Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On Divide and Rule- An Ancient Patriarchal Tactic

Welcome. It is good that you have come today. I have been waiting for you anxiously since our last meeting. There is something I urgently have to share with you. Please, make yourself at home while I fetch you something to cool your parched throat. It is hot out there but the thatch makes this room cool.

I had a dream about you last night. You were playing with a doll made out of corn husks all alone, totally absorbed in making your doll pretty. You made her a skirt out of green leaves from the corn stalks and you laughed happily as the leafy skirt twirled when you twisted her. Round and round like a spinning top. You started to sing to your doll, in a quiet but clear tone. Your voice, though soft, was a haunting bugle call, pregnant with urgency and sadness that made me wince and close my eyes for a moment. As you invoked insistently, a little girl about your age came out of the corn field and sat next to you, watching you twirl your doll. Soon she was singing with you. There were words to your melody, but I cannot remember them. The melody is all that stayed with me. After a few moments there appeared girls, all the same age from the corn field. They came from different directions all heading to where you sat with your companion. Suddenly it seemed as though the cornfield had disappeared and in its place was a sea of little girls, all singing the same song, which had now become a melancholic blanket, layered with different harmonies. It was as though each girl was singing a unique note but together these notes wove an intricate but profound symphony which sounded like one voice. This was the paradox: hundreds of girls singing the same incantation but each of them delivering a different note, so that in the end it was difficult to know when one singer stopped singing and when another began with their part. The effect was a quilt blanket covering the girls, protecting them from the elements. All of you were beautiful as you sat together naked. Your numerous skin hues, from delicious deep brown to cream with yellow undertones, formed the palate from which a rich and exciting painting of woman was created. Collectively you were an amazing piece of art that exuded strength and majesty. Invisible stitches sewed you together and this seemed to infuriate a presence that was lurking and watching. He was hidden from view by the corn stalks and he looked on with a malicious grin which cut a grotesque gash across his face. Quiet fury simmered in his eyes as he looked on, jealousy threatening to make him retch. Suddenly he jumped out of the corn patch with alacrity fueled by his hatred. He roared as he thundered towards you intent on destroying the glorious art composition your bodies formed. His desire to obliterate the vision before his eyes was all consuming and I watched in horror as you all scattered like bees flying in panic out of a fallen hive. Your song became a cacophony of discordant shrill notes of terror. I woke up panting, my face wet with salty tears.

There is a problem, and this problem is bigger than what Africa and its women are suffering. I want us to sit together so I can tell you what I am seeing. It is all very ugly, but you must look and not turn away because I want it to be planted in your consciousness. You are no longer a child and so I shall not shield you from the harsh realities of life for women because it is your reality. You are a woman, and the fact that you were born in a different place in the world is mere chance. When you see the suffering of other women, I want you to feel their pain, knowing that they too had no part to play in where they were born. I want you to get angry and outraged when you hear about female genital mutilation in Niger, because if not for chance, you might have been one of those girls lying on her back, screaming as her vagina is brutally cut. I want you to scream in mental agony when you hear of a girl in Morocco who has committed suicide because she is forced to marry the beast that raped her, that helped himself to her vagina without her permission. I want you to see what a courageous act of defiance suicide is. I want you to understand that freedom is worth every life that is lost in its pursuit.  The ultimate act of victory over tyranny is to check out, rather than to live a tormented existence day in and day out with the beast you now call husband.

I want you to become so livid that your mind empties and a clear laser sharp focus takes over your senses and a menacing calm stills your frenzied heart. As you look at page after page of statistics of female infanticide in India and China, I want you to condense your anger into a powerful, purposeful motor that will fuel you to action. You will get angry when you hear that the worst thing that can happen to any being is to come back to this world as a woman. That being a woman is bad karma, a punishment from the deities for some heinous crime committed in a past life. I want you to seethe when you read that at the sight of a vagina on an ultrasound a pregnancy is terminated in China and India to make way for a male child, and that this can be done again and again until a penis appears on the ultrasound test.

 I want you to understand why it is that a woman will see herself as cursed to have been born female. You need to understand that life for some women is nothing but hardship and pain of unimaginable depth and that for many, death is an ideal option. You need to understand why many women hate their vaginas and everything that makes them woman. But the vagina in particular, the first obvious external signal that a woman has been born.

The vagina- a source of scorn and contempt from the day she comes into the world. The vagina- the cause of untold physical pain as the clitoris, an affront to the almighty penis, is sliced off and given to chickens to feed on.

The vagina- the seat and source of all that is terrible in woman, that thing that bleeds monthly without being wounded. That mysterious portal that is both revered for bringing forth human beings, and reviled for the secrets it keeps.

The vagina- the organ that renders women vulnerable and at the mercy of predators of the flesh, those sick bastards who rape a six month old baby. Those bastards who tear into the flesh of a baby, all because she has a vagina. She no longer a baby, but a woman, hated and scorned.The Cursed vagina, stolen from babies because the bastards have been told by another sick bastard that a baby’s vagina has magical healing powers to cure HIV.The sick cowards who use rape as a weapon of war. Instead of facing their rivals on the battle field, they wield their penises as a weapon, upon vulnerable women.

The vagina, the thing that is viewed as ugly so that they cut away everything, the inner lips clitoris and stitch the opening closed, leaving a miniscule orifice for urinating and for menstrual blood flow, which can take a whole month due to the obstructed flow from the uterus.

The vagina -the seat of sexual desire and pleasure, two things a chaste woman must never have. They carve at it destroying as much of it as they can without killing her. But some die from the flow of blood, rivers of woman’s blood have quenched dry earth while her screams have reverberated through mountains and valleys, a continuous echo of agony through the ages.

The vagina, a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder in order to make a living. Do not ever judge a sister for commoditizing her vagina, for you know not what her relationship with it is, or how that relationship came to be.

The Vagina, trimmed and tweaked under a surgeon’s scalpel, to make it “pretty”. Pretty for whom, I ask? Is it for the man that you will get yourself cut up, a man who may leave you after a while because he is bored or fears commitment? Is it for this man that you will give yourself over to be cut up (vaginoplasty)?  And what happens when a new man with new demands comes along? Will you get bits of yourself carved up and chopped off in order to please him too? Will you continue to place toxic substances to enhance your breasts and your buttocks in order to be beautiful? Will you inject bacterial toxins under your skin, to delude yourself and him that you are young and pretty? All this self mutilation and self hatred for a man? Sanitizing the cutting by using sterile surgical instruments and draining the bood away does not make it any less mutilation. Using medicines to kill the pain does not diminish what is still mutilation.

Has it ever occurred to you that the women who are mutilated, subjugated by virtue of their geographical location in Africa India and China, are no different from you? They are enslaved physically by the structures and culture in which they exist, but so are you. You are also enslaved by your culture, a culture that places unrealistic demands on women, holding them up to a standard of beauty that causes them to get ill. Anorexia at age 7, Bullimia at age 12, all because the culture has informed them that they need to be thin and to be perfect physically. Who set the "thin is in" standard?  Who defines perfection?-the man. Woman jumping through a million hoops because of man.

Look at how your politicians are trying to reverse the hard won liberties that your mothers and grandmothers fought for. They picketed, were shot at with rubber bullets, had tear gas burning their air ways as they fought for autonomy over their bodies, and reproductive organs. They fought hard so that they could be treated as human beings who contribute to society. They fought the patriarchy that sought to treat them like children who need constant supervision and a man to make important decisions for them. That was a hard won fight. Now you young ones sit and worry about whether your breasts are pert enough for him, while he is busy changing laws and taking you back to the dark ages.

 He has you preoccupied with superficial things like the size of your nose, while he is busy running the country into the ground. While you see your therapist about your distorted perception of your body image, he is fighting unnecessary wars and creating enemies the world over, so that your grandchildren and their children will be paying for those mistakes long after you are gone. While you obsess about the tummy tuck you ‘need’ after having children he is busy taking away rights to contraception and abortion. He has you so caught up in trivia because then you are not in his way as he runs the world into the ground. He has made you believe that your worth as a woman is tied to your external looks so that while you run around seeking external validation in mirrors and men like him, he can do whatever he likes with little opposition. Did you know that your sisters in the military are subjected to sexual harassment and also raped? No, you did not know did you? Women in your armies, all over the world are suffering and while some of it gets into the news, most of it does not. Even when you do hear about it on the news, what have you done about it? What are you doing about the congress men and commentators who call women sluts for demanding that contraception be made available for them through insurance, which they pay towards?

You look puzzled. I am trying to make you see that patriarchal structures keep women apart. They keep some feeling secure and smug that ”they don’t live in a place where women get cut, or where baby girls are killed.” They keep you believing that you are superior, with superior knowledge and culture. They tell you have nothing in common with those poor downtrodden women in Africa and India, who have “absolutely no power (poor things).” But I ask you know, do you have any real power, or do you have the illusion that you are empowered? If you have power, how has it worked for you as you discover your 10 year old daughter vomiting her dinner in the toilet bowl because she is scared she will get fat? How has your power worked for you when you discover after a boob job (and several follow up visits to the doctor because the implants have shifted and now sit in your armpit), your husband is screwing a 20 year old college student and taking her to expensive places he has never taken you before? How is your power working for you when you divorce him and find that the bastard has moved huge sums of money to an offshore account and the courts do nothing to help you?

Divide and rule is an old ugly tactic that has been used for centuries to consolidate power. Men do it in war; they strategically create allies by planting seeds of enmity between countries. That way when they go to battle their allies jump in with them to help them clinch a victory. Men do it with women, where those who are aiding and abetting patriarchy are rewarded with ‘power and prestige’. These are the women who perform the genital cutting, these are the aunties who tell their mentees to stay in bad marriages in which the husband is cheating or is physically violent. These are the women, who call other women witches when they cannot bear children. They lead the pack of women who will throw a newly widowed woman out of her home when her husband dies and she refuses to become an ‘inherited wife’ to one of the male members of the family. These are the women who, in red lipstick and stilettos, stand up and call women fighting for reproductive rights, ‘evil’ and “murderers”. They are sitting in the senate and in congress and parliaments signing away all the laws that keep women safe from violent partners and deciding the fate of many vulnerable women.

Women all over the world have to realize that they need each other. When you stand together for a cause you will win and this is a fact men know and they use insidious means to prevent this coming together. I need you to go back home and talk about this. I need you to tell your women what I have shared with you so that you can start to form alliances that will push you forward. Your sister’s pain must become your pain. Her cause must become yours automatically and her rage must become yours. Then that rage must bring forth collective action. You are your sister’s keeper, and if that does not resonate, then the whole world and all that is in it is doomed.


  1. You have said it beautifully. I hope I can live up to your words in my forthcoming book. I am writing about the world that will arise if some women, a handful, believe in what you say. It will be very hard and a lot of things will die along the way, but one day they will be free and they will build their world, and it will be a world such that humanity has never seen before.

  2. Cookie and RBC, thank you so much for the comments. they are uplifting and this encourages me to keep speaking truth to myself and to my sisters from all over the world. It is when we can stand and face eachother in our nakedness that we will genuinely connect and that moment is when change will begin!

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  4. This article was very deep and overall a great read that provoked a lot of emotion. I hope more people read this and open up their minds and hearts to the reality of the world so that people can be helped and healed.