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Nov 26

The Female as Property

Females as Less-Than…

Though there have been some improvements over the past fifty years and even within the past decade, the simple fact is that females are still treated as second-class citizens. I use the term “citizens” when in fact females the world over, whether American citizens or not, are lower on the privilege ladder than their male counterparts. I originally started to use the word “Women,” but I am referring to ALL females, adult and child. And I mean ALL females including the few who may head big companies or who sit in congress and the state legislatures.

Female and Male Physical Differences—

First, some human physiology. Males and females are obviously built differently. Generally, overweight and reproductive organs aside, females are smaller, less muscular and have less strength than males. It must be noted that although males have the physical advantages just mentioned, females have greater endurance, a generally higher pain threshold and live longer.

The steroid hormone testosterone is considerably more prevalent in the male body than the female and, beyond its sexual role in the body, influences male dominance and aggressiveness. Given the significant difference in male and female testosterone, this may influence the presence of male dominance over females, but social influences have become more important in our recent evolution as a species. Thus, although evolution gave males an early leg up, it is considerably less important in the development of society over the last few millennia and particularly in the past several hundred years.

With that brief look at contrasting female/male physiology, let’s focus on recent history, particularly at society and the law and how it shows the ways females are often thought of in terms of “property” and how females are discriminated against in frequently very subtle ways.

Putting aside the mythology of Betsy Ross designing the first American flag, females were seamstresses and nurses and were, at most, appendages to the men in their lives. They were considered the property of men and generally could not own their own property if they were married. Despite continued pressure and demonstrations, it was not until 1920, less than a century ago, that women were allowed to vote…white women, that is.

Fast forward to World War II when women entered the work force in large numbers because there was a shortage of men to handle the jobs that needed doing. Still, those women not in the work force were expected to stay home, raise the children, keep house, cook, clean and take care of all the necessary chores to keep the home fires burning. Norman Rockwell’s America.  With rare exceptions, females were expected to grow up to be teachers, nurses, secretaries and playthings for men. To be a cop, a lawyer, an engineer, a scientist or a doctor was either not possible or not considered proper.

As late as 1979, I worked in a major corporation for an otherwise decent older man who felt that women should remain secretaries when I sought to promote an intelligent female secretary to editor. Fortunately, my view prevailed. Believe it or not, that man’s dated view still exists today. By the way, she recently retired as a vice president although she was making less than her male counterparts.

Today, we find female doctors and lawyers, senators and legislators, airline pilots, heads of corporations, scientists, professors, film directors and positions deemed “important” throughout society. That’s wonderful, but is homemaking or nursing or childcare unimportant? In any case, where do I get off saying females are second-class citizens?

Indeed, there are many women who have been seduced by the idea that a man will take care of them, that they don’t have to be an independent human being. They are willing to give up their personal autonomy. “I like him to open the door for me” or “I want to be his helpmate and let him make all the big decisions” or “The Bible tells women to allow the man to be the leader of the family.” It’s subtle societal or paternalistic pressure, not openly declared, but definitely felt at a subconscious level: females as property. Females as second-class beings.

  • For more visible examples, look at today’s headlines. A woman cannot get an abortion in a number of states thanks to the dedication of a group—mostly men, by the way—who have no business legislating what a female does with her own body. Those women who manage to get an abortion despite all the roadblocks put in their way must jump through hoops to succeed…if they can even find a clinic still open in their state. Why women are not outraged at this discrimination is beyond my comprehension. Is it because the religiously-motivated pecksniffs have disguised their agenda by calling it something other than what it really is: interference with a female’s freedom to determine what she believes is right for her?
  • Almost always, women in the workforce are paid less than a male having the same duties.
  • Females who simply want to vote as they have done for years are required to show identification that they are the same person as the one who voted before marriage twenty years ago. Males do not have the same requirement.
  • Women are far more likely to be expected to change their name to that of their husband rather than keep the name they were given at birth. A male is not expected to change his name.
  • Females past the age of 30 who have never been married are considered suspect while males are not.
  • Many religions such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) will not allow a woman to be a priest, minister or leader. Even some Protestant denominations are guilty of this discrimination.
  • Girls are discriminated against in a number of high school science classes and at universities. They are discouraged from applying to some programs even though their grades are equal to or superior to competing males.
  • Women forced by circumstances to engage in prostitution are most often “owned” by pimps who treat them as property to be dealt with much as slaves were treated by slave masters. The females are most often punished by the law while the pimps or the “johns” are frequently free of prosecution.
  • In cases of rape, the female victim has the burden of proving that she did not entice the accused male. Considerable attention is paid to the way the victim dressed, whether she was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or whether she reported the rape to the authorities immediately after the alleged rape. The female is questioned as to whether she made it clear to the accused male that she wanted him to stop. This is certainly true when the incident takes place in the military or when the accused male is an athlete of note.  These few instances are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rape.
  • Corporate boards of directors are overwhelmingly made up of men. In those instances where a woman is part of a board, she is little more than a token member to allow the corporation to avoid criticism. This may be because most corner offices are occupied by men.
  • Viagra is covered by a man’s health insurance policy, but birth control pills are usually not covered.

These are just a few of the many ways that females are discriminated against, are treated as property and as second-class citizens. Readers no doubt have examples of their own they may want to contribute.

Before closing, I recommend you read the New York Times article of November 25, 2013, by clicking on this link. In the article How Can We Jump-Start the Struggle for Gender Equality?, Professor of Sociology Philip N. Cohen of the University of Maryland points out that the advances made by women in the past few decades have largely plateaued out. Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts. He suggests policies that might once again allow females to achieve true equality with men. Check it out. It might give you something to think about, some goals to pursue.

4 comments

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  1. Shelley Stockwell-Nicholas

    Dearest Don
    You are such an exquisite writer. Thank you for the fine article on gender
    I render my gender as tender.

    1. Don Bay

      There’s more that can be said about the ways females—at least American females—are treated as less than full, autonomous persons entitled to equality and parity with men. I touched only the most obvious points. However, thanks for the vote of confidence. Now, let’s hear from the people who want to add to my list or who think females are already there. Surely, they are out there.

  2. Linda

    Again, so well thought out and written. Thank you for stirring my innards!

    This is what I think: Much like racial equality, gender equality is difficult to attain. Attitudes begin to formulate early and unless the parenting of children includes a sense that all people should be treated equally, it is difficult to adopt this belief as an adult, especially in a society like ours where we are so self-absorbed and social economic divides grow.

    With respect to gender equality, I believe strongly that unless we raise our boys differently, females will struggle longer in their attempts to achieve equality. I raised two boys and before their births, this thought dominated my thinking. I don’t remember having a formal discussion about it with my husband, but he seemed quite comfortable with letting our boys have a kitchen set or stroller with a baby doll next to their Tonka trucks and Transformers.

    When our older son was about three, he wrote a two-sentence story about his parents. It went something like “Daddy likes to make hot dogs. Mommy likes to fix our car.” I beamed as I saw the reversal of roles. Just to be clear, I’m not very mechanical but I often took our car in for maintenance or repairs. And, my husband often cooked our meals. Now, he cooks ALL of our meals or we go out or take-out.

    Both my boys are married now. Both of their spouses have retained their last names and neither of them opted as I did, to attach their husband’s last name onto their own. I will confess that when both women were about to marry our sons, each time, I asked if the bride-to-be if she was going to change her name. I told both that I would not if I were either of them. In the end, both decided not to take their husband’s family name. Why does anyone need to change the name they were given at birth? You might be surprised to know that both women are Japanese nationals. How did my boys feel about the women not taking their last name? It wasn’t an issue for either of them; after all, it wasn’t their decision to make. Hurray for the tiny steps of progress!

    Today, I sit in a corporation with a very bright, competent and experienced female CEO. And while this happens more and more, during the 12 or so interviews she professed to have had before it was decided that she was the one, she stated to a group of us that their was hesitancy because she might be too old. Of course, it wasn’t openly stated as such, and this was her perception. Still, I wondered how often this concern is raised for men who are seated as CEOs in their 60’s and I marveled at her willingness to share this information.

    1. Don Bay

      Linda shows that there is hope…at least in the United States as it is today. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that equality progresses in all its forms and throughout the world. By the way, here in Sweden a woman can keep her birth name, she can take her husband’s name, the husband can take his wife’s name or they can change their names as long as it isn’t frivolous. Women here have long been considered the equal of men except that they still earn less than a man with the same duties. Women still have a long way to go.

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