Our Misogynistic Culture: Demonizing Strong, Powerful Women

So is it that the culture of the United States is becoming even more misogynistic, or is it that we are just noticing it more? Is it that the display of misogyny has become more acceptable, like the open displays of racism, xenophobia, homophobia and basically anything-that-isn’t-just-like me-ophobia, or is it that we are on the cusp of exiling these ideas from our modern society? A cornered, injured animal will growl the loudest and fight its hardest in a last effort to save itself when it knows it is about to be overwhelmed. Those who have enjoyed their top shelf, white male privilege for generations, passed father to son like some treasured pocket watch, are not eager to see that watch stop ticking in their hands.  They can feel the growing pressure of those men who have cast their watch aside and embraced equality. But what do they do? Do they cast aside the ridiculous notion that men are superior? No, like that cornered animal, they growl, bite, scratch and do everything they can to keep their perceived dominance alive. Thus we are seeing a rise, near epidemic, of fresh misogyny in our country.

We have witnessed it in the coverage of the Olympic games in Rio. The U.S. women were the brightest of stars, yet account after account, their achievements were understated, dismissed or accredited to men. When none of this could be done, they were vilified.

We have witnessed it in the rape culture and ridiculous (non) sentencing of white men who commit atrocious crimes of sexual assault. We have seen the judicial system, not once, but three times, all but dismiss these heinous acts, blaming the women for allowing themselves to be in a situation where they could be raped, for drinking, or sleeping, while suggesting that young men just make mistakes and shouldn’t have to pay for it the rest of their lives.  They dismiss the crimes with an attitude of, “boys will be boys, but girls must be mindful of that and be responsible.” In this attitude, they vilify the victims, suggesting they, and all women, must be responsible for the actions of men. They suggest it is our responsibility to not attract them or make them think naughty thoughts which could lead to them acting compulsively. The girls are vilified for speaking out, for wanting justice, for being assaulted and having the audacity to want the perpetrator held responsible for his actions.  The message is not just for those victims, but is sent to all our daughters, sisters, and mothers. It says our safety is secondary and that it is just the privilege of boys, especially white middle and upper class boys, to be sexually impulsive and demanding; that consent is just a matter of opinion, and the victims opinion is not the one that matters.

We have seen this in business. Women gaining wealth, power and success are attacked for trying to be men. Their feminine attributes are criticized. Innovative decisions are scorned and women must achieve far better results than their male counterparts to be awarded half the respect. They are accused of using sexual prowess to gain promotions, and if they are the boss, they are belittled by male peers. They are vilified, their accomplishments justified by claiming they are more like a man than a woman, anyway. And if this cannot be done, they are called man-haters and are belittled based on physical attributes.

We see this in reproductive rights for women. Women are shamed for pregnancy that occurs outside wedlock.. meaning without the supervision of a husband. They are vilified for an abortion but slut shamed if they have their child. They are condemned if they give it up for adoption as being selfish, but criticized for needing assistance to feed their child if they cannot afford it. The fact that the father is not there is largely blamed on the woman. She is considered a slut for sleeping with a man who would leave her in the first place. Or she is trash, someone a decent man wouldn’t want to marry. Most of the time, people assume that the father left because of her, not because of his own selfishness. The man, who may be hunted down and eventually required to pay some child support, is still given a pass at being a father. The vilified mother is left to work, spend all of her income, all of her strength, all of her time, every possible resource she can muster to care for her child, and be shamed by the community the whole time. So, unless you follow the idea of social norms, go to school, get married and then have a child when you are financially stable, as a woman, you will be vilified. Even if you are married, but poor, you will be shunned. While employers are able to deny birth control coverage by your insurance, pregnancy, married or not, means you didn’t keep your legs shut. I always find it amazing to see a poor, married woman with several children slut shamed by the very people who don’t believe in abortion or birth control. It is also amazing how a woman is blamed for her husband’s shortcomings. She is frequently blamed for his infidelity, or a crime he commits, or a lie he tells, or his lack of success. Women take the brunt of blame for every failure. Women are vilified if they do not want children, vilified if they can’t afford them, vilified if the father walks away, demeaned if they cannot have children, vilified for exercising their right not to have a child. Women are vilified for having sex and, astoundingly, for NOT having sex.

And finally, the pinnacle of hate, the Mecca of Misogyny: Politics. How dare a woman to venture into the man’s domain? Women in politics are forced to be strong. After all, politicians feast upon the weak with relish, a nice dill relish preferably.  To survive a woman must be strong, idealistic, focused, tenacious, and fierce. She must protect her ideals with the veracity of a mother bear overseeing her young. To find enduring success, she will face no end of attacks. Any shortcoming will be magnified a thousand times and used against her. Any successes will be marginalized or attributed to the contributions of male counterparts. The status quo will stop at no length to maintain their power and prevent true equality in government. Women have fought against misogyny from the onset of entering the political arena. The campaigns alone have been fraught with misogynistic allegations employing everything from artificial slut shaming, calling women’s emotions erratic to claiming women do not have the mental strength to withstand the vigor of political office.

You have only to look at today’s campaign against Hillary Clinton to see that the embodiment of misogyny in the United States is still beating; its fundamental bigotry pulsing through our process at a furious pace in its attempt to do as much harm as possible before being silenced. I will grant that HRC has her own legitimate controversies to deal with and there is plenty of opportunity to disagree with any political opponent or candidate based on issues which will reflect the leadership of our nation. However, the attacks on her for the grounds of being female are unfounded. But why stop at Clinton? Oh, wait, they didn’t. Elizabeth Warren, another woman who is outspoken and an instrument of change is regularly attacked in the media circus and by men across the political isle. In fact, any woman who displays strength and conviction is attacked based on gender. Even Sarah Palin found more than her own share of misogyny on the campaign trail when she as attacked for her wardrobe. her makeup, her hairstyles and even her role as a mother. Women running for office have been proclaimed as unfit for such things as having a menstrual cycle. If they fight back against these perceptions, or even acknowledge the obvious misogyny, then they are labeled man-hating feminists, as if feminist is a bad word. They are portrayed as bitter women angry that they were not born men. They are criticized for even wearing a pantsuit, as if they are attempting to appear masculine.

Our First Ladies  are belittled as much as they are revered. They have been delegated the role of quiet support for their husbands, to be good examples of a loving wife and expected to manage ‘women’s causes’ like promoting reading programs for children, healthy eating (for children), beautifying the country, and decorating the White House. While many have taken their role and used it to show strength, and all have attempted to do with it what they could, some pushed their roles further, becoming true activists for larger, but legitimate causes. When a First Lady did so, she would be ridiculed for overstepping her boundaries. She would be criticized for not acting a proper Lady, for not being a solemn pillar of strength completely devoted to her husband’s aspirations and demeaned for having goals and passions of her own.

From the fledgling birth in 1848 of the Women’s Suffrage movement through today, women have fought against every possible insult, defamation and even physical injury. Today women technically have the same rights as men, on paper, (now that they have equal opportunity in the military) but a society run by men have offered much of this grudgingly. It has been through the slow instance of more adequate representation, better education and perseverance that this has been achieved. As our society slowly evolves away from the ideology of religious fervor which denigrates and vilifies women as the source by which evil was brought into the world and that they are meant to be helpmates and servants of men, more people see that our girls have as much to offer as our boys. Through the strength and bravery of fierce women, intellectual women, and philosophical women, the way has been proven: Men and women may have different bodies, but they have equally capable minds with the ability to achieve greatness.

So, if all of this is true, why are we seeing such animosity to feminism? Why are reproductive rights still an issue? Why are we so far behind much of the world in even realistically considering a woman to lead our country? Indira Ghandi was made Prime Minister of India fifty years ago, in 1966. Golda Meir became the Prime Minister of Israel in 1969, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1979, Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo became Prime Minister of Portugal in 1979, Dame Eugenia Charles became Prime Minister of Dominica in 1980, Milka Planinc became Prime Minister of Yugoslavia in 1982, Gro Harlem Brundtland became Prime Minister of Norway in 1990, Khaleda Zia Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1991,  Édith Cresson became the Prime Minister of France in 1991, Tansu Çiller became the Prime Minister of Turkey in 1993, Kim Campbell became the Prime Minister of Canada in 1993, Agathe Uwilingiyimana became Prime Minister of Rwanda in 1993, Benazir Bhutto became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1993, Claudette Werleigh became Prime Minister of Haiti in 1995, Jenny Shipley became Prime Minister for New Zealand in 1997, Anneli Jäätteenmäki became Prime Minister of Finland in 2003, Beatriz Merino became Prime Minister of Peru in 2003, Yulia Tymoshenko became Prime Minister of the Ukraine in 2005,  Angela Merkel became chancellor of Germany in 2005, Portia Simpson-Miller became Prime Minister of Jamaica in 2006, Han Myeong-sook became Prime Minister of South Korea in 2006, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became Prime Minister of Iceland in 2009, Jadranka Kosor became Prime Minister of Croatia in 2009, Julia Gillard became Prime Minister of Australia in 2010, Yingluck Shinawatra became Prime Minister of Thailand in 2011, Helle Thorning-Schmidt became Prime Minister of Denmark in 2011, Ewa Kopacz became Prime Minister of Poland in 2014, and this year, 2016, Myanmar chose Aung San Suu Kyi as State Counsellor.

But we, the United States of America, who boasts loudly around the world about our land of opportunity, who praises itself as the shining city on the hill, the land of freedom, the protectors of freedom, and deigns to think of itself as the moral authority on equality, still questions a woman’s right to govern her own body, ridicules women who dare to aspire to positions of power, empowers misogynistic ideas in our education system, refuses to enforce equal pay and equal standards for women and persists in slut shaming and a victim blaming rape culture where violent sexual crimes against women are marginalized into a “boys will be boys,” society. A man’s right to have the “college experience,” is more important than punishment for the violent rape of his victims. We fall behind all these other countries in recognizing that women have equal ability to lead a nation, to make decisions of war and peace, to be analytical and steadfast in the face of adversity. And as we battle this last hurdle, the screaming insults against women are all the louder, even if there are fewer voices raised.

If polling trends continue, The USA, in November, will join the ranks of fifty-four countries around the world who have chosen women to lead their nations. Politics aside, we sit at the brink of a great moment of poetic justice as we witness the little girl told by NASA that women could not be astronauts, who is all grown and poised to become the first woman President of the United States of America. If this last victory is realized, there will no longer be anything our little girls cannot grow up to achieve.  We are witnessing the loud and obnoxious death-throws of a misogynistic culture, and its Grim Reaper is wearing a pantsuit.

We are One Woman, One World.

 

Learn more about Ann Lavendar by visiting her website or contact by email at annlavendar@annlavendar.com

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