For women only

My wife has attended an annual writers’ retreat in Indiana. Now she’s been invited to a “girls only” gathering of former attendees. She was very critical. I defended the idea.

First, she objected to the word “girls.” I acknowledged it’s a bit politically incorrect. Used by men, it can be demeaning, implying immaturity. But used among females themselves, as a casual way of referencing their gender, I see no problem.

My wife’s bigger objection was the exclusion of men. She has an inclusive philosophy, and accordingly has also spurned a female-only local poetry group, and participation in an anthology of women’s poetry.

I disagreed, seeing all these things as a bit of affirmative action. For most of history, women had a raw deal, unable to join any activity on an equal basis with men. A woman-only poetry collection is not inappropriate given past stifling of their voices. Moreover, it’s justifiable because women’s voices differ from men’s. A women’s poetry book is akin to other themed collections, like humorous poetry or nature poetry.

And sexism is not yet dead. We have the president we have because enough Americans were just unwilling to vote for a woman. Even against a pussy-grabber.

Meantime, I don’t see the male exclusion as violating an equality principle. We’re not talking about government programs, but private activities. Nobody has an absolute right to be included in an event or group or project initiated by others. If a woman feels that a gathering she’s organizing would suit her objectives better without men, that’s reasonable. Gender equality does not mean women are the same as men. It’s natural that they’ll act differently, and feel different, when socializing with other women than in mixed company. And they have a right to do so. It’s still a free country.

The discussion with my wife reminded me of recently reading some back issues of Free Inquiry magazine, reporting on a 2012 female humanist convention. There was much concern that even among humanists — as liberal-minded a group as you’ll find — gender equality still doesn’t totally reign, hence the woman-oriented gathering. Men were not excluded, but few chose to attend.

Wafa Sultan

One speaker was Wafa Sultan, a doctor from Syria. She spoke searingly about the situation of women in Muslim societies like her past one. (And that was before Syria’s current unpleasantness got going.) Sultan told of her niece, forced at eleven to marry a 40-year-old cousin, who was horribly abusive. The girl tried several times to escape to her family but was sent back and told to obey her husband. She committed suicide by setting herself on fire.

Another story concerned a widow who got pregnant. She feared her 15-year-old son would feel obliged to kill her to expunge the shame — and she didn’t want her “dirty blood” on his hands! She got an abortion, performed without anesthetic because she couldn’t afford it. She was pregnant because her late husband’s brother was raping her as the price for financial help.

This spotlights how tragically screwed up many Muslim societies are by their warped ideas about male-female relations. And it’s not only women who suffer. Pity that 15-year-old boy acculturated into such attitudes. What kind of family life can it be with females treated like that, with obligatory “honor killings” of daughters and siblings? If a woman is basically a sex slave, how much fun is that really for the man? And I haven’t even yet mentioned female genital mutilation which — aside from the atrocity upon girls — actually impedes sexual pleasure for men as well.

My wife and I are fully equal partners, respecting each other totally. This close loving relationship is the center of my life, incalculably sustaining and rewarding. I weep for those men in Muslim societies whose cultural manacles deny them the opportunity for such marriages.

I’ve also been reading about Japan, where people have largely stopped having sex. Women who increasingly have jobs have little use for the typical Japanese male, forced by social pressure to stay late at the office followed by drinking with colleagues, while marriage turns women into monomaniacal child-coddlers. And the resulting mama’s boys don’t want wives or even girlfriends either. The devoted fans of Japanese teen girl bands (a big thing) are mostly single young and middle-aged men. That’s their substitute. And of course the internet too.

All of this makes me appreciate the goodness of today’s American society, so much better than what most people have had in most times and places. I was deeply moved by Wafa Sultan’s eloquent telling how she felt coming here from Syria. For her it was a liberation, going from darkness to light; from Hell to Paradise. Only a person experiencing such a journey could truly grasp the profound virtue of American society.

One of its great virtues is providing a haven, a welcoming home, for people like Wafa Sultan. But America is turning away from that virtue. The President backs legislation to cut legal immigration in half.

4 Responses to “For women only”

  1. Success Inspirers' World Says:

    America needs leaders who understand the destiny of America and work for it to become a reality. America belongs to all those who find no place elsewhere.

  2. Sylvia Barnard Says:

    Enjoyed your blog , as I always do, even when I disagree. This time I’m on your side. I think the women’s anthology Therese rejected may have been A Slant of Light, in which I and a number of other women were published. Born female in rural Massachusetts in 1937 with an IQ of 158 (or don’t babies have IQs yet?) even when my parents sacrificed to send me to boarding school classical Greek, which I was wild to learn, was only taught in all boys’ schools. When I graduated fm my (very good) all girls’ school and went to McGill, signing up for Greek on the first day, no Ivy League college in New England took women as equal undergraduates. When I graduated from McGill with an honours degree in classics and was accepted at Cambridge, UK , a scholarship specifically for Oxbridge study was awarded instead of me to a guy going to a US grad programme. Also, only two Cambridge colleges then accepted women. After going to Cambridge on scholarship fm the Bank of Mum and Dad, I went to Yale Grad School where I got fellowships but wasn’t allowed to be a TA. When I got my PhD in 1966, again neither Ivy nor Little Ivy colleges took women professors and I wound up at a converted teachers’ college which eventually ditched the classics after I struggled there for 44 years. Also, when I was young, women could not be ordained priests in my (Episcopal) church, law school was barely available but beyond the reach of the Bank of Mum and Dad and countless other doors were closed. So I don’t feel guilty about being in aA Slant of Light.

  3. Joseph Sermarini Says:

    Nice read in a time when so many things online are not nice. Thanks.

  4. Doug Smith Says:

    I agree with your wife. One advantage I have noted on the Internet is that twice I have had extended coin related correspondences with a person not knowing their gender or anything else about them that was insignificant to the topic. Names or nicknames like ‘Pat’ make this easier. At the same time I could not participate in a local garden club for flowers (the men’s group grew vegetables). Affirmative action is wonderful if you subscribe to the theory that subsequent wrongs can cancel out the first. I see nothing wrong with publishing a book of poetry by women but limiting attendance at a discussion perpetuates the theory that the only thing women can do is “woman’s work”.

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