Random Ephemera

The “Western Women Aren’t Oppressed” Myth

The Women's March in Houston
The Women's March in Houston Photo by Marco Torres
The Women’s March was a historic push-back to the presidency of Donald Trump, a man elected despite openly admitting sexual assault. However, every counter has a counter-counter, and there’s been a lot of that since the inauguration. There have been claims that those who marched are just college students reliant on their daddies (usually with unnaturally colored hair because that seems to obsess anti-feminists, for whatever reason) or otherwise privileged women who see protesting the new administration as a luxury or conceit. The message is clearly that women demonstrating against a plainly hostile new government is something of a fad, and the evidence of that is that women in other countries have “real” problems.

Today I’m going to tell you a secret: Men in other countries point to America to tell their women feminism is bad because look at what it has done to women here. Yes, even in Muslim countries.

I first got wind of this from a friend of mine who is a prominent YouTube personality and who asked me to leave her name out of this to avoid the inevitable backlash from dude-holes. She was fending off “rando #252,053” on Twitter explaining that American women have no call to whine because of Islamic countries, when a Saudi Arabian fan of hers jumped in to let her know that men in her country say the exact same thing. They tell women there that in America cops will beat up women and parents will set them loose in a world without health care or good-paying jobs.

Another friend, an Indian author, also pointed out this truth to me. He told me…

I can vouch that this is at least true for India. The U.S. is often held up as an example of "disrespecting women". Every patriarchy conveniently redefines disrespect to suit their own brand of superiority.

Here is the uncomfortable truth: Women are oppressed everywhere. No country has achieved gender equality. Not a single one. If you are alive and a woman today, you are oppressed. Period.

I’ve seen some American women weirdly push back against the recent wave of activism, and you know what it resembles? One sibling insisting to the other that they didn’t have an abusive parent. No one likes to be the victim, and though there’s no shame in living within a system we have little control over, there is an implied shame for not doing something about it. Watching women fight back makes those sitting on the couch feel inferior, and the go-to emotional response is to deny anything meaningful about the fight in the first place. If American women aren’t actually oppressed, then it’s safe to write off protests (and the inferior feeling they cause) as trivial or vainglorious.

Women in African and Middle Eastern countries typically end up being the props in these responses. One acquaintance of mine started sharing pictures of Muslim women who had been harmed in foreign acid attacks as “proof” that women in America don’t have it so bad here. Except, of course, we have acid attacks in America as well. Such attacks are on the rise in Western countries, and the number of incidents in England has nearly doubled. Caustic substances are cheap and easy to obtain, and a desire to maim or scar is a derangement shared by people all over the world. Yes, you’re less likely to catch a face full of acid here, but it’s still a thing.

And it’s not like Texas can say with a straight face we don’t have a human trafficking problem here, especially when it comes to women. At any given moment, a full quarter of all human trafficking victims in the country are right here in the Lone Star State. And contrary to popular belief, these are not all imported from other nations. Young American girls by the thousands are sold or coerced into sexual slavery.

Did you know that America also has a vast and rich history of female circumcision? Sarah Rodriguez wrote a really fantastic book on the subject exploring 150 years of the medical procedure and how it was used to treat what was considered sexual deviance. Her research turned up references to using it to treat masturbation in girls in medical literature as recently as the 1960s.

The Women’s March, while not as intersectional as it should have been, was not some gaggle of slacker chicks whose primary complaint is not being able to walk around topless. Women continue to face an uneven playing field in America. Take an occupation like nursing, for instance. Women make up 92 percent of RNs, and yet, somehow, the male RNs still make an average of $5,000 more a year. This is a problem, and at this stage in human history, it is a really stupid problem to still have, let alone debate the existence of.

As a friend of mine said after watching Donald Trump sign an executive order, you’re never going to look up and see a female president surrounded by a room full of women as she signs a law restricting men’s reproductive health care. Yet with male leaders, that’s just Monday. No one even thinks it’s noteworthy since it happens so frequently.

Which I suspect is the main problem so many Americans dig in their heels over and claim women aren’t oppressed here. Remember that abuse analogy I dropped earlier? Abuse never looks like abuse if that’s all you know. You have to actively choose to see the world a different way than your default setting. It’s easy to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when you’re young and it looks like the world is your oyster, and to pretend your home is a just place where just things happen more than they don’t. Certainly no one wants to consider the idea the system in place above her actively tries to hurt her over something like her gender.

It does, though, and there aren’t enough memes or appropriated pictures of foreign women in the world to make it not so. Any cursory look at statistics clearly shows there are quite enough reasons for American women to take to the streets and demand their country stop screwing them over.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner