by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 15 July 2007)
Where should the finger point when blame is being distributed for the ill treatment, murder and rape of women? Surely there is someone to hold culpable for such atrocious acts against half of the world’s population.
Do we blame the men who commit these acts? Yes, of course. However, the truth is that they are only acting on what they have been socialised to consider acceptable. True, society does not say that rape and murder are acceptable, but when it promotes the second-class position of women it is a very short trip to a conclusion of rape and murder.
Should we blame hip-hop music, which objectifies women? This week I heard a radio interview with a Georgetown University Professor and author, Michael Eric Dyson, who spoke on this subject. Dyson maintained that hip hop has been extremely seductive in that it promotes the idea that the only place for women, especially black women, in the political economy of sex globally is as a hoochie mama and a slut whose “role is to service the masculine, especially the heterosexual male crotch.”
Hip-hop has certainly colluded with the mentality of female objectification - much like beauty pageants, pornography and girls gone wild videos. However, this music is only a couple decades old and we all know that misogyny has been around for thousands of years.
Perhaps we should blame the legislators for not going to greater lengths to protect women or the law enforcement system for turning a blind eye to women in jeopardy or the judicial system for doling out slaps on the wrists for rapists and wife abusers. Certainly all of these factors play a role in the treatment of women today.
However, all of these factors such as rape, female murder, sexist hip-hop lyrics and videos, pornography, lack of proper legislation to protect women and the obvious indifference from law enforcement and the judicial system, are no more than symptoms of the larger malady that has a very strong hold in so many nations today.
Obviously, there is a greater work in play here that must be recognised for its part in misogynistic socialisation. I have known the answer for quite some time and it seems others are seeing the light as well. The author I mentioned before from an interview this week went on to talk about what he sees as the primary promoter of sexism.
Dyson said he suggested to the “Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton instead of in the aftermath of Imus protesting record companies, how about smashing the sermons of some of those preachers who stand up in church on Sunday mornings in Black America, 75 – 80 percent of those churches are attended by black women, the minister is not calling them the b-word or the h or a skeezer or slut, but he is reinforcing a gospel that subordinates them to the interest of men and therefore he is much more seductive, he’s got a bigger pulpit, he’s got a bigger platform, and he’s got god on his side. Snoop Dog never claimed to be Jesus in rap form, but many of the ministers claim to be god’s representatives on earth and the message from the minister is god wants you to be a second class citizen because men should run stuff.”
I know there are times when religion helps people. For example, I have a very good friend who is going through a nasty divorce and is relying on strength from her god more than at any other time in her life to get through this difficult time. I do not discourage her faith because there have been times when I have needed a higher power in my life too.
I would rather see her stand on her own two feet and realise she has the strength to get through this on her own, but she hasn’t the resolve at this point in her life. So she turns to religion and finds comfort and strength in her faith.
What she does not realise is it is that same religion that gave her husband the right to think he could do anything he wanted to do regardless of her feelings or his responsibilities. In short, this religion to which she now clings is actually the very instigator of her problems.
Her husband maintains that men work, that’s what they do and justifies his excessive travel away from the family, which leaves all of the house duties and child rearing to the woman. If this is what the husband wants, religion teaches that it is acceptable and if the wife protests then she should be taken in hand.
The wife is reduced to nothing more than a slave, and she had better be a submissive slave or she will pay for her rebellion. God forbid that she protest anything, which is what my friend did and now finds herself in a divorce – something she never dreamed would happen to her.
The fact is that women are just as capable of working outside of the home and there are many who would rather have a career than to clean, cook and care for others their whole life. At this transitional point in history, far too many women do both – careers and home – with little help or support from their husbands.
As long as women are subordinated to the interests of men by the same higher power to whom they run for strength to deal with the intolerable situation created by that higher power, they will never find an end to their suffering. This is a never-ending circle of sexism.
It is time for women to realise they have the strength to rise above the sexist socialisation that is instilled in us from the cradle and incessantly reinforced via multiple conduits all around us for our entire lives. Could it be that this is where blame should be laid for the ill treatment, rape and murder of women – at the doors of our places of worship?