Women Are Owned

Globally women own approximately 11% of the world’s resources. The fact that very few people have a problem with this statistic is, in itself, evidence of the crucial and systemic nature of the problem.

Women aren’t allowed to own property. This is the reality. But that reality is usually covered with a fog of capitalism. It goes something like this:

“Women are so busy raising children that they don’t have time to go to college or get a full time job. That’s the reason why women don’t own land or houses. It’s because they are sacrificing for their children. After all, this is how women function. They always put babies first. Because something magical happens in a woman’s body that makes her want to be pregnant and have children. So it is natural for men to own the land and keep it in trust for future generations, for his heirs, because women are not suited to provide for children.”

This, of course, is a load of bullcrap. But it’s amazing how a lie, oft-repeated, starts to sound like the truth. And humans have been repeating this lie for thousands of years.

When one lives as an oppressed class, the multiple layers and dimensions of that oppression become very visible, as though someone walks around highlighting each and every one with a bright florescent marker. The more women fight the system, the more they learn how oppressive it is, and the more they learn how little they can do on their own to change it. But for those not living inside that oppression, they will believe that it doesn’t exist. They will call the oppressed liars and “hysterics”. They will call you this while they take away your opportunities for advancement. They will call you this while they beat you.

Women learn very early in life that we do not own the spaces we live in. That we do not own our possessions, our time, or even our thoughts. Women learn that we own nothing at all, and that everything is given to us by a man – a father or grandfather or uncle. All of our stories are about men, about male heroes, about patriarchs and boys. If a woman is present it is to support him, not herself. A woman learns from her very beginning that she can’t exist unless there is a man in the story. For girls raised without fathers, this lesson is exceptionally hard, for they learn that they have no identity, and no self, because there is no man present, and hence no owner to protect or anchor them in the world.

Our minds and our bodies do not belong to us. Women are taught that their vulva and vagina are not meant for them, but for the man that will one day fuck them. Until that day, the woman’s vulva belongs to her father, and he decides who she will or will not “date”. He may even “claim” her most intimate spaces for himself as his property and right. This happens far more often than we care to admit. That it happens at all is because of the belief that female children belong to their fathers. Estimates range as high as 6,000 children are raped every day by their father. The vast majority of those assaulted, destroyed by the man who protects them, are female.

Women are taught that the only purpose of the female genitalia – the genitalia that they were born with – is for the pleasure of men. It is not always such an overt training, and would probably be more accurate to say that such overt indoctrination is rare. In some fundamentalist circles this is precisely what is taught, and women who experience pleasure at all are labeled “depraved”. Most of the time, though, the indoctrination forms in more subtle ways through ignoring women’s pleasure altogether and pretending that it – women’s pleasure – does not even exist. It is solidified through pretending that a woman’s body isn’t even a woman’s body, but rather an object for and of sex itself. Woman is not human. She is daily, hourly, minutely proclaimed to be a thing.

When sexual biology is taught in school, is there any discussion of women’s pleasure? Men’s arousal, pleasure and ejaculation are certainly discussed, but for the women, it is passive – arousal, if discussed, is framed as preparation for insertion of a penis. In this framing, woman disappears. She is absent, not even a footnote in her own life or in her own body. She does not exist unless there is a penis involved. Is it any wonder that so many teenage girls fight for the attention of an admired male when her entire world screams at her that she can only exist in his gaze?

This suits the pro-porn outlook very nicely, which is wholly focused on male pleasure and female degradation, happening simultaneously. Our world is saturated with this, and that saturation begins when children are in gradeschool. Some of us saw our first pornographic magazine before middle school, in the days before internet. Such pornography is much more prevalent now, and far more violent. Where “gonzo” porn used to be abnormal, now it is abnormal to find a porn video that is not violent and degrading to women.

In porn, you can’t have male pleasure without female degradation. This message is reinforced in the way that sexual biology is taught in school. Men are the aggressor, the actor, the instigator, and women are the passive receptacles of men and the penis.

The message is clear: women do not own their genitals – men own them. It is reinforced by calling a woman who has sex a “slut”. It is reinforced by shaming a woman who has been sexually assaulted by multiple men. Such a woman has failed to act according to her place. She has failed to find a proper owner, and has been “claimed” by the mob of men and their uncontrollable animalistic desires. She has failed – not society, not the men who brutalized her. She has failed to find ownership and thus protection, so deserves her ridicule and shaming.

Women do not own. Women ARE owned. And this status is cemented by strict social structures that segregate women away from male-dominated arenas such as engineering, mathematics, sciences, technology, politics, sports and property ownership. Not coincidentally, all of these areas are where the total of human social power reside, which enforces the notion of women’s inferiority to men, and ensures, quite easily, that women never attain social power at all.

If women want to be free, we must teach girls that they are autonomous, free, and not owned by anyone. We must teach them that their lives are defined by their womanity, that life is not defined by men. If we want a society where women can live in freedom rather than in fear, we need a revolution in our thinking. We must free ourselves, and we must also demand that men free us. Women must stop thinking of their bodies as vessels of male pleasure, and spend time in self-reflection, and self-action, to understand their own happiness without men. We must stop asking for permission and take our rightful place as full human beings. We must demand recognition of who we are.

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4 thoughts on “Women Are Owned

  1. Women are indeed kept busy raising children, but this is by coercive socialisation (compulsory sexuality) and by more direct reproductive coercion by men and the state, and by neoliberal policies which insist on the privatisation (mostly onto women’s hands) of some basic social welfare responsibilities, not to mention workforce discrimination.

    Wrongly convincing women and girls that we’re not owned is what already happens to us – we are already taught that we’re free, although we are not. Certainly we need a revolution in our thinking, but it needs to be one in which we start focussing on ending structural oppression, and abandon the liberal methods of liberation (’empowerment’) currently sold to us, via which we liberate ourselves individually (psychologically, financially or sexually etc) without changing the production and sex relations at a structural level.

    I recently wrote an article – http://tinyurl.com/ovbd9tr – which also described how capitalism has indeed supported and transformed the sex hierarchy which it inherited from previous class societies, so that this ownership over us is now enforced by a broader range of social forces. To change this ownership, we cannot merely identify its manifestations – its endpoints – but we need to identify its ongoing causes.

    We can’t just try transforming ourselves on a personal level, nor asking that men free us – we have to collectively work together to overthrow all institutions and forces which maintain our subordination, including the current dictatorship by the capitalist class (masked in some places by bourgeois ‘representative democracy’). As the situation in the USA shows us, any hope of gradual, unidirectional feminist reform is baseless – our gains *will* be wound back, for as long as the capitalist class, which controls the bourgeois parliaments and governments, exists. This class depends on the sex hierarchy, and most of its members are men.

    As feminists we *do* need to grapple seriously with the question of ownership – not just of ourselves but also of the planet.

  2. Agree, and thank you for your comment. As most who study biology know, change in natural systems doesn’t occur in linearity. So is it with social change. Women’s autonomy was barely a conceptualization 100 years ago, and in light only of the 6,000 or so years of recorded history, barely an eyeblink. Some societies have more liberation for women than others, while some are so egregiously oppressive women in them have no conceptual foundation for what liberty would look like for themselves.

    The social conditioning that occurs in female children cannot be overstated. The ownership of our own bodies, as well as understanding of these dynamics on a societal level, is crucial and requires a great deal of work to undermine societal power structures and strictures. And we all know what an uphill battle that is.

  3. I think it’s especially important to remember that social being determines social consciousness. When we have overthrown female-oppressing structures, our ability to truly create a culture in which we own ourselves – physically, legally and emotionally – will begin. We will be able to socially condition girls and boys to be daring, caring, well-rounded humans.

    Until then, we have such a sharply political battle ahead of us, convincing people that our current society cannot be reformed into niceness and that we cannot ’empower’ ourselves into liberation. That the oppressed, in organised unity, are revolutionary agents 🙂

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