We’re not sure if you’ve heard about it, but there is currently a ‘war on women’. This war, like many others, has not been pretty. Nearly every media outlet and blogosphere has exploded with commentary over the past year.
Rochelle Burgess and Teresa Whitney
The casualties of this particular war would prove difficult, as to do so would most effectively be handled by way of a time machine that would enable us to travel forward a generation to speak to the daughters, sisters, mothers, (and believe it or not), sons, husbands and fathers who lived in a society where it was once more common place for women’s rights to be ‘up for debate’.
The short list of casualties, of course, focuses on America. It most recently involves hesitance at renewing the Violence Against Women Act, as well as a series of fairly archaic family planning legislations (see National Family Planning for information/news) emerging in a range of states that would redefine ‘personhood’, seeing women forced to endure ultrasounds prior to being allowed abortions, or being outright denied them, even in the face of life threatening consequences for the mother.
US Lawmakers are even attempting to redefine ‘rape’ in order to make abortion illegal. For the record, the UK isn’t off the hook either. The current debate over austerity measures makes this point very clear – women and children are paying the price for this recession.
A recent piece by Mona Elthaway in this months’ Foreign Policy chronicles a long standing war on women that is visibly more merciless than what transpires within Western policy forays.
Virginity tests, honour killings, female genital mutilation – these practices, which remain embedded in the legislation of many Arab countries, all ranking below the top 100 in the Gender Gap Report, paint the picture of nations that seem to unabashedly ‘hate women’.
These countries are governed by laws that do not even feign to support the rights or freedoms of women. This is wrapped up within religious and cultural norms that have been interpreted by those with legislative power in ways that create very clear power differentials between men and women.
Elthaway is right to assert ‘to hell with political correctness’ in her charge to move discussions of women’s rights to the foreground of the ongoing Arab revolutions. These laws have to go.
The war on women is real. But the more important question is How is this actually still happening?
The successes of Second Wave feminists has enabled the Western countries like the United States to boast of their superiority with top twenty rankings in the global gender report (just edging out their Canadian neighbours to the north, and behind the UK who ranks at 16), but perhaps presents a route to explaining why the current war on women can emerge to begin with. Because, like the‘perpetrators’ argue, there isn’t a war on women.
We’re all equal now. Stop making stuff up ladies; you’ve got it way better than women all around the world. Right? A quick look at one of the most famous victims of the US’s war, Ms. (though a future Mrs) Sandra Fluke, paints a picture that proves that the work of feminists in west is far from over. Fighting this war may be much harder than we anticipated.
This time, we’re not fighting archaic laws that promote difference (as most of this legislation will not go through… right???). This time, the target is less tangible.
The back and forth over ‘women’s rights’ is a clear example of an argument that may never fully be won, at least not in the forums we’re currently fighting them in.
Debates over women’s bodies and the right to choose have actually returned from the grave, clearly indicating that policy change isn’t sufficient.
Despite policy changes, people remain tied to ‘old’ ways of thinking, and value systems don’t stop shaping decision making processes just because policy dictates they should.
Since recent events show us that when backed by individuals with the appropriate power these value systems can reconstitute themselves as policy, we’d better figure out how to change these things- and fast. Often our best approach seeks to shift values through very clear, logical arguments, hoping that they will change the foundations of statements like this. Truthfully, we won’t get very far this way, particularly if we consider social psychological perspectives on knowledge systems, and social knowledge.
The realm of fact driven arguments fuelled by statistics, theories and, for lack of better terminology, ‘hard’ knowledge, co-exists with an additional system of knowledge, made up of ‘lived’ or experiential knowledge, often associated with tradition, myth, and sometimes religion.
In the process of decision making, these different ways of understanding the world can conflict, and in such instances, external social structures become incentives to determine a ‘winner’ between the two.
Valued partnerships and relations, how we are viewed others, whatever carries the largest incentive for our ‘self’, tips the scales in determining which system of thinking makes the largest contribution to a decision.
We argue that the simplest way to get around this particular paradox and hopefully avoid the useless arguments ‘at’ one another, where those drawing on reasoning systems fuelled by ideology pretend to listen to those who draw on reasoning systems fuelled by reason (and in many ways, still ideology of sorts) in this current ‘war’ is to make everyone a feminist.
To be clear, we define a feminist (something that we have grappled with extensively, though Rochelle recently took this debate to the page) as follows: if you are someone who thinks that everyone should have the right to decide about their life, body, and how that body is treated in society, then you, technically, are also a feminist.
Making everyone a feminist ultimately requires that we value critical thinking. Questioning the ‘why’ and ‘what for’ of our social world, considering answers beyond the most obvious response.
This will obviously require incentives. For example, a little critical thought would have likely prevented the recent sexist comments of Mr. Limbaugh. The negative reinforcement embodied by loss of advertisers, and, both Democrat and Republican politicians denouncing his commentary, were too little too late. Incentives to thinking critically must come earlier to prevent such attacks.
This is how we make things like ‘wars on [insert relevant minority group label here]’ less likely to repeat through cycles of history. This is how we move closer to making everyone aware of interacting and sometimes opposing systems of thought, before they start making decisions that can affect the lives of others.
So, yes. There’s a war on women. And we’ll need to work equally hard outside of legislative spaces to have the greatest impact. We need to make everyone critical, to make everyone a ‘feminist’.
This is a slow, albeit living process, as a recent article in The Guardian highlights a growing grass roots interest in feminist ideals, particularly among youths.
This kind of work is just as important in our effort to end wars on women, and ensure that regardless of legislation, the systems of knowledge that enable ‘such wars’ are recognised and questioned before they have the chance to do their ugly work, which often undoes the work of those who struggled so hard to make it better. (May 12, 2012, 02:18)