Some while ago I saw a man shouting at his daughter in the street. He then bent over and clipped her head, making her cry.
The crowd all around looked away, shook their heads and carried on with their day. Not good, but none of our business. One brave soul stepped forward and told the man he shouldn’t hit the little girl.
As he (unsurprisingly) got an earful back, the little girl clung on to her father’s leg and looked up scared at the other guy. Despite the abuse, she felt a dependency and held on to her damaged protector tightly.
That’s the thing with dependency. It overrides other instincts. Better the devil you know and all that. Invariably it is the various strands and levels of patriarchy that establish, reinforce and maintain this control. And the victims are often left without an alternative champion.
I mention the patriarchy, because the various remaining institutions that have held on against progress (predominantly religious organisations) are run by men. Our great friends and cousins in the United States have rolled back the frontiers for female representation and influence more than most. But unfortunately this doesn’t always run deep.
In New York and LA you can indeed be what you want to be. And the dreams for little girls across the nation and projected to inspire. But the entrenched views and ways in the bits in between remain static in many cases.
I’ve travelled through that heartland. And met some wonderful alpha females and plenty of lovely folk who genuinely believe in equality and fairness. They’re not all hicks, any more than our own rural communities in dear old Blighty.
But the grip that religious organisations hold over some sections of those communities remains mighty. The rules applied by some elements of Islamic societies seem extreme to us, particularly those involving women, but the male-dominated hierarchy of the various Christian groups is not exactly enlightened.
And yet they keep coming back. Despite the slanted table, the loaded dice, the biased rules of the game, generation after generation keep going to church, keep voting for hardliners, keep refusing the rebel against the patriarchy. Why?
If you are taught from a young age that you are a bad person of you don’t follow the rules, that impression can last a lifetime. Formative as any dog bite, burnt finger, cold water shock. And the desire to please of a child reinforces that doctrine.
When religion and politics are interwoven – blimey, I’m covering all the taboos today – then it takes a really strong person to stand aside and stand alone to reject all they’ve known. No matter how old you get. The comfort and reassurance of familiarity in a changing world, an uncertain world is very hard to turn your back on.
We are fortunately more secular than ever here in Britain. A few hundred years ago, we too cowered in the pews, believing we were condemned if we didn’t follow the preacher’s words. We cheered as Catholics and ‘witches’ were burned. Indoctrinated and scared to think any other way – thankfully no longer.
But this patriarchy prevails here too. Window shopping about women’s rights and breaking the glass ceiling makes good copy for organisations. Whilst the majority of female executives are still to be found in HR and Marketing.
Returning to our American cousins, there was renewed focus this week on an article by the Washington Post about Susanna Salter. In 1887, just after women had been granted the vote in Kansas the menfolk decided to let her run for mayor of Argonia as joke.
She won the election with more than 60% of the vote. Far from marking the start of a new era of representation, this gave them a very clear warning of the dangers of underestimating the peasants’ power.
And so to this week, where the patriarchy in the legislature, with full backing and cheerleading from the churches has reasserted itself in Texas. New laws have been passed making abortions completed more than 6 weeks into pregnancy subject to criminal prosecution. Rape, incest, threat to mother’s life – no exceptions.
Now, as a Brit it is not my place to judge or criticise the constitutional set-up of the United States law-making structures. House of Lords discussion coming soon…
But whether it’s DC’s federal instructions or delegated controls out to the individual states, there are matters that are referred all the way to the top and decision are made that apply across the lands. Roe vs Wade has not been overturned by the Supreme Court, so there are (or should be) limits of what the individual states can do on this matter.
Irrespective of the legal niceties, there is something rather grim about a group of men telling women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies. It’s particularly galling when these are the same men who insist that wearing a Covid-preventing mask in public places is a ‘matter of choice’
That controlling attitude, that demand for obedience, that regret of the loss of absolute power has made the debate nastier, the approach more bitter and the divide wider. God help Jesus if he ever does come back and mix it with these ‘Christians’ – he wouldn’t last 5 minutes with those limp, hippy wishy-washy views of his.
And though I hate to say it – these men have plenty of allies with their comfortably-off, zealous wives and daughters. When the lifelong teachings of patriarchy are engrained – and frankly your lifestyle is pretty comfortable – you can afford to ditch the sisterhood and cling tight to what you know.
So before we criticise the Taliban or any other organisation for its oppressive approach towards women’s rights, let’s just take a look sideways to make sure we are the models of equality. Two wrongs don’t make a right but there are some corners of the West that would make very comfortable seats for those we are all too ready to condemn.