International Women’s Day

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Say what you will about the former Soviet Union and what they stood for, and their overall policies, if there’s one thing they got right — or at least tried to get right — was treating women as equals to men. Today is a holiday they came up with to underscore that attitude.

Insert joke hear about how International Men’s Year can resume tomorrow.

But seriously, modern society is, well, patriarchal. This is hardly news. And it has been for quite a while. An educated guess as to when men claimed clout and power over women, would be around about the advent of agriculture, six to ten thousand years ago. Harvesting crops required physical strength and, whatever else is true, men are, on average, physically larger and stronger than women.

Bring in politics and religion and you’ve got yourself a self-perpetuating patriarchy.

There’s a mental exercise anyone can do, about determining whether or not you, as a member of a given group, enjoy a privilege that people not in that group don’t enjoy. Is there something that you take for granted, that other people might not even be available to other people? If someone asks for something you take for granted, why should you keep that something away from them? It’s like that one verse from the Phil Ochs song, “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends”:

Sweating in the ghetto with the colored and the poor
The rats have joined the babies who are sleeping on the floor
Wouldn’t it be a riot if they really blew their tops?
But they’ve got too much already, and besides we’ve got the cops!
And I’m sure it wouldn’t interest
Anybody
Outside of a small circle of friends….

But that song isn’t really about feminism as much as it is other forms of privilege.

There are issues that women have to deal with. That’s not to say that they’re not men’s issues, too, but they disproportionately impact on women, so we need to be made aware of the fact that it happens. Privilege is when you take something for granted so if you don’t know about a given problem, you can’t really be prepared to solve it.

One thing I do think, though, is that there’s no such thing as a purely “women’s” issue. If it affects women, it affects me. Take, for example, my position on rape, which I have expressed on more than one occasion. That said, I don’t think I can understand the trauma that comes from it anywhere near as well as a woman who has gone through the trauma, can. This is why, when it comes to raising consciousness about matters, we need to hear people most directly affected. And just like the Phil Ochs song above, there are songs to help us raise awareness of the issues. So how about this one?

Of course, that might be one of the best-known consciousness-raisers out there. There’s another song that is just as effective. It’s a scary theme, to be sure, but it’s the kind of thing we need to hear if we want to improve ourselves. I just love this song…

(Note that, if you recognize that voice but not the name, she’s the original Maureen from Rent.)

Of course, rape and child abuse aren’t the only issues that affect women. There’s a third topic — domestic violence — that needs to be addressed. I vacillate back and forth as to which is more pernicious: rape or domestic violence. The former is often a one-time trauma that devastates the person emotionally (and likely physically). The latter is a continual trauma that can be just as devastating, but recurs far too often for anyone to be comfortable with. And this may be the best consciousness raiser for that topic:

Maybe, just maybe, in honor of International Women’s Day, we could all just raise our awareness of these three problems. They’re certainly not going to go away if we ignore them.

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