Burned is, in part, a story about women forced into subservient roles by men whose religion feeds their conviction that females are not only inferior, but little more than possessions. In this all too real scenario, the alcoholic father physically and emotionally assaults his wife and daughters, believing it’s his absolute right to do so. While the example seems extreme, some version of it is played out countless times every single day. We can’t really be certain of the exact number because fewer than half are reported. Women have been schooled to stay silent.
Not long ago, a discussion arose on my Facebook page about feminism. This came in response to a piece I posted about some hacker who dug into iCloud to find and publicly post nude photos of several women celebrities. Had it remained a respectful conversation about the advisability of storing personal pics in a too-accessible place, it might not have gone very far. However, it soon devolved into a moralistic argument about what women should or shouldn’t photograph with their camera phones. Leading the charge was a couple of young men, one of whom boasted about “jerking off to Facebook photos.”
Across this planet, women are subjugated, dominated, mutilated, enslaved, trafficked, gang raped and then hung in public squares for having suffered such humiliation. In this country, one in five will be sexually assaulted, and the majority will be too afraid to say something—fearful of being called liars or that they dressed to provoke or drank too much or otherwise asked for behavior that men “just can’t help” because, you know, that’s how dudes operate. And then their coaches or colleges or even entire communities stand behind them in support. Judges let them off with slaps on the wrist because they don’t want to “ruin their futures.” Best of all, radio or television pundits call their victims “sluts” and their listeners cheer and agree that they had it coming.
Enough already. Men have no right to abuse, control, shame, blame or otherwise claim superiority simply because a fluke of genetics gave them a Y chromosome. Women are not chattel, and we’re a whole lot more than a few desirable body parts. We are not toys to fondle, nor objects to own, nor something to violate. We are not baby factories, and don’t belong in the kitchen unless we love to cook. If we do the same work as well or better than a man, we deserve equal—or higher—pay. And if for whatever reason a woman desires to be photographed in the nude, it’s nobody’s business but her own, and whomever she shares said photos with. This choice does not make her a slut, and it’s not her fault if some creep decides to expose her publicly.
Feminism, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Yes, I’m a feminist. I advocate for equal rights. Every woman should, and so should every man. Within that Facebook discussion, I was dissed for daring to identify as a feminist, including by young women, one of whom actually blamed my sometimes-heated argument in favor of equality on “being on my period.” What century is this, again?
After the recent election of a man who brags publicly about groping women, it might be hard to remember what century it is, but here’s a reminder. It’s the century where American women must stand up and fight for the equal rights guaranteed us under the Constitution, where all women must band together in support of our sisters around the world. It’s the century where we teach our sons to respect boundaries and admire feminine accomplishments, not just beauty. That, yes, men can—must—take responsibility for their actions, and that crowing publicly about masturbation impresses no one. It’s the century we remind our religious leaders that women are every bit as important to the Creator’s plan as are men.
It’s the century where we teach our daughters to be strong and smart and to speak up boldly if they are violated because there is no excuse for violent acts, and that having an opinion isn’t dependent on hormones. It’s the century where women will finally come to understand that we are worthy of love and esteem, not because a man chooses to give us those things but because we have earned them. And that is the heart of feminism.