Friday, March 16, 2012


I have had a hard time functioning normally these past few months thanks to the cluster of shockingly misogynistic bills that have come before some state legislatures and the even more viciously misogynistic rationale, propaganda and political strategy which spawned them.  I have about a dozen posts in various stages of production,  but right now I seem to be incapable of sorting through it all calmly enough to write coherently on any one of them.

There is a term for this logjam of emotion, this mind-choking wad of confusion, rage, pain, misery and almost nihilistic despair which is triggered by events which stir up horrible memories of past trauma: post traumatic stress disorder.

I have never been diagnosed with PTSD and I probably never will be.  I doubt I will ever trust a medical professional enough to ever go for assessment. The worst traumas in my life were visited upon me by the very professions upon which society depends to protect people from criminal assaults or to treat them for medical emergencies.  Like many women, I have learned the hard, painful way that neither police nor doctors can be trusted to care about what happens to me. Worse, I have learned, as most women do, that these professionals can even do me harm in the service of the ideologies they hold: their sincerely held belief systems which render someone like me sub-human in their eyes.

Like most women in the western world - and possibly every woman in the developing world - I have endured regular, casual, culturally-approved gender-based mistreatment from my young girlhood to the present day.  Like most women, I have been sexually assaulted - not just once but several times - ranging from the clumsy grabs at breasts and crotch which are a regular occurrence on any school playground or neighborhood backyard to the intimidation of catcalls and threats from strangers in passing cars or in nightclubs, to unwanted sexual advances after a date from which I barely escaped, to a violent daytime stranger assault that left me bruised and terrorized. To the nonchalant amusement of the police, my attacker was a teenager a little younger than I was, already known to the authorities from having committed this type of assault before, and I was informed that no charges would be laid, because it might "ruin the kid's life". Had I been a man, brutally attacked and beaten at midday as he was on his way to work, the perpetrator would have been charged with aggravated assault at least. But I was a young woman, still a teenager, and the perp also sexually assaulted me. For that, the potential for his reputation to be ruined by a charge of attempted rape was considered much worse than the fact that my life would never be the same again, even after I recovered from my injuries.

Unlike most women, but probably like many more than women themselves realize, I have been denied information about a life-threatening condition in order to limit my choices in my own healthcare.  A doctor placed his religious ideology above my life and decided that I was not to be trusted with information which might have resulted in my choosing a legal abortion in order to safeguard my own health and possibly my life.  There is no doubt that my choice would have been to try to save that very much-wanted pregnancy anyway, but the knowledge that a person with power so dehumanized me that he felt he had the right - no, the god-given duty - to take away my right to make my own healthcare decisions by concealing the facts from me - even at the risk of my dying because of it - is an emotional trauma from which I may never recover.

Women in the west are constantly chastising themselves for failing to be happy in our modern, post-feminist world. Men who love us cannot understand why we can't just be happy, and we ask ourselves the same question. We wonder why, with all of our alleged equality in the modern world, we cannot seem to feel equal or respected or safe. The answer is simple: we know, through constant lived experience, that in every human culture we are not equal, not respected and never safe.

Women in the west have been force-fed a sickening glut of lies and misogyny that has, I believe, left too many of us paralyzed. Reality does not match the story our culture tells us, and we have daily proof that our rights as "equal" human beings are a myth. We are paralyzed with fear and we are paralyzed with the knowledge of just how degraded and dehumanized we remain in a world that is still overwhelmingly dominated by misogynist, religiously-fueled patriarchy. We are humiliated by the daily barrage of hateful messages directed at ourselves, our daughters, our sisters, our friends, and we are doubly humiliated because we are jeered at and intimidated into silence if we dare to try to talk about it. We try to play the game, try to figure out how to navigate the world without falling victim to the constant threats to our minds, bodies and livelihoods, and we try to suck up the inevitable attacks every female human being endures in her life - simply because she is female - to keep on living as joyfully as we can.

I have lived the life of a relatively-privileged and protected white woman in the western world:  raised in a society which pays lip service to equality for all human beings, but which systematically privileges a few dominant groups. Like all average western women, I have endured a lifetime of fear of assault, shame for the fact of my femaleness, humiliation at the hands of men, betrayal by men and by other women (who have joined the patriarchy in beating other women down to save themselves further pain) and doctor-mandated rape as punishment for having the audacity to seek medical care to which I was legally entitled.

"Many women find Pap smears embarrassing, 
and they would avoid getting them if they could get away with it 
and still get the other gynecological care they need...Is it paternalistic to require a Pap smear in order to get contraceptive pills? One could argue that. But it's also effective. Sometimes doctor really does know best."

The recent rash of horrors from state legislatures mandating - among other horrors - state-sponsored rape of women seeking abortions is nothing more than the logical extension of a 50-year policy of subjugating women to doctor-mandated rape for seeking female controlled birth control.  The rationale that women need "information" forced upon them before choosing a legal abortion to end an unplanned or forced pregnancy is no more dishonest than the rationale that forced "screening for cervical cancer" is a necessary prerequisite before oral contraceptives can be safely prescribed. Both rationales come from the same root belief: a woman seeking birth control/abortion is a slut who deserves to be punished for having sex. Both rationales are lies. 

Many women have been following recent events with growing terror, and that is the longterm goal of this strategy:  to keep women in a perpetual state of fear so that we will not dare to organize again and speak out to defend our human rights.  We are publicly worried about losing what few rights we had managed to win in the last century,  and we are privately frightened every day by the intimidation of a patriarchal society which threatens to strip a woman of everything she cherishes - the love of her family and friends, her ability to earn a living, her very life - unless she conforms to its impossible norms and restrictions.

Most women keep trying to play the game. Most women hope that if they try hard enough to please, try hard enough not to be too pushy, try hard enough not to be too demanding or too insistent on being treated as the equal of men, then somehow they will avoid attack. They play along to get along.

United, we can stand up to misogyny.

But, here is the thing, my sisters:

Playing along to get along isn't working.

It has never worked.

It is time to be courageous and stand up.

It is time to do what is right and speak out.

We can face down the fear together.

It may take me a while to be able to finish that dozen or so posts.  But, I will get there.  I hope you will be there with me.

* In November, 2010, Dr. Boskey added the following postscript to her unedited original post on :

Update 11/10: Since writing this article, I've read many women's stories of their experiences getting Pap smears, and I'm no longer in favor of using birth control pills as a way to encourage Pap screening. I still think that regular, although not yearly, screening is important; however, I think that it would be better to recruit women through education than through mechanisms that are perceived as highly coercive. Your stories have changed my mind. Thank you.

While this postscript is called an "update", it sits at the bottom of the page well after the article is concluded. The original article has not been updated: the language and message remains unchanged from the original including the quotes above.

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