Monday, October 15, 2012

The Woman Issue

Since we’re just three weeks from Election Day, I think now would be a good time to remember that there are other important considerations besides The Economy (unemployment/debt/deficit/taxes) and the country’s biggest-ticket-items: Defense, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and health care.  Of course all this is critical – especially since the Presidential opponents have significantly different ideas about how to handle them.

But the “ancillary” issues that are dismissed in some quarters as "distractions" are in fact very important.  They literally define what our country is now and what it will be in the future: our culture, our values - not in some uptight religious sense, but having a collective, humane agreement about what matters.  Most of these issues have something to do with women, because the category of "woman" overlaps or underpins almost everything else.

All the major stuff, plus:
the future of the Supreme Court, green energy, effective foreign policy, youth and adult education, poverty, hunger, homelessness, the erosion of hard won civil- and voting-rights, Gay Rights and Marriage Equality, immigration and the Dream Act, progressive science, the environment, infrastructure, reforms and regulations, the arts and humanities, fighting voter suppression and the lie of voter fraud - all the things that are the essence of our democracy and literally civilize us and make us great.

Women’s rights, woes, and unbalanced status in America and around the world personify the very real culture clashes that define our times.  And it's an outrage that it's happening here in America.  After decades of struggle to earn the right to vote, not to mention personal autonomy, property ownership, professional opportunity, pay equity and more, women are now in real danger of losing control of our own bodies due to a growing lack of basic and preventive health care, and access to legal abortion and contraception, some of which require enduring intrusive, unnecessary medical procedures and stressful waiting periods.  The repeal of Roe v Wade is a very real possibility in a Conservative/Republican administration.

However, the greatest problem women face – to a much lesser extent here in America but to a vast extent around the world (particularly but not exclusively in the Muslim World) – is atrocious oppression, abuse and violence.  You’re no doubt aware of the 14-year old Pakistani girl who was recently shot in the head by a Taliban terrorist because she wrote a blog and spoke out against the Taliban and advocating education for women.  According to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “The United Nations mission in Afghanistan says it verified 34 attacks against schools in just the first six months of this year, ‘including cases of burnings of school buildings, targeted killings and intimidation of teachers and school officials, armed attacks against and occupation of schools, and closures, particularly of girls’ schools’.”

And let us not forget the routine honor killings, stonings, cutting off women's noses, acid attacks, indentured servitude, sexual slavery and rape as a tactic of war and cultural intimidation that are central to radical Islamic Shariah Law.  In addition, throughout Africa and elsewhere, female genital mutilation is traditional.  More recently, the gang rape of lesbians in order to “turn them into proper African women” has become common, as well as the rape of young girls (including infants and toddlers) because it’s believed that sex with a virgin will cure or prevent AIDS.

While most of this behavior is not an American issue per se, some of it is.  Rape, sexual slavery (of children and women) and severe domestic violence are very much American problems – particularly growing violence against girlfriends by teens and young men.  And there are millions of educated-but-ignorant young women who cluelessly ignore these matters and truly believe they're living a solid post-feminist reality.  The have no real understanding of history and are contributing nothing to the existing, still-valiant struggle - because "feminist" has become an old-fashioned, bad word.  They're the Starbucks Generation.

Which feeds in (you should pardon the expression) to America's benefits for the poor that so many people seem to bitterly resent: Welfare and Food Stamps.  Separately or combined, they barely provide the ability to survive.  Although many Americans picture Welfare recipients as burly black men laying around the house watching 60” televisions, and Food Stamps recipients as people using these benefits for non-nutritional purposes, like buying booze and frequenting strip clubs.  These stereotypes couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The vast majority of people on Welfare and Food Stamps are white women and their minor children and their lives are brutal.  These women are generally unskilled, under-educated to the point of illiteracy, and plagued by severe mental/ emotional problems, too.  (Abject poverty, constant worry and social disdain can do that to a person.)

Which brings us back to the fact that women’s health, safety, freedom and prosperity are very much an important part of the 2012 campaign – domestically and as a foreign policy issue.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made great efforts and some strides in the area of women’s rights by vocally supporting education, professional opportunity and personal freedom, and forcefully speaking out against horrific violence and oppression of women.  Republican John R. Bolton – George W. Bush’s ambassador to the U.N. and a specialist on security and arms control – is said to be Romney’s top contender for Clinton’s post should he win the Presidency.  Do you imagine Bolton would make the crises and needs of women a top priority as he travels the world?

How women's issues are addressed – and whether they are addressed at all – will, for years to come, be a revealing part of what kind of country we are and strive to be.  I don’t believe that Romney/Ryan support heinous violence against women here or abroad.  But I also don’t think they have the awareness, sensitivity, and concern we need in the White House, Congress and Senate.  For example, important legislation that would have helped combat extensive sexual slavery in America has been defeated numerous times by Republicans.  They want small government, but they want it to be just big enough to control women, especially sexually.  How long can women here and abroad be denied, defiled, and controlled by men with much power and little compassion?

Human beings are more important than money, but ironically, a greater empowerment of women in all ways would be a genuine boon to our economy and those of developing countries who are nonetheless determined to keep women in the Dark Ages.  So gentlemen, please don’t forget your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and all the other women in your life when you vote next month.  And ladies, don’t forget the life and liberty you protect may be your own – and perhaps those of our sisters worldwide.

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