Online news is filled with stories about the rape chant from Saint Mary’s University and while there’s been backlash about it now somehow the students at that university have been putting up with the chant since at least 2009. Then there’s the story about Stacey Rambold being sentenced to just a month in prison after raping a 14 year old, and the defense having argued that “Rambold had already suffered enough punishment after losing his career and his marriage and saw his reputation damaged through internet coverage of the case.” Reading that part of what made me feel sick was the question of how many of the men I know would agree with that or with the first part of the judge’s statement that “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about. It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.”
With the big stories floating around in the back of my mind, I find myself noticing all the little sexist comments people make. There was the joke someone made about PMS. There was the volunteer at a festival dunk-tank who told a kid he “threw like a girl” or the blog post that started with “if you have boys, you have legos.” Then there are posts like this one and the implication in the twitter comment featured that mothers should do spend all their time devoted to their little ones. And my family has been rewatching old Star Trek Voyageur episodes and I cringe at all the ones about Seska, the Cardassian argent, who defects to the Kaison where she’s constantly put down as just a female. I note too how even my favorite television writer – Aaron Sorkin – has an incredibly hard time portraying strong women (with the exception of C. J. Craig, probably due to the influence of Dee Dee Myers and Alison Janning). Then this week I had hatemail from someone who told me I’m too antagonistic to promote social change and I found myself wondering whether part of the person’s response to me comes out of the stereotypes about how women should be always conciliatory and whether he would dare to make a similar comment to a man.
Then I stumbled across a post about Virginia Woolf. Near the beginning is this beautiful paragraph:
For a woman to comprehend her condition is to trigger the precursor for madness, therefore she learns early on to bury the implications of it, erase her knowledge of it, stifle it, plaster over it with hobbies and food and shopping and sex, blocking out the information she needs in order to realize her authenticity. Now and again she catches glimpses of it (the truth), and if the planets align then the chasm breaks open, and it is total; and if she’s lucky—only if she’s lucky— she becomes a radical feminist.
Most of the rest of the post goes through talking about how people would paint Leonard as the long-suffering husband when indeed he was probably a huge part of the problem. It talks about his control of the money she earned, his jealousy over her success, and his dismissal of the abuse she had suffered at her half-brother’s hands.
In the context of these lines of reflection, reading Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, by Alison Weir becomes positively painful. As a young unmarried Queen there was the fear that someone would kidnap and force her to marry him. Then when she married an abusive teenager yet she had to try to keep his support for fear he would declare their child illegitimate. Then there was the time when he was lying sick in bed with what was probably syphilis, yet he was pressing her to resume marital relations. The book keeps mentioning too ‘sexual exploits’ of some of the Scottish nobles, really bringing home the point that sex and power were linked and the powerful men of the time would not see a woman’s feelings as any sort of obstacle to them taking what they wanted.
Mary Queen of Scots was subject to fits of crying too and depression. I’m sure people of her day saw it as part of the weakness of being a female, but I think the line from the post about Virginia Woolf, about how “for a woman to comprehend her condition is to trigger the precursor for madness” is applicable here.
(Shared on the Cozy Reading Hop.)