We need to confront the virulent sexism and violence our culture is steeped in—and the institutions and social relations that generate them.
… In reality, women are told that they can participate in public life, but they must do so on profoundly unequal terms. When they run up against barriers to full participation—like sexual harassment and violence or simply the impossible choices posed by the demands of home and work—they are told this is their own individual problem. The victim-blaming that is so hideous and obvious in cases of sexual assault and rape is not confined to this along—it exists in all realms of women’s lives, and serves to place the blame on them for all of the diminished expectations they face.
This dynamic of liberation delinked from actual equality has profoundly shaped understandings of sexuality today.
One of the aspirations of the women’s liberation movement was sexual freedom for women. But without a corresponding rise in the social and economic status of women, the liberalization of sexual attitudes has not advanced the ability of women to control their own sexual lives. On the contrary, it has allowed the market to invade, commodify and transform this most intimate aspect of our lives.
… Contrary to the post-feminist fairytales about how women are now the new dominant class, real-life women have seen their economic situation worsen.
They remain concentrated in traditionally gendered jobs that are low-paying and insecure. Almost 60 percent of families headed by a single mother live in poverty. And the decline of social supports—from the destruction of welfare programs to reductions in food stamps and cutbacks in child care services—have made the situation of women and their children even more precarious.
When women are economically dependent and face worsening poverty without partners, they are even more vulnerable to gender-based violence.
Half of women on welfare have suffered some kind of sexual or physical abuse. Almost a third of homeless families are homeless as a direct result of domestic violence. Women who suffer from domestic violence find their work lives violently disrupted—victims lose more than 8 million days of paid work each year as a result. This only worsens the cycle of economic dependency.
Even when intimate partner violence isn’t present, economic inequality makes it impossible for the majority of women to have any real autonomy over their lives. When a woman’s life chances are directly impacted by the ability to secure and maintain a partner, this constrains the choices she can make and shapes interpersonal relationships in subtle, but very real ways.
These dynamics are driven by powerful social forces that flow from the top of our society. The worsening of conditions and tightening of control over women’s lives has gone hand in hand with an ideological strengthening of some of the most reactionary ideas about women. Thus—to return to the point made above—if we are going to talk about culture, we need to understand it as something that grows out of these material economic, political and social realities.