Despite many victories for women over the last century – the right to vote, the right to have reproductive control over their bodies, the right to public education, the right to divorce, the right to child care – this struggle is far from over and in some cases it has gone backwards.
Women still live in a world where brutal violence is committed against them by men every single day. Globally women ages 15 to 44 are severely injured or die more from violence than from cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The U.S. media prefers to focus on the violence committed against women in other countries, where most people live in extreme poverty. This way it is easier to pretend that violence in this country is rare. But women in the U.S., are living under the constant threat of violence.
Most often the murders and beatings of women are done by their male partners. The leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S. is being murdered by their partners. More than 1,000 women are killed per year by their male partners or ex-partners – that’s more than 11,000 women murdered since September 2001, more than the total number of people who died in the collapse of the World Trade Center and all the U.S. soldiers killed since 2001.
But even more often, women survive the violence, battered and beaten with the scars lasting a lifetime. The number one cause of injury to women in the U.S. is being brutalized by men. Every nine seconds a woman is beaten in this country and every six minutes a women is raped. One in five women will be raped in her lifetime. And in 31 states rapists who impregnate their victims still have rights as parents. That means in more than half the country the courts will protect the rapist’s right to be a father to the child his rape conceived, and in some rare cases will even grant him full custody rights, making the raped mother pay child support to her rapist.
Last year we heard from Republican politicians who claimed that women had special powers to stop pregnancy when they were raped, and that all pregnancies were a gift from god, even pregnancies from rape. Many politicians came to their defense and it’s not surprising in a time period when pregnant women are increasingly being forced to give birth as their reproductive rights get stripped away.
A growing number of states are passing laws prohibiting health insurance from covering abortions at all. Currently 27 states prohibit insurance coverage for abortion services for public employees or even all workers. In some states there are bills that politicians are trying to pass that would completely ban abortions, and would even allow the woman to be sued for having an abortion, even if they were raped.
Over 27 states now require women to have what is called transvaginal ultrasounds in order to have an abortion. This procedure requires the doctor to insert a probe into a woman’s vagina and show her an image of the fetus. This is not at all medically necessary but it has been required by law for no other reason than to try to stop women from ending their pregnancy. Many doctors have spoken out about this procedure, refusing to abide by the law because they compare it to being forced to rape their patients by shoving unwanted objects into their vaginas.
There is no single cause for the horrific level of violence that women suffer every day in this society. But it is clear that we live in a male-dominated society that values the lives of men more than the lives of women, a society that accepts and even encourages violence against women.
Overwhelmingly, the main images we see of women in this society are as sexual objects, as mere things for men’s pleasure. On billboards, in magazines, in commercials, in TV shows and movies – women’s mostly naked bodies are used to sell everything. Advertising companies, fashion companies, and more use women’s bodies for profit in the same way a pimp uses a woman to sell sex. Women are being used as the instrument for someone else’s benefit.
And it is not surprising when men believe these messages they get daily from our society, and view women in this way. The more that men believe they’re superior to women, the more that they look at women as objects for their pleasure – the more likely it is they will continue brutalizing women.
But even though men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of this violence, the reasons behind this epidemic go far beyond the individual acts of men. We live in a society where it is normal and expected not to value human life, where all workers are forced to sell their bodies to corporations just to earn a living. This is a society where corporations use workers up, and then throw us away when we are no longer useful to them. And the big bosses who run this society have always used any sort of discrimination – whether it’s based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion – to divide workers, to keep us from coming together, to maintain their control and pay everyone less. And there is no better way to keep men and women divided than to maintain the completely false view that men are superior to women. This is a society where the bosses benefit from keeping us divided.
The fight to end the violence to women, the fight for women’s equality is a fight to build a different kind society, one where all people, men and women, have control over our own lives and are able to collectively run society in our own interests.