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The pain of women all over the world is palpable. When is something really going to change?

Photo: King Chimp

The original plan for today was to find and write about something funny making it’s way around the internet, it being Friday and all.

Or maybe something about Halloween, its origins as All Hallows Eve, the day before the beautiful celebration of the Day of the Dead.

But instead, I feel a bit overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with being a woman, living today, in the world in which we live.

That might come as a surprise, what with me being a white gal living in America, and though far from rich, just as far from destitute.

Yet, I can’t turn off what happens to my sisters throughout the world, both abroad and right down the street. From death threats to a doctor who performs reconstructive surgery on women ripped to shreds through female genital mutilation, to the gang rape of a 15-year-old high school student by up to ten 16-25 year-olds in the town next to where I used to live, we are not safe.

We are mothers, we are sisters, we are friends. We give the gift of life to those who wish to keep us down or take our lives.

I can’t help but recount the number of women I’ve known that have been sexually abused, assaulted, or raped repeatedly. There are many more that have than not. I also can’t help but struggle with my own “maybe” and all the implications it has had for my life. Who would I be now if it, whatever “it” was, hadn’t happened?

The Power of a Single Moment

Think, for just a moment, what effect we have on each other in our passing interactions every single day. Bridges are built or destroyed by single words or sentences, intentions are paramount to success or failure, and whether we choose to scream out in anger or somehow engage in dialogue can impact us for hours, days, weeks and months to come.

Photo: Ingorrr

Now think about the long term impact of an unwanted, and as is often the case for young girls, a misunderstood advance. The repercussions are a life of mistrust of themselves just as much as others, and acting out in ways in can take a long time to process or come to terms with.

Further down the line, you have women that will never, ever, EVER experience sexual pleasure in their lives – and in a way, what it means to be a woman – because all that is left “down there” is scar tissue.

What about the ever present “rape as war tactic” that is valued by military (and apparently, peacekeepers) the world over, despite the recent UN resolution classifying it as a weapon of war? What exactly does that resolution do to change anything?

And maybe, worst of all (is this even an area for comparisons?), are those girls and women, living in “free” Western countries, who are sexual slaves. Look no further than the Houston Maria Bonita Cantina or the Asian massage parlors in San Francisco to contemplate the complete ravage of life this $8 billion international industry promotes. I’d honestly rather be dead than in their place.

The End of Oppression?

As I write, I wonder if this world will ever exist without the oppression of women. Even that word, oppression, hardly scratches the surface of what these tactics do to women; they rob part of our soul. There has got to be a word that when said, strikes at the heart of men who commit acts against women – something that implores them to feel what tremendous pain and anguish their actions cause.

There is a small part of me that understands that even if they rob a bit of your soul, it’s regenerative.

At the very least, I’m amazed again and again at the resilience I see in the many beautiful women that surround me near and far. There is a small part of me that understands that even if they rob a bit of your soul, it’s regenerative, like a starfish. We have the power to heal ourselves.

But what can also help it to regenerate are the men who understand it’s not about protecting the women you love – it’s about changing the mindset of the men who don’t love women.

Please share your thoughts on this subject below.

Activism + Politics

 

About The Author

Christine Garvin

Christine Garvin is a certified Nutrition Educator and holds a MA in Holistic Health Education. She is the founder/editor of Living Holistically...with a sense of humor and co-founder of Confronting Love. When she is not out traveling the world, she is busy writing, doing yoga, and performing hip-hop and bhangra. She also likes to pretend living in her hippie town of Fairfax, CA is like being on vacation.

  • http://matadortravel.com/travel-community/lifebynichele Nichele

    Thank you for writing this article. The thoughts you convey and your exact words have been swirling in my mind all week. I’ve been so pained by the “all to common” violence against women, and again find myself questioning my trust in humanity. I know there can be change, and education is the solution to this horrific problem. I start here at home with my nieces and nephews. I hope my small steps can help to spread the change.

  • http://milesofabbie.com Abbie

    So well-written Christine, and so inspiring :)

  • http://inconvenience.wordpress.com Yanina Wolfe

    I don’t know if you or I will ever inhabit a world where violence against any human being, regardless of gender, or other isms. I don’t know we will ever see a world where respect and kindness are also afforded to other sentient beings, regardless of their ability to communicate.
    The thing is…I know I want to. I know many of us do, and so, we’ll work on it.
    Yet, I know that despair adds to violence being commonplace, and even accepted.
    It’s wonderful that many women are rising to cause and helping their sisters around the world overcome hardships. It’s also wonderful when men do so as well. I think in the end, any and all genders (I’d hate to just limit it to two) try to spread love in the world.

  • Heather

    Your article reminds me of a piece I read by a feminist author (I can’t recall the name) who said that rape is not one of the wost things that can happen to a woman. She argued that rape was horiffic yet passing violence. She made the case that being kept in low-wage jobs and low social status were so much worse because they last years to a lifetime. I’m not sure I wholly agree with her premise or comparison, but it certainly is food for thought. Even as a college graduate, I’ve experienced the discomfort of being inappropriately flirted with by an older male supervisor and asked to go pick up lunch while the “guys” met to talk about business. I’ve also heard a supervisor make a hiring decision out loud in favor of a woman who didn’t have kids over one who did because “she won’t miss work as often”. These were 3 different jobs in 3 different industries. It’s no wonder women here in the U.S. still make cents on the dollar to what men earn! I guess I would like to feel hopeful that we’re moving in the right direction by setting a good example but sadly I don’t.

  • kat

    I just wanted to let you know that I feel overwhelmed sometimes too. It really does hurt. I’ve been very angry and sad over this gang-rape of this 15 yr old in California. The circumstances and the behavior of the boys and men is horrific and…wicked. For me, it brings up other stories, like that Sodini PA gym killer who blogged about hating women before he went on the shooting rampage, and *so* many other stories, like that poor kidnapped girl living in the backyard hell…. The stories all seem to melt together into one big theme of Male Hatred for Women. It hurts, it really does. I learn about women all over the world being dehumanized by men and it *pains* me.

    See, it’s not “violence against women”…it is “male violence against women”…if we take away the “male”…we take away the blame, and we cannot do that anymore. Language needs to change. Many feminist orgs haven’t even caught onto it.

    I believe culture is dictated via laws and media in the USA:

    –Vote for women. Only vote for men who have a *history* of supporting women. (Never mind what they say.) We are the majority, we have more votes. That’s power.

    –Girlcott and protest misogyny in the media, and do *not* buy products that are being peddled via sexism. WOMEN are the shoppers–the ones who determine consumerism & health for the economy. That’s power. We can protest sponsors of woman-bashing media. They *DO* get scared shitless when enough women complain.

    We have to change the genders of the leaders, the ones who make laws for us, and we have to change the content of the media.

  • http://angryredhead.wordpress.com Candice

    Christine, I loved this article. On a very small scale, I’ve often tried to make my male friends understand exactly how “using girls for sex” (leading them on, building fake trust, etc.) is incredibly damaging. Mostly, they can’t wrap their heads around it, and it’s unfair because our perspectives become warped and jaded.

    On a more serious scale, my aunt was murdered three years ago by her common-law husband in front of several friends and witnesses. The devastation caused by the event affected the entire community, our family, the people involved, etc. Both men and women. I hate that one person can ruin so many lives, and I hate that all of this could have been prevented with the right education, or the right actions as soon as there were warning signs. We’ve come along way as women, but there’s still a long way to go.

  • http://twenty-somethingtravel.com Stephanie

    I think that living in America, in the middle class, in a safe space, it’s easy to forget sometimes that there is a war against women still going on in this world. It’s only in the past year or so my eyes have really opened to how much is still to be done. It’s really frustrating and scary that violence against women is so pervasive around the world.

    I think that Candice is very right that activism can be don on both a small (attempting to change attitudes among your friends) and larger (attempting to change policy scale). Both need to be done before we can all feel as safe as I (usualy) do.

  • Cindy

    All women, and men who care about them, need to speak up!! It is shocking to me to realize that a group that makes up such a HUGE portion of the world population doesn’t get any respect. We need to start at home, speak up, and use the influence (dare I say “power”?) that we have to make changes. I feel this is the #1 issue in the world right now.

  • http://www.joninakirton.com Jonina Kirton

    This piece is filled with honest emotion about a horrific topic. One which so few seem to be willing to truly acknowledge. When you stated “we are not safe” I felt a huge sigh filled with sadness run through my body. As a young woman I had things happen to me; things that still make me sad to this day but as you say we are resilient. Imagine what we could do if we did not first have to heal from these traumas, if we were met with safety and care in this world. Imagine how it would feel to know you are safe!! To know that you are respected and valued as a woman. That is what I wish for myself and all women around the world.

    Namaste

  • Heather

    great article … will be retweeting it … and also good comments, I don’t need to add more to the comments except to remind travellers that visiting the so-called ‘long-necked women’ of nthn thailand (etc) is perpetuating the physical damage done to these women by the huge weights pressing down in their collar bones and lungs etc . i must do a blog about this topic too!

  • http://lonelygirltravels.com Lauren Quinn

    Man, oh man, do I feel you. Most of the time I’m able to be tough and maintain a fuck-you-I’m-gonna-keep-living-my-awesome-life attitude, but sometimes it just breaks you down. So much of my daily life is shaped by the fact that I’m a woman, and that the threat of violence is always hanging not-so-distantly around me.

    I recently confronted a lot of these issues while traveling solo through Morocco. There’s wasn’t any threat of violence ever, but the street harassment wore on me. At first I felt gutsy and defiant (http://lonelygirltravels.com/2009/09/30/bonjour-guapa-you-want-sex/), but by the end I cracked (http://lonelygirltravels.com/2009/10/09/marrakesh-you-broke-me-down/).

    It’s important to keep raising these issues and continuing the dialog, so thank you. Maybe someday we won’t have to “just accept it.”

  • http://www.greenygrey.co.uk Marc Latham

    I agree that crimes against women/men should be reported within a gender frame for a start. While anything with a hint of race is reported within a race frame most crimes against women are not categorised. In hegemonic theory this is thematic and episodic reporting, with the thematic frames building up imagery, interest and memory in the audience, while the episodic is just put down to humanity and quickly forgotten.

    Race also seems to get the vast majority of campaigning in sports etc; I’d say 80%. I think that should really be prejudice, as it would encompass gender and all other types, such as sexuality, class and age. Many of the other prejudices seem to be rising under the protective umbrella of race/religion. I’ll probably be accused of being racist for writing that!

    As a heterosexual male I must say I have found it very hard to support women with ideas such as the above. Even many women think you must be weird in some way or after something if you support them, and many men (often the ones who are preaching race equality) think you’re some kind of gender traitor.

    It’s also not all one way traffic of course, with many women treating men badly in relationships, or showing prejudice when gaining power themselves.

    But while the most men usually have to put up with is bitchiness and materialism (hope that’s not sexist!) women have to put up with nearly all the rape and the vast majority of violence and murder.

    • http://www.joninakirton.com Jonina Kirton

      Marc,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. We need more men to get on board with these issues. I too have often thought race issues gain much more attention that gender issues. Being a feminist is not very popular while being anti-racist appears to be hip at the moment.

      I am all for anit-racist work. I am a visible minority myself. I get the double whammy of being a woman and being Metis. I worry for all women. Being a visible minority may put you more at risk and more likely to be the victim of violence but this does not mean that being caucasian protects you from this.

      At times I have I wondered if all social issues would dissolve if we took on the issue of sexism.

      Namaste

      • http://www.holisticwithhumor.com/ Christine Garvin

        I also wanted to say thank you to Marc for being the only male commenter, and for your own honest assessment of the situation. And yes, Jonina, as you mentioned, being feminist is not very popular at the moment (has it ever been?) while being anti-racist and anti-homophobic are.

        It is interesting how deeply connected all the work around freedom and equality are inter-connected and need each other, whether it be based on race, sex, or sexuality. Yet they are often separated for the “larger” cause of that particular issue (I’ve seen the same happen within feminist circles, although I do feel the awareness of other forms of oppression is palpable). But I do like to contemplate Jonina’s last sentence, and think it is worth repeating:

        “At times I have I wondered if all social issues would dissolve if we took on the issue of sexism.”

  • http://www.greenygrey.co.uk Marc Latham

    Thanks Jonina and Christine.

    My first philosophy when I started on this writing lark was: ‘When men learn to truly love women they will also begin to love themselves.’

    So yes, I think that gender equality/acceptabilty is really central to everything.

  • http://www.joninakirton.com Jonina Kirton

    Christine and Marc,

    It is always nice share dialogue with thoughtful people. Thank you!!

    Namaste

  • http://www.holisticwithhumor.com/ Christine Garvin

    Here is a slightly different rant on a similar subject I wrote over at my blog: http://www.holisticwithhumor.com/feminism-porn-and-love-in-consideration-of-the-whole-woman. Note: somewhat harsh and graphic.

  • Sarah

    My good friend Derick Ellerman runs The Polaris foundation which is working to end human trafficking, which is largely female sex trafficking.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting this article. I live in a rural town with almost no crime, and I go to a rural school, but two of my best friends growing up were molested as children.

    How can we stop it? I need to know. How can we bond together and actually make a huge change in the statistics.

    It’s sick that all women must grow up with the constant unspoken fear of rape in their lives. I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t think about it as a possibility for them.

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