Don’t believe women are oppressed in the US? Read on.

Many people feel that women in the US are privileged, have won their rights, and ought to be content with their lot. While women in the US definitely benefit from many privileges that women in other countries do not have, they are still an oppressed group, and this oppression needs to end. The thing is, people are relatively uninformed about the status of women in the US, and the various issues that factor into their oppression. I have compiled a list of statistics and data that shows, by the numbers, the truth about being a woman in the USA.

Beauty Standards:

42% of American girls in grades 1-3 want to be thinner. 80% of 13 year olds have attempted to lose weight. Fast forward to older women, and 2.8 million American women have had botox injections, almost 400,000 have had breast augmentation surgery, 456, 828 have had liposuction. In 1997, 2 million cosmetic surgeries were performed, while in 2007, 11.7 million cosmetic surgeries were performed. 91% of these surgeries were performed on women. Women in the US feel the need to have their bodies cut, reshaped and mutilated in order to conform to prevailing standards of beauty. Women are oppressed by the onslaught of media and advertising that objectifies their bodies.

Sex, Domestic Violence and Rape:

In terms of the global sex trade, an estimated 50,000 women are trafficked into the US each year. The USA is both a destination country for trafficking, as well as a source country. This means that American women ARE kidnapped, or otherwise coerced into the sex trafficking industry. Women are often lured into the sex trade under false pretenses; being hired as waitresses or maids and then forced into prostitution. This is not just a problem for developing countries. It is here, on our own soil.

In the US, 23 women a week are killed by intimates. This has held steady for more than a decade. 74% of women  murdered from instances of domestic violence were murdered after the woman left the relationship, filed for divorce or got a restraining order. Our government has failed to protect women from abusive partners, and band-aid solutions like restraining orders are proven to be, ultimately, ineffective. Until we start taking domestic violence seriously on a legislative level, this percentage will stay about the same. The only country with more women known to have been killed by domestic violence than the US is Russia.

up to 700,000 rapes occur in the USA each year. 18% of American women have survived a rape or attempted rape. In 2001 39% of rapes were reported to the police. 81% of rape victims are white, 18% are black. Fortunately, marital rape is a criminal offense in the USA.

Abortion Rights

Christian fundamentalists continually seek to impose increasing social restrictions on women. We see this because, between 1995 and 2007, 301 anti-choice measures were enacted by state legislatures. 87% of counties in the US are now not served by an abortion provider. Roe v. Wade may stand, but on a state level, women are increasingly oppressed, and hypocritical “anti-big government” Republican politicians seek to legislatively erase women’s power over their own bodies.

In the Workplace

Women still earn 72 cents for every man a dollar earns. In 2008, women occupied only 15% of board positions of Fortune 500 companies.

The proportion of women in government was lower in 2007 than 1997. In Scandinavian countries, there are policies that enforce equality in representation of government. Not in the US, with a paltry 17% of female government officials–Iraq has a higher representation of women in government than we do. So does Namibia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan. Until there is equality in representation on a government level, there is no equality for women on the civic level.

On a Global Scale

While countries such as Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have signed and ratified the CEDAW treaty (Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women) the US is the only signatory that hasn’t ratified it. One aspect of CEDAW would outlaw female genital mutilation-a common practice in developing countries intended to reduce female sexual desire, and thus, ensure virginity at the time of marriage. Not only are women oppressed in the US, the US won’t acknowledge the plight of women in more demeaned, oppressed situations on an international level.

This data was updated in 2009, in the fourth edition of The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World.

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Men opening doors for women = sexism?

There is a concept in feminist thought known as “the birdcage.” Oppression, according to feminist philosopher Marilyn Frye, is like a birdcage. If you concentrate on just one wire, you don’t see the whole cage, or your own imprisonment within the cage.  In my Gender Women’s Studies class, we discussed whether or not a man opening a door for a woman is sexist. Those who spoke in class unanimously agreed that it is sexist, and feminist should reject that particular social practice.

 After I left my GWSS class the other day, I couldn’t stop thinking about that particular “wire” in the “birdcage.” Do I really think that a man opening a door for a woman is one of these wires? The conclusion I continued to reach was a decided “no.”

As a woman, I know that I am capable of opening my own door. I am under no illusion that I need a man to open a door for me. If I am on a date and my date opens the door for me, I certainly do not feel that I am being oppressed. Nor do I feel offended that he was clearly socialized in an oppressive (towards women) society. Often, it is the man’s parents who have taught him to open doors for women he takes out, and they teach it to him as a formal sign of respect. Because my date’s intention in opening the door is not sexist–rather, it is grounded in respect for women–I do not have a problem with it in the least. In fact, I would rather that anyone I date always open the door for me. Furthermore, in our culture, we teach others that opening doors for people in general is polite. Assuming a man is only opening a door for a woman because she is a woman is oftentimes untrue, and thus, it is not sexist.

Ultimately, being upset about men opening doors is the kind of thing that gives femists a bad name. There are much bigger fish to fry, and, pursuant to Frye’s “birdcage” analogy, we need to stop concentrating on one “wire” when we really need to step back, look at the whole birdcage, and  find the door out.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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“Go Make a Sandwich”

To the many people who have left me misogynistic comments (i.e. “go make a sandwich”) on my posts about feminist issues, I’d just like to say….

…Thanks for proving my argument for me.

Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm  Leave a Comment