Let’s be clear, even with our withdrawal “strategy” from Afghanistan and Iraq, we are still very much in the middle of a war. The attackers: righteous conservatives. The weapons: misguided legislation. The victims: everyone with a set of boobies.
Back in elementary school, I remember playing a curious computer game where a player’s wits were challenged against those of an international woman of intrigue – a woman who by all accounts, outsmarted every law man, every godfather don, and every thieving foe she came across. And in doing so, she garnered a notable (albeit reluctant) respect from all of them. As fantastical as it was within the scheming [not so] make-believe world of global espionage, Carmen Sandiego helped set the bar for what women can do on a planet where men rule. At least she did that for me.
It seems that most recently, with all the political limelight on women’s health issues like banning contraception (since population control is of course no longer a problem) and requiring pre-abortion vaginal probes (which sounds eerily like what aliens impose on the abducted citizens of the mid-west), it’s no wonder that the role of women in the 21st century should also be examined with the same gusto. Sadly, this subject is usually viewed in one of the limiting two ways:
1) through the biased and often ignorant eyes of a male dominated society (ex. all-male panel testifies before a congressional hearing on the right to allow employers to deny insurance coverage of contraception for their female employees – which clearly makes total sense); or
2) through what would be construed as the ultra-feminist perspective – where the pro-woman/anti-man sentiment gets inevitably plastered on a bumper sticker and chants of “I am woman, hear me roar!” get hurled left and right. Who are we kidding; it’s mostly left.
Still, amid the penis-enthusiasts’ attempts to take our nation’s progress back a century, there are strides being made to bring the message of women’s issues to the fore-front of social discussion without being so callously tied to either of the above mantras. Though I’m still anxiously waiting for the next true Million-Woman March to plow through Washington (or perhaps ‘The W.O.W. Walk’ is more catchy?) I realize that this war is more global and far-reaching than just our apple pie-loving shores. While female ethical leaders like Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi are fighting for women’s rights – and the rights of ALL her people for that matter – it’s a wonder that there are others, like former First Lady of Egypt Suzanne Mubarek [dubbed the 'Mean Queen'] who are using their powerful positions to maintain corruption within their failing existing systems. Even Asma al-Assad, the wife of [who is now considered] Syria’s ruthless President Bashar al-Assad, has taken a back-seat role; setting aside her initial portrayal of a strong-willed, Western-loved democratic female mind, and replacing it with that of the ever-obedient Middle Eastern wife. As a woman in a position of power – a position to make a difference in the lives (and well-being) of her people – al-Assad is an example of one who has chosen to recede into the shadows and turn her cheek as Syrian civilians, including women and children, mercilessly suffer.
And so, the remarkable women who are leading the world in advancing justice for the female are fighting an uphill battle for sure: against men of power that wish to hold the heads of women submerged beneath the freezing water of inequality, and against the women who are not only content in their subordinate positions, but who desperately desire to maintain it as a sense of security.
Just yesterday, April 28th, UniteWomen.org, supported by non-profit organizations, rallied a series of marches throughout the country and garnered some much-needed grassroots media momentum for this War on Women. A focused, energized base of those who oppose the retractive direction women’s liberties are heading spoke loud and very clear. With a collectively vocalized power, it made a good-sized dent into the broken-down Vega that the GOP are haphazardly clucking down the road to gain the women’s vote. So there’s at least that.
Other campaigns like the annual 3-day Women In The World Summit, an international conference hosted by Newsweek & The Daily Beast, also serve as a beacon of hope within this frustrating crusade. It has emerged as a potent assembly focusing on women who live in between the news; ones who are taking extremely productive initiatives to make changes in the lives of women everywhere — and oftentimes under peril circumstances. This summit celebrates 150 specific global leaders who have proven unflinching in their pursuit of gender equality, and offers a platform to voice their stories and solutions to the public. Commencing each year on March 8th, International Women’s Day, the worldwide televised event (on TheDailyBeast.com) has become an avenue for riding the wave that attempts to maneuver between those two presentation perspectives I spoke on earlier. Though certainly a valiant effort, it begs the question: what exactly – or who – are we fighting? And what are we trying to ultimately and specifically accomplish?
With the advent of the Arab Spring and other uprisings occurring around the world, voices of the oppressed are collectively gaining amplification. What other countries are struggling with in the vein of not just women’s rights but the basic rights of all human beings, we as Americans sadly take for granted – which is precisely why we can not revert back to the bridled suffocation the current neo-conservative movement is trying to place upon us. Newsweek’s Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown thoughtfully wrote:
“It is ironic that American women now need to be fortified by the inspiration of the women of the Arab Spring, who risked so much to win basic human rights.”
There is no doubt that the efforts of women in US history have been wrought with suffering and pain as our freedoms have come at an incredibly dear price. As women are fighting for their rights and aim for their voices to be heard in countries abroad – countries with no where near the sophisticated system of pseudo-democracy in place as we enjoy here – our fight is seemingly weakening; turning its cheek to take another hearty slap and claim “we fell down the stairs”.
If women aren’t in positions to make policy changes and influence legislature, there is no wonder the gender gap is not closing nearly as fast as it should be. A rather harrowing statistic comes again from Newsweek, who have found that America ranks 71st behind Bangladesh, Sudan and United Arab Emirates in female legislative representation worldwide. Additionally, according to Ranking America, the US ranks 60th in women’s participation in the workplace. (Burandi ranks #1. How many people in the US would even know where Burandi was on the map is another sad statistic, but I digress.) Even though young women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men do, they soon fall behind professionally, especially when vying for positions within management. One of my journalistic idols, Rachel Maddow, recently spoke on this particular issue on Meet The Press (watch the interview here). Explaining – and being constantly interrupted while doing so – that presently, American women working full time earn 77% of what men do, Maddow boldly combated [what appears to be] the Republican notion that women simply are not equal to men, in capacity, performance or intellect. What’s discouraging is with all the statistics, all the stories of trials and triumphs in the lives of women around the world – again, for even the most basic of women’s rights – Americans are still gluttons for taking advantage of our current freedoms. So much so, that those very freedoms are at risk of being snagged out from under us faster than we’d even know it.
My questions are simple: Where are our internationally influential women? Angelina Jolie? Who are our powerful female leaders? Oprah? What forceful representatives do American women have on their side? Elizabeth Warren*? (*Although I do commend her efforts on many social philosophical fronts) Come on, people. Compared to the unbelievable display of strength and perseverance put forth by other women of the world (the 150 honored by the WIW Summit for example) our ‘leaders’ don’t even come close.
To explain this seemingly harsh statement further: Although females who’ve led the way in the War on Women within other countries have had to struggle within systems that are fatally unfair, I’m certainly not saying that their strength and efforts are of a higher value than that of the women in our own country. Or that simply because the political and social corruption of the infrastructure within which they must operate makes the pain endured by them for the sake of women’s rights more precious than that of US women. What I am saying is that we [fortunately] have a system in place where compared to other countries, the status quo can much more easily be challenged – without the real threat of being gunned down for voicing opposition. [not counting the South's backwoods. Kidding! Kind of.] That threat indeed exists elsewhere, and so that fact alone should shed a bit of clarity upon our present WOW. (As the 2nd time I’ve dropped this, I can only imagine the multiple uses for that acronym if it were actually introduced. I take full responsibility). This clarity should invariably produce more effectively potent women leaders; leaders who can truly pave the way for actual change to occur.
Since 50.8% of the US population is female (2010 US Census Bureau finding), there really is no valid reason why women shouldn’t make up 1/2 the Supreme Court, 1/2 of the House and Senate and 1/2 of basically everything else. What we need are leaders; ones who will actually play the kind of hard ball that the fearless women of other, much more oppressed countries are courageously becoming star-hitters at. For example, while the fight by the GOP right against Planned Parenthood has produced some notable leaders, stepping out to support and keep alive the almost 50-year old program, I still believe that 2 more things are needed:
1) more aggressive women in positions of higher government to make a real legislative difference, and 2) the united voice of all American women, heard as that of the new age female leader.
We need the kind of leadership that unites; it’s the only way to make tangible change – which, let’s face it, is still quite a ways away at this rate, even for a supposed ‘advanced’ country/society as ourselves. Hawkish politics has always worked for men, why not utilize that same methodology for our female government? Steering through the male mist of policy-making will take a special set of goggles, but I believe Google is working on those. Until then, using the currently available technological resources to socially unify, instantaneously organize and most importantly focus on navigating through the present system, we can actually challenge it – and transform average citizens’ demands into true manifested action. The War On Women is simultaneously the newest craze in political crusades and one of the oldest battles still being fought, but Carmen Sandiego is still running around in this world. As a child, I enjoyed trying to find her amid a sea of powerful men; as a young woman, I realize finding her is the only way my own kids will truly know equality.
- Where are the women leaders of the Arab Spring? (womenandgenderinislam.wordpress.com)
- Today’s Lady News: Women More Likely To Support Obama’s Birth Control Decision (thefrisky.com)
- Sluts Across America (osocio.org)
- Hundreds Of Protestors Take New York By Storm In Fight Against ‘War On Women’ (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Why Do They Hate Us? (theromangate.wordpress.com)
- Activist Zainah Anwar: Arab Spring opens window of opportunity for women in the region (aboriginalpress.wordpress.com)
- Unite Against the War on Women (bigthink.com)