The Plight of the American Woman — Personal Story/Long Read

Hokay! Here be unpopular opinion and a bit of a long read with lots of legal stuff. Ye be warned.


I didn’t march this weekend. And it’s not because I don’t support the cause, but because large crowds make me nervous, and we were on the road.

But as a woman, I feel it is my duty to support other women, and that’s what I’m gonna do.

I feel like because women in the first world have access to social media and are more able disseminate their opinions, that the issues and problems of third world women fall to the wayside.

We just don’t hear about them as much.

I used to think the phrase “first world problems” was trite and dismissive, then I realized the plight of women in the first world is just that, first world problems.

We’re worried about paying $7 for a box of tampons, while women in Africa can’t go to school or worry about female genital mutilation.

Who is at risk?

Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and adolescence, and occasionally on adult women. More than 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk for FGM annually.

More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where FGM is concentrated 1.

The practice is most common in the western, eastern, and north-eastern regions of Africa, in some countries the Middle East and Asia, as well as among migrants from these areas. FGM is therefore a global concern.

Cultural and social factors for performing FGM

The reasons why female genital mutilations are performed vary from one region to another as well as over time, and include a mix of sociocultural factors within families and communities. The most commonly cited reasons are:

  • Where FGM is a social convention (social norm), the social pressure to conform to what others do and have been doing, as well as the need to be accepted socially and the fear of being rejected by the community, are strong motivations to perpetuate the practice. In some communities, FGM is almost universally performed and unquestioned.
  • FGM is often considered a necessary part of raising a girl, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.
  • FGM is often motivated by beliefs about what is considered acceptable sexual behaviour. It aims to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. FGM is in many communities believed to reduce a woman’s libido and therefore believed to help her resist extramarital sexual acts. When a vaginal opening is covered or narrowed (type 3), the fear of the pain of opening it, and the fear that this will be found out, is expected to further discourage extramarital sexual intercourse among women with this type of FGM.
  • Where it is believed that being cut increases marriageability, FGM is more likely to be carried out.
  • FGM is associated with cultural ideals of femininity and modesty, which include the notion that girls are clean and beautiful after removal of body parts that are considered unclean, unfeminine or male.
  • Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support.
  • Religious leaders take varying positions with regard to FGM: some promote it, some consider it irrelevant to religion, and others contribute to its elimination.
  • Local structures of power and authority, such as community leaders, religious leaders, circumcisers, and even some medical personnel can contribute to upholding the practice.
  • In most societies, where FGM is practised, it is considered a cultural tradition, which is often used as an argument for its continuation.
  • In some societies, recent adoption of the practice is linked to copying the traditions of neighbouring groups. Sometimes it has started as part of a wider religious or traditional revival movement.

That is absolutely horrific.

Access to education is another issue that first world women don’t have to worry about. They are worried about manspreading and mansplaining when women in Africa and Asia are denied education.

Despite progress in recent years, girls continue to suffer severe disadvantage and exclusion in education systems throughout their lives. An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity: only two out of 35 countries. And South and West Asia has the widest gender gap in its out-of-school population – 80 per cent of its out-of-school girls are unlikely to ever start school compared to 16 per cent of its out-of-school boys. Furthermore, many countries will still not have reached gender parity. On current trends, it is projected that 69 per cent of countries will have achieved parity in primary education, and 48 per cent of countries will have achieved parity in lower secondary education by the 2015 deadline.

Girls’ education is both an intrinsic right and a critical lever to reaching other development objectives. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty: educated women are less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies; and are more likely to send their children to school. When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.

Or what about the way women are treated in the Middle East?

1. India (some parts): Road safety rules don’t apply to women. In some states of India, women are excepted from safety rules that mandate motorcycle passengers wear helmets — an exemption that kills or injures thousands each year. Women’s rights advocates have argued the exemption springs from a culture-wide devaluation of women’s lives. Supporters of the ban say they’re just trying to preserve women’s carefully styled hair and make-up — which isn’t exactly a feminist response.

2. Yemen: A woman is considered only half a witness. That’s the policy on legal testimony in Yemen, where a woman is not, to quote a 2005 Freedom House report, “recognized as a full person before the court.” In general, a single woman’s testimony isn’t taken seriously unless it’s backed by a man’s testimony or concerns a place or situation where a man would not be. And women can’t testify at all in cases of adultery, libel, theft or sodomy.

3. Saudi Arabia and Vatican City: Women can’t vote… still. This is amazingly the case in Saudi Arabia, though a royal decree, issued in 2011, will let women vote in Saudi elections in 2015. Vatican City is the only other country that allows men, but not women, to vote.

4. Ecuador: Abortion is illegal, unless you’re an “idiot.” Begum says this is the policy in Ecuador, where abortions have long been outlawed for everyone but “idiots” and the “demented.” Politicians are considering a policy with the more politely worded term “mentally ill,” but that won’t change abortion’s legal status in Ecuador — or, more importantly, the fact that the law is frequently used to criminalize miscarriages.

5. Saudi Arabia and Morocco: Rape victims can be charged with crimes. Many, many countries fail to protect the victims of rape, but some go a step further — punishing women for leaving the house without a male companion, for being alone with an unrelated man, or for getting pregnant afterwards. The most infamous case may be Saudi Arabia’s “Qatif girl,” but a recent suicide in Morocco also made headlines — 16-year-old Amina Filali killed herself after a judge forced her to marry her alleged rapist, in keeping with a policy that invalidates statutory rape charges if the parties marry.

6. Yemen: Women can’t leave the house without their husbands’ permission. Yemen, where this law remains in force, does allow for a few emergency exceptions, Begum says: if the woman must rush out to care for her ailing parents, for instance.

7. Saudi Arabia: Women can’t drive. Read more about the ban and how women are challenging it here.

The good news? According to the World Economic Forum’s most recent gender gap report, equality has made “modest” gains in the Middle East. And Begum, of Human Rights Watch, says there’s lots of agitation for more change.

“Women in Saudi Arabia are highly educated and qualified,” she said. “They don’t want to be left in the dark.”

This right here is why I’m more afraid of being a woman in a third world country than being a woman in Trump’s America.

And human trafficking, which is a problem everywhere, not just in third world countries, but in the US as well:

Women constitute a large proportion of the overall number of people trafficked, that is transferred within or across national borders from their place of habitual residence;

The illicit movement of women takes place at the hands of “traffickers,” loosely defined as people profiteering from organizing, carrying out or otherwise facilitating the illicit transit of persons;

The majority of trafficked women find themselves trapped in debt bondage, servitude or slavery-like conditions as a result of being trafficked;

One of the forces driving trafficking in women is demand for their employment – be it “voluntary” or “coerced” – in the sex industry;

Any of the women trafficked for work in the sex industry are subjected to human rights abuses directly resulting from being trafficked;

There is evidence that the fewest trafficking-related human rights abuses occur at the women’s places of habitual residence, while such abuses often commence at transit locations, and they become more prevalent at the final destination;

Trafficking in women reaps huge financial profits for the traffickers and has, therefore, seen an ever-increasing involvement on the part of international organized crime.

Women in the first world are leading the race for women’s rights. We are showing the rest of the world what it is to be a woman and what it is to be equal. We should be setting an example, and I’m not saying the women’s march was a bad thing — I think it is wonderful that this was the largest peaceable protest ever. But I feel it was mired in minutae and didn’t properly target these issues of where women are really and actually oppressed.

As a woman living in the first world, I feel privileged to be here. I don’t have to worry about the horrible things that happen to women in other places in the world.

I’ve never felt oppressed. I make more money than S.O., and all the women I know make more money than their male counterparts. I’ve never been discriminated against because of my sex. I don’t know anyone who has been discriminated against because of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or color. I’ve seen discrimination toward the immigrant population, however there are structures, especially in the medical world (in which I work) to assist with language barriers and there are federal laws protecting people who speak languages other than English — if an institution receives any kind of federal funds, they are required to have a translator. In Florida, because there are so many Spanish and Creole speaking people, businesses go out of their way to hire bilingual people. I’ve seen more discrimination in the medical field, in terms of hiring, against people who ONLY speak English. Hell, I’ve lost out on jobs because I don’t speak Spanish.

When it comes to reproductive rights, the only discrimination I’ve encountered is from my own body — like yesterday when I bled through my pants at work and that was my exit cue. I’m fortunate enough to have insurance through my work and all my reproductive needs are very much affordable. I don’t feel there is any deliberate discrimination against females specifically in the medical field — it’s against poor people in general. In my experience, birth control, has been pretty affordable until you get into the specialty types. When I was on tri-sprintec it was a whopping $9 without insurance, which you can get an script for at your local county health department. However, if you have specific medical needs other than preventing pregnancy, it might cost you a bit more. And that’s healthcare in general. Certain general antibiotics are free at Publix pharmacy — but they’re for typical things (strep, staph, etc). When you get into the specialty drugs, it’ll cost you.

So, I don’t think it is women, specifically, I think it’s poor people. Women’s healthcare is more extensive and expensive, yes, but after having insurance, I can safely say it is no more expensive than seeing another specialist like a dermatologist or endocrinologist. Hell, my annual visits are free and my IUD is only going to cost me my specialist co-pay.

In the terms of civil rights, especially in the work place, women have gotten the short end of the stick concerning pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, there are federal laws in place protecting women and minorities:

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990:

The ADA is the federal law that prohibits discrimination, in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment, against qualified applicants or individuals based on disability (ADA as amended, Titles I and V).
Barring undue hardship, the state provides “reasonable accommodations” for persons with disabilities when they apply for a job or, if employed, to help them perform the “essential functions” of their job.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) of 2008:

Title II of the GINA protects applicants and employees from discrimination based on genetic information in hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment. GINA also restricts employers’ acquisition of genetic information and strictly limits disclosure of genetic information.
Genetic information includes information about genetic tests of applicants, employees, or their family members, the manifestation of diseases or disorders in family members (family medical history). It also includes requests for or receipt of genetic services by applicants, employees, or their family members.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA):

FLSA is the federal law requiring the state to pay covered employees at least federal minimum wage and overtime for all hours worked over 40 hours in a workweek. Overtime pay is one and one-half of the employee’s regular rate of pay (sometimes referred to as time and a half).

And a few others:

• Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, Titles VI and VII
• Sections 760.01 – 760.11, and section 509.092, Florida Statutes, Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992
• Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Act of 1973, as amended
• Code of Federal Regulations, and
• Chapters 110 and 112, Florida Statutes

-FL DOH employee handbook

If you are a female and are experiencing workplace discrimination in the private sector, you need to make it known. In the public sector, that shit won’t be tolerated. If the head honchos don’t have an open door policy, take it to the news, get a lawyer, do something. Because standing in the street waiving a sign isn’t doing it. Again, actions and words.

And this isn’t just a man vs. woman thing. Men get it too. But you don’t hear about it because a lot of the things they deal with, to discuss it openly stigmatizes them or when they do, their issues are trivialized.

1. Men get longer prison sentences than women for the same crime

Nowhere it is written in law that men are to receive harsher sentences than women but the fact is they do.  And not just a little bit longer. When Prof. Sonja Starr looked at federal criminal sentencing, she found that men received, on average, 63% longer sentences than women for the same crimes, and women were twice as likely to not even be jailed when convicted.  That’s something to consider when you see things like “men commit the most crime”. It appears that men are sentenced for the most crime. Going to jail apparently has only a tenuous relationship with committing a crime, as long as you are a woman. Men are punished far more harshly than women, and women are likely to escape being punished at all.

2. Boys are more likely to be on psychotropic medications than girls

By the time he reaches high school, a little boy growing up in America has a 1 in 5 chance of being prescribed powerful Schedule II psychotropic medications to calm his behavior so he will sit quietly and obediently in female-dominated classrooms. Boys are diagnosed with ADHD at twice the rate of girls, and while there is no law written anywhere that says boys are to be drugged into submission, that is in fact what is happening. Girls are largely exempt from pharmaceutical behavioural controls and boys are not.

3. Far more men than women die on the job

Again, there is no employment law anywhere that says women are to work in cushy, air-conditioned offices and men are to work in dangerous mines, factories and roadways but the reality is that very few women work in any occupation that will lead to death, while lots of men do. When you hear media feminists calling for quotas in boardrooms or in tech giants like Google or Amazon, ask yourself why these same women are not calling for quotas on heavy equipment or oil rigs? Why is it that women seem to want equality for the sweet jobs, yet have no problem watching the bodies of men crushed, trampled, burned or pulverized pile up on the really dangerous, crappy jobs? Women are largely protected from workplace fatalities and men are not.

4. Most of the homeless are men

There is no law anywhere that states women are to be protected from homelessness and given social resources to prevent that from occurring, and yet, that is exactly what happens. Most of the homeless in the US are men, but most of the homeless women have children with them, and are thus able to avail themselves of social services not available to homeless men. The end result is that women are protected from the full effects of homelessness and are afforded special protections to ensure it does not happen, and men are not. There are some deep structural reasons for that, but if you are going to be homeless, it’s best to be a woman. You’ll get some help. Men won’t.

5. Over 40% of victims of severe physical domestic violence are men but 99.3% of shelter spaces are for women only

This one is a little bit tricky, because while the domestic violence law is written in gender neutral terms that do not exclude men, the act itself is called VAWA – the Violence Against WOMEN Act. Technically, men are legally protected from intimate partner violence, but in practice, men are likely to be the person arrested, even when they are the seriously injured party.  Here is a summary of surveys that show time and time again that women are more likely to initiate violence, and yet men are arrested 85% of the time. This is not codified in law, but seems to be the law of the land. We know that 40% of senior staff at Jezebel openly admit to violently abusing their male partners, and none indicated any repercussions for that behavior, so it stands to reason that most women can freely abuse men and assume no consequences. That is not the case for men.

See here, here, and here for the evidence.

My goal in drawing attention to the ways in which men are, in fact, at a distinct disadvantage is to highlight the importance of what feminists like to call “intersectionality”, or the study of the ways in which different forms of oppression and discrimination interact with one another. It is a truism of feminism that the simple act of being male confers a privilege that is not available to women, but neither legal nor social examination of male privilege bears this out. Women have more legal rights than men and men are discriminated against in some very important ways that are not codified in law but might as well be. Gender really does not tell you anything meaningful at all about what forms of oppression or discrimination any given individual is likely to face. A homeless male war vet up on a felony charge of assault is both legally and socially at a huge disadvantage over someone like me. To simply point to his gender as if that confers an advantage is not only deeply inadequate, it’s worryingly reminiscent of fascism. When facts and realities cannot penetrate deeply held prejudice, it’s time to start dismantling the source of that prejudice.

In addition, more men are sexually assaulted in prison and men are usually on the losing sides of custody battles. Men are doing the jobs that women won’t do — hanging drywall, plumbing, waste management, asbestos abatement, oil rig work, etc… And that’s because it is dangerous. My dad was installing acoustical ceiling, fell off a scaffold and shattered his wrist and fractured his pelvis in three spots.

So yeah, lots of things are shitty. But instead of pointing the finger at men, that they are oppressing us females, why not work together to remediate the shittiness. This isn’t a man problem or a woman problem — this is a human problem.

I guess, what I’m trying to say, is that we don’t know what the other is going through. Some folks have it way better than I do, some have it worse. There’s this old cliche about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, but you’ve heard that.

Essentially, we need to drop the minutae bullshit and focus on the real issues where people are actually still experiencing physical violence. Because at the end of the day, physical violence trumps hurt feelings. Period. And we have systems in place to protect minorities and women, they need to be better utilized.



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