Published in the Courier Mail 1 April 2011
By Ruth Limkin
It has not been a good week of news for women. And I’m not referring to Kristina Keneally’s defeat in the New South Wales election, or even the names that Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been called by those feeling betrayed by a carbon tax.
I think instead of Eman al-Obeidy in Libya. She is the woman who started to tell foreign journalists of being raped and mistreated by fifteen men, but was then rushed upon, silenced and taken away by government officials and hotel staff. The two minutes of footage is deeply disturbing to watch. No-one is quite sure what has happened to Eman, and official accounts vary from day to day.
I think also of an unnamed young Indian woman whose story was recently reported in the New York Times. Five men gang raped her, after they beat her boyfriend. Her attackers confessed, knowing it was unlikely to result in any conviction, due to the ‘shame’ such a trial would cause this young woman. As they suspected, the victim declined to press charges. She said in an email, “The police will not be able to restore my honor.”
I think also of Alicia Gall. Alicia is an Australian woman accused of adultery in the United Arab Emirates, after she went to police to report being raped and drugged. After spending eight months in a prison cell crowded with 30 other women, Alicia is warning other Australian women to rethink plans to visit countries like the UAE.
It’s a reminder that sexual violence against women is a very real and present issue. Globally, it’s not unusual for women to be treated as second-class citizens, with fewer rights than men enjoy.
In many cultures around the world, women can find themselves viewed almost as possessions or things, rather than people with inherent dignity and worth.
Being reduced to an object, rather than respected as a person, is both a degrading and distressing experience.
Why then, are we so willing to let this happen in our own culture?
Of course, it’s radically different in expression to the situations and circumstances described above. And yet, the objectification of women takes many forms. While they may appear divergent on the surface, they are in fact, so not dissimilar to each other if you strip away the externals.
Often, the message that comes across, whether from repressive regimes or sexualized societies, is that a woman is an object, and her worth is externally determined. Whether it is male relatives, or male admirers, a woman’s value is in either how virtuous, or how vampish, she can be.
In our sexualized society, through a variety of mediums, the message is loud and clear. What matters is how you look, and what others (particularly men) think of you.
For example, according to the classification report, the latest “Duke Nukem Forever” video game, soon due for release, will allow those who play the interactive game to enjoy a lap dance, and to jiggle the breasts of the stripper at will. Whether people play the game or not, such messages, perspectives and experiences are being woven into the fabric of our society, and building and reinforcing ways to view and treat women.
Women are not objects, and they do not exist to be controlled or sexually exploited.
Women are individuals with inherent dignity – as are men. It’s time we all remembered that, and worked together promote a culture of respect, wherever we are in the world.