rest of the slide backwards can happen. Either we have equality or we don't.

And this has nothing to do with evil capitalist liberal Western agendas, BTW. Even Tunisia has a new constitution guaranteeing equal rights for men and women. Why? Because it benefits everyone. It raises the GDP. It increases educational levels. It increases stability and improves the standard of living for everyone. It is a win-win situation, and the only losers are the bullies.

But Tunisia faces a problem, as we all do. It's one thing to put it in law, quite another to put it in practice.

Until the desire to oppress isn't there, until men don't feel the urge or need to raise a hand to a woman, we'll never have true equality. This is a grass roots issue. Every parent has a responsibility, and so does every singer. Every employer. Every journalist.

Every single one of us, male or female, in whatever role we have, need to understand that what we do, what we say, and before all of that, what we think, affects oppression. It's a tall order, but it begins at the bottom.

This diagram was created to show how racism works, but it absolutely applies to sexism too.

We are told things are improving. OK. The following survey, presented here to show that atheists are the least trusted candidates in the US, just happens to show something else.

That's right, things have improved. Two minorities are doing much better than they were decades ago. There is even a black president. That would have boggled the mind of a voter in the 1950s. But a black man is still preferred over a white woman. If she happens to be a lesbian, it drops right down. 

I confess to a bias here. I'm a woman, and I have been for rather a long time. I do not feel inferior, and I have conquered every oppression I've ever faced. I married well, and have good sons. Why does this matter to me?

Because it matters. The equality of women will lift all people. It benefits everyone. The only losers in this scenario are arseholes.


  1. Twice in my life I have found myself earning less than a male in the same position. The excuse both times was that they had families to feed. One of those times I also had a family to feed but I had a husband to do that. It took me a very long time to not feel like less. And two things lately have made me feel like more than I ever have. One was I was doing bench presses. My husband who now has a desk type job couldn't lift the same weight as many times as I could. Second, I read an article about people with more gray matter might be less bothered by pain. Pain is usually something I just work through because I have so many things that are more important. Three members of my family are less tolerant of pain. That isn't the important part. The important part was that I was able to joke about how I must be more intelligent because I have more gray matter since I am more tolerant of pain. And I didn't feel the need to apologize for that joke because I am female. In the past I would not have made the joke or if I had I would have quickly apologized. I would be a different person if I had found that freedom earlier in life. I don't really regret it because I do like my life. But I wish young females could find the freedom much soon that I did.

    1. I think it will take more than one generation, but if we all make the effort, we can get past this.

  2. I did see this last night, and even did a semi-literate response that the Blogger-bot ate up without a trace. :-[

    My mother's comment to me about the inequity in pay was that it stemmed from the expectation of men as being the breadwinners of the family. This, in spite of the existence of families headed by women and the various forms of stigma and prejudice that existed. You know me well enough to know that as long as the whole money game is bring played, there must be better balance brought to all members on the playing field.

    Ultimately, I hold that we hold much greater value as priceless, timeless beings, so thing to equate worth with something as contrived as money isa futile exercise, IMHO.

  3. We also have to look at ourselves; there are far too many women out there who will trade their safety for the want of male companionship. How many of us know women who suffer abuse and then make excuses on behalf of the abuser? I'm sorry but low self-esteem just doesn't wash for me. As incomprehensible as it is for a husband/boyfriend/father to abuse a female counterpart - it is equally inexcusable to permit this to continue. I've heard the excuses and we will continue to see this type of issue until women understand that the raising of a hand is never acceptable and companionship should not have violence as a price tag.