Some Progress on Paper, But Old
Battles Still Need to Be Won Again
Past the first century by four years, the International Women’s Day continues to serve as lamppost to reassess and reaffirm its principles of equality, freedom, and all that. But unless we’re mistaken, we seem to be fighting one too many battles we thought had already be fought.
While the U.S. has renewed the long overdue Violence Against Women Act, both inside it and abroad there’s been no shortage of examples of ingrained prejudice and despicable acts against mothers, wives and daughters. But rejoice: there’s also Malala Yousufzai’s life to celebrate.
It’s been that kind of year. For a few achievements and heroic acts of note, it also brought back a whole struggle,needed to prevent a turning back the clock on women, their reproductive rights, access to education, safety to raise their families, and dignity as human beings. And somehow we wish such reality was not only conditioned to the U.S.
For perhaps not surprisingly, the past 12 months marked a reinforced charge by the Catholic church, through its minions in congress and elsewhere, to restrict even more the inalienable right of a woman to make choices concerning her own body, through a well-heeled campaign of terror and intimidation.
One’d think the church would have been busy coming clean out of the horrific accounts of child abuse in its midst, while restating its self-appointed spiritual mandate, opening its doors to the sex minorities it’s been rejecting for centuries, to the poor, and to those still seeking some kind of emotional rescue. But it’s been far from it.
Through much of the year, religion-affiliated colleges, and health institutions have formed an united front against women, in an attempt to undermine a few decades of improvement in public health that the women’s movement managed to bring to the whole of society. It’s been doing that, while collecting and cashing in all those tax breaks and subsidies from our secular government.
If one adds the perennial strife in impoverished areas of the globe, extreme prejudice, and faith-based obscurantism, it’s not hard to qualify the year as a mixed bag of steps forward and a lot of retrograde actions.
Importantly, though, you’re not hearing much negativity coming from the women themselves, which only shows their resolve in keeping on fighting for what is, ultimately, a brighter future for everyone.
STANDING TALL WITHOUT HIGH HEELS
We almost have to pinch ourselves with these two examples of extreme ignorance right in our backyard, but both stories were reported during the past year. That many women feel forced to torture themselves to please society, we know. That some are willing to chop up their toes in order to do so, does establish a new sad milestone in this downward spiral.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, 87% of women have foot problems from wearing uncomfortable or ill-fitting shoes such as high heels. The solution would seem simple, and has been adopted by men a couple of centuries ago: stop wearing high heels and be done with it, right? Well, not really.
Some either feel they have to wear stilettos, or simply like them, period, that they move to the next ‘best’ thing: to ‘shortened’ their toes, so to adapt their feet to the shoe. (Why not the other way around? Don’t ask that now). These expensive, painful, and not always effective ‘Stiletto Surgeries’ seem to be catching on, unfortunately.
Worse: in some cases, women are having their whole pinky toe removed, so they can wear their favorite torturing devices right where their whole body’s weight needs to rest the entire day. But before you judge, it’s important to remember that there’s a whole, not necessarily female, culture demanding professional women to wear high heels.
One may say that that’s the price they should pay, but that would be downright sexist. They shouldn’t have to, and there’s got to be another way, either by design, or forced by our increased awareness of the problem, to solve this matter. It’s simply not fair to rest all our blame on some silly high platforms we once believed, as a society, they’d make women look sexy.
A DEBUNKED WILDERNESS URBAN MYTH
A lot of that may have to do with ignorance, or simple being unaware that no one should be forced to do something that would cause body harm, in order to get a job. But what if the ‘problem’ is not a habit but an absolutely normal function of the woman’s body? Take menstruation, for instance.
It’s hard to believe that such a rumor would even start, but apparently there has been many wilderness ‘experts’ who believed that when a woman has her period, she shouldn’t go in nature hikes. That’s because, they say, bears can be attracted to them, through their acute sense of smell. Well, it’s not true, and we’re embarrassed to even having given the issue a thought.
In fact, the National Park Service thought that there was the need to put out a research paper, signed by Kerry A. Gunther, to put the matter to rest. It studied several bear attacks and extensively tested the hypothesis, concluding ‘there is no evidence that grizzly and black bears are overly attracted to menstrual odors more than any other odor.’
Just think about how many women were put to unnecessary shame, since the fatal attack in 1967 of two female hikers, who for all most people would know, were probably blamed for their own demise. Unconfirmed speculation that at least one of them was having her period was enough to brand them, yet again, for, well, being women.
THE SHAME PUT UPON INDIAN GIRLS
But if you think rumors about menstruation have no sway over public behavior, look no further than India, where teenage girls believe that they shouldn’t cook food, or touch idols, or handle pickles, while on their period, because it’ll ruin everything. Some are sure that their menstruation can actually spoil nail polish.
The Rose George story for the NYTimes also mention that such a taboo makes some tribes to confine women to live in a cowshed throughout their periods, and other horror stories of infection and disease, causing some to lose their ability to bear children. Being barren is an even worst stigma in some Asian cultures, too.
But the article is also about some public health outreach efforts, such as the Wash United, which travels thousands of miles in the India’s countryside, and sets up festivals, like the Great Wash Yatra, as a way to instruct and educate young, school-age girls, in how to take care of their personal hygiene and stay healthy in the process.
In a society that’s been in the headlines lately for its allegedly institutionalized gang rape, or at least, its slow-moving approach to the serious problem of violence against women, such efforts can go a long way, indeed. Noticeably, George’s story points to education as a defining factor to break old, ignorant beliefs about the body.
Not coincidentally, the growing number of girls who do not believe in them are daughters of educated mothers, who’ve learned better, and themselves should be credited to have helped to brake a pattern of ignorance about women and their true value in society. Most likely they’re the ones leading the charge against the prevailing culture of rape.
Unfortunately, India is not completely off the hook, despite the work of its courageous women. Or rather, ignorance breeds opportunity to unscrupulous corporations. Like the one that introduced the Clean and Dry Intimate Wash, which is bleach for vaginas deemed ‘too dark’ to be acceptable, apparently. Which is beyond repulsive.
In a country that’s already dominated by castes often associated with skin color, this kind of product only emphasizes the perpetual stigma and disconnect of a country that, for so many years, was a colony of the British Empire. Some racial prejudices have simply proved more resilient and made to outlast even English admirals.
Fortunately, public uproar against this insulting corporate gimmick, disguised as a hygiene necessity, was so strong that it’s very likely erased its chances at profitability. Which, granted, was the only reason to spend an unknown amount of money trying to push a product that makes women feel even worse than many already do about their bodies.
THE WOMAN OF THIS YEAR
To end in a high note, though, there’s nothing like the story of Malala Yousufzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl, who the Taliban deemed so threatening that it tried, but failed, to murder her last October. Word is that she just went through a successfully but strenuous five-hour surgery in the U.K., and is doing great, thank you very much.
You may well recall how she was viciously shot after leaving her school, in the Swat Valley, where the iron grip of the Taliban has banned any education, and condemned girls like her to a virtual prison life, hidden at home and ready to be married to some elderly man, if the price is right for their families.
The attack on her, though, had the opposite effect; instead of intimidating her and her community, it increased public awareness about their plight. Malala, who had been chosen to serve as an example due to her activism for education rights and defiant attitude as a blogger, became the face of the region’s dreams and aspirations for freedom.
As a result, her international profile grew, and she’s since been nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize by Desmond Tutu, and is now the youngest person in history to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
That a teenager is today’s the most recognizable symbol of women of all ages and struggle, is a proof of the movement’s endurance and ability of renew itself, even when it has to wage old battles to earn its deserved respect.
So, let Arkansas pass one of the most restrictive abortion rules ever approved, or just watch as some threaten to retake Roe v. Wade all the way back to the Supreme Court. With powerful examples such as Malala, there can be no doubt that women will win it all over again, for themselves and for us, their indebted supporters.