By: Mike Givens*/Special Guest Columnist—
In 2015, a horrifying trend of abuse, marginalization and mistreatment is rearing its head publicly across the country. The history books are littered with references and clear examples of it and it’s something that we witness every day. Unfortunately, we’re not any closer to coming up with a solid solution to a horrifying reality: the oppression of women.
United States Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) recently declared his personal belief that Planned Parenthood should not receive federal funding in the wake of a public relations disaster this summer involving a heavily-edited video released by an anti-abortion group. The video, featuring a graphic conversation with the medical director of Planned Parenthood about the harvesting and sale of tissues from aborted fetuses, put the non-profit on the defensive as conservatives lobbed accusations of illegal profiting from abortion procedures. [pullquote]However, there’s no denying that we’re living in the United States of Patriarchy, not America. We give Americans certain unalienable rights as individuals, but only to the extent that those freedoms uphold the oppressive, male-centered system this country was founded on. [/pullquote]
It’s November and Planned Parenthood is still fending off public attacks and the question of whether tax dollars will continue to fund its services is still in limbo. The exact percentage of abortion services relative to the total services Planned Parenthood provides is still hotly contested, but what isn’t in debate is that a woman’s right to do with her body what she chooses is still something that men feel the need to legislate.
You’ll also remember that in October when Paul Ryan was nominated for the Speaker of the House seat he boldly told the media and his colleagues that he’d take the position if he could still have adequate time to spend with his family. Yet surprisingly, Speaker Ryan has opposed most federal attempts to provide paid family leave.
This year alone we’ve seen a horrifying increase in the number of transgender women who’ve died violent deaths. Nationally, we’ve seen a number of regressive pieces of legislation pop up attempting to criminalize the rights of transgender people to live fully and genuinely. Crudely known as “bathroom bills,” these proposed laws in many instances seek to relegate transgender people to second-class citizens and offensively paint transgender women as delusional, perverted criminals who want to use women’s restrooms for nefarious purposes. It’s important to note that there is no empirical evidence that transgender women have acted criminally in restrooms. However, there is evidence that transgender people who don’t use the restroom most closely aligned with their gender identity/expression are victims of assault and harassment. [pullquote]It’s incredibly depressing, but women, both transgender and cisgender, are suffering disproportionately in a 1st world nation that lags behind others on so many issues of equality.[/pullquote]
It’s incredibly depressing, but women, both transgender and cisgender, are suffering disproportionately in a 1st world nation that lags behind others on so many issues of equality. When examining the intersection of gender and gender identity with such other demographics as race, ethnicity, class, education, sexual orientation, and an array of other characteristics, women continue to be even further marginalized.
What’s even more disturbing, more infuriating, is the audacity with which patriarchal societies legislate the bodies and actions of women, both in law and in social mores. Issues such as reproductive rights, parental leave and contraceptive coverage are largely dictated and regulated by men. Socially, women are often objectified and commodified based on their looks and presumed adherence to societal norms such as chastity, matronliness, and class.
Where’s the equity in this and, more importantly, why is it that we as a society can’t shake these oppressive and regressive “rules” that have subsisted for centuries? We ironically live in a country where conservatives are staunchly opposed to a woman’s right to have an abortion, yet also oppose paying women if and when they choose to have children. Where’s the sense in telling a woman that she’s obligated to have a child, but when she does, not providing her the financial means to care for herself and that child?
My sense is that conservative politics are not clearly thought out, but are merely visceral. In 2015, politics in this country has ceased to be about a difference in ideologies, but a contest to see who can beat who. Whatever happened to a rational airing of ideas and opinions based on facts instead of mindless drivel and catchphrases that only seek to win debates? [pullquote] … but what isn’t in debate is that a woman’s right to do with her body what she chooses is still something that men feel the need to legislate.[/pullquote]
I once had a history teacher in middle school who consistently said the following about our rights in this country: “Your rights end where another person’s rights begin.” That phrase always stuck with me and I truly believe it. However, there’s no denying that we’re living in the United States of Patriarchy, not America. We give Americans certain unalienable rights as individuals, but only to the extent that those freedoms uphold the oppressive, male-centered system this country was founded on.
If the current troubles facing Planned Parenthood are any indication, we still have a long way to go before we can call ourselves a “civilized” country in name and practice.
True equality, the type of equity that is not only espoused but fully lived, won’t be achieved until we truly embrace concepts like fairness and justice through a lens that is clear of the social grime and pollution hundreds of years of oppression has caked on our view of the sexes.
*A graduate of the Boston University College of Communication, Mike Givens has been a social justice advocate for more than seven years. During that time he’s worked on a range of initiatives aimed at lifting up marginalized populations. An experienced media strategist and public relations professional, Michael currently devotes his spare time to a number of vital issues including racial justice and socioeconomic equity.