Women Just Die Every Day

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“Women have no leaders who have been assassinated. Women just die every day.“ I spent
four hours discussing the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s with local activist Barbara
Kessel, who was part of the first women’s studies departments in the world created at
San Diego State University in the late 1960s. Her words shocked me – the tragic, matterof-
fact tone of them. No, it is not an exaggeration. In the United States, an average of three
women are murdered a day by husbands or boyfriends. At the same time, we women
encounter a more subtle sexism. The sexism so hard to put into words, so hard to recognize,
even. As a woman, I notice with sharp emotion the frustration it brings, but find it
difficult to identify the exact actions that cause it. Eventually I realized, however, that it is
not a single action – it is a society. It is the acceptability, for instance, of questioning a
woman where one would not question a man, of ignoring the contributions of a woman
to a discussion while listening intently to the men. And even more frustrating is the
silencing of those who attempt, courageously, to point it out. It is this aspect of our culture
that denies women respect. How does one counter something so ingrained? And
until people do counter the subtleties, how will the overt results (the widespread rape,
harassment, violence) of the same ingrained sexism be stopped?
Men who would never commit rape and who are not themselves sexist can still perpetuate
a sexist society through this “subtle sexism.” In fact, women do it too. In this society
a man is automatically born into a certain privilege. This he can not help, but he does
then have a responsibility to counter that unearned advantage by trying to notice and
refrain from participating in the often sub-conscious silencing of women. Until then, I fail
to understand how the violence will ever stop.
This is how I have interpreted what I hear about and see the women in my life go
through. I hope that it will spur my fellow young women to reflect on how they behave
and on what kinds of behaviors they tolerate from others.
She remembers a living room
tentative, growing words
she remembers, as her white locks curl in her fingers, the days
women overcame silence.
and even though
the glass ceiling was only raised and not broken
even though
husbands, boyfriends still abuse
she smiles; hope and
power leak from her teeth,
fresh from the days when together,
all the women bit into control.
In sixth grade, Grace learns a new kind of silence.
The teacher’s eyes pass over her words
forced back inside her
the boy who called her a prude
is allowed to speak instead.
Her teeth clamp
Denied the chatter
Denied a bite
She starves later
Next to her, Lila screams
the boy who called her a slut speaks and she is not allowed her turn
for the hundredth time
At lunch he called her a whore
And no word to respond with
but man-whore
“she’s crazy” they whisper
she spoke out
dared to call him sexist
crazy- men and women are equal now, they laugh,
we all know that
see- a woman professor
proof- a woman C.E.O.
(never mind that women make less money
never mind that 180 women are raped a day
never mind that 85% of the congress meant
to represent the people is male)
Lila bit
But her bite was poisoned
Her anger erased by their adjectives: exaggerated, un-called-for, trivial
Silence is re-learned for women
Women: man-haters
Women: bra-burners
Or women: obedient like ancient times
Women: inconsequential
It’s not that they aren’t smart
But men do not have to listen
A women’s movement,
living rooms,
mass refusal
A cloud of memory
clouds the new split—
Divide and conquer:
Suburbia, children, housekeeping, dinner
women competed until living rooms opened
Divide and conquer:
Today a new disunity
women silenced in the classroom.
She who points it out-
A radical
A man-hater
The worst word we know to use
Trivial? Academic, subtle.
Every picture on this wall
Every statue in “historic America“
(save lady Liberty, paralyzed in an iron mold, confined to an island)
every person in this office
every president we’ve had
every rapper who makes it big
If I were not a woman,
Would you question my authority?
Would you smirk at my anger?
If I were not a woman,
Would you be surprised at my loud voice?
Would you turn green if my body weren’t hairless?
If I were not a woman,
Would it be wrong for me to masturbate?
Would you still judge my sex life?
Why does Cosmo tell me how to please him in bed?
“I am not here to please!” she screams in silenced need.
I am not here
to kiss away your guilt.
says Lila,
alienated instantly
She is not silent,
but as un-heard as
denied the bite.

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