Freedom has been in the news, in the conversation, and on the minds of people lately. In the Middle East the oppressed are fighting for their freedom and human rights after years of the deprivation of both their freedom and their rights under the will of dictators.
In the midst of all of this, a couple of small news items have started me thinking about freedom as it has applied to women over the centuries, and how we continue to have to fight for our freedom because it continues to be curtailed with each generation.
One of the odd bits of news was actually just an aside to the ongoing saga of actor Charlie Sheen, who plays a boozing, womanizing, gambling good hearted brother on TV, and in real life continues the character, and is still acknowledged as a good father to his children. But that is beside the point. What bothered me each time the reporting involved his children, who were living with him, was the fact that he is living with a “porn star.” The tone of voice of the reporter implied that a porn star could not possibly be a good surrogate mother.
As a matter of fact, it is often a woman’s sexuality that is the object of the most control and lack of freedom granted her by society.
I have mentioned before the schizophrenic attitude many societies have regarding sex. It seems to be an evil thing except when it is engaged in by a male and a female within an institution called marriage. Then it is sacred.
Female porn stars are tolerated, if often ridiculed, but, as I have said before, in many countries a woman is prohibited from selling her body legally. Illegally, she not only is a criminal, she is prey to pimps who protect her. With or without a pimp, she is in danger of every sort of abuse, including death. Pimps and even police make millions from prostitution. Legal brothels are the safest places for sex workers and their clients, and now Sen. Harry Reid wants to close down the few in the State of Nevada!
As late as the 1950s a female teacher (and most teachers were women) had to be single, or past child bearing, and a pregnant woman was expected to resign her job whatever it was, once she looked pregnant. (That certainly has changed!) If a poor woman became pregnant, and for whatever reason, felt she could not possibly endure that pregnancy (which she did not achieve on her own), she became a criminal if she tried to get an abortion. Rich women went to other countries.
If she had the baby and could not take care of it, society offered her little support except the option of adoption. She was and is considered a terrible person (sometimes a criminal) if she takes money from the adopting couple. At the same time, the doctor, the lawyers, and all of the go-between people involved in the process, make money legally. Today a pregnant woman can be punished if she is not a healthy incubator for the growing fetus.
One of the often overlooked, least understood medical/mental problems is post-partum depression. It is a devastating condition that can render a mother incapable of caring for herself or her child. Yet one of the most heinous criminals in the eyes of society is a woman who kills her infant or child — and postpartum depression is seldom a successful defense.
And now, the second bit of news: Breast feeding is being touted as the best thing a mother can do for her baby. Unfortunately, not every mother can breast feed. Only a minority can. Some mothers have more than enough milk so they are selling their surplus for about $5 an ounce to other mothers. However, now there seems to be concern that this milk might be contaminated by HIV or some other microbe passed from mother to child, and pasteurization is being considered before it is sold (by a third party, of course). Then it will cost $125 an ounce. The fact that mothers already involved in this exchange, get to know one another and take precautions — women have a long history of cooperating and helping one another — or that HIV mothers seldom nurse, is not enough. Once again, it is the middleman who profits from a woman’s sex.
Women have come a long way, but still, in subtle ways in many countries their rights are restricted or being challenged just because they are women.
In Libya and other countries the people are fighting for their freedom and their human rights. I just hope that when they achieve their goals they remember that women are people, too, and that other already democratic countries will more fully acknowledge that truth.