Monday, March 25, 2013

International Women's Day

International Women's Day has come and gone. The signs of women's inferiority and vulnerability are, however, still everywhere. Here are four manifestations of the position of women in the world today. They happened in the last twenty-four hours and were reported in today's paper.
President Ahmadinejad of Iran traveled to Venezuela for the funeral of Hugo Chavez. When he met the mother of Chavez he hugged her. For this gesture of kindness he was roundly criticized by conservative theologians back home. Touching a woman not a member of your family is strictly forbidden. The orthodox theologians regard women as sexual objects. Touching a woman is a sexual act. Women are objects; whom they want to touch or by whom they do not want to be touched is not not for them to decide, but is up to the male theologians and the woman's male relatives.
The Catholic Church has chosen a new pope. An exclusive men's club whose celibate members, among other things, lay down the law about sexuality and childbirth has chosen, once again a man bitterly opposed to any sexuality not meant to create children, and a man bitterly opposed to equality for women. In choosing this pope, the church has not only declared once again that women's equal rights to play religious roles are not even to be considered. It has also reasserted the exclusive right of elderly celibate men to regulate the sexual life of millions of faithful. As far as the College of Cardinals is concerned, equality for women is a non-issue.
The US government is endorsing the misogyny of the Catholic Church by sending the vice president and an entire delegation to attend the new pope's inaugural mass.
There has been copious commentary on this election of the Pope and on the new pope. The church's disdain for women has not been a frequent subject of comments. Pervasive discrimination against women is still generally acceptable among those who follow the affairs of the Chuch.
The North Korean government is once again feuding with the South Koreans. They do this by insulting the president of South Korea because she is a woman. In similar ways, the North Korean government has in the past insulted former secretary of state Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. Denigrating a woman just for being female is acceptable in North Korea.
Lest we think that women are better off in the US and more highly regarded, comsider the major scandal that has erupted about sexual assault in the military. In 2010 an estimated nineteen thousand women were sexually assaulted while in the service. Four thousand women lodged complaints; one hundred and ninety-one defendants were convicted in military courts. In many cases the victims' superiors took no action against the guilty parties. Often women were told by their superior officers not to report their rape. One former female Sgt. reported her a rape to the chaplain who told her that the rape was God's will and God's way of getting her to go back to church. (Some days, it appears, God is not so smart.) One lieutenant-colonel convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to a year in prison was pardoned by his commanding officer and returned to his job. Assaults on women are not taken seriously by those in command in the American military.
We have a long way to go until women are equal and can feel safe. We, especially men, have a whole lot of work to do.