A Saudi woman is beheaded for “witchcraft.” Girls are disappearing in India.
Women are “disappeared” in so many ways.
Non-witches in Saudi Arabia may still be “honor killed” for being with boys, for being raped, or for adultery.
So women are more expendable than men.
As they were during the witch hunts of Europe which lasted from 1450 to 1750, resulting in tens of thousands of killings. Three-quarters of the executed were women.
Steven Katz, author of The Holocaust in Historical Context, says,
The overall evidence makes plain that the growth — the panic — in the witch craze was inseparable from the stigmatization of women.
Continuing, Katz quotes The Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published by Catholic Inquisition authorities in 1485-86.
All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman. … What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours…
For the sin of being “woman” so many were killed in two German villages that only one woman per town was left alive at one point of the witch hunt.
Echoing ancient Germany, in some Indian communities few women can be found today. ABC news recently reported:
Fifty thousand girl fetuses are aborted every month in India. It is a staggering number. And it has created whole villages where there are hardly any women. We went to one such village in the province of Haryana. Everywhere we looked, we saw boys, young men, old men, but very, very few women. It was unsettling, especially because we knew this was not some freak of nature, but a result of the deliberate extermination of girls.
As we all know, China faces a deficit of the female sex, too.
In both China and India girls are a drain on family finances. Indian brides require huge dowries which can run their families huge debts. And the eldest son is “Social Security” in China. No son? No one to care for you in old age.
Currently, right-wingers are staging a war on women in the U.S., pushing to block the cancer screenings and tests for HIV that Planned Parenthood provides. They seek to prevent access to birth control and abortion that could save women’s lives. And they want to cut nutrition programs for women and children. Women just aren’t that important.
Patriarchy too often rids the world of women and finds each man smothering the feminine within, whether a stance, a way of walking, a way of talking, an emotion… If he does not he will be accused of being a woman, a girl, girly, girly man, sissy… or he may be called woman-like: fag or gay. Pretty awful, huh?
And so the feminine is “disappeared” in male-dominated societies and within men, themselves, while sexist women and men bolster the cause even as egalitarian men and women fight the good fight.
Where misogyny wins no one is better off.
A woman’s right to safe, legal abortion has created a world of missing women, according to the most recent anti-choice talking points.
A new book by Mara Hvistendahl, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls and the Consequences of a World Full of Men reports that in the natural scheme of things, 105 boys are born for every 100 girls. But those numbers are skewed in many countries: In India 112 boys are born per 100 girls, in China 121, in Azerbaijan 115, in Georgia 118 and in Armenia 120.
Hvistendahl does not blame the right to chose. But others do. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat and Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard (writing a book review for the Wall Street Journal) look at this study and blame abortion rights. Feminists cannot be consistent advocating the right to choose while criticizing sex-selective abortion at the same time, they say. In their view, abortion must be restricted in order to save the world’s girls and women and regain the natural sex ratio.
But the right to choose is not the problem. The core culprit lies in valuing male children over female. When girls are esteemed as much as boys, parents will no longer seek to have sons and not daughters.
Douthat wrongly claims that patriarchy isn’t the core problem. He sees women’s empowerment as leading to more sex selection, not less, with many women using their increased autonomy to choose sons. Somehow he fails to see that patriarchy lies behind the phenomenon. Strange, since his next sentence admits that sex selection occurs “because male offspring bring higher social status.”
Unfortunately, patriarchy becomes embedded in women’s and men’s minds alike. If males are more valued in a society, women unconsciously pick that up at a young age. Or they may ask their parents, who are likely to reinforce the status quo. Is it any surprise, then, that so many women choose sons over daughters, hoping to increase their own worth?
Meanwhile, the proposed remedy of abortion restriction would only devalue women further.
Another recent New York Times article introduces us to Danielle Deaver of Nebraska, a state which restricts abortion after 20 weeks. She was devastated when her water broke at 22 weeks, leaving her fetus little chance of survival. She risked serious infection without induced labor, but that wasn’t allowed under the new law. She had to wait another 10 stressful days until she went into natural labor. The baby only survived 15 minutes, while Deaver developed an infection. Angered, she said, “This should have been a private decision, made between me, my husband and my doctor.”
Last year, there was another even more horrifying instance of how restrictive, moralistic abortion policies impact women’s lives. In this case, a Polish woman named Edyta died because doctors felt that treating her colon condition could lead to miscarriage or force an abortion. As writer Brittany Shoot explained,
Poland is one of several countries (along with Italy, Hungary and Croatia) in which doctors, not unlike pharmacists in the U.S., can refuse to treat someone on moral grounds.
Do these restrictions really value women? Or do we become disposable nothings whose bodies, hearts and minds don’t really matter?
Despite what Douthat and Last say, feminists are consistent in being pro-choice while criticizing sex-selective abortion. We must get at the root of the world’s missing women–the devaluation of women–and not try to remedy it with a “cure” that exacerbates the core problem.
I originally wrote this piece for the Ms. Magazine Blog. It appeared June 29, 2011
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