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Your Vagina is a Liability

August 11, 2013

Sometimes it really sucks to have been born female.

Despite all the great things about being a girl and all the empowering strides that women have made in the last few decades, a glance through the day’s news is all it takes to convince me that the world is still not safe for women, and may never be. That’s right, I’m talking about safety, a basic human right that should come long before education, suffrage, empowerment, equal wages, and all the other things we women have had to fight for.

I grew up feeling quite safe as a girl, actually, and very much equal to the boys around me. I played sports, excelled in school, and generally did whatever I pleased.  I was never taught that I was worth less than my brothers, or that I needed to get married in order to be financially secure, safe, or happy. In college I was highly interested in the opposite sex, but I never saw them as dangerous or corrupting. Sure, I didn’t take unnecessary risks, but even when necessity forced me into a less-than-ideal situation, like walking home from the library at 2 AM, I never really felt afraid. What were the chances of some man approaching me to rob me or rape me? Almost non-existent, I thought. Those things did and do happen, I know, but I like to think they are rare and not something to worry much about.

Then I moved to the Middle East, where I was confronted with cultures vastly different from mine. The values of these cultures were especially foreign to me when it came to their ideas about and treatment of women. The experiences I’ve had living here and the increasingly troubling news reports I’ve read recently have got me thinking…I’m really NOT as safe as I thought, because I have a vagina. And that vagina is a giant liability.My-Vagina-No-Means-No---Maternity-T-Shirt

As women, we have to face certain facts. One fact is that we are generally physically vulnerable to men, due to the differences between the sexes in terms of size and strength. I don’t really like this notion—I consider myself an athletic, in shape, strong woman. But would I stand a chance in a physical fight with the average man? Not likely. Even more frightening—would I stand a chance fending off a group of men who wanted to gang-rape me? Never.

I am aware that men and boys can also be victims of violence and sexual assault, but not nearly as frequently as women are. As women, we are vulnerable to sexual assault and rape simply by virtue of being women, and that SUCKS. Luckily for us in the West, if we make smart choices and don’t put ourselves in sketchy situations, this will most likely never become a reality. But in many parts of the world cultural obsessions with “honor” and female virginity allow rape to go unpunished all too often, and a skewed balance of power between men and women encourages men to take liberties with the women in their lives. They know they can get away with it, because their cultures, families, and legal codes allow them to.

Some examples. In the past few months I’ve heard of numerous attacks and rapes happening in India. Sometimes it’s foreign tourists who are attacked, and sometimes local Indian girls who have dared to do something as provocative as ride a bus unchaperoned. In one case you may have heard of, an Indian girl died after being brutally gang-raped. And in the Middle East, girls still lose their lives after being accused of sexual impropriety; even something as innocuous as kissing a boy could result in the girl being killed by her own family. A recent study done in Jordan found that nearly half of teen boys and about 20% of teen girls thought these kind of honor killings were acceptable.

I would say, “What’s the world coming to?” but this is a problem that has existed for millennia, in fact, throughout all of human history. But the sad thing to me is that there are still so many places in the world (including the US) where women are at risk. In the past few months alone I’ve heard about sexual assault scandals rocking the U.S. Military, journalists being gang-raped in Tahrir Square during Egyptian protests, and girls as young as 12 or 13 being married off among Syrian refugees. And why are their families encouraging them to marry so young? Because, in the chaos of a warzone, they will likely be raped anyway.

Even the books I’m reading and the TV shows I’m watching have underscored the undeniable fact that rape is a fact of life, especially when it comes to wars, revolutions, and any kind of unrest. In Gone With the Wind Scarlett bemoans the looting and raping of Yankee soldiers in the war-ravaged South. And in Game of Thrones Season 3 (I know, I’m watching it super late) Jorah Mormont encourages Daenerys Targarean to enlist the services of the eunuch-soldiers known as the Unsullied in part because their status as slaves and eunuchs keeps them from raping and pillaging, unless of course she commands it. In fact, hardly an episode goes by in this show without some kind of violence against women, or the threat of it. As Jorah says, “There’s a beast inside every man. And it stirs when you put a sword in his hand.”

It’s true that people do unspeakable things when influenced by the stress of a battle, revolution, or near-death situations. But this isn’t just an uncomfortable part of history or an abstract idea portrayed in fantasy novels—this is a very dangerous reality for many women in the world today. And yes, maybe it’s more prevalent in honor-shame societies, or in warzones, or on continents most of us have never been to…but it is not limited to those places. And none of us are as safe as we think.

I am downright pissed off about this. I like to think that I am an independent, empowered woman. But in reality, I’m just a woman, which means that I can be reduced to a sex object. What separates me from the rape victims in India or the child brides in Syria are only my blessed circumstances, not anything inherent about me as a person. If I was in their place, or if I found myself today alone with a man intent on raping me, I would be just as helpless. I HATE that idea, that vulnerability. I hate that any woman has ever had to undergo these kinds of tortures, and it makes me angry enough to scream when I admit that it’s still going on, and isn’t likely to stop anytime soon. This article from CNN cites studies which found that 91% of Egyptian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone genital mutilation. And an impossible-sounding 99% reported that they have been subjected to some form of sexual assault. These numbers are not from the distant past. These numbers are from 2013, in a nation that is desperately trying to become a modern democracy.

We THINK that we’ve evolved past this, but, as I’ve recently decided, that comforting idea is just an illusion. Our vaginas, our womanhood, our smiles, our bodies, our femininity…these things should be positive and empowering, but, given the right circumstances, they could very easily mean the death of us. And that, you guys, is fucked up.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 12, 2013 8:35 am

    Thanks for posting this Cindy. It’s easy to ignore the terrible things going on around us, even easier to blame the victims for putting themselves in harms way. A while ago I interviewed a woman who was sexually assaulted while in the military and it was really jarring to hear her claims that one in three women is physically harassed or harmed and ALL women are verbally abused at one point or another. Her claim wasn’t necessarily that the military is filled with terrible people, but that the structure is set up in a way to encourage that type of behavior without appropriate consequences.

  2. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    August 13, 2013 1:58 am

    Thanks for posting, Cinderslut. I totally agree with you about hating the sense of vulnerability. I mean, I live in England- a prosperous western nation- but I do everything I can to avoid assault. At night, I take the shortest way home, on well lit streets; when I come to the dim street where I live I walk in the middle of the road, so as to not go past any bushes or crevices where someone could be hiding. It is paranoid, and I know that- but somehow the idea of how easy it would be for me to overpowered makes me take every precaution I can. I can’t imagine how it would be living somewhere where even every precaution does not keep you safe.

  3. snowwhore permalink*
    August 20, 2013 11:18 am

    I feel the same way. Whenever I see a tv show or movie that has assault or rape against women in it, I literally cannot take it. It affects me more than any other kind of violence. And it makes me mad because I also feel that a lot of times, these things are portrayed in a way that makes them seem like its not a big deal. It is utterly, horribly messed up.

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