The amount of violence in this world against women baffles me. Although we live in an age where there is an unprecedented number of women in power – e.g. first German chancellor Angela Merkel, USA second-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, just to name a few – there continues to be a stark inequality prevalent in society between the male and female gender. Violence/inequality/fear – these are some of the words that pop up when I think about my female identity amid a developed, cosmopolitan city.
I exaggerate, you say. How could you feel these things when you live in Hong Kong? How does your experience even compare to say, a female villager living in the DRC facing the daily threat of rape while fetching water, or a schoolgirl risking her life to attend classes under the Taliban rule? It doesn’t compare. I can only imagine what it would be like to live under such oppression and assault, because I fortunately haven’t lived under such inhumane circumstances. But I can say that my hairs stand up and I am outraged on behalf of these women, for the everyday violence they face.
Violence against women exists even where I’m from too, just in a different form. To a lesser degree, yes, given that Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. Yet have I felt the adrenaline rush and undulating fear when walking down a dark alley, anticipating some predator pouncing from the corner? Or the fear when taking a taxi at night alone, from a shiftier looking driver than average, driving recklessly while shouting profanities into his radio? Or the paranoia that my personal information or racier photos (if any) might land in the wrong hands and be publicised widely, as an attempt to shut me up for some indiscretion in the past? Yes. Do I have legitimate fear for all those scenarios? Am I being irrational? Prior, I know of a friend being been assaulted, a report about a missing girl, celebrities/movie stars or acquaintances whose personal data was publicised somewhere, “wall-shamed” or “wall-slutted” on Facebook, as an act of online retaliation. These are all examples that make me fear. It may be a more subtle form of violence, but enough to be a reminder that I am of the gender that is more prone to being hurt.
What is it about the human race that has made the case for women such a difficult one? Why have women been subject to greater violence and suppression than their male counterparts?
Biology, one can blame. Women have less strength – can that explain why rape is more prevalent for women? Or because women are the ones who have to bear children, which often backtracks everything from career advancement to personal growth? Or is it a further biological explanation that because women are the ones that bear any evidence of sexual activity (getting pregnant), before the age of DNA testing and forensics, that the male in the act can simply disappear if he so chose to? It’s the woman who bears the child, evidencing her link to it.
Religion, another obvious factor – the world’s major religions have a patriarchal perspective, some religions such as (certain denominations of) Christianity going as far as blaming women for the world’s sins – does that explain why women are perceived to have inherently lower status? A chicken and the egg question – is it because of women’s inherently weaker physical disposition that caused religious authoritative texts to be written as male-centric (Note: for those who believe that the Bible/other religious texts are God-breathed – please don’t get offended! This is merely a platform for discussion…questions from the perspective of someone who’s not religious)? Or is it because God indeed ordained women to have a lesser status than men, so that the current patriarchal world order is merely reflecting God’s will? From a Christian perspective, why should the wife obey the husband in a marriage anyway? Why should the man have the final say? Could Jesus have been a woman instead? If the Bible was written in a completely female perspective (e.g. Mother-daughter relationship and not father-son, praying to God as a “her”, having most of the prophets as female characters instead of male), would God’s grace and love be the same?
These are macro discussion points. The actual study of why women have the status they have today, and why women are subject to more violence than men, is an academic topic in itself. It’s multifaceted and complicated. Thus women’s studies and gender research – I’m no expert. But my own experience of being a woman is enough to confirm the frustrations of being constantly put down, measured, judged, and threatened with violence. I often wonder what it feels like to be a guy – or have a guy stand in my shoes for a day so that they’d understand the inherent injustices a woman faces.
I can think of some personal examples. I detest the double standard for raising my brother and I, him having more freedom to travel and to travel with friends of the opposite gender without questions asked, where as I would face relentless scrutiny and interrogation. I absolutely detest how guys can display their sexual endeavours and claim them as trophies, boosting their confidence with their latest “conquests”, where as I have been taught always to watch my reputation, beware of my actions and guard my own “purity”. I don’t like how my figure, my skin, my looks matter so much more than my brother’s or my guy friends’. If they are unshaven or dressed shabbily it’s “scruffy”/”sexy”; if I forget to pluck an eyebrow or shave I’m “gross”/”not coping”. My own mother and well-meaning relatives constantly reminding me if I look good, tired, if I’ve grown fat, if my skin is breaking out. There is that tacit understanding that looks are a woman’s best weapon.
I guess in the end, I’m angry but also confused. These measures – having a double standard when raising me, reminding me to guard my own body, being ever-honest to me about how I look – are all ways that my mother (or dad, or relatives, where applicable) wanted to protect and care about me. But when I think of all this now I have an inexplicable anger, based the perceived unfairness of it all. Why do I have to worry about traveling alone? Why do I have to worry about getting raped when walking down deserted areas? Why are women the ones who bear the pain of childbirth, have period cramps, give up their careers to raise children, are the ones subject to closed doors in religious or educational endeavours?
It doesn’t make sense!
It just doesn’t add up in my mind. Women can’t be priests because the Church says so? Is it because Jesus was a man and God is supposedly a man too? Why couldn’t have God been a woman – if he is the alpha and the omega, the everything and the everywhere? Aren’t women a part of this world too? Why are women subject to more violence? Why is prostitution the oldest profession? Where are the gigolos?
God, are you a misogynist?
I’ve slowly developed the thought that if God were real, and if indeed, the bible is every word God-breathed, as certain Christian denominations preach, then God is one hell of a misogynist. Purely based on how he engineered women (weaker, by strength), how he punished Eve’s sin (by increasing her pain in childbirth – Genesis), or how he created a religion where women were often the film extras whereas the protagonist men went along to create historical world-changing moments (Moses, Noah, Job, Isaac, David, Joseph, Jesus, etc etc vs Deborah, Sarah, Rahab, Mary…and I’m out of examples). It could be my poor biblical knowledge but it’s hard to argue that the bible is very, very, man-centric. Oh right, but of course, the Bible was written by a bunch of men…wait, it may have been God-breathed/inspired, but at least, the scribes were men.
I don’t have any good answers. These questions are surfacing as I’m preparing to get married, and in a way I fear that I’ll lose parts of myself, becoming a wife, a daughter-in-law, a mother. Having children, expected to raise them well and judged if I don’t. Subject to a lifetime of unspoken yet present cosmopolitan violence, though it seems like getting married gives me a shield somewhat (the engagement ring seems to be a turn-off for certain types of guys – great news). My fiancé (and I’ve heard the same sentiments from guy friends), would rather have a son than daughter, because he fears the added responsibility that comes with protecting a daughter in this very violent, women-unfriendly world. Does that explain why in countries where the gender inequality is the worst (India? Mainland China?) that female infanticides happen at an alarming rate?
I want to have it all, but it seems I can’t really have it all. Some women can pull it off, and balance everything gracefully. I’m not sure I’m one of those lucky ones. I’m generally happy being a woman, and I can’t ask for more living in relatively gender equal Hong Kong, but can’t help but feel at times, having been jipped by evolution/God/nature.
Are you happy with the gender you’ve been assigned by birth?
Image credit BCCL and http://www.mensxp.com