Thursday, December 27, 2007

I fear for women in power.

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.


Joel Monka said...

I don't think women in power have any more to fear than men in power in the Middle East; anyone who falls afoul of the Islamists is in danger, regardless of sex or race- ask Anwar Sadat. Here at home, I have no fear for Senator Clinton; though I disagree with many of her positions, I respect her strength and ability- she can easily handle anything dealt to her.

As to what women are or are not supposed to be, wierdly enough, it seems to me that women are more hung up on the stereotypes than most men. Strong men enjoy working with a strong woman- look at the people who surrounded Ann Richards, or Maggie Thatcher. Notice that it was a woman who asked Senator McCain "How do we stop the bitch?"

But outside of the halls of power, I think women are wise to remain alert at all times. I wish it were otherwise, but I know that it's true. I have faith that humankind will outgrow it eventually- but not in our lifetimes.

Ms. Theologian said...

When I woke up and read the news, I was so sickened. I do fear for women in power. I suppose I fear for men too, but I think there is a wealth of misogyny in the world.

Rev SS said...

I think my fear is for anyone, whatever their gender or race, who challenges those in power who want to remain in power. Jesus did it, and was crucified. Ghandi did it, and was killed. Oscar Romero did it and was assisinated. Martin Luther King, et al ... same thing. And, I think we have no choice but to be willing to risk our lives if we want to save them. I often pray that if it came to it I'd have the courage of Bhutto and others who didn't back down from what they were called to do.

Mile High Pixie said...

You make a good point, Rev Kit, and you echo what I've been thinking, especially after hearing the news this morning. In the supposed safest country in the world, I can still be assaulted just walking to the grocery store after dark, and the first question I'll get from the cops is "What were you wearing?" I've seen both men and women recoil from Hilary because she's not acting however it is they think she should be acting, and she's been catching that kind of crap since 1992. Frankly, Eleanor Roosevelt caught the same static in the '30s and '40s. I fear for my sisters, but we have to keep stepping up to challenge the notions, to teach people what women, gays, minorities really are: human, just like everyone else.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, everyone, for your insights. I think you're right, SS,to fear for the safety of all those who speak truth to power.

Joel, I do fear for Senator Clinton. The barbs thrown at her are cruel and remorseless; it would be so easy for someone to pull a trigger out of sheer hatred. We have seen it happen many times.

ms. kitty said...

Pixie, you're so right in saying that we and our sisters have to keep stepping up, taking the risk, speaking out. It is making a difference now and it will make even more of a difference as we continue to do it.

Miss Kitty said...

Excellent post, Ms. K. And I have no idea what to do about any of it. [sigh] I fight ingrained attitudes about race and gender every semester in my lit classes, and sometimes
I despair for our young people.

ms. kitty said...

And you just keep on keeping on, Miss Kitty. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Joel said...

I was frankly surprised that Bhutto lasted as long as she did. The Muslim world is not notoriously respectful of women who get involved in traditionally male affairs.

It's hard to imagine any woman being assassinated - or even defamed - simply because she's a woman in American politics. We tend to be caustic about our politicians, but not for gender reasons. It'll be interesting to see what kind of dynamics result if (alas, I suspect that should be when) she gets elected. I also wonder if the same people who lambaste her would treat Condoleeza Rice the same way, or vice versa. I don't think so.

As for feeling vulnerable and at risk, that gives me a chance to toss in one of the posts I'm proudest of, when I gave advice to my sons on masculine behavior. The relevant part is:

As a man, you are stronger physically than women. You are also bigger than they are and hence intimidating to them, if only on a subconscious level. Never loom over them, never yell at them, never treat them as though they were men. (On the other side of the coin, don't condescend to them either. They're small, not dumb.) Bear in mind that you have all the equipment and strength necessary at any moment to overpower and violate any woman. It's therefore vital that you conduct yourself in a way that makes obvious that you not only wouldn't do something like that, but you'd step in front of a bullet or a grizzly bear to keep her safe. This isn't something you say out loud, but an attitude that stays in the back of your mind.