A male friend recently protested the use of the term “rape culture.”
I would agree with him that we don’t have a “rape culture.” We have a culture that minimizes the fears and concerns and needs of women in favor of those expressed by the ruling class and those who hold actual power—the overwhelming number of whom happen to be male.
Where humanity went wrong, IMO? Pretty early on, when it monetized traditional “men’s work” as economically valuable and exchangeable, while ignoring traditional “women’s work” as just something women do from their private home so their men can go out and compete in the money-based economy. Probably that occurred over a long time and without much thought, likely because women never complained about having their valuable roles excluded from monetization. It was assumed that marriage would enable women to occupy homes with steady money inflows, so they could all do the “girl stuff” for free and enable men to have greater freedom to focus on work outside the home. Thus men’s roles became high value and women’s roles took on secondary importance. Women gradually became disposable, burdensome expenses—and eventually commodified as goods for trade in themselves—while men were increasingly viewed as vitally necessary for both financial power and family security.
The work women took on during early human self-organization that never got properly monetized or valued? Childbirth and child care. Caring for the sick and elderly. Maintaining the internal order and cleaning of a home, mending and repairing, beautifying things, creative recycling, teaching children how to treat others kindly, providing emotional support for those who struggle, tending gardens and caring for domesticated animals, keeping an orderly, peaceful home where all needs are met at the level of actual need (not based on power), extending love and compassion, communicating feelings in ways that invite communal change. Distilled to its essence, women were vital in keeping a PEACEFUL home between, and for, any number of highly disparate individuals who shared that space.
Interesting how these happen to align perfectly with the massive challenges now facing our entire species, isn’t it? Pollution, climate change, destructive competition, lack of respect for children and child rearing, health care and elder care, environmental degradation and exploitation, massive species extinction, excessive selfishness and cruelty, endless warfare—generally, all the “quality of life” stuff that fell to women to manage, and that once enabled men to create the stuff we sell in quantity without destroying our home planet in the process.
Until we figure out how to elevate the value of those services on par with how we value traditional “men’s work” we will see more and more women abandoning their historic roles in search of higher value options…and collectively we will continue to suffer the loss and erosion of the benefits women once contributed for free so that our economic system could thrive.
Consider one common modern argument—that women “deserve” lower wages because they are the ones who have to leave the work force to give birth, while men don’t do that. Yes, well…who are they giving birth TO, and FOR? There’s a man on every side of that equation who doesn’t have to leave the work force to have a child, but he’s not getting a raise to compensate for her loss of income, is he? And yet she is birthing into being the future of the species…which benefits us ALL.
The way we think about these issues reveals our unexamined biases. To imagine a woman ought to “pay” for the “privilege” of birthing a child tells us how far from serving the needs of ALL citizens capitalism has ultimately led us. Women now pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to have a child, to the point that we instruct the poor that they “ought not” reproduce because they can’t afford to. We have made this basic human reproductive impulse—the thrust of life itself—a reward allocated to the well off, and a punishment for the poor and needy. And we call people “irresponsible” for doing the most basic thing living beings can do—have sex with one another.
Yet we also seek to try to force women to birth babies they don’t want and can’t care for, as “punishment” for the sin of exercising their own humanity and experiencing a quality of life that includes intimacy. Ironically, we use a conceptual “respect for life” argument to back that oppressive control OVER women’s behaviors, bodies, and lives. Most women are not fooled. If our society genuinely respected life half as much as it values money, we would offer women benefits and massive social support for having a child so she did not see her quality of life dramatically degraded as a consequence of bringing new life into this world.
My sense? We need to elevate our respect for the quality of life (feminine subjective) on PAR with our respect for the quantity of stuff (masculine objective) if we are to SURVIVE as a species, let alone thrive. It’s not capitalism holding us back from that shift. It’s the way we think about quantity and quality. We fight to have more days in our lives, yet we ignore the challenges that render those days stressful, problematic, fear-riddled, exhausting, and endlessly frustrating for us all. So few people are genuinely happy, content, satisfied, hopeful, confident, peaceful.
What are we extending our days FOR…if not so we can all celebrate our own aliveness, experience ourselves as fully human, express ourselves to our highest and best capacities, discover what else may be possible through cross pollination and congenial collaboration? What are we surrendering when we decide we no longer have time to “squander” on play, enjoyment, beauty, music, art, philosophy, spirituality, and engaging with the living, breathing world that has given birth to us and that lovingly sustains us all?
Who ARE we? And why are we here at all?
These seem the unexamined questions that fester beneath the surface of this dark and painful winter of our collective discontent.