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gender equality

Yesterday was the International Women’s Day, March 8th, celebrating – or berating, depending on your perspective – women’s rights, progress or the lack thereof. It is, I guess, a relic of those Seventies heydays when women really roared, and it has stuck with us ever since.

Back then, it was all “I am Woman, hear me roar” and the famous Virginia Slims slogan: “You’ve come a long way, baby!” and mothers, including my own, lying through their teeth to their daughters by telling them that “Of course, darling, you can do absolutely anything and become anyone you want!”

After all, so goes the positivist thinking, it is now 2009. We now have complete equality of gender. There is equal pay for all, equal opportunity for all, and it matters not one single bit that you just so happen to be born a girl. There is no glass ceiling. We can’t see it, therefore it doesn’t exist. That rattle you hear every time you speak up in a meeting is just bad acoustics, and the bumps on your head are just because you’re clumsy.

Right. If you buy that, I also have some prime beachfront real estate for sale in downtown Albuquerque, New Mexico, for sale, complete with a stunning view straight to the Atlantic Ocean!

What’s left to fight for, anyway? Who even wants to turn themselves into vociferous viragos for the sake of an obvious cause? Why should we, when we’re busy saving up for the really important stuff – a genu-wine pair of Manolos. They must be important, because Carrie Bradshaw told us so.

Why bother, woman? Who cares? What difference is it going to make in my own personal life?

Yesterday – when it was, still, International Women’s Day, and it was, still, 2009 and the best possible of all worlds, except for that dreaded reces–, or was it Great Depres— – some kind of global all-out Bad Trip, in a galaxy far, far away – I plowed my way through my Sunday allotment of online newspapers. What stuck in my mind was

a) an article about the ageing staff of US abortion clinics, and how no one cares enough about the issue to take over where the baby boomers are leaving off. They simply take it for granted – that the Roe vs. Wade decision has been around for all eternity. Or at least since 1973, which amounts to the same thing. Just for the sake of argument, let’s also overlook just how close the previous US administration came to overturning that Supreme Court decision. That’s right, girls, you came thisclose to not owning the rights to your bodies anymore. What do you mean, you didn’t know?

b) Another article, about female refugees from Zimbabwe fleeing the madness of Mugabe Inc., only to fall prey to guides across the borders – male – who then rape them. Lovely, uplifting, feel-good story!

c) A program on CNN about the unknown and uncounted victims – all female – of honor killings. A tour of a hospital ward in Amman, Jordan, supposedly one of the most secular of Muslim countries, where women and girls as young 15 or 16 claim they stood too close to a stove, or they had bad accidents with knives, or…

d) An article about another girl, this one all of 17, sold off to an abusive husband to pay off Daddy’s drug debts. This one got away, and ended up in a women’s shelter in Kabul, where she is under constant 24/7 guard. Her main worry now was her younger sister, who was 11, and about to be – sold off to pay their Daddy’s drug debts.

That was just yesterday’s harvest. On the International Women’s Day, 2009.

Oh, I can hear you protest as you reapply your Juicy Tube. That’s – out there, in the Third World, or that parallel universe of male supremacy known as the Islamic world. You and I are the lucky ones – we live in the West. That doesn’t happen here.

Yes, it does. Western doctors are bribed to perform infibulation in London clinics. There are honor killings in Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Copenhagen, Oslo.

And every day, in every city, in every social stratum, anywhere in the world, women are beaten, some within an inch of their lives, just so a guy can feel in control, so he can feel like a guy. So “the little woman” doesn’t drag him down for voicing an opinion he doesn’t agree with.

I used to be one of those women. Trust me, I know.

All right. It’s not that bad, you say. No one would dare to lay a finger on you.

Ah, sweetheart, but they do. Around age 7 or 8, you have a Bratz doll to play with, because they have the coolest clothes and they’re hip and happening. Pretty soon – and you haven’t even hit puberty yet – you’re wearing ghetto-trash clothes yourself, turning yourself into a sex symbol that would give even Hubert Humbert (of Nabokov’s “Lolita”) pause for thought. Once you hit puberty, you realize you are only taken seriously with the right labels in your clothes, the right warpaint for your face, only, in other words, if you NEVER voice contradictory opinions of your own, and ALWAYS look textbook “perfect”. We’ve all heard it whispered behind our backs. “Don’t talk to HER, she’s UGLY.”

Therefore, so the thinking goes, not worthy of taking seriously.

So why bother even thinking about women’s rights? Sure, it’s a bad scene in the Third World. But we’re doing just fine here, right?

Errr. Not really. In Denmark, where I live, a woman can – yes, it’s still 2009, darlings – expect on average to make 72% of what a man in a similar position makes. She can also – because of things like maternity leave and children’s sick days – expect to be short-charged on her retirement for the precise same reason. It’s not because of a lack of qualifications. If anything, women in general are far better qualified than men for a lot of the jobs they do get.

It’s because of that distasteful little fact – women have babies. And there are only so many years we have for the purpose.

Marilyn French once stated in one of her books that true equality will never happen until pregnancy and childbirth is taken away from women and put into labs. An extreme view, you might think. So did I, until I realized that she had a point, even if I personally wasn’t ready or willing to forgo the dubious joys of motherhood.

Does it stop there? Hell, no. Listen to twenty-something guys strut their stuff and talk trash. These are the sons of women who grew up in a Women’s Lib world, who really did think they were the equals of men and deserved to be treated as such. Those paragons of equality, those twenty-something dudes, are discussing, sometimes in graphic detail, how to butt-fuck twenty-something women. Just because they can.

Until recently, young women were taught that happiness was a Herm├Ęs Birkin bag, a pair of Manolos, the latest Balenciaga ballyhooed jacket. Now, there’s a recession, and now we’re supposedly busy with the really important stuff, such as holding on to our jobs, or finding a job if we lost it. And therein lies a danger – that we’re all too willing, for the sake of a meal ticket, to settle for second best, and second-rate options, and second-rate pay. “There’s loads more where YOU come from, sweetheart, so shut up and put up!”

On the contrary, I say.

The only woman who can change your world around is you. Yes, you. You thought you lived in the best of all possible worlds. You don’t. But you can get there, eventually, if you put down that Birkin, kick off those tortuous Manolos and open your mouth.

Are you going somewhere, baby?

(Painting courtesy of Julian Grant, http://juliangrant.wordpress.com)

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