Keeping Women Down Around the Globe

Countries around the world have various ways of keeping women down.

Women hold posters of 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai at a demonstration in Islamabad, Pakistan on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012.

When some horrific human rights violation or misogynist act occurs somewhere else in the world, Americans tend to be horrified – and perhaps a little smug in the knowledge that such a thing couldn't happen here, that in America we are far more civilized and modern. Many may feel that way as Malala Yousafzai, the now 16-year-old girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting an education, addresses the United Nations.

Yousafzai is a true hero and an appalling reminder of how backward things still are for women and girls in parts of the world. In October of 2012, she was shot by extremists as she left her Swat Valley school as punishment for fighting for girls' education. Hers is an important message, made even more pressing with the knowledge that there are those who would actually murder teenage girls to keep females from acquiring any power or independence at all in society.

We don't have such extreme and brazen efforts to enslave women here, to keep them in their place – one where they serve men while men make the decisions. But there is still a much more subtle effort, a last-gasp one, perhaps, to teach women that their real jobs are to look pretty, have children (even the ones from unplanned pregnancies), take responsibility for the children even if they also work in the home, and then just accept it as the natural way of things to be paid barely more than three-fourths the salary of a man for the same job.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

It was reflected in the insulting ("unique," as the Los Angeles Times euphemistically called it) sentence a North Carolina judge gave to a woman who was behaving in a drunk and disorderly manner. Instead of giving her a more formal and gender-blind punishment, such as jail or a fine or even community service, Judge Brenda Branch in Halifax, N.C., had the offending woman write a two–page essay called "How a lady Should Behave in Public." As the judge told the Times:

Some people need pure punishment. Others just need a little redirecting. We don't have a whole lot of resources out here, so I try to be creative.

It's creative, to be sure, but it's insulting. What would she have a man do who had committed the same infraction – write an essay called "Boys Will Be Boys"? The woman in question, police said, had stolen beer from a grocery store, became drunk and disorderly and resisted arrest.

The problem is not that the woman was not acting like a "lady;" it's that she was acting like a drunken jerk. That's against the law no matter what set of reproductive organs you have.

No, police didn't shoot her in the head for not keeping to her feminine place. But the judge is feeding into the same backward values system.

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