I am a broken woman.
I was sold a lie as a girl, that girls can be, do and have anything, that we have equality, that we’re as good as the boys.
The first cracks appeared when I was small, told to put my legs together, girls don’t sit like that. “Girls don’t” was a phrase I heard a lot, from school, tv shows, friends and family. “Girls don’t.”
I noticed that no one said “Boys don’t…” about the things I was being told not to do. There was one rule for me, as a girl and another rule for boys. That’s when I started to break I think, when I realised I’d been conned. We don’t have equality, we don’t have anything like equality.
8 year olds are marrying grown men right now somewhere in the world. Somewhere in the world now a little girl is being held down, her legs spread as a knife cuts her genitals. Right now a woman is dying of an abortion she couldn’t access safely or legally in her country. A woman is being raped as I write this, as you read this, another murdered by her ex husband or boyfriend. All these things happening somewhere every minute. That is not equality.
And yet broken women are keeping this world turning. We sooth and smooth and carry and clean and organise and care. We do two and a half times more unpaid work than men do. The unpaid, unrecognised and unacknowledged work we do is worth between 10 and 39 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product and in some countries contributes more to the economy than the manufacturing, commerce or transportation sectors (according to this UN report)
Women are not only underpaid and under appreciated but we are also oppressed. The most dangerous thing in a girl or woman’s life is men. Men are bad for our health. One third of all women will at some point in her life be physically, sexually or emotionally abused by a man. Men also make laws that oppress, suppress and harm us, sometimes the laws they make kill us.
As the vast majority of women cannot escape the very real danger of being a woman in a patriarchal world most of us have suffered at the hands of men. We are broken by men, men who I believe are also broken by a system that largely enforces a strict and unhealthy masculinity on them. This role stifles their humanity and demands that they act in cruel and inhumane ways to the women in their lives. But while men too are harmed by this it is women who are the oppressed, and men who are doing the oppressing. There are three types of men in this world. The majority are #notallmen who are devoid of empathy for women, a sizeable number are abusers (the roughly 1/3rd that will rape, assault and abuse 1/3rd of women), and a far smaller number of men who actually care about equality and are prepared to go though personal discomfort and difficulty in order to make the world a fairer place.
Until enough men reject the toxic conditioning they have been subject to women have little hope of achieving true equality. The balance may have tipped with enough women realising we have a raw deal but we are far from enough men understanding the part they play in suppressing women. Men may know the facts, may even be aware of the discrimination, harassment and abuse the women in their lives experience however so few of those men become activists for gender equality. Some of them will even try and #notallmen us when we talk about our bad experiences with men. A man who gets defensive when he hears how men have harmed women is a man who cares more about how he is perceived than he does about how women are treated.
Woman: “I find it hard to trust men, I’ve been sexually assaulted and had an abusive relationship.”
Thinks: *She is saying all men are untrustworthy and dangerous, that includes me, I must defend myself, how dare she!*
Says: “Ah well not all men are like that you know.”
How did so many men get such a skewed value system that allows them to put their sense of pride above the person sharing their trauma with them? How do they have so little empathy for women that they manage to make our most secret hurts about them, not us?
This kind of man is right though in a way, not all men, just the vast majority who laugh along when their friend makes a sexist “joke”, who don’t do 50 fucking per cent of the childminding and housework, who can’t hear legitimate pain without thinking it’s an attack on them and responding with “not all men”.
As a broken woman I’m not only concerned with the one third of men who abuse the one third of women but their friends and family too. The other roughly two thirds of people are the ones who let that large portion of society get away with raping, assaulting and abusing women and girls. I have beef with them. Some of them raised and taught and were friends with the men who hurt women. Some of them are friends with the men who raped and abused me.
These people stay silent as men break women. As my life goes on I find myself more and more angry with these sideline abuse supporters. The chain of complicity that encircles the men who broke me has widened to include their parents, their family, their friends and the very culture they grew up in. A culture in which boys are taught that hurting girls is their birthright.
The qualities we push onto our sons are not aspects of healthy masculinity, they are the dark side of masculinity — the unhealthy type— greed, entitlement, dominance, aggressiveness, anger, harsh physicality, violence as an answer, power over others. These aspects are celebrated by our dark society, they are the very forces that allow men (and the odd woman) to rise to the top in the unhealthy-masculinity-centred world. They are also the ones that cause hurt to girls and women. And to men. They harm us all.
I am one of the millions of broken women in this world. You need us to make the world go round, yet our work goes unrecognised, devalued and unappreciated. Our contributions and our struggles are ignored by the #notallmen men and their supporters.
How women do what they do in a world designed to break them amazes me.
Just imagine what a generation of unbroken women could do.