Growing up as a boy, as a little less than half of the population does, I was well aware of the differences between myself and the opposite sex. Not merely the physical differences but the manner in which we were expected to conduct ourselves.
I was taught to be tough, assertive, avoid expressing frivolous emotions, and walk with my head held high. This wasn’t necessarily the doctrine of my parents, it was more so the doctrine of our society in general. Whether my parents believed it or not, or even openly expressed these thoughts, it was the expectations placed on me and reinforced by our society.
Women, in contrast, were taught to be respectful, courteous, not to step on toes, and to maintain an outward sense of decency. A pure quality — untainted, virginal.
I was raised Catholic, taught about Adam and Eve. Eve, being the rebellious temptress that she was, committed the original sin that condemned mankind to a life of penance and guilt towards their holy father. What was the grievous sin that Eve committed? She wanted to understand her own existence.
She wanted to be more than a rib.
All major religions are patriarchal in nature. The churches that allow women to don vestibules still preach this silly little story that places all of mankind’s suffering on the shoulders of a seductive little tart who wasn’t satisfied with literal Eden. Even in humanity’s purported origin, men cannot resist depicting women as perpetually unsatisfied.
Women’s satisfaction is often the least of the male population’s concerns.
In an attempt to deliver a “gotcha moment,” Republican senator Marsha Blackburn asked Supreme Court nominee (and soon to be justice) Ketanji Brown Jackson to provide a definition of what a “woman” is. Jackson, all too aware of what was occurring, deflected by saying she was “not a biologist.” To many, this would seem absurd. Both of these individuals, arguably some of the most powerful in the world, are women. Was Jackson implying that the concept of “womanhood” itself was something that was meant to be delegated to the dustbin of history? No, but that’s what certain folks want you to think.
I am of the first generation attempting, en masse, to grapple with the concept of gender and sexual identity to a significant degree. Trans, non-binary, and other “non-traditional” individuals have existed since time began — it’s only now that our society is willing to somewhat tolerate their presence, albeit begrudgingly in many cases. The legalization of gay marriage in 2015 occurred during my senior year of High School, right at the tail end of it. I assumed that was our generation’s Civil Rights victory, another chance for Americans to pat themselves on the back for allowing people who have done nothing wrong other than being themselves not to be criminalized.
To clarify, though the title reads “The War on Women”, I mean to include all those who choose to identify as women or feminine in general, those who do not but will be labeled as such anyway by those conducting this war, and those who aren’t sure where they fit in but are not cisgender men.
For those possibly unfamiliar with this language, “cisgender” simply means identifying with the gender directly associated with their sex. I was born a male and identify as a man. I know for some this might seem confusing and possibly annoying to have to deal with — just imagine what it’s like for those who risk being killed simply for trying to be themselves.
The rise of the Trans rights and visibility movement has been incredible to see simply due to the speed in which it appeared to achieve acceptance in comparison to other American civil rights movements in the past. It seemed as though our country was quickly overcoming the more reactionary elements that had previously kept us from achieving the egalitarianism that is so proudly boasted of in the philosophies and writings of the nation’s founders.
Unfortunately, as is often the case, the oppressed attempting to defend themselves tends to anger the oppressor. As Isaac Newton said: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Kurt Vonnegut, describing the fictional Thomas Jefferson High School in his fictional Midland City from his novel “Breakfast of Champions”, said it “was named after a slave owner who was also one of the world’s greatest theoreticians on the subject of human liberty.”
We are a nation of hypocrites.
In order to explain the absolute disdain that this country (and the world at large) has for women, I like to remind individuals that we provided suffrage to the recently emancipated Black male population in 1870, a full 50 years before women earned the same right.
This nation, built on the bedrock of white supremacy, decided that the male members of an “inferior race” were more worthy of the vote than women of all shades and colors.
All for eating fruit.
“There is a great stir about colored men getting their rights, but not a word about the colored women; and if colored men get their rights, and not colored women theirs, you see the colored men will be masters over the women, and it will be just as bad as it was before. So I am for keeping the thing going while things are stirring; because if we wait till it is still, it will take a great while to get it going again.”
— Sojourner Truth
Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the ongoing assault on all aspects of women’s autonomy is the willful ignorance of men. This is not exclusive to the usual straight-white-male, it includes men of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, etc. Misogyny is as fundamental to the general male ethos as apple pie and baseball are to America. Even knowing this, I am by no means guilt-free.
I have prided myself on avoiding the worst tendencies of misogyny and toxic masculinity, especially regarding romantic and sexual relationships. I am by no means perfect, no one is, but I have made a conscious effort to correct the mistakes of the past and avoid the same pitfalls in the future. Unfortunately, misogyny is essentially hardwired into all of us to a certain degree — including women.
There’s a reason a non-insignificant population of women identifies as “tradwives” and gleefully cheers on the rise of Gilead — they’ve been raised on the same patriarchal diet that all of us are subjugated to. For some, it’s easier to realize the shadows on the cave wall aren’t monsters at all, but I am loath to judge those who haven’t yet.
I didn’t realize the sheer scale that defines the imbalance of power between the sexes until I was in college and heard endless stories of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. Almost every woman I befriended had a story of her own, no one was spared. This wasn’t some sort of random crime that well-to-do citizens need not worry about, provided they behaved themselves and lived as ideal members of society. It was almost inevitable — the simple reality that billions live in every day.
The knowledge that a significant portion of the other half of the population views you as nothing but an objective, a toy that can be discarded on a whim — prey.
I can already hear the screams of #NotAllMen from outside my window. I hear my inbox filling with articles explaining that women are habitual liars and that misogyny and sexism are relics of the past.
I can also see the rise of patriarchal fascism that would sooner see a pregnant woman die giving birth to an unwanted child than allow her even a smidgen of autonomy. I hear the stories of women who submitted to the will of uncaring men simply to avoid the worst.
No quote has ever summed up the imbalance of power between the sexes better than this one, provided by the architect of Gilead herself:
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
— Margaret Atwood
Atwood stated that nothing depicted in “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the mass hangings, the forced sterilizations, the subjugation of women into birthing slavery akin to cattle, was fantastical in nature — it was actively occurring or had occurred in the past in every corner of the Earth, even in the “Land of the Free.”
Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, touches on this dynamic in his book titled “The Mass Psychology of Fascism”. He puts forward the idea that fascism stems from sexual repression, namely in men. By instilling feelings of shame in guilt towards sexuality and, by extension, alienation between the sexes and genders, men are allowed to fester in biologically-assisted anger that can be manipulated into authoritarian leanings.
It may seem odd, pseudoscience similar to Freud’s more ludicrous ideas. But then we look at the so-called “Incels,” or “Involuntarily Celibate” men who direct their impotent anger at women due to a lack of sexual satisfaction. What starts off as self-doubt soon turns into vitriol towards the opposite sex, then dehumanization. They use expressions like “femoids”, some even describing women as “sub-human”, unworthy of any human rights. They suggest that women should be enslaved to serve as nothing more than release valves for their pent-up sexuality and accompanying anger. Then, as some have, they get in a car or buy a gun and kill women.
All throughout this transition they are egged on by others, encouraged to go further and further down the rabbit hole of self-hatred and targeted anger towards those who are supposedly keeping them from achieving their true potential.
Avenging the sin that these “whores” brought upon all of mankind.
Unfortunately, these beliefs are not relegated to the most outspoken, radical, kooky fringes of any political wing or party. It is something that is silently accepted by millions and openly practiced by millions more. However these forces can be identified — by race, sex, gender, etc. — they are waging a war against the fundamental rights that we all have taken for granted. Rights that allow us to be free, that allow women to be more than a rib.
They not only want Eve to remain a rib — they want the rib back.
The steady march of regression occurring in this country is a manifestation of numerous currents: White supremacy and its adherents seeking to retain their dominance over a nation that is quickly becoming more diverse and threatening their majority status, evangelicalism and reactionary Christians aiming to curtail the shift towards secularism, the wealthy unnerved by the rising militancy of the working class, men growing threatened by the equalization of the sexes.
All of these forces, and much more unlisted, are the reason we are quickly witnessing the death of democracy in this country, regardless of how flawed that “democracy” is in the first place. We are seeing the second part of Newton’s Third Law in action. We are seeing the same signals that lead to John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, to the assault on Fort Sumter. Women, and anyone not under the comfortable umbrella of “cisgender male” (add white, straight, wealthy, and Christian for good measure), are at serious risk. These laws outlawing abortion already present a literal threat to the lives of pregnant individuals — the first shot has already been fired.
Aimless rallies that exist solely for politicians to provide a stump speech and vague support for abortion rights will do nothing. Direct action is what is required, a willingness to be jailed is required. Protecting abortion clinics, donating to services that assist those seeking abortions, disrupting the lives of those privilged elites who will still provide their own families with abortions even after signing the documents banning them. We are no longer in peace time— in truth, we never have been — the time for complacency and apathy is long past.
The war on women hasn’t just started, it’s simply impossible to ignore now.
When are we going to wake up and fight back? When are men going to acknowledge the reality that our passivity is simply collaboration with these forces?
How long until Gilead arrives?