The hazards of being born female

By Pat Watson Wednesday April 17 2013 in Opinion
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For far too many years, on far too many occasions, until I got to be either too old or too hard-eyed, I had been sexually harassed or worse. That doesn’t make me special; it marks me as female in a world where the gender of a body lands it in either of two categories: sexual target or sexual weapon.


The tip of the iceberg is that a reported 25 per cent of females in North America are targets of sexual assault by age 18, anywhere from unwanted sexual comments to sexual interference, to rape and sexual torture. Also disturbing, although less frequently mentioned, is that one in six males suffer sexual assault by the age of 18.


The numbers increase among females in their 20s. In one year, close to half a million females in Canada reported being sexual assaulted. And unreported assaults? One estimate is that somewhere between 75 and 95 per cent of sexual assault crimes go unreported.


Earlier this year, in New Delhi, India people took to the streets in reaction to the sex atrocity that eventually caused the death of one 23-year-old female. Yet, as heinous as that crime was, it did not stun the male bodies of India into remission. More heinous sex crimes followed. And will follow.


In the past few days, came the sickening news of what happened to a Halifax teenager at the age of 15, allegedly gang raped at a house party by four boys. After nearly two years of trying to seek justice, after a photo of the alleged crime was circulated on social media, after being bullied other boys and shunned by former friends, the victim, trapped in depression, ended her life by hanging herself. She won’t be the last.


In just about every region that is a war zone, a common practice is male bodies as weapons against female bodies. The damage is incalculable.


Adding insult to injury, justice systems near and far are centuries behind in their response. The father of the young victim in Halifax wrote poignantly that his daughter was “disappointed to death. Disappointed in people she thought she could trust, her school, and the police”.


But there is more to the violence aimed at women. There is gender abuse of all kinds. We have names for them like spousal abuse, spousal rape, sexual exploitation, child pornography.


Last summer, a west-end neighbourhood was in hyper-vigilant mode because a predatory male had been approaching and sexually molesting females. A female takes her life in her hands just by walking along city streets. We’ve heard of DWB, driving while Black, maybe we should add, SWF, surviving while female.


American Gavin de Becker, an expert in security, pointed out in his book The Gift of Fear that “at core, women are afraid men will kill them”. This is a terrible indictment of the relations between the genders, but the numbers bear this out.


Tragic episodes like the murders of sisters, Marsha and Tamara Ottey on August 16, 1995 must never be forgotten. More must be done to remove such horrors from the human family.


The justice system has made some advances in policy – that is on paper – on how to respond in the case of sexual crimes and other forms of violence against females. But as with the response in the case of Rehteah Parsons of Halifax, what is done in actual practice falls tragically short.


The effort to inform and enlighten both boys and girls to the irreversible damage that results from objectifying female bodies and female life must be given priority, in schools, in places of worship, through all walks of life. We cannot give up on working to end the way females are valued or devalued in society. Abuse of females has to be understood as an evil against all of us. Another note on racism’s insanity…


South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius has been charged and awaits trial for the murder of his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. But it is Pistorius’ explanation of what led him to fire shots through a bathroom door killing Reeva Steenkamp that serves as a reminder of the uneasy relationship between Black and White people in post-apartheid South Africa. Pistorius’ defence is that he thought there was a burglar in his house. We have also learned that the star athlete slept with a gun within reach. The rate of poverty among Black South Africans and the resulting crimes born out of that poverty have a part in this tragic incident.


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