I saw the news about Benazir Bhutto online this morning when I sat down to check email and my first thought was "I'm not surprised". Whether it is assassination by suicide bomber or assassination of character by swiftboaters, women in power are in danger.
I remember years ago reading an interview in Glamour or some such (yes, in my earlier days I read the fashion and how-to-get-a man mags), an interview with a woman who had been Bhutto's roommate/friend at Radcliffe. I thought at the time, "how cool would that be, to have a Pakistani woman for a roommate and then to watch her ascend to power in her native land! To see her education and intellect and charisma pay off in this exciting way!"
Today I'm wondering how that former roommate/friend must be feeling now, how she must have been feeling in the past years as her friend was exiled and then returned to Pakistan to challenge the military establishment, knowing full well that her life was in constant danger.
I worry about Hillary Clinton. She too is challenging many ingrained attitudes and expectations about how women are supposed to act. She is so hated by many, even some who are feminists, because she isn't doing things the way she's supposed to, whatever that means.
Women in power are in danger, real physical danger sometimes, other times real emotional and economic danger. Women are vulnerable to attack through physical violence, through innuendo and suspicion and rumor, through character defamation.
There must be a radical shift in world view for women to be safe, whether that is in the Oval Office, the Prime Minister's role, the home, the classroom, the congregation, the public streets and shops. When women challenge the current world view, they are branded as bitches, witches, and whores, and their lives and wellbeing are endangered.
Women are, in the current world view, supposed to be compliant, sexy, submissive, thin, pregnant, nurturing, motherly, sweet, servile, modest, what have I forgotten? And if we're not, we're in danger.
Actually, we're in danger regardless. I remember viewing a movie, The Color of Fear, in seminary, a movie that was supposed to wake us up to the physical violence inherent in racism. Eight men, White and Asian and Latino and Black, were filmed in a seminar where they talked about their experiences with racism. I listened to horrific stories about their lives, watched one white man have an epiphany about his own racism, and learned a lot about the fear of one another that they experienced.
But at the end of the film, I was still thinking "I'm afraid of all of them. Because I'm a woman, and even the wimpiest of them could hurt me physically." I'm not saying that sexism is worse than racism but they are equally dangerous. I fear for Barack Obama as well, because he too is challenging stereotypes and hatred of the same kind.
I'm not afraid for myself most of the time, but I'm aware that I am constantly on guard, constantly aware, constantly making sure of my surroundings, my companions, my safety. It is so ingrained in me to be alert to danger from men that I carry this into my everyday life. And I love men, generally! But until I know them, and know that they are safe, I am on guard.