Columnist J.M. Sorrell: Women’s bodies and misogyny on the rise

Published: 1/4/2022 6:00:47 PM
Modified: 1/4/2022 6:00:07 PM

Misogyny, part two. Last month I wrote about this system that seeks to prevent women from reaching their full potential or making uninhibited choices throughout their lives.

Women who serve in one form of leadership or another have experienced resistance, naysayers, and those who work actively to obstruct their paths to success. Either that or they have capitulated to the demands of the patriarchal construct they serve in order to be considered acceptable directors. While these components are not always in play, they are more common than not.

In today’s volatile political climate, the political right spends more time attacking progressives than creating or proposing solutions to societal problems. They have no real platform other than to dangerously tap into their followers’ victim consciousness. Along with racist ideology, misogynistic rhetoric and belief systems are very much on the rise with organized and casual far-right groups. In the anti-choice movement, misogyny has always been central. One of its architects is remorseful now, and he has been making the rounds to apologize.

Frank Shaeffer was an evangelical leader who participated in distorting abortion rights decades ago. He recently told Joy Reid on MSNBC that over 50% of evangelicals were pro-choice, including Billy Graham. He said, “We come from a place where we have acted as if this is part of Christian theology. It is not. This was a misogynistic movement. I was part of it, but you cannot be pro-family unless you are pro-choice because if women are treated like nothing more than incubating vessels, we cannot have an equal society. Women cannot have careers. Women cannot have lives. I am so sorry for the part I played. We were not pro-life. We were a misogyny team.”

In the Catholic church, abortion was permitted before Canon law declared life begins at conception in 1869. Around the same time, in 1871, the church declared that popes were infallible and that Mary’s birth was through immaculate conception to free her of original sin as had been declared for her son, Jesus. Religious policies are as flexible as the people in power who construct them. I do not think the heavens opened and God delivered anti-abortion pamphlets after hundreds of years of the Catholic church sanctioning abortion.

Imagine a world where women owned their bodies. Where rape and the threat of rape were nonexistent. Rape culture is as essential to patriarchy as controlling women’s reproductive choices. Gloria Steinem said that as diverse as wars are, what they all have in common is the subjugation of women. Why do soldiers rape women and girls as they defeat their enemies? It seems designed to strip defeated men of their dignity, and in this, women are mere objects rather than full human beings.

Another military phenomenon is the frequency of military sexual trauma. While too many men suffer it as well, it is disturbingly prevalent for women who serve in the U.S. military. Stories abound about women who are raped or gang raped because they dare to succeed and earn promotions or because they refuse advances of a superior officer or peer. I cannot imagine how it would feel to serve alongside one’s rapist and to be expected to trust or follow his command.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, introduced the Military Justice Improvement Act in 2013, and she has continued to fight for it ever since. Gillibrand revealed the grim statistics. Low conviction rates of 9% and over 60% of victims reporting retaliation for coming forward demonstrate a serious failure and often a cover-up in the chain of command, ala the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church.

When Gillibrand first introduced this act, she had little support from fellow Democrats and none from Republicans. She has sought to have violent sex crimes cases removed from the military and tried in civilian court as has been done in Canada, the UK, Israel, Germany, Norway and Australia for well over a decade.

In 2021, Gillibrand introduced the Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act — now with bipartisan support. Key Republicans Sen. Joni Ernst and former Sen. Martha McSally offered strong testimony about their own sexual assaults while serving in the military, and several important veteran organizations are on board. And yet we are still waiting.

A reckoning with widespread misogyny includes each of us working to change the paradigm and the path. We must be conscious advocates who do not accept misogyny and its partner sexism as inevitable. There are examples that teach us otherwise, and there are rays of hope to be found and discussed. Expect me to write more in the coming months.

J.M. Sorrell is a social justice activist/trainer and a feminist at her core.

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