Friday, June 17, 2016

Guest Post: Why I'm So Sick of People Thinking They Control Women's Bodies

Just because we’re living in the 21st century doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people who think they can tell women what to do with their own bodies. Anti-abortion laws, honor killings and rape apologists still pop up in the headlines way too often these days, and even women who try and take control of their bodies in completely innocuous ways can be subject to discrimination.
Progress has been made in the fight against sexism, of course. Women in many countries have the right to vote and more of them are entering the job market, while there is increasing discussion of the staggering economic inequalities between the sexes as well. However, when it comes to a woman’s right to do what she wants with her own body, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
The Stanford Rape Case Shows That Rape Culture Is Alive and Well
If this case doesn’t make your blood boil even a tiny bit, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Let’s go over the facts of the case: In 2015, an unconscious woman was found behind a dumpster and was being assaulted by a drunken freshman from Stanford University, according to the two men who tackled and detained him. That was about as clear-cut as you can get.
Yet despite rape carrying a sentence of 14 years in prison, the freshman, Brock Allen Turner, was given only six months in county jail because it would impact his “well-being,” while he was only convicted of sexual assault rather than rape.
But did anyone consider the well-being of the innocent woman Brock assaulted before this story made the headlines? Even more sickening than the sentence was Brock’s lousy excuse: blaming everything on alcohol and peer pressure rather than his own fault. Meanwhile, Brock’s father lamented that his son’s life had been ruined for “20 minutes of action”  and that he didn’t even enjoy steak anymore. Well boo-hoo for you.
Honor Killings’ Victims Are Almost Always Women
Although Romeo & Juliet is a classic, in the real world, it usually seems like only women are the ones dying for having forbidden loves. Enter the grisly world of “honor killings,” in which women are murdered for dishonoring their families by having a relationship with or marrying the wrong guy.
The tragic story of Zeenat Rafiq, an 18-year-old in Pakistan, is only one of these cases that made headlines recently. Because she married someone outside her ethnic group, Zeenat’s family was deeply ashamed. Her mother tied her to her bed, doused her in kerosene, and burned her alive. The worst thing about this case and other honor killings is that the finger of blame almost always points to women. Men rarely suffer such horrid consequences for extramarital relationships or other behavior.
Hospitals Restrict Women’s Rights to Their Own Bodies
Because we still live in a male-dominated society, all kinds of laws and customs not only favor men, but they also discriminate against women — and that isn’t confined to rape trials or the horrid tradition of honor killings. Some people want to control women’s bodies even in the most minute and harmless of cases.
Just take Missouri woman Jordan Thiering, who is pregnant. She wanted to engage in the historic tradition of placenta consumption upon the birth of her child, a custom which some studies suggest decreases postpartum depression but whose overall effectiveness hasn’t been scientifically concluded.
Still, the practice of placenta encapsulation (grinding a placenta into a powder and consuming via pills) is common, having increased in popularity since the 1970s, and completely harmless if conducted by a qualified professional. Yet Thiering was told by the hospital that she needed a court order to keep her own placenta. She followed through and eventually got it, but how ridiculous was it for her to have to use the court system to have the right to her own body part?
It’s Time to Treat Women Equally — and Let Them Be
In the end, there’s no way to solve these problems without doing two things. Number one, let women do what they please with their own bodies. Number two, read number one over and over again if you insist on explaining to women that the “law is the law” or that tradition sometimes overrules an individual’s rights.

Women have already been lesser citizens compared to men for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and thanks to the efforts of good people of all genders, that is finally starting to change. We must fight to keep it up.   

Holly Whitman is a feminist writer and journalist living in Washington DC. You can find more of her writing at Only Slightly Biased or on Twitter at @hollykwhitman.

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