Much has been made, including on my pages here, of the “War on Women” being waged by the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. We have rightfully called out Congressmen for holding hearings on women’s health issues that involved zero testimony from actual women. We have pushed back against slut-shaming rape culture that still puts the burden of preventing rape on the victims, not on the men who commit rape or our public safety officials who are supposed to prevent it. We roared when men have tried to return rape to its dark ages definition. Not all of us, however, have been on board with this, and some of us still refuse to see the subtler expressions of the patriarchy. For example I give you people’s reaction to this photo:
This is, of course, a classic photo from the end of the Second World War. For years it has been a symbol of the euphoria that swept the United States when peace finally came to our world (however fleeting that peace may have been.) Now we know that the act depicted here is not as innocent as many believe. I have to say, just looking at the photo, without the explanation in the above link, I still don’t get the same warm fuzzy feeling my fellow Americans have over the years. I see the body language of these two people and I see a returning conqueror claiming his spoils.
Now I know this language will upset a lot of people of that generation and it no surprise that it will upset the men of that generation and not much of one that it will upset men of any generation. What is a surprise is how many women of younger generations who want this to remain a chaste and romantic image of a “simpler age” (y’know, one in which it was still legal for a man to use corporal punishment on his wife.)
It is such a precarious path to walk. The women who feel this way should have as much agency as the rest of us (I say “should have” because none of us, cis or trans, have the agency we should.) I don’t want to tell them how they should feel. But I do want to implore them to reflect on the way that they feel. I want them to take the time to think if they are encouraging men to treat them as less than human. There are many men out there who are aware of, and want to change, the benefit of their privilege. It is hard for them to step up to the plate though when there are still women unwilling to do so.
I know so much of this occurs because there is still so much internalized sexism among women of all ages. I know it is not their fault. Still those of us who see it, myself included, may want to do a better job explaining, without infantalizing, to these women why the near universality in our media of the narrative that a woman is incomplete without a man (whereas a man is chained down when in a committed relationship) is bad for us. Help them, in a non-patronizing way if you can, to see that sexual assault is not just boys being boys. Lead by example when faced with the hundreds of little micro-aggressions and acts of objectification (and yes it is still objectification when you reject a woman’s suitability for intimacy, you are still measuring her worth as an object.)
So many of our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends still view their value through the lens that the patriarchy provides for them. It is time to step up our efforts and show them the scene from a different pair of eyes.