Tuesday, July 25, 2006


I have a tendency to highlight or underline. It’s probably a symptom of my overeducation but something hasn’t really moved me or spoken to me until I’ve reached for a marker.

If it's a good or interesting point, I underline it. If it's something that feels instinctively correct to me, then I highlight it.

This is a couple of the highlighted and underlined things in my life lately.

I know anecdotes aren't the plural of data, but sometimes all the statistics in the world can't explain the way I feel about something. Sometimes it's just something I read, something that touched me. Often, as in the case of abortion rights it's a cannon of stories that put the feeling behind an issue I've been fighting for nearly half my life.

Today I was researching Spring Adams. For those of you who don't know who Spring Adams is, she was a 6th grader in Idaho who was raped and impregnated by her father. Because of Idaho’s parental consent laws she told her father, who murdered her. I found a page on the ACLU website which mentions her, it’s an essay written by the Reverend Lois M. Powell on behalf of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

The Rev. Powell writes:

“Statistics are human faces without the tears.”

I’m halfway through Reading Lolita in Tehran, caught up in the rapidly shrinking world of a woman in 1980’s Iran. To think, gone my right to own property, to go outside bareheaded, to wear makeup, to laugh aloud in the street. To have every inch of my body examined for the slightest hint that I might unfairly force a man to rape me using one of the most deadly weapons known, an exposed ankle, or a bare shoulder. Oppression in the name of protection.

And then I read in the newspaper about the return of the Afghan vice police and the quote I underline?

“Sam Zia Zarifi, director of research of the Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch, warns that the new vice and virtue cops could be "an instrument for politically oppressing critical voices and vulnerable groups under the guise of protecting poorly defined ideas of virtue." Zarifi said this would be especially true of women, who often find their basic human rights infringed in Afghanistan under the cover of morality.”

Women are always causing or plagued by moral failings. Cut their clitorises off least they develop an insatiable sexual appetite. Cover them up least they cause an insatiable sexual appetite to develop in man. It’s so easy to point out when we talk about women who are forced by law and under threat of death to wear head to toe coverings, to never leave the house unaccompanied, to relinquish all right to personal autonomy all in the name of protecting them from men. We Westerners are all eager to denounce this particular brand of sexism.

But also, it brings to mind another underlining in another book.

“The female is the victim of the species.”

The Second Sex
Simone De Beauvoir

But what about when it isn’t a burqa or a chador but something more subtle? A warning not to drink too much, not to dress provocatively, not to talk on your cell phone when walking alone at night, not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, one million other safety tips pushed upon, made the responsibility of, women. It is our responsibility to protect ourselves against the men who were never taught to respect women as human beings with physical autonomy, to never take some damn responsibility for being unspeakable douche bags.

Then it starts to seem much less obvious, make much more sense to e-mail around “How Not To Get Raped” tips than to worry about being the perfect rape victim in order not to get the blame for being raped.

What about when it becomes a million little comments every day, countless unfunny one-liners about what I should know or like or feel as a woman? What about when it’s still alright to write articles about keeping your house clean for your man forty years after second wave feminists took on social and economic equality? How many people pass the test then? How many of you think I’m a shrill harpy feminist? Paranoid bitch?

How about I just leave you with one last highlighted section?

"If the 'woman question' seems trivial, it is because masculine arrogance has made of it a 'quarrel'; and when quarreling one no longer reasons well."

The Second Sex
Simone De Beauvoir

1 comment:

edluv said...

i admit i skimmed on the link, but could you elaborate on the "being a perfect rape victim"?