There is no gentle way to say this: Women are the slaves of the world. What nature dictates – that we bear and care for the offspring of the species – patriarchal society has elaborated and enshrined. For many centuries in most societies, the woman’s place has been in the home performing the unpaid work on which all wealth is founded. Pick any era and think about the economics of the time. Whether based on conquest of new lands and other nations’ treasure, on invention-manufacture-sales, on science-education-communications or on speculation and sophisticated abstractions of trade, expansion of community resources could not occur in the absence of day-to-day caretaking of food, clothing and shelter. A baseline of physical security must be achieved before one can turn attention to more ambitious goals. And so, yes, “Behind every great man there is a woman.” Because someone is there to feed him and knit a warm scarf, the great one is free to develop his intellect, talents, influence and wealth.
Our patriarchs, desiring to claim the life of the mind exclusively for themselves, foisted on our matriarchs the exclusive burden of caring not only for their babies, but also children and grown-up men, plus the aged and infirm, as well as the home and grounds and livestock – right up to the point that the operation becomes large enough to require machinery and/or more “hands” than the mother and her children (another source of unpaid labor) can provide. Until very recently, women have been generally uneducated and barred from work outside the home. The rationalizations for this are identical to those offered by apologists for black slavery prior to the Civil War: Women/blacks were not bright enough to gain from formal schooling, not emotionally fit to deal with the complexities of the world beyond their doorsteps, in need of ongoing correction and protection. And they were paid – the “pay” being the protection itself, of course. The women/slaves weren’t working for free, but earning their keep.
Get it? Women who are considered to have no intrinsic value to society beyond their bodies and their labor are kept – like pets or beasts of burden. (Some have it easier than others.) Fathers give their daughters over to the keeping of husbands, labor is transferred from one household to another. In the best circumstance, the wife can be assured of a provider and protector to the end of her days. She doesn’t need to work for pay, and of course she doesn’t need to earn as much as those male “providers” when she does work outside the home.
Sex on demand has also been part of the marital job description for women. Is it any wonder that men who consider themselves the boss in the bedroom also consider themselves the boss of the female body and entitled to make all reproductive decisions?
It sure feels like a boot on the neck to some of us, but don’t call it a war on women. We are dealing with people who fervently or conveniently or unthinkingly believe that God is the Father, His representatives to humankind are Males, and Women are the Males’ handmaidens, equally blessed by God with a particular, precious role to play in the divine hierarchy. How dare we accuse these faithful of making war on the very creatures they have been charged with protecting!
Masters do not make war on their slaves. There are rebellions and reprisals, but outright war is reserved for the worthy foe, one considered to be in a position of strength. The Civil War was a war between the states to see whose interpretation of the Constitution would shape the future of our republic; it was not a war between empowered whites and disempowered blacks. Today’s “war on women” is very much the same; it is a battle between and within branches of government over who will define and defend the “rights” of those who are presently oppressed.
“War on women” has been useful for rallying women’s rights supporters and activists, but I don’t think it’s accurate. If this is a war, then it’s the longest war in history. Yet women are not competing with men for a “share” of freedom as if it were a limited resource with only so much to go around; and there is nothing we possess that we have not willingly contributed to humanity in the insoluble partnership that naturally exists between males and females. For there to be a war, there has to be a foe, and we are not the foe. No, “war” is too grand a word for this reactionary backlash to anything that challenges the status quo male dominance.
So, what would I call it? Desperate measures. Tipping their hand. Exposing their true agenda. The rotting vessel is sinking and the rats are swarming to the surface. It’s never a pretty sight, and these have been troubling times, but I always count it as progress when unseen machinations are finally revealed. Housekeepers of both genders know that you need to get a good look at the problem in order to clean it up. Now that we have this mess exposed to the light of day, let’s name it for what it is – patriarchy on parade.
Our “founding fathers” did not give women equal status in the Constitution. The pronoun “she” does not appear in that document. Amendments XIII, XIV and XV, which abolish slavery and grant civil rights and voting rights to blacks, do not explicitly pertain to women and in fact intentionally exclude reference to women. So there’s no need for anyone to make war on us, and we are in no position to make war on men. With female representation in Congress at a mere 17 percent, women in this country are still stuck with only one recourse, which is to plead for our male overlords to finally pass the ERA and write us into the Constitution. And that does make me fighting mad.