Respect: I do not think it means what you think it means

Respect: I do not think it means what you think it means February 11, 2012

I grew up hearing that men needed to “respect” women, and that one of the biggest problems in our society was that men had stopped respecting women. Except that there’s something really strange going on here, because feminists, myself included, also believe that men need to respect women. It’s just…they don’t mean the same thing. Actually, they sort of mean the opposite thing.

Leaders in the Christian Patriarchy movement says that men don’t respect women today because they don’t open doors for them and give up chairs for them. You can see that men don’t respect women because men are constantly having premarital sex rather than respecting female purity. The movies show that our culture doesn’t respect women, because they show sex and nudity. In fact, you can even see the lack of respect for women in our society in the fact that families push their daughters out of the nest at 18, sending them vulnerable off to college instead of keeping them at home and protecting them, and in the fact that so many men have their wives work rather than keeping them safe at home, and even in the fact that fathers no longer screen their daughters’ potential beaus. Yes, these are all messages I heard growing up.

In the world of Christian Patriarchy, “respecting” women is about protecting them. It’s about keeping them safe and unharmed, and under male authority. Respect is about keeping women in the home, doing the heavy lifting for them so that they can concentrate on cooking and children.

I remember believing all that. I remember feeling that a guy opening a door for me or pulling up a chair for me was him showing me respect. Once in a courtship, a young man showed his respect for the young woman he was interested in by not pushing for physical intimacy. He showed his respect for her by asking her father’s permission to court her, and of course his permission to marry her.

But I just looked it up, and respect is defined by the dictionary as:

“A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” 

The only possible way I can push Christian Patriarchy’s idea of “respect” into that definition is to say that women are to be respected for, like, being women. Their qualities of “womanness” are what must be respected. This is, to say the least, objectifying and dehumanizing. Women are to be “respected” for being . . . women. They are to be respected because they were born with lady parts. And respecting them means keeping them safe and protected and out of danger.

This idea of respect that I grew up with now enrages me. I want to be respected as a person, not as a woman. I want to be seen for my abilities and achievements, not for my lady parts. I want to be viewed as an equal, not as something that needs to be protected.

One of the most universal things I hear from feminists is the desire for women to be seen as persons first and female second. I’ve heard parents of children with disabilities object to their children being seen as a disability first and a person second. They don’t appreciate their kid being called a “down syndrome child,” for instance, rather than “a child with down syndrome.” It’s much the same with gender. I don’t want to be a “vagina person.” I want to be “a person who happens to have a vagina.”

There is nothing that makes me feel more disrespected than having a conversation with a man and realizing that he is discounting everything I am saying, or placing less weight on it, because of my gender. This is the epitome of disrespect. It doesn’t matter if this same man opens the door for me. That is not respect. Seeing a person as a person rather than a gender is respect. Valuing a woman’s accomplishments and talents before her lady parts is respect.

I am therefore sick and tired of Christian Patriarchs talking about how disrespected women are in our society today, and believe me, the ones I keep tabs on do it a lot. The worst part is that they think it’s being pro-women. Similarly, fundamentalist Muslims look at our society and say that we are treating women horribly while they, in contrast, keep their women home and protect them. They are the ones who are pro-women. They are the ones who are respecting women.

No. Just, no.

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