Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Michelle Sicignano, LMSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
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The Growth of Misogyny and the Erosion of Women’s Rights

Social Justice Solutions - woman's rights

Social Justice Solutions – woman’s rights

Lately, I’ve been processing troubling thoughts on the growth of misogyny in this country and many parts of the world. What does it mean for children growing up in such a society and what is the impact on the future of human relations and the rights of women? How is this happening, why now, and why are we not addressing it openly and definitively?

Girls are growing up in world that prizes physical attractiveness above all else and belittles female achievement in everything from sports to business, to political and religious engagement. Females are largely and routinely defined by their looks and body parts, and as a society we have gone to great lengths and expense to meet some largely unrealistic ideal of beauty as evidenced by the explosion of cosmetic and augmentation surgery at younger and younger ages. Granted, this isn’t only a gender issue, but it affects women and girls at exponentially greater rates than men or boys. We are a society that is said to prize youth and beauty, but do we value it? Do we offer it a unique voice or equal protection under the law? Or does such gendered commodification reduce the voice of all women?

Comprising 51% of American society, women hold only 16% or so of the leadership positions in business and government. How is this possible when women have been a necessary part of the work force for well over half a century and a necessary part of the world since the beginning of time? In 2010 only 2.4% of the U.S. Fortune 500 chief executives were female. In the FTSE 500 the statistics are even worse–only 1.8% of its companies are led by women. In world rankings of women in government, The United States scores a deplorable 79 out of a listing of 139 countries, having 16.9% representation in the house of representative, and 17.0% in the senate. For a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, it is apparent not all of the people are equally represented or protected under the law.

Have women’s rights advanced? Yes, to a degree. We can now vote and own property in most of the world. But has it been three steps forward and two steps back? Women’s rights are being eroded openly and publicly yet that fact is disguised and deflected by arguments which compare apples to oranges. How many of us are aware that rapists have the same rights and privileges under the law as other fathers in most states in our nation? Even when the rape victim is a 14 year old girl! How many of us know that children are not legally able to consent to sex, but across this nation get placed in foster care and are incarcerated as juvenile delinquents, often as young as 11, when arrested for prostitution? Though in several states their legal status has come to be redefined to the that of victim of human trafficking, thanks to rights worker’s efforts, funding has not provided the necessary services and supports to ensure the proper care of these young victims making this a hollow victory for children’s rights and in the fight against human trafficking by providing no real aid, only lip service and paper protection. 90-95% of sex trade and human trafficking victims are female, half of whom are under the legal age of 18. Does the general public know or acknowledge that violent, openly misogynistic pornography is readily available and easily accessible to the average 11 year old with computer access? Or that cartoons, and reality programming use misogynistic depictions and language supportive of an already growing “rape culture” in this country?

As noted in a previous post, rape is reported to be on the rise throughout the world, the easily understood concept of rape has been perverted through semantics making some ideas of rape more “legitimate” than others, and in several states, in an alarming and seemingly little contested trend, women are forced to endure vaginal ultrasounds before abortions regardless of the conditions of pregnancy.

Silence is equivalent to acceptance and assent. We have all heard the phrase for evil to triumph, all is required is for good men to do nothing. What are our good men, and our good women doing?

I am not a particularly religious person, though I do observe the major holidays of my heritage. I think most traditional expectations of formal religions tend to be indoctrination into norms and values handed down through generations of men imposing what is in their best interests over the rights of women and these norms and expectations are perpetuated through what these institutions teach children. Women are not given equal standing in any formal religious tradition that I am aware of though they are equally capable and equipped. Women have continued to be placed in subservient positions by the men that lead these organizations and the myth that such a hierarchy is the natural order of things based on a higher power or purpose simply serves to justify men’s rights to make rules that govern women and keep them at a disadvantaged position in every manner from world affairs to family hierarchies more often than not. Our nation’s religious roots run deeply, and have much greater power than our founding fathers ever intended.

From a strict anthropological or sociological perspective I am not sure if a straight definition of sexual equality is entirely possible, but gender equality certainly should be in an advanced civil society. Women are equally educated, and have equal expectations regarding being productive wage earners, yet laws are enacted that hobble women and limit their ability to benefit as fully from, or participate as fully in our society as men.
I worry about what it means for boys as well; boys exposed early and repeatedly to a “double standard” and a “rape culture” and socialized in societies that favor the rights of males above the rights of females. In my home, and my circle, I teach equality and tell those I love that they can achieve anything if they work at it and believe in themselves. But is that true? Can they really believe in the absoluteness of their human rights and potential when society’s message tells them their accomplishments mean less than their physical attributes, or their gender dictates what they can and should aspire to?

At this point in time equality is an illusion. Our hierarchical society is far from promoting genuine equality in many ways. Equal pay for equal work is an illusion. Non-discriminatory hiring practices are an illusion. Discrimination is real. Sexism is real. The glass ceiling is real. The growth of openly accepted misogynistic messages in our culture in everything from music, to television programming  to talk show hosts public statements, and elected officials gender-biased views on the legitimacy of rape, contraception, pregnancy and abortion is too real and colors the world of those growing up in it.
Is this the legacy we want to leave this and future generations? Those of us with daughters, how should we respond and prepare our girls for the possibility that they may, statistically, be sexually abused or raped at some point in their lives as 1 in 5 women are? And those of with sons, how do we impart the message to value women as equals when the culture they live in teaches them a very different message through a variety of avenues? I hope what I say makes a difference in the lives of those I love, but my bigger hope is that starting a hard and uncomfortable dialog can begin to change a mindset that does not equally support, value, or respect half of the world’s population.

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  1. Brenda Allison-Walton October 20, 2012
    • Michelle Sicignano, LMSW October 20, 2012
  2. 97socialworker October 21, 2012

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