What if I told you a story about a Muslim girl from the Middle East?
She is dating a man. They’re probably going to get married. She doesn’t really want this to happen but she’s afraid to leave him. Besides, she’s given him her virginity (well, he took it, anyway) so she’s now damaged goods. “No other man could ever want you,” he tells her. Every day. And she believes him because her religious leaders have always taught her the same thing.
He dictates what she wears. He tells her she must dress hyper-modestly, and she does. But sometimes she catches the eye of other men anyway. Her boyfriend blames her for this. If she gets any attention from other men, he forbids her from showering or otherwise tending to her personal hygiene.
She is smart. She goes to school. She wants to earn her doctorate some day. This makes him feel threatened, so he yells at her for doing her homework, for taking advanced classes, for applying to colleges. He tells her that her role is in the home, caring for children, cleaning the house. The public sphere is a “man’s world.” He belittles her, tells her she is weak, tells her she will never be able to handle it. That she is too stupid to finish college because she is not a man.
Sometimes he hurts her. He tells her she deserved it. She shouldn’t have disrespected him, because he is a man and she is a woman. It is his job to keep her in her place. Sometimes he rapes her. He tells her she deserved that too.
She doesn’t complain, though, because she’s been taught by her religious leaders her whole life that she must submit to men’s leadership.
I hear stories like this all the time. On the news, on other blogs, in documentaries, and in presidential debates. There’s a woman in a different country being oppressed by the men of that country. “Look at how backward that culture is!” they say. “Women in the United States have it so good!” Often, when I talk about the oppression of women in the United States, people will respond telling me, “If you don’t like it, move to Iraq/China/India. You’ve got it so good here.”
But what if I told you this story, the one I told above, was not the story of a Muslim girl living in the Middle East? What if I told you it was MY story?
It is my story. The story of the abusive man I dated in high school. The story of the abusive man who I met in my conservative Christian church. The story of the abusive man that I stayed with for a year because I thought I had to submit to him. Because I thought that I was damaged goods and would never find anyone else.
The abuse didn’t happen out of nowhere. It was part of the culture I was raised in. Part of the society I lived in. Supported by religious teachings and social attitudes toward women and women’s bodies.
But I have it so good.
Now, I have privilege. There are things that I do have “so good,” as a white, able-bodied, heterosexual American born into a middle-class family. I am not denying that. I am also not excusing or dismissing the abuse that goes on in other countries.
It’s happening here too. We Americans are not great saviors who have got it all together. Who have achieved a state of egalitarian nirvana and now can exercise the right to judge the temporal position of other countries (“They’re so backward OVER THERE.” “THAT country is stuck in the Middle Ages”)
We don’t have the right to talk about other countries, other religions, other cultures as if they are “backward,” and we don’t have the right to use the problems in other countries to divert attention from our own problems. From the 3 women who are murdered by an intimate partner every day in the United States. From the 600 women in the U.S. who are raped or sexually assault every day.
And we sure as hell don’t have the right to tell these hurting, oppressed women here in America to quit complaining because they have it “so good.”
Things can be shit here for women. They were for me.
I’m tired of people trying to silence me by telling me I have it “so good.” As I pop my anti-depressant pills every day and deal with panic attacks and PTSD and other after effects from the abuse I’ve suffered, I don’t feel like I have it “so good.” I don’t feel like the liberated woman the media is telling me that I am.
There are hurting women overseas. There are hurting women here. They aren’t backward, and we aren’t forward.
We’ve all got a lot of work to do.