3 reasons it must be frustrating to be a woman, Part 2

From dress codes to sex work.

Photo by Antoine Taveneaux courtesy Creative Commons

Yesterday I wrote of 3 reasons it must be frustrating to be a woman, based on recent events. I added “Part 1” to the title so people won’t conclude I think there are only three.

Today, I add three more reasons for frustration that are intertwined:

  1. Women are denied bodily autonomy.
  2. The rights of the individual woman are sacrificed to advance other causes.
  3. Female agency or volition isn’t respected.

Take France’s ban on niqabs and burqas, worn by women from some Islamic cultures. From the age of 8 or so, they’re coerced by their families and societies into wearing them because female modesty is foundational to their morality. This oppression is distasteful to say the least. There is no equivalence to the opposite Western pressure on women to look sexy, or to the choice to become a nun. Even if Muslim women want to wear a burqa, they know they face negative consequences if they don’t.

But there’s the rub. at least some of them do want to wear them. It could be so culturally ingrained that they have no desire to do otherwise. Maybe it’s just easier than worrying about make-up, hairstyle, and fashion. Maybe it’s just their best option, and why should that be taken from them? In any case, it’s none of your business what other people wear. It’s not The State’s business.

Does the burqa reflect a sexist religious culture? Yes. But to protect itself from alien customs like religious dress codes for women, France imposed… a dress code for women. The individual right of a woman to do so much as choose her own clothes is sacrificed for the “greater” causes of nationalism, secularism, and ahem, equality.

People might object, “Well, they don’t really want to wear the burqa, no matter what they say. They’re frightened. And they don’t know any better.”

In other words, we’re not to respect their agency. We are not believe what these women say.

If a Muslim woman asks me for help in leaving her home and ridding herself of the burqa, I would help. Otherwise, I won’t make assumptions about the women who wear them. If I don’t respect their freedom, I don’t respect them.

From freedom to wear the burqa to the freedom to be immodest: sex work is another case where the three dynamics of autonomy, sacrifice, and agency are intermixed and hypocritically enforced.

Politicians often proudly announce government shouldn’t control women’s bodies, but they only mean government shouldn’t ban abortion. A woman’s right to defend herself with a lethal weapon? Out of the question. The right to choose drugs or supplements of her choice? Out of the question. Engage in sex for money? Out of the question.

Questioning a Presidential candidate who persecuted sex workers.

Most prostitutes are female. When prostitution is criminalized, they have little legal recourse if they are bilked, beaten, or raped. Cops can demand “free” services from them or arrest them. They face fines and arrest for peaceful activity. They don’t enjoy the law’s protection, but receive the law’s punishment.

Criminalized prostitution puts women at risk, but for what?

To a large degree, they’re sacrificing for old sexual taboos (such as from conservative Christianity) and for other people’s ideologies (such as feminism). If sex work is “bad for women” because it turns them into mere sex objects in a still male-dominated culture, then you shouldn’t be allowed to do it. It’s like the burqa ban: you can’t wear one because other people don’t like it; you can’t do sex work because other people don’t like it.

And they’ll say, “But nobody really wants to be a sex worker!” They’ll make up some psychological or economic reasons. They’ll say sex workers will regret it later on.

That is, they once again deny women their own agency. They can’t be believed when they say they want something that others don’t like. They’re too emotionally vulnerable to make responsible decisions.

This general lack of respect for women, in which they’re treated as “women” and not as the autonomous individuals that they are, would infuriate me if I were a woman.

How can any sort of equality be achieved if society still feels that women need laws to protect them from their own decisions?


James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. He is the author of Ron Paul is a Nut (And So am I). Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Support through Paypal is greatly appreciated.