Chris Jepson: The war on women

Chris Jepson

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“You can’t have a war on terrorism because that’s not an actual enemy, it’s an abstract. It’s like having a war on dandruff. That war would be eternal and pointless. It’s idiotic.” — Gore Vidal

A high school classmate of mine posted the above quote on Facebook and one of her male “friends” suggested that if that is the case, then there could be no War on Women. I responded by asking him, “In what respect?” As, in what respect has there not been a war on women?

The question becomes acrimonious because the “actual enemy” has been, historically speaking, men (and unfortunately, the sad, complicit women who go along to survive). The War on Women has been characterized as a Republican War on Women, what with GOP efforts to manage and control a woman’s body (see: female reproductive rights). The Republican Party’s exertions to control a woman’s sexuality fits into an historical continuum of female repression. To argue otherwise displays a woeful misunderstanding (or no understanding) of history.

Even the most cursory exposure to world history depicts the relentless marginalization of women. The earliest legal codes unequivocally relegate women to a second-class status (see for example: the legal code from the reign of Urukagina in Mesopotamia or the Code of Hammurabi). That we speak glowingly today of the exceptional — exceedingly rare — powerful women of history (see: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Aspasia, Hypatia, Queen Elizabeth and Catherine the Great) only illustrates that timeless axiom of “the exception proving the rule.”

Why has this been the female experience? And, was it always so? Is it feminist fiction that once-upon-a-time, long ago, women led matriarchal societies? We have scant historical evidence that that was ever the human condition. Regardless, we do have “some” examples of cultures of equality (see: Cherokee Native Americans as well as the 6th century B.C. status of women of the Etruscan civilization). And is it irony that the women of Ancient Egypt had a higher status than their counterparts today?

Without a historical doubt women have been considered property, chattel if you will, of/by men. This is undeniable. Why? Why would men have ever deigned to so treat or consider women? How and why would it become a cultural custom to marginalize women? Religion tragically has been a bulwark of male autarchy (look no further today than the male-dominated religions that still have no room for women in management). Is it funny or idiotic (or both) that our expulsion from paradise is cast as a woman’s fault?

Twenty-first century American women have made great strides in securing equality. It has been a relentless slog. Nothing given. Consider this fact: post-Civil War America gave the right to vote to former slave men — Slaves! — before we “gave” the right to vote to our already “free” daughters, wives and mothers. That is how low on the totem pole women in America were considered. And that is not so long ago.

It has been suggested that men, historically, have wanted to control access to women in order to control their sexuality, their fertility, to ensure that the worst thing that could ever befall a man — cuckoldry — doesn’t. I’ve laughingly suggested for years, “No man knows for sure.” Few see the humor.

Has there been a war on women? Examine our history, nay, simply look around the world today and truthfully answer. Cartoonist Walt Kelly once famously observed, "We have met the enemy and he is us." Literally.