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A Very Big Conversation About Women

Disclaimer: I hesitate to write anything on this blog that may be considered ranting/venting/raving/criticizing/complaining. It's important to me that I am careful with what I say, and I usually shy away from posting things that may churn up conflict. This post, while not a rant or vent, is certainly something I feel passionate about. And is likely to surface a little conflict. I'm okay with this, but I do ask that we're gracious with our words.

Back in June, Canada was voted the Best Place in the World for Women to Live.When I read this, I felt incredibly proud of my country and our culture.

Then last month, there was a flurry of sexual assaults in my city, and someone told other women to stop "dressing like a whore" and one of the victims responded and someone else shared their story of writing about assault and knowing their body as "a site of violence."

I took the bus home from a friend's one night, and noticed a guy trying to take a picture of me. I shifted in my seat and shielded my face and thought about calling him out on it, but all he had to do was say, "No, I'm not taking a picture of you!" and what else could I say and then I would feel dumb and awkward in public. So he took his photo and I tweeted that it had happened and the next day I read this article about creepshots and our paparazzi culture. Someone else (not knowing what had happened the night before) sent me this comic, which I find both funny and sad:

from this site.

And I never blogged about the time last fall that a peeping tom stood on our fire escape and peered in my bedroom, and how for weeks (months) after, I walked home at night with my eyes glued to that spot and swear words on the tip of my tongue and so much anger that even in my own home I am not safe. So when topless photos of Kate surfaced, my blood boiled again. I may not be a princess, but I know the feeling of thinking (assuming) you are in a private, protected space only to find out that you actually never are.

Even in the church (especially in the church), the way we talk about women, sexuality and responsibility is often unhealthy, if not overtly oppressive or false. On the weekend, I read an interview with a 26 year-old virgin, and I cringed at my own memories of the "purity" concepts I learned and internalized in my teens, the way women are given responsibility to "protect" themselves from men, while simultaneously we were taught submission. It was confusing, to say the least.

And in a world where the "Best Place to Be a Woman" still has a sexual assault rate of at least 25%, I think we need to have more conversations about how to change the way we think about sexual assault, how to change the things we do, and how we talk about women and sexuality. Canada may be the best place in the world for women, but even here, we aren't fully safe and we're certainly not treated as equals.

My friends have been victims. I have been a victim. It isn't okay. And it isn't okay to think that the conversation is simply about crimes against women. The conversation is huge; it's about what it means to be a woman, what it means to treat women as equals in all areas of life, and what cultural views of women need to be left behind once and for all. The conversation is not solely for women. It requires men.

If any of you are interested in having this conversation, I'd love to write some follow-up posts/conversation starters. Potential titles that come to mind are:

Wife, Mother, Single Woman
Strong Women are Scary
Modesty, Responsibility & Blame-Shifting
Rape Jokes Are Never Funny

Also, I just realized I did a mini-series on several related topics last winter. You can read the entries from Women and Our Ways here in reverse order... Or you can click through to any of these individual posts:

The Moon, The Month, The Mystery (WaoW 1.0)
The Body, Our Frenemy (WaoW 2)
Hoes Before Bros* (WaoW #3)
Friends Without Benefits: Is It Worth It? (4th WaoW)
No, Really: Is It Worth It? (WaoW 4b)
Emotional Porn (WaoW the Fifth)
The Powers That Be (6th WaoW)
The Powers That Be - cont'd (WaOW 6B)


Anonymous said…
Just this evening I had coffee with a 16-year-old friend who said she was taking an anger management course because she'd been suspended for breaking a kid's nose with a ratchet. I was shocked, but less so when she explained it was because he'd put his hand up her skirt, the situation had been going on for 3 years, and the principal had promised to "deal with it" but nothing had changed. Fortunately, the principal did finally deal with it and the boy was expelled. But I was apalled that she'd had to put up with that kind of harassment for years - and she's just a teenager! She said she doesn't wear skirts anymore. I don't condone the violence at all. But why didn't the school do something earlier?

It is frightening how many women have been the victim of some sort of sexual assault or harassment. It's a difficult thing to bring forward and talk about in our society. And there ARE risks and consequences if you bring up sexual assault in your workplace and want to make a formal harassment complaint - supervisors find out, the accused finds out, and people make judgements. It's touchy. There needs to be fairness to protect someone who might be wrongly accused, but that can certainly complicate things.

The way we (as a society) think about and acknowledge sexual assault needs to change. Even just writing this, I found myself starting to type phrases like "it's difficult for women to admit they've been sexually assaulted" as if it is something a woman should be ashamed of or as if it's her fault. Not at all what I meant. Why did my brain automatically come up with that phrase?

Thanks for bringing up this issue and for your honesty about the subject and your experiences. I'm interested to see what kind of conversation your post generates.

I'm going to stay annonymous in this post because of sharing my friend's story and because of my workplace comments, but can let you know who I am if you're curious.
Anonymous said…
The "submissive woman" part of some interpretations of Christianity has always been an issue for me too - from marriage vows (that promise to obey just makes me cringe...though I might not mind so much if the man said the same thing) to claims that the man is the God-appointed head of the household. I much prefer the idea of joint leadership and shared responsibility and respect. I'm all for dividing up the chores (I would much rather wash dishes and do launddry than garden or cut the grass) but I still want respect, an equal say in decisions, and the right to choose chopping wood or fixing the car as my chores.

I'm really glad you brought up this point!
Anonymous said…
(and of course it's not just Christianity that has interpretations of women's roles that I question!!!)
Beth said…
Anonymous - thanks so much for your comments! I'm always curious about the identity of my readers, but I'm also very okay with you keeping your info private if you prefer.

The first story you share makes my blood breaks my heart that stories like this exist. And I'm glad your friend trusts you and was able to be honest with her story.

It amazes me to realize the prejudices, assumptions and completely false thoughts that exist even in my own mind - I've been working on actively correcting and challenging these beliefs that only dis-serve myself and my peers...

As for women, marriage and the church...I feel like this is the topic most likely to stir up disagreement. I'm a bit nervous and a bit curious to see where that one goes!
Anonymous said…
Marriage as a Christian is symbolic of one of the most important disambiguations of the relationship between Christ and the Church/Christians. The picture as Christ as the head of the Church relating to marriage is one of the strongest symbols we have for the love he has for us. The problem we run into is when only one side of that relationship is focused on, and in only one aspect.

If you are a Christian there is nothing wrong with the classic wedding vows, especially if you look at what is required by both sides. The Bible calls men to respect and love their wives in the manner that Christ loves and cares for the Church. That is a mighty tall order.

To go one step further, the problem isn't that men are considered the head of the house but that in fact you are ignoring the third person meant to be present in your marriage: Christ. He's the tie breaker. A marriage focused on him doesn't have to worry about "whose in charge".

That being said, I do strongly dislike it when people say that men and women are created equal. They simply are not. Women are better at some things than men are, and the inverse is also true. Women have the empathy, the sociability that makes them better counselors and nurses. Men have the daring and risk-taking guts to be better businessmen. There are gender differences, and while I certainly acknowledge that there are some extremely successful business women, and some very effective men who are counselors and nurses, the generalization is there for a reason. I absolutely think that we should be open to females in any role, but we need to still maintain objectivity or we start getting into the absolute garbage that is "quotas" for employment of women.

To comment on your original topic, it is very sad to see these kinds of cases. In a lot of these cases I feel like society is actually handcuffing those that would want to do something about it. I'm glad the school finally expelled that boy, but I also don't know the situation; its quite possible they were in conversation with the boy's parents, and with the school board over what to do. Who knows. But I do know if that girl would have told her parents, and I had been that girl's parent, there would be pressure put much sooner than 3 years. I believe people don't react to this type of things like they should. 1) the parents of the girl could bring public light to the situation, 2) the parents of the boy should be punishing that boy more effectively, 3) the school should have gotten involved much faster and harder. Sexual assault is a criminal offence, weather its at 15 years old or 40 years old. Girls shouldn't need to protect themselves with a ratchet.

In closing its not just women that perhaps need to cut through some of the misconceptions that we've had ingrained in our brains, but men also in defense of those women that we care about. God knows if that boy isn't taught what he's doing is wrong, he'll be the one that goes out and rapes someone at a future date.
Beth said…
Anonymous #2 - Thanks for your comment, and for sharing your perspectives with me/us. I know there are many stances on both a Christian construct of marriage and the causes/cures for sexual assaults, and I expect we'll see some more as I post again on these topics...

I definitely agree with you that for Christians, keeping Jesus involved in a marriage undoes the need for someone to be "in charge." I plan to talk a bit about my perspective on this soon!

And yes, both men and women need to examine their own stances, recognize their misconceptions and intentionally work to rebuild healthier views of women.
Anonymous #1 said…
I find this conversation fascinating!

I think there is great value in keeping God/Christ/your faith as the "third person" in a marriage. I see how living by certain values can eliminate the need for someone to be "in charge" why the vows that have the woman promising to obey the man? In my mind, there is no equality when one person promises to obey the other but that promise is not reciprocated. By equality, I am simply advocating for equal opportunities. Of course there will be limits - I will never be a professional hockey player and I'm okay with that. In general, I much prefer the traditional female responsibilities. However, I very strongly value the opportuntity to try, learn and be able to do traditionally male things, like working in science. I also feel very strongly about sharing equally the responsibilities and decisions of a household with my spouse (within reason of course, balancing out-of-home responsibilities and expertise in certain subject areas [someone else can make the decision about how to fix the broken toilet...]).

Anonymous #2, your comment about the parents' role in the situation with my teenage friend is interesting. In fact, I've been thinking about parenting quite a lot since speaking to my friend. In this situation, I don't really know how involved the parents (of either student) have been in their lives, but I suspect that there may be some issues there as well...and approaches to parenting is a whole different conversation, and one I'm not really qualified to comment on yet :)

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