Let’s be clear: the War on Women is real. It is a battle for women’s physical security, bodily autonomy, and very agency. It is multi-faceted, with casualties compounded by issues of race, sexuality, gender identity, class, and ableism. It is not new. Women have suffered at the hands of active and passive oppression for milleniums.
There is no sanctuary to be claimed. The War on Women is ubiquitous, skirmishes visible in the legislature, the courts, the workplace, the classroom, the doctor’s office, the silver screen, the television, the streets, the dinner table, the bedroom, the mirror.
From the time we are young, we are taught that our bodies are dangerous. It is our responsibility to clothe, conceal, shield its very form from the eyes of men incapable of controlling themselves in its presence. The wrong attire or gesture or tone or look or words translate into consent. Deviation from these expectations comes at a cost, ranging from disruption of or exclusion from education to justification of physical violence.
In the same breath, we are taught that our bodies exist for the male gaze. To advance, to couple, to have our worth validated we must conform to beauty ideals in a manner that casts us as a means to an end instead of living, breathing people. Again, deviation from these expectations can be dangerous — to our careers, to our social standing, to our psychological well being, to our physical safety. For when a man demands you smile on the street in order to please his eye, failure to comply can be lethal.
Our bodies are not our own, their function and care subject primarily to the whims of middle aged white men who still believe in fairy tales wrapped in the trappings of archaic dogma. It is illegal in this country to take the organs of a corpse without their prior permission in order to save a life, but women carrying a collection of cells incapable of existing outside of their uterus may be forced to play petrie dish in a physical experience that kills hundreds of women every year in this country — a death rate twice that of Saudi Arabia. We afford more rights to human beings in death than we do pregnant women in life, gambling with their existence on a faith that has no place in governance.
This issue comes down to control. Pervasive attempts to curb access to reproductive health services for women relegates female sexuality to a means of procreation while their male counterparts remain free to enjoy such expression as a means of pleasure. Our unique physical capabilities are leveraged as reason for denial of the privileges afforded to those without them, for those same capabilities somehow call into question the cognitive reliability housed in these bodies, despite evidence suggesting durable conviction.
Enlistment in this war is a function of existence. To be seen, heard, acknowledged, respected, viewed as human requires a declaration of personhood, accepted only with conditions but mostly dismissed without condition. No amount of narratives or statistics is considered sufficient justification for protest. When the result of this never-ending derision is anguish, the daily abuse grinding through calloused skin to expose raw nerves, we are reminded of our predetermined worth and limitations– this is paranoia, hysteria, imaginary. In striving for a role beyond vessel and caretaker, we amplify the vehemence of the attacks that come anyway. To be a woman with an opinion, with the audacity to stand for herself, is a dangerous proposition.
We are tired. We are weary. We are battle-worn, bruised and scarred. But we cannot — we will not — sit down and shut up. As long as sexual harassment draws cheers from the electorate, as long as one in five women are raped in their lifetime, as long as the assertion of one man outweighs the testimony of 48 women, as long as the worth of a woman’s work is discounted relative that of a man, as long as women’s healthcare is treated as a political football, as long as women of color, impoverished women, immigrant women, sex workers, lesbian and bisexual women, transwomen and the rest of our community are disproportionately at risk, as long as being a woman is a reason to be afraid, the War on Women continues, and our lives are on the line.
So choose. You can perpetuate systemic violence against women, or you can take up arms against it. There is no middle ground. Silence in the face of oppression allows it to continue. Enough cowardice. Pick a side.