The thoughts, they are swirling in my head but lack coherent expression. They have to do with this, and this, and this. They have to do with the inherent vulnerability in femininity that is at once a strength and a great weakness. To be vulnerable, to live with it, to remain open to life in the face of constant fear requires deep inner strength. I know many women who have this kind of strength and I never cease to marvel at it. I spent a lot of life resenting that I had been born female because I saw mainly the weakness.
We are never at any age safe from sexual violation from men. It seems to me that boys outgrow this vulnerability when they become men, except maybe in prison, but women never do. We are physically weaker and less able to protect ourselves, or our children. We are considered second class and subservient in most of the world, our role is to serve men, to satisfy their needs, to serve our children. We bear the physical consequences of childbirth, we are paid less if paid at all, and we work more and longer. These kinds of things made me wish that I were a man.
It seems to me that these vulnerable aspects of being female are a good thing in a perfect world. The world needs what we have. It needs our compassion, our nurture, our care and indeed our vulnerable openness, which has throughout history drawn out the best and most noble characteristics in men. (No, I’m not talking about Helen of Troy.) These qualities are the kinds of things I believe that men are called upon to protect and treasure because it is to their own benefit to preserve them.
But the world isn’t perfect. Men are selfish, women are cruel, men objectify women, women emasculate men in an attempt to protect ourselves and men fight jealous wars over beautiful woman. (Now I am talking about Helen of Troy.) Everyone loses. This is the world that I have brought daughters into, which I have grown up in, and it often frightens me.
Movies like North Country haunt me. To me it’s a story that portrays all of the ways in which men fail to protect women in the ways that we are vulnerable. As a young girl the main character is raped by a schoolteacher a man in authority, her friend/boyfriend sees it happening and instead of helping he runs away, because he is scared. She gets pregnant, her father sends her away in shame. The man she marries beats her, she runs away from him and back to the home of her childhood. Struggling to take care of two children on her own she finds a job that pays a decent wage working in the all male territory of the mines. Once she begins work there she is subjected to humiliation, public shaming, physical violence and threats, she is not the only one. Eventually she wins by successfully suing the company, but what haunts me is what she had to go through to get there and that it happens finally when the men who ought to have protected her before finally do, and the women who should have stood by her in the beginning finally do also.
I know some feminist is out there saying that I should instead be telling women to learn to protect ourselves, and we should. We should learn skills for gainful employment, we shouldn’t walk by ourselves in bad neighborhoods at night, and we can take self-defense classes. But my point is, a man doesn’t even worry about these things. He walks wherever he likes when he wants to, he is usually hired, he rarely worries about who will take care of his children while he makes a living. The truth is that we are vulnerable, no matter what we do, and in a world where men have largely lost the instinct to protect those who are weaker than them, we find ourselves the victims of mankind’s evils.
I had an acquaintance in Canada whose first post with the Canadian army was a UN “peacekeeping” mission in Bosnia. Basically what they did was clean up after the mass genocide and ethnic cleansing. He cleaned out mass graves full of the bodies of children, he had to take care of 9 year old girls who were terrified of him and his rape kit after they found villages where every single women was raped by invading forces. It messed him up for the rest of his life that he had gone to protect and had been unable to.
History is full of stories like this, in every age.
I see a lot of women try to deal with this by becoming like men. They become exclusively career oriented, they become hard, they sacrifice their natural compassion on the altar of staying ahead and keeping up with the men. Feminine traits are not useful in the cutthroat world of business, a place that is inherently masculine in nature because it was first inhabited by men. I’m not saying that every woman who works does this, only that it seems hard to succeed in a career with out going this way to some degree or another. I don’t think this is a good answer either. I suspect it may make us more vulnerable in some ways. By trying to be strong in ways that we are not we then do not receive that strength from those who have it naturally, and we are left to defend ourselves. But we got there because of their failure to defend us in the first place. In many ways there was no alternative than to usurp masculine power for ourselves to protect ourselves from abusive men. I wonder if there is a better way, a way to use the power that is ours as women instead. It’s hard to say though since I have no idea what that looks like. When the woman of my mother’s generation took to the streets to burn their bras what where they protesting exactly, that they had breasts? That they needed an item of clothing to support those breasts? That theirs was the body that was designed to nurture children? Or the male demand to have perky breasts instead of the weighted pendulous items that are a natural result of life as a woman? Where they, as I have, protesting having to be a woman in the first place? I don’t know I wasn’t there.
I don’t know where I’m going with all of this either, or if I even have a point. I long for a solution though I don’t think I will ever see one. I long to do something to right the world’s wrongs, to keep little girls from being sold into sex trade by their relatives to pay off debts, to keep babies from being thrown away into latrines and garbage dumps in South Africa, to stop little kids and woman from becoming infected with HIV because the men in their lives believe they are entitled to immediate sexual gratification, to keep my daughters safe and able to live without fear. I have a few ideas, but I know I am up against a world where greed and selfishness are corporate policy, where profit is the bottom line, where the cost of convenience and pleasure in human lives is only counted by those on the losing end of the bargain in the places laid waste by industrial greed in the illnesses that are curable but people die from them for lack of a few dollars a month, and where sex is a commodity. I think my voice as a woman is needed, my voice as a person who cares more about people than money, but I don’t know where to begin for all of my beginnings seem so small. What I want to know is, am I alone in my swirling ramblings, or is everyone else just not sure how to begin talking about it as well? Leave me a note and tell me what you think.