Mon 14 November 2016
Written by The Feed’s Jan Fran.
Currently I’m reading a book called The Witches, a historical retelling of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. Much of the book is context with large chunks of chapters dedicated to explaining the prevailing cultural and religious ethos of the time, which gave rise to what was effectively the callous mass murder of (predominately) women.
So turns out seventeenth century New Englanders believed in witchcraft – like reaaaaaally believed in witchcraft. This was thanks in large part to books: one being The Bible and the other being Malleus Maleficarum, a late 15th century treatise written by two Catholic clergymen that became the authoritative text on witchcraft.
Several centuries’ worth of hindsight later, Malleus – and its ensuing popularity –proved extremely problematic not least because witches (of the levitating, broom-riding variety described in the book) don’t – and have never – existed but because of what Malleus meant for the women of the time.
Now, I’m not quite sure exactly how much cry-wanking the two men who wrote Malleus had to do in order to finish the book but judging by their –shall we say – tainted view of the opposite sex, I would guess quite a bit. I give you the following pearlers.
“When a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil.” [Women] are evil, lecherous, vain, and lustful. All witchcraft comes from carnal lust, which is, in women, insatiable.”
To quote the great philosopher Ru Paul in Season 2 of Drag Race All Stars: “as it was written so it shall become”. Post Malleus women were disproportionally accused of witchcraft and either hung, burnt or beheaded for their sins.
Let me come to my point!
It’s a strange moment when you realise that two dudes furiously cry-wanking into their feather pens one evening would lead to the violent death of thousands of women across several continents. But it did. And to some extent still does.
India allows rape in marriage. El Salvador jails women for stillbirths and miscarriages. Saudi Arabia requires women seek men’s approval before travelling. And yes it’s very easy to tut-tut at these countries from an ocean and several decades of UN-sanctioned progress away but I am reminded here of another great philosopher, Dr Evil, who upon meeting his antithesis, Austin Powers, had the smarts to know that “we’re not so different you and I.”
The things that happen to women in these countries don’t just happen. They are written. They are law. Just like that feather pen danced about the candlelight in fifteenth century Europe it dances today. Someone somewhere at some point contemplated the nature of womanhood and went, “yep, it’s cool to rape a woman if she’s your wife because women are property. Let me write that down.” I’ll wager a bet that someone was a man. A man surrounded by men.
Now Australia doesn’t allow rape in marriage (not legally anyway) and nor do we jail women for suffering a miscarriage but we are not short on fluttering feather pens either. We’re not short on men in positions of power who read and write and speak on behalf of women to very real effect.
As a country we deny mothers adequate parental leave, we excuse – in some cases even condone – revenge porn, we tolerate a gender pay gap, we criminalise abortions, we blame women for inciting sexual assault, we accept harassment in the medical and legal professions, we turn a blind eye to domestic violence and close shelters, we don’t fund women’s sports, we don’t promote women as much as men, we don’t protect sex workers, we shame women’s bodies, we accept unequal superannuation schemes and so on.
And there’s a simple reason for this, the same the world over. It’s because our decision makers are dudes. Our judges and justices, our lobbyists and legislators, our bankers and brokers, our CEOs and CFOs, our film directors, ad execs and movie producers, our bosses and businessmen are all overwhelmingly male and if you have an overwhelmingly male dominance in public life you’re going to have an overwhelmingly male perspective…on everything.
Now that’s the simple reason. Changing that reality is far more complicated but it starts with the belief that men and women should have – could have – equal rights and representation. It starts with feminism! We are half the population and until we are equally represented in public life (and men in the home – but that’s a whole other story) we won’t really have equality. It’ll continue to be a man’s world that we inhabit. So, there’s good news and bad news. For one, two Catholic clergymen with a feather pen don’t yield quite the same sway they did in 17th century Salem but the bad news is a President with a Twitter account might.
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