Although they keep trying to deny it, it is undeniable that Republicans have been engaged in recent years in a “war on women.” They are against women’s choice in the matter of their own bodies, against abortion, against contraception, against Planned Parenthood, against child care, against just about everything that women might both want and need. Interestingly enough, we might actually view this as more of a minor skirmish in the primeval and perennial genuine war on women that seems to have raged since the very beginning of recorded time (and no doubt even before then). One only has to consider the history of women’s rights in the Western World, and the position of women in most other societies, to realize we have been, figuratively speaking, at war with them in one way or another for a very long time.
You have all no doubt seen cartoons depicting a cave man with a club on his shoulder dragging a woman by her hair into his cave. Such cartoons can be very funny, but are also apparently not terribly incorrect. How, for example, are such cartoons so different from the recent Cleveland situation in which three brothers apparently kidnapped and kept three women in an apparently abandoned house for ten years? Granted this is not a common occurrence but it is certainly not without precedent and we know of several similar cases.
More importantly, consider the breaking scandal in the military where rape and sexual assaults have reached epidemic proportions. Even the Air Force Lieutenant Colonel put in charge of dealing with the problem of military sexual assaults has been, himself, arrested for sexual assault, and the incidence of such assaults in the military has increased by a substantial percent in recent years. While it is true that males are also subject to sexual assaults it is also true that it is by far a much more important problem of heterosexuals (curiously enough, although I am not certain, this may not be true in the Catholic Church scandals). In any case it seems to have something to do with situations in which males control the positions of power. But where in history or ethnography have males not been in control.
This raises, to me, some interesting questions. First, rape and assault are by no means restricted to the military. Domestic assaults are so common in the United States that communities have had to create safe homes for battered spouses and children. A high percentage of deaths by firearms have to do with husbands shooting and killing their wives. Spousal and child abuse are relatively commonplace in our culture. Such violence seems to be related, at least in part, to hard times. The worse things get economically the more such abuse increases, or so I have been told.
Historically, of course, women were always treated as inferior to men. Remember they were not even allowed to vote until 1920, they were basically wards of their husbands even after that, and even now this still continues in certain respects. Attitudes toward women have not been what might be regarded as “healthy” in many respects, they were regarded as childlike, irrational, overly emotional, small-brained, and so on:
“In the most intelligent races, as among the Parisians, there are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. They excel in fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason. Without doubt there exist some distinguished women, very superior to the average man, but they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, a gorilla with two heads, consequently we may neglect them entirely.” (Gustave LeBon, quoted in Gould 1978:46).
We may have come a long way since LeBon and other scientists of the day described women in such unflattering terms. But what do you do with some of our more current male observations on women:
“Turn ‘em upside down, they all look alike.” “Old enough to bleed, old enough to butcher.” “Throw a flag over their head and do it for Old Glory,” and other such flattering attitudes that seem to still prevail in some circles.
The war on women far transcends Republican attempts to control their bodies (and minds). Why do men have such attitudes toward women? Although this is far too complicated a matter to discuss in an inconsequential blog like this, I believe it has to do basically with men’s fear of women, of women’s sexuality, and of their power, the power to come between even fathers and sons, and to potentially control men of all kinds. Read W. Somerset Maugham's powerful short story, “Rain,” for an example.
The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision.