Another year, and once again I am reminded that tomorrow, August 26th is “Women’s Equality Day”. Thanks going to K. S. Bowers for reminding me this year. I make no apologies for needing to be reminded every year. Not only am I a guy, but I’m the worst kind of guy, being a fat lazy white American. I need to be reminded about everything that’s not related to food eating or TV watching. If you feel these are inadequate excuses, you’re probably right.
I originally set up this blog as a means to talk about my writing, but that’s stalled for now and I find that I still need to say something from time to time. Recently, I took down two years worth of blog posts about the writing and restarted with no particular theme in mind other than what’s going on in my head. I came out of the closet as a full fledged atheist about 8 years ago. Prior to that, I was apathetic towards theism altogether, but having just gotten my PhD at the time, I decided I’d take a stance on the matter and become an apathetic atheist. I’ve grown increasingly less apathetic the last couple of years, but I’ll talk about that some other time, as that is probably the direction this blog will head.
What kept me from organized religion? After all, I get the sense that a great number of “religious” people are more or less unattached to their own religions, which is why I assume so many non-denominational churches have cropped up over the last 30-40 years. People don’t seem to sweat the details of Jesus worship like they did in my grandmother’s time when it was a big deal for her to convert from Baptist to Catholicism. When my mother, a Catholic, married my father, a Methodist, people probably talked (likely from my grandmother’s generation) but not enough that either of them converted. As for my generation, I can’t say as I know of anyone where creed was an issue prior to marriage. Of course, I will stipulate that I grew up in New York State where religion is not as openly pervasive in the culture. Your mileage may vary.
I know what you’re thinking. I never answered the “What kept me from organized religion?” question. This being a post about women’s equality and misogyny, you should be able to anticipate the answer that I’m working toward, so be patient. ;-)
I’m going to backtrack for a moment to when I was eight years old, in third grade, and playing on the playground. This being 34+ years ago, forgive me if I simply paraphrase the discussion I had with two friends:
Boy #1: Don’t even talk to ####, she kicks where the sun don’t shine.
Boy #2: She has cooties, if she hits you, you’ll get cooties too.
Me: Does she REALLY have cooties? (For context, this is said sardonically.)
Boy #1 & Boy #2 reaffirm that ####, does indeed have cooties and they run off to play somewhere else on the playground.
I remember leaving the brief incident perplexed in that the girl probably tried to kick Boy #1 because he was teasing her, and whereas I was confident that cooties was not a “thing”, I was equally confident that she didn’t “have” them. Indeed, I found no reason to suspect she was inherently different than the three of us. And let’s face it, at eight years old, there wasn’t a lot of difference, so my prepubescent brain came to the conclusion that girls were the same as boys, but a little different. (Hey, I was eight. How deep did you think my thought process was going to be?)
Flash forward to my early twenties, maybe 21 or 22. I went to the wedding of a friend of a friend and in the ceremony the pastor made some comments about the woman needing to obey her husband because “Jesus” and as he continued I waited for the same speech to be made to the groom, only it never came. The ceremony ended apparently without the need for the man to obey his wife and they lived happily ever after, or so I assume, because I never saw her again.
I commented about this at the reception and two or three people tried to explain that those words weren’t like they sounded. Forgive me for being light on the details, but this was over 20 years ago and occupied 4 minutes of my time, suffice it to say none of the people were able to sufficiently explain why the woman had to be told to obey and the guy did not.
At this point in my life I was probably an apathetic agnostic, but it wasn’t unheard of for me to go to a religious service from time to time. After this wedding, I think the number of services I have gone to can be counted on one hand. Once with my sister, once I went to a service given by one of my fencing students (she was a Presbyterian minister), and 2-3 times with an ex whose mother played the organ in a Catholic Church.
To this day, no one has been able to adequately explain this necessity for women to obey in the name of Jesus and the guys do not. My sister effectively told me that someone has to be the head of household, and it should be the man. My female Presbyterian minister fencing student, explained that we all know that the cited passages apply to both men and women, it’s just not written that way, and insert “layers of rationalization here” as to why she’s right and the book representing God’s word on earth is wrong, only we never say it that way.
Thus, I can honestly say that it is the underlying misogyny of the Christian faiths that kept me from sheepling along with the crowd. At least as a young man. As I got older, and gave the metaphysical some deep thinking, I’m sure it was because I realized I just didn’t believe in a sky-daddy puppeteering the universe.
Let’s get back to the Women’s Suffrage. As much as I like to think that I have always been on the women’s side of this movement, I know I’m not perfect. I will share one last anecdote that I try to keep in mind because it was possibly the most important lessons I have ever learned. Namely, as pro-suffrage as I am, I am still a misogynist. Being so holier than thou, it was quite the blow to my ego when I found this out.
About 15 years ago, I belonged to an internet group of like minded individuals that congregated together so as to disseminate copyrighted material to the masses. (Which by the definition I gave you does not include Child Porn, so don’t even go there. You know the kind of material I’m talking about.) I make no apologies for my involvements. Anyway, the group was probably close to half female, but honestly, there may have been more women than men now that I think about it. We were all avatars online, so gender was never all that important to us.
We had our own private server that hosted a special forum where we could post information to each other, the usual chat stuff that forums offer, etc. One day I heard a silly misogynistic joke at school. I don’t recall what it was exactly, but it was joke that ribbed women for getting old. Not that men don’t get old, but socially, this is a bigger deal for women as the implication seems to revolve around women being less attractive as they get older, less useful, whatever. This joke played on that sentiment and I foolishly posted it to the forum.
For what was intended to be a silly harmless joke, our small forum exploded. Half the guys LOL’d, half the guys said WTF! Probably 3/4’s of the women were enraged, and 1/4 scoffed, rolled their eyes at the puerile joke and ignored it. Mind you, this is a group that’s all adults and on the smarter end of the spectrum. (Or at least, capable of doing a lot of technical computer activities for fun in their spare time.)
The group, with stupid me at the center, spent the next few days parsing what the problems were with making this post. After all, it was just a harmless quip for a cheap laugh, why get all panty bunched about it? I’m not a misogynist, it was just a joke, right? I honestly wish I had saved that forum thread as there were a great number of profound comments made by both men and women arguing both sides of the debate. As much as I hate to do it, I will boil down hundreds of comments to just one idea:
Women ALWAYS have to be “on”.
By that, I mean they always have to have their guard up against silly jokes. Because if they react, they’re being overly sensitive. And every guy has made a misogynistic joke of some sort in front of a woman and I promise you 95% of the time the woman let’s it go, because they just kind of have to. Even women in our group said, “Meh” to the forum discussion and moved on, because they’ve just learned that they have to always be the “bigger man” and suck it up.
But silly jokes really are just the tip of the iceberg. Women always have to be “on” about the way they dress. At work, they have to dress better to be taken seriously. Socially, they have to dress in a way that’s not too provocative. They have to worry about their hair, their make-up. They have to worry about the times when they need to worry about these things because they don’t want to get caught “un-made” at the wrong time with the wrong people.
They have to be “on” with their behavior. In the work place, an assertive man is a “go getter”, an assertive woman is a “bitch”. Socially, a woman that asserts herself is “high maintenance”, after all the woman should be deferring to the man, ask Jesus.
They have to be “on” physically. The average woman is significantly smaller than the average man. When I was in Grad school, If I couldn’t sleep, I would walk the streets of Albany (That’s the capital of NY state. For those who live in the U.S., you probably don’t know that.) at all hours of the night. A woman doesn’t have the luxury to feel safe at night in any neighborhood.
This sort of thing goes deeper than that. If a guy wants to ask a woman out for coffee, I can understand why he doesn’t want to ask in front of all her friends. No one wants to get rejected in front of an audience. But it’s not okay to follow her out to her car. It’s not okay to follow her into an elevator and ask her when she trapped. Guys, if you feel like a vulture waiting to swoop in, you’re going about it wrong. No doubt guys don’t think about these things, because their intentions are pure 99.99% of the time, they’re nervous and aren’t thinking straight. But your occasional discomfort is no excuse to socially force women to be on their guard for their physical safety any time they’re outside the home. I could go on about men unknowingly intimidating women, but I’ll let a woman handle that. (K. S. Bowers, are you up to the challenge? ;-) )
I’ll wrap this post up with a few words for the guys, though I hope this post has been good for the ladies too.
That forum discussion, spurred by a callous joke, was probably the most illuminating lesson of my entire adult life. Sure, I always knew that women were our social equals. They aren’t treated that way, and it’s unjust. I could say, “End of story”, but guys, it’s really the beginning of the story. It’s easy to pay lip service to high ideals. The real story ends with you. How do you understand your contributions to inequity? And what are you going to do about it?
Step one to recovery is admitting you have a problem…