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10 Reasons We Still Need Feminism
In our online culture, there are certain words guaranteed to get a reaction. ‘Feminism’ is one of these words. Maybe it’s because modern feminism is so weirdly complex and confusing. Maybe some people just really hate Y chromosomes. Whatever the reason, angry message board debates tend to obscure the real issue: equality. The radical notion we’re more or less the same and no-one deserves to get any crap just for having ovaries. Yet governments across the world seem to have missed the memo. How else do you explain horrifying stuff like:
In its ‘purest’ form, FGM is something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Put simply, it involves removing bits of the genitals and stitching them back together in a way that makes just peeing a nightmare and sex impossible. It’s the equivalent of someone taking a machete to your groin and about just as helpful. Women who undergo the procedure are put at massive risk of infection and infertility, not to mention the extreme pain that comes from having any surgery minus anesthetic. So why do people do it?
Nope, not religion. Neither the Torah nor the Koran mentions it, despite FGM being mainly associated with Ethiopian minority Judaism and Sunni Muslims. The answer often lies in ancient attitudes to female sexuality. In some parts of the world, a high value is placed on a bride’s virginity. FGM destroys the victim’s ability to derive pleasure from sex while also making it highly-painful, ensuring that virginity remains intact. And did I mention this happens to girls as young as five months? That’s right: in 2013 there are still some people who honestly can’t see what’s wrong with mutilating a baby.
The statistics on rape are so depressing just reading about them will destroy a little part of your soul. According to this UK report, only one percent of rapes results in conviction. Step outside the West and things are even worse: places like Afghanistan, Ecuador, Egypt and Guatemala have no laws against marital rape—meaning a husband can assault his wife whenever the hell he feels like it. But the country with the worst record of all has to be D.R Congo, where a semi-unofficial war has been raging for fifteen years. For over a decade, mass rape has been one of the war’s most widely-used weapons, sometimes deployed against whole villages. Even more disgusting has been the recent rise in systematic child abuse, with 745 children being assaulted last year. However you look at it, that’s 745 too many.
Although it affects more girls worldwide, child marriage is bad news for both genders. In Rajasthan in India, children as young as six get married in lavish ceremonies, eventually moving in together at 14. As anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows, fourteen is not an age at which you can typically expect emotional maturity. Unsurprisingly, stuff like domestic abuse is more prevalent in these early marriages. But India has nothing on places like South Sudan or Yemen. While Indian child brides are usually around the same age as their husband, their foreign counterparts often wind up getting married to someone decades older. Girls who refuse to marry are frequently beaten, imprisoned or even murdered. Did I mention the violence almost always comes from family members? So you either get sold to the grizzled old pedophile or face death. Wow, some choice.
Of all the things we associate with motherhood, ‘imprisonment’ usually comes quite far down the list. But, thanks to a bunch of judges with warped priorities, that’s all changing.
Take Angela Carder. In 1987 she was recovering from a brush with cancer. Given the all clear by her doctor she married her boyfriend and became pregnant. Then, 26 weeks in, the cancer came back with a vengeance. When her hospital found out they went to a judge and got a court order to force the terminally ill Carder to have a C-Section, even though they knew it would probably kill her. Understand Carder wasn’t being reckless: she wanted the baby badly, just not at the cost of her life. Thanks to our screwed up legal system, both she and her child died from the operation.
Depressingly, her story isn’t a one-off. In Oklahoma, a dying woman was thrown in jail for possession of two pain pills, where both she and her unborn baby died in agony. In Tennessee, a pregnant immigrant was caught driving without a license and forced to give birth chained to a bed. Because we’ve collectively gone insane, there are dozens more cases like this, all adding up to what a recent report called a ‘criminalization of pregnancy’. Put simply, women’s constitutional rights are being utterly ignored simply because they’ve got a kid growing in them, which should be the very definition of ‘illegality’.
Let’s be blunt: some cultures just place a lower value on women. Obviously, this sucks no matter what your age, but if you happen to be a new-born it can also be fatal. See, because women are undervalued, their earning potential is therefore much lower. For a poor family struggling to get by, having a son can mean acquiring a worker to help support you. Having a girl can mean nothing more than having an extra mouth to feed. Because there’s usually not much in the way of a welfare state in these places, desperate parents deal with the problem the only way they know how—by abandoning or murdering their child. The problem has gotten so prevalent in India there are now some 35 million fewer women than men—while China is in the middle of what’s been termed a ‘gender crisis’, all because some people just really want a boy.
If you’ve even been in the same room as a newspaper this past decade, you probably know what an honor killing is. Thanks to strict cultural traditions, girls who are thought to have ‘dishonored’ their family are murdered by relatives—usually over something so depressingly trivial it redefines the term ‘overreaction’. Thanks to hysterical journalists, the problem is often painted as a solely Muslim one, but it affects Hindu, Sikh and even Christian women. Basically, honor killings surface wherever ‘women’s rights’ is just the punchline to an unfunny joke—in India, for example, many local councils actively encourage the practice despite it being super-illegal. Some countries, such as Jordan and Haiti even have specific laws pardoning honor killings linked to adultery, while authorities in other countries mostly turn a blind eye. Thanks to this supreme indifference, the number of pointless honor-related murders carried out each year is estimated to be over five thousand.
Compared to, say, mutilation or honor killings, employment law doesn’t seem like such a big deal. What’s a couple of extra thousand a year compared to violent death? But then you remember this is the developed world in the twenty first century and it’s about goddamn time we sorted this out.
In the USA, a woman with exactly the same level of education as her male counterpart can expect to earn around 18 percent less than him, even when factors like type of degree and actual hours worked are taken into account. Still, at least companies aren’t illegally firing women for taking maternity leave—except of course they totally are. According to this report, as many as one in seven women find themselves made redundant after taking maternity leave, with up to half getting demoted or having their hours cut. Such open flouting of the law would be almost impressive—if it weren’t so objectively depressing.
In a list of ‘most heinous crimes’, you’d rightfully expect ‘wearing pants’ to be conspicuously absent. Not in Sudan: in 2009 several women were sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing manufactured material on their legs. Because Sharia law is stupid, other countries such as Saudi Arabia also forbid women from driving cars and automatically send their husbands texts whenever they leave the country. Then you have places like Iran, which deploy ‘morality squads’—groups of self-satisfied fundamentalists who patrol the streets, detaining and harassing anyone with ‘immoral’ clothes. That’s right; men in some countries actually hate the sight of cleavage so much they’ll pay people to chase it away.
Prostitution is as old as the human race and will probably be with us until the sun explodes or we all warm ourselves to death or whatever. While not all prostitutes are working against their choice, a fairly large percentage of them are—and nowhere is that more evident than in India’s ‘devadasi’. Basically, they’re girls born to a certain caste who are forced into religious prostitution in the name of God. Since the sixth century, young girls have been dedicated to temples to serve the elders. Unsurprisingly, at some point the word ‘serve’ changed its meaning, first becoming code for ‘abuse’, before evolving in the last century or so into full-blown human trafficking. Because it’s an ancient Hindu tradition, stamping religious prostitution out is even harder than its mainstream equivalent—not least because the girls’ families often don’t want them back, having benefitted financially from the exchange.
Say someone like Eli Roth released a film where a 12 year old is sold into slavery, viciously beaten every day for six years and then escapes, only to have her psycho ‘owner’ hunt her down and cut off her nose and ears—you’d probably think he was going too OTT to be believable.
Well, that’s exactly what happened to Bibi Aisha, a teenage girl who had the bad luck to be born in a Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan. If her story was a one-off it’d be bad enough, but it’s not—similar stuff happens across the world on a shockingly regular basis. In Pakistan, Fakhra Yunus was doused with acid for trying to escape her husband, leaving her so disfigured she eventually committed suicide.
Perhaps even worse, if that’s possible, is the recent report that the Taliban are now routinely disfiguring women for crimes as pathetic as going to college. Then there’s this story about a Bangladeshi woman forced to remarry the man who disfigured her. Or this one about a woman who was tied to her bed and set alight by a former lover, in an attack so vicious Houston detectives called it the worst they’d ever seen. Yeah, that sort of stuff happens over here too.
So yeah, we still need feminism. Because as long as people are still getting away with awful stuff like this, we’ve got a hell of a long way to go as a species.