March Because “Equal Enough” for Women Is Unacceptable

Posted on April 27, 2012

Huffington Post, April 27, 2012 by Soraya Chemaly

American women need to be recognized as full citizens. Yes, women in this country. It’s me again, sitting in my office, by myself, saying that “equal enough” is NOT. But, I am not alone.

Tomorrow, Saturday, April 28th, thousands of women and men will participate in 53 marches and rallies for women’s rights in 45 states and the District of Columbia. These events are part of UNITEWOMEN.ORG movement against the War on Women. In truth, I don’t care what the sustained legislative assault on women’s rights by the Republican party is called. Nor do I care, actually, for the Unitewomen moniker, because although I am happy for anything that offsets a cultural preference to portray women as enemies, I believe that men and women who understand the importance and benefits of equality must work together. However, I agree wholeheartedly with UNITEWOMEN.ORG’s goals and intent. If you are not joining them, you should ask yourself why and consider doing it.

Why should you march?

Because women’s and girls’ fundamental rights, to privacy, to life, to bodily integrity, to chose when to plan their reproduction are being violated.

Because women can’t afford to nor should be forced to live their lives according to rules that assume they are dependent on men.

Because women and girls should not be punished, denigrated and publicly humiliated for speaking civilly and intelligently in their own interest or making their own choices.

Because boys and girls should be taught what equality, not entitlement, means.

Without fail, when I talk to people about gender inequality in the United States, someone inevitably says some variation of this: “Compared to other women, women here are equal enough.” First of all, women are not in competition with other women for safety from violence and freedom. Second, this type of comparison, with its echo of threat, is an unacceptable and irrelevant framework for considering citizenship and protection under the law. Women are citizens and should have the full rights and privileges of citizens.

We should. But we don’t.

If you are uncertain about what I am saying and think I am exaggerating the harm, consider the effect of one distillation of events: the degree to which the conservative “political” agenda requires that all women, regardless of color, faith, economic status or sexual preference, seek men’s review and approval before acting. (Those factors, race, economic status, sexual preference magnify the effect.) “Informed consent, ” “permission slips,” wage policies determined because “money may be more important to men,” “man-up finances,” women’s health care being determined by all-male religious leaders and congressional panels, refusal to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act because of homophobia (and racism). On and on and one: every time the baseline requirement for women to exercise their rights and live freely is the intervention and approval of men. This is not just unfair to girls and women, but imposes unreasonable responsibilities and pressures on boys and men.

Even the phrasing of hot button issues — “Mommy Wars” and “Slutgate” — are coded conversations that define women, their health, their choices and their incomes primarily in terms of their relationships to men. Those frameworks are unacceptable. These attempts to legislate the subordination of women are not just distasteful and embarrassing but designed ultimately to humiliate women and keep them in their place.

TO BE CLEAR: This is not a man-bashing exercise. I do not hate men. I hate inequality and oppression. This is about men and women being mutually central as humans and, together, fighting systematized biases against girls’ and women’s full engagement with the world.

All over the world women seek equality. Men and women, who understand this, fight against everything from subtle, cultural sexism to extreme and violent gendered oppression. Here, in the US, many people really do think women are “equal enough.” I am told we should “consider ourselves lucky.” I am not going to compare oppressions. Nor am I in any way dismissing the dehumanizing and life-crushing hatred that women face in too many places on the planet. But, because others are violently deprived of rights and life does not mean that we should be content with circumscribed rights and lives. Women should not have to be thankful for hard-won rights, be penalized for seeking to live better lives or have to settle for “enough” when it comes to equality. In theory, we are citizens with full rights.

Republicans would have you believe that the word “war” is not a valid way to describe the assault on women’s rights represented by the hundreds of bills (916 since January 2012 alone) and laws they’ve pursued or enacted during the past two years. This attitude is unsurprising. What is surprising to me however, is the degree to which these assaults reveal the Republican abandonment, when it comes to women, of three core beliefs of their own party, namely:

• Our country was founded on the fundamental principle that individuals have rights and freedoms
• Government intervention into the lives of private citizens should be limited
• Traditional values and freedoms of the American Republic should be reaffirmed

Either they are betraying their belief in, for example, individual rights and limited government or they are demonstrating that they don’t believe women are genuinely included in the definition of individual citizens with full rights and privileges. Time and again, women and their rights are made marginal and secondary to almost everything else and debated away as a matter of expedience.

You should march because this is unacceptable.

It is evident that conservatives do not believe women can be trusted to think for themselves and make their own decisions… about when to become parents, money, faith.. nothing. Instead, in almost every sphere of life, their agenda is designed to keep women dependent on the good graces of men and competing for the resources that men have traditionally provided and keep them vulnerable in the process. That belief seems largely derived from Complementarianism, a worldview of gender roles as different but complementary, in which there are requirements made of men (as heads of households and public life) and restrictions placed on women, who are essentially limited to childrearing. It is one thing for people to chose this model privately, but it should not be enshrined in law, imposed on everyone and enforced judicially and legislatively to undermine equality and freedom. Yet, like a slow moving train wreck, that’s what is happening.

As I said, it isn’t about individual men and their relative goodness. It’s about systematized bias, gender hierarchies and how power, responsibilities and rights are distributed. And, also for the record, before anti-feminist trolls come out of the commenting woodwork, I believe women should fight in combat in military wars. And, yes, I know, these systems are supported by both men and women. That’s how Complementarianism works. It’s a primary vector for ambivalent and paternalistic sexism’s cultural sanction and enforcement by women.

Writer Erin Solaro put it this way in a commentary on women and war and freedom:

“At the core of citizenship is the idea that the citizen’s body is hers and hers alone, regardless of sexual history, marital status or childbearing… The full citizenship of women is not just about the right to hold credit cards, buy real estate in our own names, have access to abortion and birth control and lead openly lesbian lives in which marriages and adoptions are legally recognized. These things are important in themselves — terribly so, to the point of sometimes being matters of life and death — but what they represent is vastly more important. They are part of a woman’s citizenship and freedom, the right of a woman to fully inhabit her own life and participate fully in the life of the polity (in this case the American Republic) as a public and private equal.”

You should march because women have yet to be recognized as full citizens, with agency in both the private and public spheres.