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The Not-So-Fair Sex
In my last blog post, I mentioned seeing a number of men—many of them Hispanic—fishing off the wharfs in places like Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. I also mentioned that I saw no women wielding rods. Sure, they were on the piers, but not fishing. Instead, each one sat or stood dutifully at her partner’s side—or several paces behind him—providing occasional assistance if prevailed upon or simply staring at the back of his head.
I’m not suggesting that this behavior is specific to the Hispanic community. I saw the same pattern with the Asian and Caucasian populations lining the docks. And perhaps I wouldn’t have taken notice at all had I not grown up in an environment in which most of my female relations fished. In fact, my family was so stocked with rod-and-reel enthusiasts that when I came along and announced I didn’t like to fish—a declaration tantamount to heresy—I sensed even at a young age I was no longer considered a full part of the family. My line had been cast and there was no reeling it back in.
But that’s neither here nor there because it’s my present-day observations that concern me, although those concerns were mitigated somewhat when I walked out on the Santa Cruz wharf last week and discovered among the relatively few pole-waving inhabitants three women—all of them white—casting lines into the silky blue depths of Monterey Bay.
I didn’t know whether this remarkable showing of fishing females had to do with Santa Cruz or Monterey Bay or this particular wharf or other factors, such as economics or race or class, but I do know that I felt a sense of relief upon seeing the stringent stereotypes I found on the southern coast somewhat diminished by this diverse showing in Santa Cruz.
Enough of my roots wind back to the ’60s and early ’70s to have had high hopes for ways to view the world and live lives that transcended fearful adherence to expectations and stereotypes, which serve only to maintain the advantage of some at the expense of others. Yet despite the years that have passed and the paths we’ve traveled, we seem to have made little progress as a culture in the way we think and behave and treat one another.
That’s not to say the assumptions some of us made back then or the hopes we hung our hearts on were always the smartest or wisest or had any basis in reality, but I do believe that since then we’ve missed a great many opportunities, and I find myself saddened when I continue to hear the Neanderthal diatribes of opportunists and fear mongers who peddle their pedantic pestilence at the expense of those whose only crime is not being born of the correct race or class or gender or sexual orientation.
No doubt many of you’ve heard the brouhaha that’s resulted from yet another entertaining Fox News broadcast, this time in the form of commentator Liz Trotta. In response to the 64% rise in violent sexual assaults in the military—perpetrated mostly against women—Trotta suggested that these high rates are the inevitable results of men and women being put together into such close contact. What do women expect, after all, if they insist on inserting themselves in places they don’t belong? Which is why Trotta also believes that the resources being poured into the military to address these assaults is a waste of money, especially since it’s for no other reason than to appease those now complaining about being “raped too much.”
There’s no point trying to respond to Trotta’s remarks directly. That would be like trying to hold a conversation with a three-toed sloth. Yet I can’t help but be disheartened by the fact that there are still people like Trotta making such remarks, that despite the struggles and gains women have made—gains people like Trotta have benefitted from greatly—there still exists a contingency of narrow-minded opportunists who continue to appease the dumbed-down mobs in an effort to promote their own agendas, satiate their power-hungry ambitions, and give voice to their insecurities and fears and hate—all at the expense of individuals who’ve already faced an ocean of hurdles, like the women in the US military.
Yet Trotta and people of her ilk shouldn’t surprise me. We are a culture chained to our expectations and preconceptions. Last night I watched much of the Academy Awards, including the red-carpet pageantry that preceded the show—a pretentious display of wealth and entitlement that, given the current times, made the whole shindig seem even more pointless than ever.
The primary topic of discussion? The way the women were dressed. Interviews with men mostly centered on their careers and successes in the industry. Discussions with women focused primarily on their absurd constumery.
I was reminded of Barak Obama’s inauguration, when the media, for the most part, could say nothing about Michelle Obama other than to comment on her wardrobe. That’s how it was last night. The press agog over sequins and silk and scintillating styles.
In 2010, 3,158 cases of sexual assault in the military were reported. That number was slightly higher last year. However, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes the rate might actually be six times higher because few victims come forward to report such assaults.
And women outside the military are just as vulnerable. According to the National Organization of Women, as many as 600 women in the US are sexually assaulted each day, with women aged 24 or under suffering the highest rates. The Justice Department estimates one in five women will be raped or victims of attempted rape while in college. Less than five percent of those women will report these assaults.
The gains that women have made can seem inconsequential in the face of such staggering statistics. Yet the fact that women can serve in the military as they now do suggests that there has been at least some movement forward, despite Trotta and her soul-sucking compatriots. Still, female soldiers can’t officially serve in combat even though, for all practical purposes, they’re serving in combat roles—but without combat training and without the opportunities for the career advancement and better pay offered to their male counterparts.
Some things never change.
When I was standing out on the Santa Cruz pier, one of the women caught a thin silvery fish that barely hung onto the hook. Unfortunately, it was too small for her to keep, so she tossed it to a nearby pelican that seemed to be waiting for just such a snack. Then she cast her line back into the water.
Even though the fish wasn’t worth keeping, I could see that the woman was pleased to have caught something. A small catch, after all, was better than no catch at all, and the fish itself seemed indifferent to whether it had been snagged by a man or by a woman. Even the pelican seemed unconcerned. All the fish wanted was to be back swimming in the ocean, and all the bird cared about was a few more tasty morsels.
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