Rolling out the Red Carpet

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Women of Future

Through and through sexual harassment is not the end of gender mistreatment. Far worse than the emotional violence is the physical violence which men unleash on women. The tormenting statistics are ubiquitous. In US every 15 seconds a woman is battered and every day husbands or boyfriends kill 4 women. In Bangladesh 50 percent of all murders are murders of wives by their husbands. Pakistan—a tall Muslim country—also incubates serious state of women affairs. Rapes, harassment and assault by husbands and in-laws are commonplace. This establishes the exorbitant violence directed towards women specifically by men, and indirectly by social and cultural mores.

Many feminist theorists claim a strong link between the behavior of the male gender and male institutions towards both women and the Earth. The violence against women is mirrored in the levels of environmental destruction now taking place across the planet. The idea that nature is female is a common assumption shared by many cultures across the globe, and now Mother Earth is being abused just like many of her daughters.

Right or wrong, it is clear that in many parts of the world, it is "woman's world" which is being threatened the most by so-called development: forests, agriculture, fuel sources, housing, and water resources are being destroyed at alarming rates. Those resources are the basic elements of life for a majority of the world's women and the decline of those resources put the greatest pressure on women. It is male-dominated institutions, which are largely responsible for this sad state of affairs and women are asking for a change.

All the same, in advanced countries, the pressure is on women to perform in the public sphere and to maintain much of the status quo on the home front. While women have succeeded in making some trespasses into decision-making positions in business and government, they are still expected to perform traditional functions of maintaining a household, taking care of the kids, fixing the meals, and being a good spouse—a difficult exercise.

Springing from the premise that the personal is political, radical feminists argue that to adopt traditional political methods would be to play into the hands of male institutions. They seek instead to recreate their own world, their own reality, and seek to give energy to new woman- centered institutions rather than the old male ones. They build new theories of dominance and power and begin to look at the origins of male dominance, which soon became known as patriarchy. Mythic remnants of pagan mother-goddess worship can be found in nearly all divine religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The importance of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism is a classic example.

There are at least three mini-trends that result from deep-seated feminism, which could alleviate the rising power of women. One of those might be abnormal separatism, a tendency for some women to reject men entirely—as some sort of evolutionary mistake. This movement is an acceptance of an entirely different paradigm.

There are images of women about the future, which come from feminist literature. This entire group is science fiction or fantasy novels, which hypothesize a future world either dominated by women or a world in which men and women share power. Most of these utopian novels have common elements: societies at one with nature, decentralized, and to some extent communal societies.

Other images are also described in the literature. They describe a high tech future where women are treated no less than props.

Normal images of women’s futures are ubiquitous in commercial advertising and multimedia. Mainstream, business-as-usual images picture women in fairly conventional roles, more often than not as sex objects.

Biologically and physiologically men and women can be constructed similarly or differently. (In West) sex change operations have become routine, so changing gender is no problem if they decide they were born into the wrong type. Physiological differences are already narrowing between men and women in advanced countries due to improved health and vitamin use. The most dramatic evidence of this phenomenon is the narrowing gap between men and women’s athletic records.

Psychologically, women are increasingly in charge of their own procreation, bodies, financial and political lives, and a burgeoning women’s culture.

One way to make some sense out of these sometimes converging and sometimes conflicting trends is to consider a range of alternative futures for women. These scenarios are suggested in some cases by the images of the future that woman have and others are suggested by the major trends.

In one scenario there is business-as-usual where women continue to obtain their rights but becoming more like men. Women are able to achieve equal pay for equal work, but also get equal rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and other stress-related disorders. Women in the Developing World will continue to be exploited and violated.

In another scenario future technological changes totally separate procreation from sexual recreation and gender roles; gender change becomes a simple procedure. Children are designed from the best genetic material and are expected to experiment with both gender roles.

Yet another scenario describes a different future where men will put them back in their place. This might occur after a major global ecological or economic catastrophe. In a backlash against women, polygamy and female slavery might reappear.

And yet additional scenario the basic differences between genders are maintained, but women share power with men equally. In this future there would be less gender-based divisions of labor and parenting would be a shared responsibility. Other features of this future are a more harmonious relationship with nature and a stronger community orientation.

These scenarios are just sketches of the alternative developments of the 21st century, but with a bit of luck challenging. Whether we approve of the changing status of women, or not; whether we accept the need for greater power for women, or not—we must prepare ourselves for the coming changes to our worldview. (