I wish some feminist writers would make it easier for me to agree with them wholeheartedly. Today’s exhibit is a piece by Soraya Chemaly for The Huffington Post that opens with this story:
Today 27-year-old Sonali Mukherjee will have surgery to help reconstruct her face. It melted nine years ago, leaving a painful mask in its place, after three young men poured acid on her while she slept. This was their response to her fending off their relentless sexual advances as she made her way to school every morning.
Chemaly extends the moral of Mukherjee’s heartbreaking story to our own country by linking to several reports of men in the U.S. setting women (usually their girlfriends) on fire. The accounts are all horrific. At least we can have the satisfaction of knowing that each of these crimes is being investigated or prosecuted, and some of them have resulted in actual convictions—facts that I had to discover for myself, since Chemaly fails to mention them.
Chemaly then transitions to indicting the concept of “family privacy”, and this is where she completely loses me:
“The family’s right to privacy” is a specific code for certain male heads-of-households’ exercise of traditionally held privileges of male domination that allow the violation of the human rights of the women and girls they are intimate with. It doesn’t matter where in the world the girls and women are. This family, in which a man made his young children videotape 51 minutes of his verbal and physical abuse of his wife, had a right to privacy.
Reading the news coverage Chemaly links to reveals that the man in question is now serving the longest-ever sentence for domestic violence that didn’t result in the death of the victim. I’m not sure how a severely-punished crime indicates that the United States has implemented a “family privacy” policy destructive to women’s bodily rights. The only other evidence Chemaly provides for this assertion is “our inability to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act”. But The Violence Against Women Act of 2012 passed the House earlier this year, and while partisanship and social conservatism have held up reconciliation of the House and Senate versions of the bill, it is still expected to eventually pass and be signed into law.
And here Chemaly gets to what seems to be her real point: Republicans are evil. She offers plenty of evidence, much of it by this point news to no one. While I continue in my belief that most Republicans, like most people, are decent, well-motivated, and humane, the GOP has certainly given women some shoddy treatment of late. And that’s what is so irksome about Chemaly’s entire article: if what she really wanted to do was point the finger at The Right for perpetuating gender stereotypes, limiting access to women’s health care, and engaging in slut- and victim-shaming, she had plenty of tools at her disposal. There was no need for this series of shaky connections subtly attempting to blame conservatives for perpetuating a culture of violence against women that extends all the way to India.
She raises an interesting question at the end, though:
For men, the ability to be successful and pursue their individual destinies in traditional ways might require the government to be small and go away. This tenacious idea has meant that women’s rights were subsumed. For individual women, in order to offset systematized sexism, misogyny, and violence (most of which takes place at the hands of individual men in a domestic context), it may mean that government has to intercede in new and different ways.
Chemaly and I would probably disagree about exactly how and when the government should intercede, but I’ve been thinking about this very issue for several weeks now.