Justice is better than chivalry if we cannot have both.
~Alice Stone Blackwell
This week, I, like many others, read with horror about Iman al-Obeidi's ordeal. Adding insult to injury were the disgusting claims that she is a "promiscuous woman", as if that is an excuse or defense for rape.
As I scanned the comments beneath one of the article's, one jumped out at me. It read "Where are the REAL men; the fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins to take these women's parts?"
That is a question that gives rise to many others. First of all, what do we define as a "REAL man?" If you are speaking in a purely literal sense, many abused women will tell you that the men who committed this act of brutality are, in fact, the very 'reality' of men they see every day. If we are speaking more poetically, what do we define as "The Real Man?" Is it a definition that is attainable, practical...or even fair?
Should a man be responsible for the women around him? Many cultures say yes. But often, along with the care comes control. Other cultures have taken a more 'modern' approach, saying that there is no difference between men and women, and therefore, no such responsibility should be shouldered. Instead, respect, sometimes in inordinate amounts, should be forthcoming.
Certainly, in all philosophies, there are pros and cons on both sides, and moderation and common sense are to be applied.
But it is one sinister belief system, where moderation is little felt and fear rules, that the most conservative shudders and the most liberal shakes with rage.
Women as chattel.
Women as possessions.
Disposable. Dispensable. No rights. No feelings. No voice.
In the western world, we cannot wrap our heads around a society that would starve it's female children, or set fire to its young wives- or ignore the cries of help from a wronged woman.
So many times, we simply say "Well, that is their culture." But is it?
If we measured our American beliefs by the crimes committed against each other and then excused them as "our culture" wouldn't we indeed ourselves- be the criminals?
And furthermore, who is adhering to and creating a culture of hatred and ignorance? Most likely the people perpetrating the violence and silencing the voices of those in a subordinate state that can't speak out and say "This is HIS culture- not MINE."
Cultures change- Yearly, monthly, daily. Dismissing an atrocity in the name of an anciently held belief is not only heartless- it's wrongheaded. Nazi Germany created a culture that we all agreed was so outlandishly evil that it had to be wiped out. Does a wicked culture have to reach out with its poisonous finger and touch us at home before we admit it exists?
I'm not saying that we should go storming into countries where we are unacquainted with the customs and just completely discount and overthrow them because they offend our sensibilities- I'm saying we must pay attention when those customs are offending THEIR sensibilities. When a victim feels that her best option is to appeal to a room full of foreign journalists rather than the law of her own land.
Now, is this something that is a "man's" job? Not entirely, certainly. However, in many nations, where men have the majority of the power, they will have to lead the way in rectifying codes and systems that subjugate women, simply because they have no open avenue to do so themselves without punishment.
But women who live in countries where their voices are heard must raise them. Because silence is tantamount to assent, and we shouldn't fool ourselves that we are immune to oppression- what is tolerated once, will be perpetrated again. With more vehemence, more frequency... and with greater scope.
We, in America, are blessed. We have rights that some women can only dream about. But we can't forget that some of those rights were only won in the last 100 years...And often they are given lip service, at best.
So is "chivalry"...In whatever form that takes...an outdated notion?
In Hollywood, perhaps the most liberal place on earth- I have seen the need for a 'knight in shining armor'.
More than once, a single girlfriend has called and asked to "borrow my husband."
These are strong, intelligent, independent women- but they found themselves in situations where a man was harassing them, stalking them, abusing them- and being in LA, so far from family.... They all said, "If I were at home I'd call my brother/Dad/etc., but..." In each situation, Sean handled it- chivalrously...And to all concerned, he was the hero of the day.
So it appears that chivalry does have a place. But how far does that extend? What can we expect from men? What is their role? It's not one answer.
From my perspective...I think we ALL have a responsibility to take care of EACH OTHER. Man, woman, irrespective of gender, the suffering of one should be cause of concern for us all. Because we all suffer.
And we'll be grateful to have that support back when it's our turn.
There can never be absolute justice. But we should never stop striving for it.
It's the chivalrous thing to do.