A MESSAGE TO GIRLS ABOUT RELIGIOUS MEN WHO FEAR YOU by Soraya Chemaly

I found this blog online–I don’t think it can be shared enough:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/message-to-girls-about-re_b_1518849.html?ref=tw#s327348&title=Dr_Ingrid_Mattson

A Message to Girls About Religious Men Who Fear You

Posted: 05/21/2012 12:31 pm
 
Dear Girls,

You are powerful beyond words, because you threaten to unravel the control of corrupt men who abuse their authority.

In the United States last week there were people who wouldn’t let boys play a baseball championship final because a girl was on the opposing team. She’d already had to sit out two games because of their demands. Why? Did she, a competitive athlete and a member of her team, chose to? Was she being good and respectful when she acceded to their demands? Why were they not asked to forfeit their games? What messages were sent to her and her teammates? This is not complicated. It sent the wrong messages. Confusing messages. Incoherent messages. You need to know that she should have been allowed to play and not have had to sit out two games. These people, and others like them, all over the world, led exclusively by religious men, are scared of you and will not let you be. You worry them constantly.

If you were not powerful, they would not take you so seriously and they take you very, very seriously. You should, too. You can set the world on fire.

It doesn’t feel this way, I know. If that were true, you think, I would not have to sit out baseball games out of respect for religious beliefs that require my subservience and call it a gift. I would not be turned away from serving God with my brothers. I would not be taught that I’m an evil temptress or the virtue keeper of boys. I would not have virginity wielded as a weapon against me and my worth determined by my womb. I would not be spat on and called a whore by men when I am eight because my arms are bare. I would not be poisoned for going to school. I would not be forced, at the age of 9, to carry twins borne of child torture. I would not have to kill myself to avoid marrying my rapist. If this were true, they would pursue my rapists instead of stoning me for their crimes. I, and thousands others, would not be killed for “honor.”

Girls, these things happen because there are men with power who fear you and want to control you. I know that I have equated relatively benign baseball games with deadly, honor killings but, whereas one is a type of daily, seemingly harmless micro-aggression and the other is a lethal macro-aggression they share the same roots. The basis of both, and escalating actions in between, is the same: To teach you, and all girls subject to these men and their authority, a lesson: “Know your place.” I also know that there are places where girls are marginalized and hurt that are not religious. But all over the world these hypocritical, pious men, in their shamefully obvious wrongness, represent the sharp-edged tip of an iceberg, the visible surface of a deep and vast harm. They employ the full range of their earthly and divine influence to make sure, as early as possible, that you and the boys around you understand what they want your relative roles to be. Where there are patriarchal religions girls, in dramatically varying and extreme degrees, disproportionately suffer. Understand these men for what they are: bullies. Do not internalize what they would have you believe.

Your very existence makes them anxious. And their anxiety is particularly high because you have something no generation of girls has had before — globally connected communities of men and women who support your equality and freedom. Like guns, germs and steel, this transformative technology, which enables me to write to you here, alters geography, changes societies and dismantles systems of control — it makes the world a smaller place and it creates, even if slowly in some places, positive change for girls like you. You see, until now, these men could count on, indeed they could ensure, that you and the women around you were house-bound and isolated. Many of you still are. But now, there are millions and millions and millions people who are thinking about you and challenging these men every single day. You have the speed of light on your side and unless someone permanently turns the lights out, those days are gone. So, although you might feel like you are alone, you are not.

How do you threaten them? A girl, alone? By being able, strong, confident and yes, shameless. You may not “naturally” be interested in domesticity, piety, purity and submission, and they rely on your commitment to those things to order their worlds. Their actions, from one end of the spectrum to the other, are designed to fill you with self-doubt and, ultimately, fear — either bodily or spiritual — because otherwise you, and the young boys around you, will be fully aware of your strength and potential.

Because of this, they single-mindedly focus their attention on you, your body, your clothes, your hair, your abilities, your physical freedom. When their “manners” and “morals” are not universally applicable, but different for boys and girls, you can be sure that this is why. They seek to teach you, subtly, through small slights and gendered expectations, that you are “different,” weak, unworthy, incapable. The sadness is that, in their perception, if you are none of these things, then they are not strong, worthy and capable. This is not an excuse, but an explanation. It’s why they find infinite “benevolent” ways to undermine and disparage you, all in the name of “God’s word.” When that fails, they resort to violence. All over the world, their anxiety is manifest in a spectrum of actions ranging from mild paternalism, respectful of “proper boundaries,” to deadly enforcement of their rules.

Fear is why these men “officially” investigate Girl Scouts while perversely shielding child rapists. It’s why they obsess over your “purity.” It’s why they segregate you in public and private spaces. It’s why they instruct girls and boys that girls’ bodies are either shameful and dirty or sacred and belonging to men. Fear motivates them to teach that you pollute others by your very nature. It makes them intent on making sure you stay home and not be fully engaged in the world. It leads them to sanction marriages of 8-year-olds to old men. It convinces them that rape and its consequences are a “gift from God.” It’s why they empower others to stone you to death and disfigure you with acid.

Even “beating the gay” out of children, especially boys who are “more like” you, is aimed at you. Because if boys are “more like girls,” something these men believe is fundamentally inferior, then you can be “more like boys.” That causes ambiguity and destroys their carefully defined hierarchies and that is intolerable to them.

Fear is why they insist there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Don’t believe them. Fear is why they want you to cover your body. There is nothing wrong with your body, and your body is not to blame. Whether you chose to expose your body or to cover it up, consider the degree to which either choice is defined by a reduction of your character to narrow sexuality by a culture that refuses to hold men accountable for their actions and requires you to either radically display ourself for men’s pleasure or withdraw from the world and be held in reserve. Either way, ask who is defining your worth and by what measure. Fear is why they tell you you are so different from boys. You, and the boys you know, understand that your bodies are different, but that you are far more alike than dissimilar. Threatened, insecure, adult men say otherwise. Don’t give in. Even if you’re quiet. The differences these religious authorities exaggerate are simply pillars of oppression used to teach boys and girls that women’s subjugation is “natural” and “divine.” Reject them and their ideas.

This is hard to do. It requires that you, individually, be brave, strong, determined, fearless and confident. It requires that you demand that the adults around you pay attention and change their behavior. This is even harder.

First, and perhaps the most difficult to understand as a girl, is that women who love you and care for you often enable these men. This is what people say, “It’s not JUST men!” And they are right, women support them, individually and in groups, in ways that have private, public, political and societal consequences. But, make no mistake — although women are the enforcers of rules, they have no real, systemic authority in conservative religious hierarchies, and they know this. Yes, without their support these men could not continue, but until these women are truly free — bodily, economically, physically, politically — and their practical and spiritual salvation is no longer mediated by these very men, they will continue to support them. Enforcing the rules is a rational choice that enables them to survive, the world over, in unjust environments. You scare them too, because you call in to question their own complicity and cause conflict within.

Second, it is confusing that these men say they do what they do for your own good. They talk about respecting you and your dignity. You want to believe them; they have power and authority over you, your parents, your community and your access to God. They are often kind and benevolent and they love you. So, they must be right. But they are not. They demonstrate their own hypocrisy over and over and over again. They say they know what is best. They do not. You do. Don’t believe them when they teach you in hundreds of ways, through sacred text, careful words, cherished traditions, hidden threats and frightening examples, that you are inherently more sinful, base and corrupt, less worthy and in need of constant male guidance. Reject them.

The adults around you may not appear to support you when you take your humanity to its logical religious conclusions. Do not let them off the hook. Do not let them use “tradition” as an excuse or say it “really doesn’t matter.” Do not allow them to get away with asking you to “sit out games,” “be a good girl,” “don’t make a fuss,” and “put something on.” These are micro-aggressions that result in macro-aggressions. Adults often don’t think these things through. Sometimes it’s scary to them, too.

You can say: “There is nothing wrong with me. There is something wrong with you and your world.

Otherwise, when you get older, these same men, the ones who fear and hate you, will continue to undermine you. They will seek to control your body, keep you out of the public sphere, subjugate you in the name of a narrowly defined “family,” create impediments to your equality, shame you at every turn and justify your continued oppression in convoluted ways that defy reason and morality. They will investigate you for being strong, violate you, stone you to death, charge you with witchcraft, punish you in every conceivable way to set an example for … your children.

So, know that you are strong and powerful. Use your reason. Trust your instincts. Seek out those that would support you and, yes, know your place: on the field, in the street, on the bus (in the front), in school, at work and in public office.

You are not alone and you are brighter than the sun.

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As a Woman, what Should I Be?

This is just me writing this time.  Nothing informative.  Just writing how I feel and how I’ve felt a very long time.  As long as I can remember.  It has to do with religion, and with society in general and how I was raised to think and how it has effected me as a person and how I feel it has effected other women too.  Based not on fact, but just what I’ve observed in my almost 50 years.

People have this idea that little kids are oblivious and ignorant of such things as human rights.  I guess as we get older we forget how it was to be young.  I still remember very well, and I suspect my experience is like anyone’s.  I was aware.  I had an opinion.  Things appealed to me or disgusted me or spoke to my heart then just as they do now.  I had perceptions, and a sense of fairness, of right and wrong.  In short, (literally) I was just a little person, as all children are.  When I’d hear adults refer to myself and my friends as “little ones,” ugh!  I hated that term!   I didn’t feel like a little one.  I didn’t feel like anything less.  Not then, and not now.  Because I’m not.  Nobody is.

I remember from a very young age being annoyed to the point of angry at the commercials we were bombarded with.  I was a tom boy when I was little…and I never completely lost my interest in playing in the dirt, as even as an adult I liked digging for fossils and splelunking and hauling up rocks or petrified wood or whatever treasure I could find.  But watching those commercials, what I could see of them through the often side-ways tilted or rolling black and white screen.  Women…raising their families. Women, making dinner.  Women, advertising mops and laundry soap.  Women using Windex, or irons or making cookies, cleaning house, or shopping.  Always made up and wearing dresses, perfect, wearing lipstick even in bed–never a hair out of place.  While men in those commercials washed cars, went camping, or fishing, or were shown building tents, lounging in hammocks, digging, climbing ladders, fishing, playing ball with their sons, working on cars.

Always in the TV shows I watched I would silently rage at the helpless females I’d see portrayed.  I liked the old campy Science Fiction shows back then, the old movies, and always whenever those rare moments would come that a woman would be needed in a scene, she’d faint, or stumble, or fall exhausted to the ground unable to go on, slowing down our heroes from the horrors pursuing them, just waiting to be rescued.  It was the most predictable thing.  I’d sit there and think okay, and now she’s going to fall down…and then she would.  I remember yelling at the TV, even as a small child, “run you guys!  Just LEAVE her!  Run!”

Recently I, out of curiosity, tried to watch some old “Lost In Space” reruns.  OMG…the mother and daughter Penny in that old show were next to useless.  They were only objects to protect…their job…to look astonished, or afraid, or confused, or helpless and vulnerable.  These were the kind of role models I had to grow up with.  If it wasn’t for Vasquez in ALIENS and Zena and Gabrielle in “Zena ,Warrior Princess…”

(I pause in silent homage to the pioneers that had the courage to write women that way–with grit, tenacity, strength–all the qualities I can admire!)

In my last blog some Muslim guy commented that that’s how men should be.  That’s their role and we women in Western cultures who get to actually live our lives and be (at least to some extent) more like what we were made to be, have forgotten this–the fact that some deity designed us to be soft, dependent, loving servants of men–be all those warm and fuzzy wholesome things while our great big sweaty bare-chested males thump their pectorals and lug home dinner to their adoring, families.

Oh please.   And yet it still exists.  Ever watch QVC?  Just watch and listen to the hosts when they’re selling what is traditionally something a MAN would want to buy, vrs. what traditionally a woman would want to buy.  If I called QVC during a presentation to sell a ladder, they might ask me if this was for my husband or my son or my father.  I would say no, you frickin idiot!  It’s for ME.

To be fair the opposite is just as true.  If a single man needed an iron and called QVC and got on the air, probably they’d ask him who the gift is for.

The point being, the programming continues on today.  It’s still apparent in our commercials, and in how we are treated.  I remember when I went to Cycle Barn the first time to look at buying a motorcycle.  The place was crowded with men or men with their sons and all the salesmen were busy.  It took over an hour of standing there looking interested before one of them thought to come over to me.

Happily so much has changed since I was young, since even when I was in my 20’s.    Happily now a young girl can dream big and actually have some possibility of obtaining her dream.  When I was little if I had said I wanted to be a fire fighter or a astronaut or President of the United States for that matter, it would have been a joke to any adult who heard me.  Oh, they’d say “good for you, Diane!” I’m sure.  But they know.  And they would no doubt think that as I grew older I’d put aside these childish dreams and discover a desire to hum as I work, dust as I walk, cook wonderful meals for my man and wait on him hand and foot, making sure a spotless house and well mannered children were there to greet him when he got home.

(Sound of Leave It To Beaver theme music.)

I think organized religion has made boxes and tried to tuck people away inside them.  Women, you go in this box.  It means you can’t be or have or experience anything that’s over here in this box, because this box is only for men.  And men, same goes for you.  Women can’t be masculine because then no man will want them and men, you can’t have feminine interests because that would make you a fairy…a gay…a homo…an undesirable by society.

In other words, anyone who dares to march to the beat of their own drummer…just better not if they want to be loved, accepted, appreciated, all those things we all want to be.

Well I never liked wearing dresses and my favorite color was blue and the only dolls I liked playing with as a child were my brother’s G.I. Joes…and all the cool helmets and fabric clothing and jeeps and guns that were their accessories.  As a child I liked catching snakes and tadpoles and frogs and I liked playing Capture the Flag and building forts with the few boys I found willing to play with me.  I liked to play rough.  I had no interest in jewelry or make up, and I scoffed at grade school girls who wore these things when being a kid was so much better.

Was I abnormal for a girl?  What would have happened to me had I been born and had to grow up in some of these Middle Eastern societies that have these ideas of what women should be vrs what men should be?  Could I have endured being denied the freedoms I saw my brother enjoying?  Hell no.  And if a book told me it was god’s wish for me because I was cursed by being born a female, I wouldn’t feel any love at all for such a god, and in fact I wouldn’t have followed such a deity. Ever!

I did follow the biblical god for over 30 years, because I had blinders on and I didn’t let myself see that the god in the bible is just as sexist, if not more so, than the god the Muslims worship that Christians like to point fingers at and criticize.  But now I see no difference between them, and in fact it seems if you just look at the Quran and the bible and not at the religions and how people interpret these books, it seems from what little I’ve read–the Quran is actually less harsh toward women than the bible is.
So that’s it.  Just felt like writing and saying WHATEVER.  I am glad I didn’t get born 20 years earlier than I did.  I’m glad I was born in the 60’s after all the hardest work was already done by the brave women before me who had the gumption to rail against being forced into boxes. I hope we never, as women, forget how hard our recent forebears had to fight to get the rights we enjoy today, and I hope we never give up fighting–that we never again believe in books written only by men telling us how we as women, ought to be.

Growing Up Plain

I have a friend (guy) who helped open my eyes to how people are asssigned value in this culture.   He is average, however he decided one day in college he’d hang out more with beautiful people.  He told me about a girl-friend he had in college whom he broke up with.  I asked him why and his response was, “I thought I could do better.”

Better.   As in…better looking, I presume?   And better-looking = better, apparently?

I read a statistic once that ugly or not-so-cute babies are held less and fussed over less than cute ones are.  I believe this.  I believe from birth to death, people born with the disadvantage of not having the best genes, suffer a lot more hurts than the people who are deemed “better.”

I used to think it was because I was tall.   I watched one man I had a crush on, go out of his way to comfort a cute, petite woman after her boyfriend dumped her.  Rather than hang out with the rest of our group after a show, he went to sit with her in a car for, oh I don’t know, over a half hour.  Being concerned.  Holding her hand, perhaps, or just giving her the comfort of his presence.  She wasn’t interested in him, but he was attracted to her, and oh boy, could he be caring.

This same guy, once he learned I had developed feelings for him, started living with me 24/7 even though he had his own apartment down the street.  This was right after his cat died and at first I thought he just needed comforting, which I was very ready to give.  He slept on my couch and stayed in my home to cat-sit my cats when I was away.  Because he started doing this right after he learned I had feelings for him, I thought it meant he reciprocated in some small way.  Perhaps he was wanting to get to know me.  Perhaps he cared.  Definitely I assumed from this behavior I had made a friend in this man.

After about 8 months of this I came home one day from work in tears.  I had just learned at work that my mom had a stage 4 cancer near her colon and would need to have surgery and chemo.  I sat on the couch with tears running down my face.  He was lying on the floor facing the television.  I told him in a choked voice what I had learned from a phone call at work about my mom.  He shot over his shoulder, without looking away from the TV, “oh, that’s too bad.” 

Silence.  I continued to sit there.  I was feeling ripped apart because this was a mom I had hoped my whole life to bond with, had striven my whole life to be someone she could love, who had been my only parent growing up, and i was afraid she was dying.   Did this man get up to come sit by my side, hold my hand, say something to comfort me or give me a hug?  No.  He watched TV.  I finally said something about needing a hug–he mistranslated that as something else and made it clear there would never be anything physical between us.  Yes, like that had been on my mind right then.

I’m a big girl– 5’10”.  I’m also average looking.  I’m one of those people who if I really try, I can clean up nice, but I am not a beauty and I highly doubt I could ever be cute.   Once again, as I had discovered my whole life, it wasn’t bad for me to feel sad and cry.  It didn’t create feelings of concern or sympathy or compassion in this man I had opened my home to and allowed to stay with me who I had thought was my friend.   It was like I wasn’t even in the room.

This is the kind of thing I have lived with my whole life.  I had a crisis happen to me about two years ago and I thought my world was coming to an end.  I had this guy who told me he preferred to hang out with beautiful people in college, call me long distance and try to talk me out of killing myself–it was probably the worst day of my life.  He reassured me I hadn’t lost his friendship just because this bad very unfair thing had happened I had not asked for, and we’d still be in touch.  Long story short…the things he said didn’t happen.  He was too busy with his job and his life and his battles.  It was hard for me to have to accept the fact all my worst fears had been true.  I would not see this friend as much as before–I would not get to know him and his wife so much as before.

But then after a year of not seeing this friend because of this unfair thing that happened to me, there he is suddenly wanting to help out another friend of his–a beautiful woman who needed his help.  Suddenly he had the time, could walk side by side with her and be there for her.

It made me remember what he said about preferring beautiful women and it stirred up a lot of old hurt for me–made me fear I was an embarrassment to him; someone he didn’t want to be seen with.

All the times I grew up having to learn that for average or plain people it isn’t true–you can’t be anything you want if you put your mind to it.  You can’t be a cheerleader if you’re plain.  You can’t be in a beauty contest.  Your ability to become a lead singer of a rock band is less.  Your chance to act on stage and certainly your chances to be a leading lady, are less.  Do you have any hope of being a sports reporter if you’re a woman and plain, or overweight?  Doubtful.  Will there ever be a woman president, maybe.  But a plain woman president…doubtful.  Just look at all the attention that was given Palin for her looks.

Bottom line, our society prefers beautiful people.   Go to DisneyLand and ask one of their artists to draw your portrait in pastel colors–you will find your image deliberately doctored to make you look rather like you could fit in well with the Mickey Mouse Club.  My nose was suddenly little and perky.  Every flaw like my strong chin was softened.  I looked beautiful in that portrait.  It didn’t look like me.  So I asked the artist and she told me that’s how they are told to draw the pictures.  Because apparently the world according to Disney needs to be perfect and beautiful.  Go and watch the movie “War Horse” (terrible film in my opinion) and you’ll see more of this same attitude.  Every person in this film is physically beautiful.  Even the poor farmer doesn’t have dirt on his clothes.  

I remember once in grade school.  I was the poor kid in my class.  I had only one parent so I wore hand-me-downs and ugly coke bottle glasses.   I had crooked teeth, and a brother who was a bully and everyone knew it.   So I was not among the beautiful people.  I was one of several outcasts in my school.

One day we were in PE playing baseball on a hard field of red gravel.  I was running the bases and a pretty blonde girl named Melinda tripped me.  On my way to a crushing fall I side-swiped her with my shoulder and she went down as well.  I stood up crying, both knees bloody with red rock imbedded under the skin, and the same with the palms of my hands.  She stood up covered with red dust but no cuts, no bruises, no wounds.  The class gathered around her.  Even the PE teacher went to her.  She was escorted to the bathroom to clean up.  I walked behind them crying with blood running into my socks.  Not a single person so much as noticed me.  

That was the day I realized–it wasn’t just the cruelty of kids; even adults have more sympathy toward the fallen, possibly hurt beautiful little girl than the definitely hurt big and plain one. 

I also noticed growing up…when cute pretty girls cried….it generated hugs and sympathy and fussing over.  When big plain people cry, it’s just ugly.  It’s…annoying.  Or maybe funny.  Humorous.   Big girls shouldn’t cry.  Big girls should be stronger than that.  Big girls don’t need comforting.  They don’t need protecting.  And certainly big plain girls don’t.

This is what I learned very early in life.  “I learned the truth at 17.  That love was meant for beauty queens.  And High School girls with clear skinned smiles, who married young and then retired.”   That’s how the song goes.  Only for me I learned the truth at about age 8, and I have been living in it ever since.

At a bar one day I had a bartender accidentally spill a pint of beer into my lap.  I took it like a good sport.  Stood up and even tried to help them wipe the counter off (they did that before they thought to offer me a towel), and laughed at the blunder.  But then after about 20 minutes it became clear to me no one was going to apologize for the fact i had beer all over my velvet blouse and pants.  I said something to the head bartender.  He said “oh well, accidents happen.”

I had been at that bar waiting for a friend and now I smelled like a brewery.  I had to drive home and change and come back–about 20 miles round trip at a time gas was through the roof expensive.  Not a soul at that restaurant seemed to think this was a bad thing.  No one apologized.  Not even the manager when I went to him.  No one offered to cover my dry cleaning bill.  No one thought about the fact it cost of gas for me having to go home and change.

I have seen beautiful women or even just pretty women have something dumped on them.  Any one of the women around me at this bar in fact–had the same thing happened to them, people would have been falling all over themselves to apologize, to offer her a towel, to perhaps offer her a drink or meal on the house to make amends.  Something.   But that’s not how it happened for me.  Funny thing.

I used to think it had to do with the fact i’m tall, and big women don’t elicit the same kind of response as little cute women do.  But I have a friend who is very little–but plain.  One day she was carrying a big case of water bottles up a flight of stairs and a male friend of mine walked past her–said hello as he did, and kept going.   I watched this and thought, now if this same little person had been younger and cute or pretty, how different it would be.  This man would have stopped–in fact he would have hurried toward her to help her, take the heavy load from her arms and carried it for her.  But I think it was because she wasn’t young, and wasn’t pretty, that she did not inspire this kind of response.

I think it’s hurtful to be the one dumped because someone feels they can do better.  I think it’s hurtful to be ignored when one is hurting because one is not cute or pretty or little or whatever it is that deserves a caring response.   I never understand it when little women tell me they wish they were tall.  I look at them and think how lucky they are.  The only thing worse than being big is being plain and big–plain and big I think might be worse than being plain and little.  Especially if you’re a woman.

It’s really too bad people can’t see beyond physical appearance and see a person’s heart, see the beauty that isn’t skin deep, and the worth all of us have just as living breathing, unique human beings.  Beauty is in all of us.  Sometimes you have to look into someone’s eyes.   I met a woman at a restaurant where I work who had a rather profound disfigurement.  So profound I had to take a breath before I looked at her, so I could control the look on my face.  I found out something interesting about this woman.  After the initial contact, I found out she was truly a kind and sweet, nice person.  I found I saw beauty when I looked in her eyes.  And suddenly it wasn’t so hard to look at her.  Suddenly I didn’t see her disfigurement so much.  Instead I saw a person, and someone I could like.

What is the difference between being “better,” and being someone of quality?   Does someone who judges people’s value according to their age, size, looks, or how popular they are, have quality?   Is that a kind of person I would want to be.  No.