Foot binding in China
Genital mutilation in Africa
Honor killings in the Middle East
Chastity belts in Europe
Scarlet letters and witch hunts in the U.S.
What do all of these things have in common? They are all examples of men's efforts to control when and with whom women have sex. Its been going on all over the globe for an awfully long time.
Some would have us believe that these things are rooted in religion. Its true that at times there has been a conflation of these activities with particular religions. But most of them pre-date any particular faith. So I think we need to dig a bit deeper to understand where they come from.
I remember years ago when I first learned about foot binding in China. I was an adult at the time and had never heard of this practice before. As I started to put that together with things like those other activities on the list up above, I realized that all over the globe this attempt to restrict when and with whom women had sex was going on without any coordination between cultures.
It all begs the question of what it is that the male in our species fears so much about women's sexuality that they would go to such lengths to try to control it. Now let me be clear, in asking that question, I had absolutely NO desire to denigrate the male half of our species. I love men. But I don't think we can ignore the fact that something seemed to happen around the globe at some point in our evolution that scared them and triggered this almost ubiquitous reaction. If we try to understand how that happened, we might be able to deal with the ways it continues to rear its ugly head today. After all, it is that need to control women's sexuality that plays out sometimes overtly and often covertly in the ongoing fight over abortion and our current mayhem about contraception.
About the time that I heard about foot binding in China I watched a discussion on TV about some fascinating research. Apparently men whose wives were currently pregnant were asked about their biggest fears. Number one on the list - as most would expect - was their concern about providing economically for the family. It was the number 2 item on the list that shocked me...is the baby really mine? As a woman - it had never occurred to me to think this would be such a common concern.
To go a bit further into something that is perhaps obvious, the only way for a man to have any assurance about who his children are is to control who his spouse has sex with. For women, that can never be an issue. But in cultures where a man's wealth and legacy are tied to his progeny, I can imagine that it becomes a HUGE concern.
I'm not saying that this is what currently drives all those who want to control women's sexuality today. I suspect that the fear has been passed down so powerfully for so long that even in our modern culture today it carries weight without much attention to its roots. But I believe that this is at least part of the source of some of our current battles about women's rights. To finally face that might be what's necessary to put it behind us.