Suppression is an integral part of the Earth’s history. Generally we think of suppression as the oppression of one race or religion by another, but what happens when an entire gender of people are suppressed? Women have been continually belittled and held down by male dominated religions and societies. From China to Africa to Pakistan to America women have been globally seen as objects which must be tamed and restricted. How can such a large percentage of the world’s population allow themselves to be undermined as people? In all likelihood it is because the suppression of women is a practice which has been used continually since the beginning of humanity. Both religion and society propagate the notion that women are helpless, naturally domestic and lesser than man in order to maintain the accepted man on top status quo. Even the Bible, one of the world’s oldest pieces of literature, displays a shockingly one gendered approach towards the representation of evil and inferiority.
“Woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was the instrument of death leading to all perdition. It is necessary that woman recognizes this, and that she learn to what she is subjected, and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears with her ignominy and shame.” (Calvin)
This statement is clearly sexist and depicts women as substandard to men, yet these are the religious teachings which thirty-two percent of the world call their own. With such a large percentage of people reading and following an obviously anti-woman piece of literature, is it any wonder that women are still demeaned and treated as second class citizens? In this way Christianity preaches a doctrine of intolerance towards women. The Bible speaks of how “..the Lord made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man..”(Genesis 2:20:22) This is just one of hundreds of examples of women being blatantly branded as lesser than men in the Bible. Much of our culture in the West is still based upon Christian ideals, for example, the American bill has “In God We Trust” written upon it. Is this not the motto of a theocracy instead of a democracy? It is unacceptable for this obviously religious mantra to be associated with a country which supposedly supports equality. How can women expect to be viewed as equal to men when they are faced daily with references to a misogynistic piece of literature? Women are both subtly and overtly oppressed by religion. The world’s second most predominant religion, the Islamic religion, comprises about nineteen percent of all religions and is steadily growing unlike Christianity which is on the decline. It is a religion which encourages the protection of the virtue of its women. At first glance this may not seem to be an attack on women but it implies that women are once again feeble and incapable of independence. This oppression disguised as protection is one of the tactics used by religious texts to justify their sexist statements. “they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) ..and men are a degree above them.” (2:228, Qur’an)
The Bible explains that child birth is painful for women because of Eve and the way in which she betrayed Adam. The Christian church also encourages women to have a multitude of children. This is a subtle way of discouraging women from becoming too independent. Such large amounts of children make it impossible for a woman to function successfully outside of the home. By pushing a high birth rate the church was able to keep women in subservient, domestic positions. Although the church supported large families the Bible shows that birth is considered an unclean event. (Leviticus 12:1:8) After the birth of a male child a woman is considered unclean for seven days and not allowed within a church for another thirty-three days. If she bears a female child she is considered unclean for fourteen days and then she must wait sixty-six days to attend church. This is once again sexist and deliberately unfair towards women. There is no reference to men within this bible quote, despite both man and woman being “equally” responsible for conception.
“For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman created for the man.” (I-Corinthians 11:8:9)
Much of the suppression of women is psychological but there are also instances of physical violence against women. Clitorectomies are commonly performed in some countries in Asia and Africa. The recipients of these surgeries are usually young girls around the age of puberty. These girls are told they have a “worm” within them which must be removed. By telling these girls there is something inherently wrong with their bodies which must be corrected they perpetuate the misguided sterotype that women are lesser than men. This idea of women as naturally flawed is reminiscent of both the Christian and Islamic religions.
Another tool of societies aimed at keeping women weak and feeling lesser than men is fashion. Throughout history clothing has been used as a weapon against women. The act of foot binding in China can be seen as both an act of fashion and also as an act of suppression. Women felt the need to physically deform themselves in pursuit of a ridiculous ideal which society most likely fed to them as a way to become more attractive to men. Muslim women also are suppressed through fashion. Although their traditional head coverings are worn to protect modesty, it is simply another way in which men tell women they are underneath them spiritually, physically and mentally. Another ludicrous example of women deforming themselves in pursuit of male attention is the use of neck rings found in the Kayan tribe in Thailand. Always women are taught they are the lesser gender. They have not been taught to respect themselves as strong, intelligent people but are instead lead to believe that they are prized for only their physical appearance and domestic skills. Why is it then a surprise when women go to such seemingly outlandish lengths to make themselves attractive to a male? If all they can offer to a man is their body what is the point in striving to further their minds? This once again tells women they are less than men and the closest thing to equality they can hope to accomplish is a spot on his arm.
Before the Women’s Rights movement women were told they were too delicate to be a part of the workforce. The emotional, “illogical” nature of women was focused on to try to dissuade the public from believe women should have suffrage. In school women were discouraged from pursuing non-traditional careers, and even from participating in sports. Women have come a long way from this time, yet they are still expected, in the majority of cases, to look after cleaning, cooking and childcare. Society maintains the myth that “a woman’s place is in the home.” There is no evidence that women are better at domestic activities than men, but somehow we have been lead to believe and have accepted that nature intends for women to do these types of jobs. In the 1960’s women were encouraged to go into Home Economics, now this seems like an outdated and sexist practice. Society has the ability to subtly convince people that they must conform to the status quo, and it is only after the fact that people truly see the error of old ways.
Still in modern times society incessantly chips away at women and their self worth. From a young age women are conditioned to believe that in order to have significance they must be beautiful. Little girls are celebrated for their appearances far more than little boys and as such they learn that to get attention they must act “cute.” Cute and passive are exceedingly close to synonyms and as such women once again learn to take the back seat and let men take care of matters which require assertiveness. This allows men to dominate fields such as science and math where women are not traditionally employed. This emphasis on beauty also causes women to feel worthless in later years because they are not capable of obtaining an unattainable ideal. Advertisements and magazines teach women that without beauty they are nothing. They pick apart women and separate them into body parts and facial features. Until women are convinced that unless they are beautiful and thin they are incapable of functioning in our world. They are also taught that they can always rely on sex as a “weapon“. Cosmopolitan is infamous for it’s covers which brag of a “100 ways to please your man.” This sends to women the message that they are not respected for their intellect, their beliefs or for their personality. They are expected to be sexually available yet coy and in the end, subservient to men.
“One of the things about equality is not just that you want to be treated equally to a man, but that you treat yourself equally to the way you treat a man.” -Marlo Thomas
Within the last hundred years women have broken free of the shackles of male suppression and redefined what it is to be a female. Never before have we been more on par with our male counterparts. Yet women are far from equal to men, although legally we may appear so. Women are moulded into “the weaker sex” by many different sources; religion, the media and society. One day we will look back upon the 21st century and wonder how such a warped vision of equality was tolerated by the strong, talented, beautiful women of today. It is our responsibility not only to ourselves but also to future generation to eliminate gender discrimination. We have already started out upon the road to equality and now it is simply a matter of continuing to fight for what deep down we know is entitled to us; a universal equality amongst people, with no concern for gender.