Saturday, August 25, 2012

Legitimizing Women's Rights in America

The GOP has done it again. They’ve tried to marginalize women in every way possible. For the likes of Todd Aikin and Paul Ryan, both of whom have a long history of writing and backing misogynistic legislation, I wish upon them the chance to walk in a woman’s shoes, high heeled shoes, for just a bit, maybe a week if they’d even last that long.
I’m not sure what Aikin meant by legitimate rape in his comment that women’s bodies can’t get pregnant because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” a non-scientific lie. But what it says to me is that he believes there is an opposing illegitimate rape in which the victim is lying or really wanted it. The proof would be if that woman became pregnant then it must have been an illegitimate rape. Sounds like a witch hunt to me.
He has since tried to worm his way out of the argument by saying that all rape is bad and that the perpetrator should be punished but the child should not be punished just for being conceived. He has not spoken about the victims of rape, the women the act is perpetrated against.
Ryan is also a strong anti-abortionist and supported a change in the definition of rape that included the word “forcible” as opposed to marital, incestuous, or statutory rape. He later said in an interview, given after Aikin’s ignorant statement, “Rape is rape.”
Ryan went on to say, “I’m very proud of my pro-life record, and I’ve always adopted the idea that, the position that the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life.”
The life of the woman is expendable in his world. I don’t want to live there.
The GOP is drafting their platform to ban all abortions, no exceptions. I’m pro choice but that doesn’t mean I support abortion specifically. I support a woman’s right to choose. Given access to proper health care, birth control, and sex education, abortion would become less likely a choice when women clearly have other options. But they may not have other options in the case of rape or if a woman’s health is at risk. Sometimes abortion is the answer. But the GOP would like to keep women from having access to sex education, birth control, and proper health care. And they want to protect the rights of a fetus above the rights, health, and choice of the woman carrying the fetus. In the GOP world, women aren’t human beings. They are just baby vessels.
I hate that victims of rape are still stigmatized in our society. It’s difficult enough to be a woman. We still make less than our male counterparts in the work world. The burden of birth control and childcare is still predominately our burden. Many men have children with many different women and choose not to support them. Single parenthood is difficult in even the best circumstances. Women are sexually objectified, and in this day, more young women are turning to the sex industry to make a living because it’s hard to make a life off wages one would earn at a place like Wal-Mart or to pay one’s way through school to get a better job.  Men accept them into the sex industry with open arms and little compassion for how that life will diminish and marginalize the women. I can’t decide if the whole trend is further subjugation or a new kind of sexual freedom on the part of the young women. I lean toward the former.  Other young girls are dressing androgynously, perhaps to avoid any form of gender discrimination.
I think what everyone is forgetting in this horrible debate about rape is that rape is an act of violence and subjugation.
I grew up thinking women are supposed to be beautiful and sexually attractive but are whores if they are too eager and frigid if they say no. One of my high school nicknames was “The Ice Queen.”
I never understood why Ma was always on my case when I was in high school. I thought it was because she didn’t trust me. Maybe it was because she was in her fifties and she felt that envy a woman of that age, like myself, feels, when she sees a young woman. Probably it was because she thought I might end up in a situation that I couldn’t handle and that would turn out all wrong.
I had two stalkers in college. Ronald took care of each one. Ronald offered to beat up the first man, who lived in my dorm, in the middle of the record store, but his friend grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the store before fists started flying.  The second man I had never even spoken to, yet he followed me in his green Volvo each morning as I left the apartment, that I shared with three other women senior year, and cut across the park to go to class or my work-study job. He knew where I lived. He knew my schedule. One day he stopped his car alongside me and asked me if I wanted a ride. I was polite. “No thank you,” I said, and kept walking. The next day his car slowed as he passed me but didn’t stop. A man on a racing bike flew past me a few seconds later, but he turned around and came back.
“Do you know the guy in the green Volvo?” he asked me.
“No,” I said.
“Well, I think he’s waiting for you up around the bend. You better take a different route.”
I cut across the grass and came out a block up the road so I wouldn’t run into him. I called the police when I got to my work-study job.  My voice was shaking as I explained how this man always seemed to be around whenever I left my apartment.
“Take a different route,” the cop on the phone advised. The next day I stayed on the streets that circled the park where there were sure to be lots people, but when I turned my head, there was the green car slowly trailing behind me. I dialed the police again.
“Miss, unless he touches you, there is nothing we can do,” the cop on the phone said, exasperation in his voice.
“I’ll be sure to call you after the rape and my cold, dead body is discovered in the park,” I said, hanging up the phone. There were no stalker laws in place back then. I felt vulnerable and terrified.
A few days later Ronald and I were walking down Marshall Street, the street where the eat places, bars, and stores were close to campus, and everyone hung out there at lunchtime and at night. I saw the green Volvo parked by a meter, and the guy sitting on the hood of the car.
“That’s him,” I whispered to Ronald. “That’s the guy.”
Ronald started walking directly toward him. My arm was looped on his arm, and I tried to pull him back. He was only one hundred thirty pounds back then, but he spent his first twelve years in the housing projects, and I didn’t think anything scared him because he told me he’d already seen it all.
As he got closer he started pointing at the guy. “Is this the guy? You’re sure?”
“Yes, yes,” I said, still whispering, and still trying to steer him away. I didn’t want to be near that guy.
Ronald walked right up to the side of the car and poked his finger in the guy’s chest. He said, “Stop.” Then he looked at me and said, “He won’t be bothering you anymore.” I didn’t see the guy again.
Not everyone has a protector. We need laws that protect us, not laws that marginalize us.
In the workplace things just seemed to get worse. I ended up at JC Penney after I turned down a teaching job. See my post Rumble Jumble.
The managers treated the mostly female sales associates as their private harem.  They were all middle-aged, white men who were married with children. The one that audited the registers liked to sneak up behind young women and trap them between him and the register as he plunked his key into the lock, a decidedly sexual overture. I told him to stop when he did it to me, and he laughed. One day, as I was rushing back downstairs from taking my break, I turned a corner in the stockroom hallway and stumbled upon him with his arms wrapped around the receptionist and his tongue down her throat. I sucked in air and skidded to a stop. The receptionist took off.  The manager laughed. “If you thought that was good, you should have seen what she gave me for my birthday.”
She thought he loved her. I felt sorry for her.
Another manager asked me out day after day after day. Then he invited me to “skinny dip in his pool” with the promise that he wouldn’t be home. I asked him repeatedly to stop but he wouldn’t. One day he stopped at my counter and asked me to go camping for the weekend.
“What? Chris, how many times do I have to tell you no? Besides, I’m engaged. You don’t want to get Ron mad, now do you? He will hurt you.” I hated using Ronald as my defense, but nothing else had worked.
“Don’t tell him. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him or me,” he said, grinning.
“That’s not what he’d be mad about,” I said, looking deadly serious.
“Oh? What would he get mad about?” he asked, hoping this meant he had an opening.
“He’d be mad about you, me, and him sleeping in the same tent.” I turned on my heel and walked away.  No one had heard of sexual harassment back then.  If you didn’t take care of it yourself, it didn’t get taken care of.
After Christmas everyone’s hours were cut. I needed full time hours to pay my rent and car payments, so I marched upstairs to the personnel manager’s office and asked him for more hours. He smirked and offered to put me in the men’s department. I lasted two hours. Men of all ages kept asking me to measure their inseams. The thought of getting down on my knees or squatting in front of a guy and holding one end of the tape against his genitals made me sick to my stomach. Besides, I was pretty sure most men’s inseams didn’t change from one pants purchase to the next. I marched upstairs again.
“I want more hours but back in women’s accessories,” I announced as I sat in the chair in front of the manager’s desk.
“Oh, and what makes you think I’ll do that?” he asked.
“Because it’s the right thing to do,” I said.
He got up and shut the door, sat down, adjusted his tie, and leaned forward. “Okay, you got it. Now you owe me something in return.”
I knew all about this guy. He had called my (married) friend a rabbit because she had gotten pregnant twice and miscarried both times, requiring time off work. He completely ignored how emotionally painful it was to lose two babies.
He fired another young woman because she requested emergency time off when her mother fell ill and had to be hospitalized.
I looked him square in the face and leaned forward, too. I knew exactly what he meant. “Have you ever heard the word “rape” screamed at the top on one’s lungs?” I asked him, my voice calm and confident. I wasn’t afraid of him.
He moved back a little.
“Well, you are about to hear it if you don’t get up and open that door in the next five seconds.”
He jumped up and opened the door.
“I don’t owe you anything,” I said as I walked out of his office.
That’s how it was back in the ‘70s and early ‘80s. We fought for the Equal Rights Amendment back then, but when the prerequisite number of states willing to adopt it fell short, it died in 1982. See Wikipedia for more information on the ERA.
I had hoped for more change by the time my daughters grew into young women. But I see the backlash and the regression. There is no equality for women today, no more than there is equality for any minority in our country. Any stride we make is stopped by other obstacles, like unequal pay for equal work, unequal access to health care, limited quality child care options, and, worst of all, paternalistic lawmakers who think they know better about our bodies and morals than we do.
After I told the personnel manager off in his office, he was transferred to a new store. As he walked around the store saying his good-byes, he stopped at the costume jewelry counter where I worked.
"I just wanted to say thanks,” he said. “You kept me in line.”
“That’s because I’m your goddamned conscience,” I said. “Don’t you forget it.”
We need to stand up and be the GOP’s conscience. There is no louder way to make our message heard than to vote in November.

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