The Human Agenda: Justice for Ovaries

Tamanna Sharma
Faculty Instructor: Sean Murray

“So what are your future plans?” If I had a dollar for every time a relative asked me this question, I’d probably have enough money to pay my college tuition and maybe even graduate school. It would be funny…if I was even slightly exaggerating. I come from a long line of doctors and the odd businessman here and there so the bar is set pretty high. On the plus side, I feel that I usually have to deal with slightly less ignorance than the average person…usually. When I finish repeating the plans everyone has for me, the follow-up question is usually, “What about marriage?” And then the fun begins. Understandably, medical school is a long and arduous process with little to no free time. Five years for my masters, four years of medical school, additional time for specialization, then residency; that’s a lot of years for anyone to be in school and I don’t want the responsibility of marriage while I’m studying. I want to actually invest in myself afterwards, not another person. I want to enjoy having a career and the financial freedom. Unacceptable. This brings forth one of two reactions. The dramatically worried for me, “Oh no, how are you going to find someone at that age? Who’s going to wait for you? What about kids? You can’t wait until you’re thirty!” Or the condescending, “Oh you say that now. You’ll be begging your parents to marry you off by 25.” Please wait while I go straighten out this dent in my cranium with the help of the wall. The ignorance has literally hit me so hard. While I smile tightly at these relatives, I can’t help but think of my male cousins. Their conversations follow this script:

“What are your plans, son?”

“Studying computer science right now. Maybe engineering afterwards.”

“Good good…the job market is expected to grow in that field. Technology is changing everything. Did you hear of ‘insert latest gadget here’ yet? It was created in ‘insert country of choice here’”

And the conversation moves on to sports or something equally fascinating. Excuse me while I go visit that wall again. Marriage isn’t even within a 50 mile radius of their thoughts when it comes to the boys because they have no optimum age for marriage. But, because I have ovaries, I need to have different priorities in life? I understand that within the first reaction there might be some genuine concern for me, what with my ovaries going out of business with each passing year. Yet I still fail to understand why it’s apparently so urgent; I’m 18 and correct me if I’m wrong, but that leads me to believe there are a few years before anyone has to worry. Or – gasp – what if….(wait for it)…I don’t want to have kids? Of course that’s a whole other incredulous idea. Or God forbid I want to adopt regardless of being biologically able to reproduce. That notion would probably provoke some serious thought on whether I should be institutionalized. Just kidding…I hope. The second reaction is so exasperating I don’t even have words. Well I do, but they’re a bit too colorful. Something along the lines of, “You know I hate to ask, but how exactly do you know what I will want later in life? You don’t even know what I want right now…which is for you to stop being such an inconsiderate ignoramus whom I happen to be related to.” But of course, a good Indian girl could never question her elders even if they’re living years in the past. While I try to laugh it off most times, it would be foolish to believe that I’m the only woman who faces such condescending behavior or that other women don’t deal with worse. After all a true feminist has to recognize the different stages of gender discrimination that exist today and realize each level has its’ own significance.

Loud sighs. Eye rolls. “Oh great!” are usual reactions the word ‘feminism’ elicits in most. That aggravates me…and rightly so. Just because some people don’t want to hear about feminism doesn’t make it any less pressing of an issue. Feminism in itself is a misleading word which implies that feminists have an anti-male or anti-family agenda which is far from the truth. It’s almost funny how some people think that every idea is male centered. Still, just because the word is shrouded in controversy and stigma does not mean it can be ignored like kicking ice under the fridge because you’re too lazy to pick it up. Is that really how we want to be remembered by advanced life forms centuries in the future – as a species that continuously denied over half of their population basic rights and respect, as beings who were literally too lazy to ensure a decent quality of life for their own? If that’s the case, I hope all those theories about people moving to the moon are true because I’m going to need as much distance from this ignorance as possible. Women are not inherently inferior to men in any way, so it’s high time for them to be treated as equals. Well it was time a while ago, but you get my gist.

Have you ever heard the words “she was asking for it?” Perhaps in a debate where you held back vomit at this counterargument because you would, obviously, never be supporting this argument? How many times have you heard someone yell ‘RAPE’ down the hall in school as a joke? How many times did you stop and say something if at all? Clearly not enough people took a stand against it because gotten to the point where we are told to yell “FIRE” instead of “rape” if we actually need help. Every time someone remains silent the mockery of rape is validated. And that’s just the beginning.

“It sucks that happened, but you can’t be too surprised. I mean with the way she dressed – she was practically wearing a ‘RAPE ME’ sign,” a boy says of a recent rape victim who came up in conversation with his family. He spoke these words casually on the way to his room, not even pausing, as if he was talking about dinner. He did not realize the way his mother froze and recomposed herself before continuing to clear the table. He did not see the terror in her eyes as the memories of her past rushed to the surface of her mind. He did not see the war within her to keep her tears at bay. He did not witness her struggle to forget what her uncle did to her for so many years. He did not think twice about the fact that she sucked in a sharp breath before quickly leaving the room. He was not there in her nightmares, not by her side every morning when she chanted her mantra to herself “it was not my fault.” As far as he knew, his family was perfectly happy. How could he know? His mother had not told anyone in the family and for this very reason: she feared they would blame her, criticize her, tell her it was her fault for dressing a certain way or being too playful with her uncle. How could she have known that a man she had revered as a father figure her entire life could be so demonic? How was she to know that the man her parents had trusted her safety to, her own uncle, would be the one destroying her innocence? The worst part was she, herself, didn’t know what was happening to her for years…she knew she was going to be in pain every time he visited, but he told her that was a normal part of growing up and she believed him. He told her not to tell a single soul, that secrets were a part of growing up too. She grew up so “protected” and “sheltered” from the dangers of the outside world that she never realized her so called guardian was actually a criminal. College is good fortune for most; it’s where many begin a new life, but for her it brought destruction in the form of awareness. She gained some distance from him and thus began to live a life happier than the one she had been living for so long. Her happiness was short-lived however; when she put things together, she broke and not just in a manner of speaking.  When she finally understood, when she finally confronted him, her world, and bones, shattered. Without the slightest bit of remorse, he beat her senseless. She screamed until her throat was raw, tried to rub the filth off her body, felt so dirty she wanted to peel off her own skin. She needn’t worry about that last part as he took care of that. As she sobbed in the bathroom thinking about what her son said, she wondered what her fault was in any of it; she didn’t dress provocatively, she wasn’t too forward, she didn’t go out excessively. “Why me?” she wondered. She tried so hard to forget her past, to keep her dread at bay every day, to keep the terror from ruining her life now. But how could she fight her inner demons when her own son felt that way? It was a battle she’d been fighting for years and she was growing so tired fighting alone. A few words spoken nonchalantly had brought back all her torment, all the torture.

That is the effect of rape culture.

Rape culture is so easily identifiable yet is just as effortlessly dismissed or ignored. As recently as April 2013, Dean Saxton, a junior at Arizona State University, was holding up signs reading “You Deserve Rape” and yelling out similar slogans at girls, especially those wearing shorts, walking by. How shameless of those girls to be wearing shorts when it’s over 80 degrees out! He claims girls who wear anything revealing are asking for rape and even dragged parents into it by making statements such as ‘your parents are ashamed of you whores.’ While some girls did stop and answer him fittingly, it’s hard to argue with stupid. One student held up his own sign reading “Nobody deserves rape.” To me, what was more offensive than this one fool’s idiocy was that he was not in any way disciplined. The University of Arizona washed their hands of the debacle by claiming, “However hateful his speech may be, university attorneys told angry students that Saxton is exercising his right to free speech, and has yet to violate the student code of conduct.” In what world does this not count as breaking the code of conduct? I’m pretty sure if I went up to a student as said “F*** you” I would be reprimanded in some way especially if there were security officers or school officials present as there were in this case. Did this not count as an attack against women’s safety? How do we know Saxton won’t go around trying to assault and abuse women because that’s what he thinks they deserve or even just to prove his point? I would not feel safe attending the University of Arizona not because morons like Saxton are spreading ignorance, but because the University does not see this as a danger to women. The University of Arizona is not alone in compromising the safety and respect of women. Dartmouth University is reputed for excellence and they’ve taken the lead here as well by excelling in jeopardizing its’ female student body. A message board by the name “Bored@Baker,” referring to the library building on campus published a rape guide and encouraged using it on a specific female student who unfortunately was assaulted soon thereafter. The investigation – if you can call it that – has not only failed to punish the student (still under review by the college, not even the police), but the officials overseeing the investigation urged, not so subtly, the female student to get used to it. How/when is it ever acceptable to make a rape guide? Or to tell someone that they ‘should go down a slide of broken glass into a pool of ethanol which will then be lit on fire?” when they protest such violations? I cannot fathom how one person can even think these things about another human being, but what’s worse is that this filthy way of thinking is being condoned by authorities who are doing nothing to solve the problem and everything to ensure that the problem is not brought up. We can’t just keep treating it like ‘someone else’s problem.’ It might sound much too idealistic, but all of us are literally the future regardless of our age; if we don’t do something about it, who else will?

The injustice is wrestling against its’ restraints, screaming to be heard much like the numerous women who had no one protecting their rights, orno rights to be protected. And the rights that we do have are being trampled as much as by other women as men. I had no clue such a thing existed as a debate between white feminists and coloredfeminists. I am equal parts in shock and equal parts disgusted. My mind cannot fathom this absurdity. Don’t we, as women, have enough problems to face without being divided amongst ourselves? How can we ever expect men to understand us or our worth when we are personally dragging our gender down to the gates of hell and locking it from both sides? Maybe that’s the reason we haven’t progressed as far as we should have in the 21st century that we so boast about. Getting involved in these petty issues keeps us from actually helping women who have been deprived of their rights. The author, Hopkins, which introduced me to this debate was not so subtly criticizing the work of feminists who are feminists only for personal fame, not to actually help the cause namely Eve Ensler. A feminist, activist, playwright renowned for her plays “The Vagina Monologues,” and founder of V-Day, which encourages women to come and protest sexual violence on February 14th, Ensler is known to push for the rights of women around the world. Ruth Hopkins states that

“Eve Ensler created the Vagina Monologues and V-Day, a “global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls.” On the surface, V-Day sounds like a great idea. The issue of violence against women and girls demands attention. However, WOC (Women of Color) have been critical of Ms. Ensler’s tactics. She flies into third world countries, films impoverished women and children who have been horribly violated, assigns her own narrative to it, leaves, and takes all the credit while those who have been victimized remain voiceless and in pain. After a trip to the Congo to investigate sexual violence occurring against women there, Eve was quoted as saying, “I must see a fistula,” and set about doing so. Fistulas are holes created through tears in a woman’s body, between the vaginal wall and the rectum. This occurs during violent rape, or when girls still in puberty give birth. When a girl or woman has a fistula, she is unable to hold her urine or excrement. As a result she starts to stink. They are then treated like social pariahs, even though the cause of the smell is fistulas created by men who’ve victimized them. These women, these girls, bear the stigma- not their rapists. The fact that Ms. Ensler could speak of these women in such dehumanizing terms is not only appalling but irresponsible and yes, racist. These women with fistulas, Ms. Ensler, are your equals. They’re survivors and braver than you. This isn’t a freak show and they aren’t your meal ticket. Let them speak for themselves.”

This was traumatizing to read…I can’t even imagine how tortured the women who endure it must feel. The serious accusations that Eve Ensler only wanted to see a fistula for the sake of it being a fistula, not to actually help the women and that this lack of care may have been affected by race is beyond alarming. What scares me almost as much as the experience of these women is the fact that the allegations against Ensler may be true. Not because I’m biased towards her, but because it horrifies every part of me so deeply to think that someone, anyone, had the power, the means to help those women …and didn’t.

As a young woman getting her education in the United States of America with the means to write this essay on the struggles of other women, I feel more privileged than ever before. It’s strange to feel guilty for things I cannot control: where I was born, where my parents migrated during  my childhood, the fact that my family is educated, the fact that I am safer than many women in the world. At the same time, I realize that I also have the power to make a change similar to the numerous people, male and female, who continue to push for gender equality. I realize that there is a growing awareness for these crimes, for the failings of our social system, the faults of our minds but awareness is the first step to a solution. Libraries can and have been filled with books on fractions of sexism today and I cannot even hope to learn all there is to know about rape culture, sexism against female public figures, the social standing of women even in our modern, educated society. I have so much to say, but instead I will display my thoughts through actions. I will make a difference to diminish the gap gender discrimination has caused in our world and to ensure that gender will not be a factor in keeping women from their rights as humans.

Works Cited

Hopkins, Ruth. “Feminism from This Native Woman’s Perspective.” Last Real Indians. Web. 09 Feb. 2014.

Kingkade, Tyler. “Dartmouth Student Says She Was Sexually Assaulted After Website ‘Rape Guide’ Named Her.” The Huffington Post., 27 Feb. 2014. Web. 08 May 2014.

Shen, Aviva. “University Of Arizona Student Tells Women: ‘You Deserve Rape’.”ThinkProgress RSS. ThinkProgress, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2014.