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The thinking that binds

The more things change, the more they stay the same

By Leigh E. Rich

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I don’t mean to climb on my tattered feminist soapbox—$48 Victoria’s Secret bra in one hand, Zippo lighter in the other—but several recent news items, from the downright intolerable to the shake-your-head egregious, force my ascent.

To begin, a woman in Pakistan, who reported being raped by her brother-in-law and who bore and kept the child produced from this horrific situation, has been accused of committing adultery under Islamic law and faces a sentence of death by stoning for her “crime.”

This is not the first time a woman who has been raped and reported it has quickly moved from victim to “perpetrator” status within the “jurisdiction” of such backward and inhumane sanctions.

True, the men involved are also charged with “adultery.” But true, too, rarely if ever are they convicted and punished. Let alone by death. Let alone by stoning (where are we, Spain in the 1200s or Germany in the 1930s?). Let alone have they survived by tooth and nail a violent and terrible attack only to face the misogynistic society into which they—and their children—have been born.

Zafran Bibi, courageous enough to report her rape and make the worn and seemingly well-traversed fight for gender justice in a society that endorses just the opposite, has gained the attention of human rights groups worldwide and she is appealing her “conviction,” but the fact that this state of affairs even exists proves the maturation of humankind is still but in its infancy.

Half a world—and ostensibly centuries—away, women in the United States are being inundated with hubbub over National Parenting Association founder Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s recent book, Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children, in which Hewlett claims that the higher a woman’s position in the corporate working world, the less likely she is to have children.

Despite whether Hewlett’s research passes muster or mirrors findings from other studies, the question women (and men) in America should be raising is why half of our adults find it necessary to continue to choose between career and child. Rather than turning such statistics into yet another media-overblown conversation about a woman’s balancing act between family and financial survival, shouldn’t we begin questioning why that balancing act exists in the first place?

A cousin of mine, a single mother of two teenagers since her husband died more than a decade ago, works in retail and her department just hired a new supervisor—the first female boss my cousin’s had in eight years. And it’s the first time, she says, that she was able to get time off to attend to her children’s needs—in this case, her son’s graduation—without a frustrating schedule struggle with the powers-that-be.

Sure, family-friendly work environments are perhaps difficult to administer, likely not as cost-effective as current conditions, and dismantle sexist arguments that blame the working woman for the degradation of the American family.

But perhaps, instead, we all could learn from Anne Martindell, a recent 87-year-old graduate of Smith College who returned to finish her degree 70 years after completing her freshman year at the Massachusetts school. Martindell, who says she’s “always loved Smith,” was pulled out of school by her parents who “worried that too much education would make her unmarriageable,” according to a New York Times article.

After a lifetime that included a family, two unhappy marriages, a political career, and a long-term relationship with the love of her life, Martindell finally earned her degree.

Education and rights, despite the sexist thinking throughout the ages, make for better parents and citizens. Medical anthropologists have shown time and again that one of the best ways to better the health of children and women is female education.

It’s a shame societies of today continue to bind the hands and progress of their populations. As U.S. editor and author Suzanne Lafollette once wrote, “Most people, no doubt, when they espouse human rights, make their own mental reservations about the proper application of the word ‘human.’”

Rich, L. E. (2002, June 12). The thinking that binds. Advocate, p. 3.

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