My feelings about Feminism are well and widely known. My opinions are not hidden under a layer of civility or justification. On the contrary, they have, in recent months, become louder and further cemented in my belief system. Despite all that, there’s one question I circle back to time and time again.
Why don’t we believe women?
Barring extremists, and apparently Polish EU lawmakers, I’m going to assume most people don’t think women are intellectually inferior. I think most agree–at least on the surface-that women should enjoy equal rights.
Yet almost everything we do as a society undermines that basic foundation–because we continue to mistrust women. This holds true for the poor and minorities as well, but I’m a little hyper focused these days, so I’ll focus on the female.
When it comes to sex and reproduction, we repeatedly and continually mistrust women to know what is best, to do what is right for themselves and their families, to make complex and personal decisions.
It seems the very idea of a sexual woman, one unencumbered by the weight of possible motherhood, is as terrifying now as it always has been. Smack in the 21st Century, women who have sex are still the Boogeywoman. Are we so frightened that allowing women control of their bodies will result in some sort of Vagina Dentata Spring Break? That we will unleash a secret society of Succubi? Are we really that afraid of women who have sex?
Look, a woman who was or is willing to risk death by putting her life in the hands of a back-alley abortionist, or ordering unknown pills of the internet, or mutilating herself with knitting needles solely for the purpose of ending an unwanted pregnancy is telling us something. Loudly and clearly. Why don’t we trust her? Abortion in the United States was not legalized to encourage women to have more abortions. It was legalized to regulate it. As much as it may offend some to think it, women have always and will always seek ways to end pregnancies. It was only legalized in the US because enough women were bleeding to death or dying of sepsis that someone finally took notice.
When a woman makes the very private decision to end a pregnancy why don’t we believe she made the right decision for her? Why don’t we trust she knows what she is doing?
The myth that all women are meant to be mothers, or that all women, when presented with a child will love and nurture it is not only false, it’s dangerous. Not all women should be or want to be mothers. Why do we doubt them? Why do we perpetrate the misguided notion that she can simply ‘give the child’ up for adoption, conveniently ignoring the health, financial, and psychological toll that nine months of pregnancy and birth will have upon her (while simultaneously completely ignoring the male role in that pregnancy)?
Why don’t we believe women?
When a woman tells a friend, or the media, or the police, or a judge that she has been raped, why don’t we believe her? Why do we continually search for reasons why she was raped instead of accepting the reason is simple: some men are rapists.
When a woman says she is being beaten, why don’t we believe her? Even with bruises circling her eyes, we will gratefully swallow any cheap excuse offered. She walked into a door. She fell down the stairs. We want those excuses because it means we don’t have to examine the complexity of feelings dredged up by the idea of a woman being violently beaten, including, first and foremost, the truthfulness of her claims.
We don’t believe women who report marital rape or domestic violence. Surely she must have done something wrong.
We don’t believe women when they talk about the barriers to their success. Surely they’re just not trying hard enough.
We don’t believe women who tell us they’re treated differently than men in the same field. Surely it’s all in their head.
We don’t believe women who outline the obstacles they must overcome in order to compete in the workplace. Surely they’re just not as qualified, or don’t want it badly enough.
We don’t believe women when they speak of the everyday sexism they face. Surely they’re just making it up to get ahead.
We don’t believe gay women really love other women. Surely they just hate men–or haven’t met the right one.
We don’t believe women when they file discrimination suits. Surely they’re just seeking revenge.
We don’t believe women of color when they tell us for every 78 cents on the dollar a white woman makes over the course of her life, she will make between 58 and 65 cents. Surely it must be something else. Certainly it is not because she’s black, Hispanic, because she’s a woman.
We don’t believe Trans women are using bathrooms in the exact same way we all do. Surely they are lying to cover some nefarious plot.
We don’t believe women when they talk about the challenges of balancing a career and a family. Surely they’re exaggerating, after all, men do it all the time.
Do we honestly think women take low paying jobs because they’re not as smart, or ambitious, or educated as men? Study after study shows the opposite. Study after study shows more women graduate college than men, but women make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage workers.
Are we honestly going to pretend it’s because they’re just dumb? Lazy? That they are un or under-qualified? That they want shitty jobs?
We don’t believe women, either individually or as a group, when they try to tell us these things.
What’s it going to take for us to start believing women?