This topic is so relevant to women today especially in this radical politically correct climate…
The empowerment of women in society is a huge topic and source of controversy today. Many feel that a history of unequal rights and injustice has plagued women in our society, and try to seek answers to best make women more empowered and less dependent and victimized. The root of many solutions that society has come up with is to try to empower women more through empowering them to feel self reliant and advocate for themselves rather than be dependent on others to “rescue” them from a situation. In essence, not be viewed as weak and dependent. This in itself is a great approach in figuring out how to better empower women, however, society’s current approach unintentionally reinforces the opposite message.
Upon researching a variety of women’s issues, it struck me that there is an underlying theme of the issue being presented in the light of women being vulnerable and disempowered. In a more concise word, victimized. The majority of our current solutions seem to be presented in the light that we must “rescue” women from their oppression, as opposed to self empowerment on the woman’s part. For a specific example, take the thorny topic of sexual assault. Whenever there is an incident regarding any sexual altercation, the new approach is to not “blame the victim”. In theory, this is an excellent idea, to not make the victim of a crime feel like they deserved or wanted it, however the current execution of this idea sends a different message. In the practice of not blaming the victim, there is an underlying assumption that if the perpetrator did not use physical force or threats in the incident, then somehow he coerced her into doing it nullifying any consent. This seems to imply that the woman was unable to stand up for herself and stand by her choice to say no. That there was an inherent power differential between her and (almost always a man) that there was no way to rise above. It is true that most men can overpower most women physically, but in these cases, the implication is that men can overpower women mentally. While this approach looks like it helps by allowing women to come forward in more ambiguous cases of whether or not there was consent, it really has the implication that a woman was not capable of making explicit consent, a solid yes or no. Also, with such a confusing standard as to what valid consent is defined as, many situations that were not considered as sexual assault now are. Scenarios such as “hookups” and drunken sex that is regretted the morning after can now be called rape. While more women can come forward when the situation was unequal, automatically making judgements as to what constitutes an assault without looking deeper into it, and yes, doubting the “victim” as well, strips away the personal responsibility for mistakes made by those who did enter it consensually. There should be a new term for this: “ex-post-facto rape”, rape in which both parties entered freely and consensually but one party regretted it after the fact. What was created to help unseen victims of sexual assault come forward has also infantilized women by seeing them in the same light as minor children. In this current climate, no woman can truly “consent” to sex.
A different subset of this problem extends to female sexuality in general. Even with consensual sex, there is still the prevailing fear that it wasn’t consensual. The reasoning being that men are inherently more powerful and capable of unduly influencing a woman, especially younger women. Many of the statutory rape laws are applied to women in their mid to late teens. While that age group (both boys and girls) is very influenceable, there is a double standard in enforcing and reporting statutory rape between males and females. Teenage girls are seen in many ways the same way as prepubescent children mentally when it comes to sexuality, while boys the same age just starting to explore their own sexuality are seen as predatory. This double standard is even seen in young women who are no longer minors. One could argue that at such young ages, one is more vulnerable, but setting a double standard enforces the message of girls and women as childlike and gullible. With such double standard applied to female sexuality and their capability to provide valid consent, women are reduced to the status of honorary children.
This also feeds into the older stereotype that women shouldn’t have or express their sexuality. Much emphasis is placed on a woman’s right to say “no” but very few emphasize that it’s okay for a woman to say “yes” in this society too. This points to an implicit bias that women by nature are more likely to need to say “no”, and mostly have sex to please men rather than themselves. Modern feminists say that women should be free to express their sexuality, yet doubt if it’s genuine at every turn.
I feel that a lot of this stems from social conditioning in thinking of women in the role of the victim, that they need “rescuing” from any adversity. The better solution is to change the mindset of looking at women as vulnerable and needing protection, by encouraging women to be self advocates and take responsibility for their own feelings and actions in how they handle the obstacles they face as women in society. We shouldn’t think of women as needing rescuing from the issues they face, but needing to empower themselves and changing attitudes regarding how capable they truly are of doing so.