Sunday, September 5, 2010

To Run The Gauntlet

You would think that women's suffrage and women's liberation, by tearing down the previous barriers between women and their rightful place in society, would also tear down the misogyny women were exposed to. Sadly, with women breaking the chains that held them to their homes and lives as only mothers and/or homemakers, the chauvinistic tendencies of men, which expressed themselves behind closed doors at home, followed women out into the streets. Now, a woman had nowhere to turn to escape it; all around her, men were seeing women and concluding that their attraction to them as sex objects was allowed to be expressed when and where they chose, and that women would find it "flattering."

It was the mistake of men to conclude that "women's lib" was some grand scheme to allow them to be more sexual in the presence of men. Far from forbidden fruit, women were now out in the world, able to show themselves off, and men were eager to lap up the sudden preponderance of femininity. So, the misogyny of the past took on new forms, and invaded the workplace, the supermarket, and worst of all, the street. Now, there appeared to be no barriers to the machinations of male libido.

A working woman could potentially be forced to literally run a gauntlet to get from her home to her job. Mashed together with others on the bus or train, she might be subject to the depredations of those who gain excitement from rubbing against her, or talked to death by a man who is sure she is impressed by him and his life. After that, simply walking the street, she could be subject to leers, whistles, and even shouted implorations for sexual acts and professions of "love." from all quarters. Even making it to work, she is not completely safe, for hidden amidst her male co-workers, are those who do not see her as a colleague, but a concubine, who are more interested in her physical form, than the form she needs signed. And after a full day, it is time to run the gauntlet back home, to close the door and shut out the horror... until it must be run again.

This is not to say that every man is like this, or that every woman must run this gauntlet, but that it happens at all is a sad commentary of just what progress society has actually made in gender relations. It was not enough for laws to be written and passed, if they are not enforced. It is not enough to enforce laws if the knowledge that come with that enforcement does not permeate the larger society. It does not matter what efforts are made to bring about equality between the sexes, if that equality is not enforced in the home. Young men and young women must be taught from the earliest possible age that there is no difference between them, save their gender, and each is capable of whatever they set their mind to. They must be inculcated with the idea that women are just as deserving of respect as men. Young men must be taught not to harass women, and young women must be taught that they are not expected to suffer the harassment of men.

Of course, none of this is easy, as preceding decades have shown. Human society, being locked in a patriarchal mold from almost the beginning of organized humanity, cannot simply be undone in a few decades, or possibly, even a few centuries. Attitudes require wholesale adjustment, at all levels of society, starting from the very beginning of life. Until each generation is composed of more and more citizens who have learned the lessons and precepts of equality, until the old mores become smothered by a more sincere and level-headed humanity's acceptance of the truth, women will still be subject to the gauntlet.

Women do not have to surrender to it, however. Far from it, for in order to impel the changes that must occur, women and men must fight it here and now. Women must stand up to those who marginalize and minimalize them as sexual objects; men must stand up for women, calling out their testosterone-driven brethren for their incivility and innuendo. Men and women, working together, can begin, must begin, to turn the tide of human ideology from its patriarchal course. In doing so, they will pave the way for a better humanity, a humanity where we shall work together to support and nurture each other. We shall create a future where everyone's contributions will count equally, and where women will no longer have to fear for themselves. In this, will come the true growth of humanity.

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