Historically and across diverse settings, men have always managed to denigrate and subjugate women. The following selection of quotations is indicative of male prejudice against women. I understand your impatience; it seems onerous to review a long list of derogatory remarks about women. Albeit, bear with me. I strongly believe the persistence of stereotypes and myths against girl and women is so rooted in our social construct of the world that a painful reminder is crucial for putting our case to men.
“If it were not for women being admitted into our order, my teachings would have lasted 1000 years; now they will not last 500.” Buddha, founder of Buddhism, 563/480 BC – 483/400 BC
“Women, with their two-fingered wisdom, have a difficult time understanding what I teach.” Gautam Buddha, founder of Buddhism, 563/480 BC – 483/400 BC
“It is the law of nature that women should be held under the dominance of man [so that] one hundred women are not worth a single testicle.” Conficius, Chinese philosopher, 500 BC
“All the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also, but in all of them a woman is inferior to a man.” Plato, Greek philosopher, 428 BC – 347 BC
“A proper wife should be as obedient as a slave.” Aristotle, Greek Philosopher, 384 BC – 322 BC
“Any woman who does not give birth to as many children as she is capable is guilty of murder.” St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius, 354 AD – 430 AD
“The words and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitute.” Martin Luther, German protestant reformer, 1484 – 1546
“Women is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by Satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading to all perdition. It is necessary that woman recognise this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. This is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame.” John Calvin, French protestant reformer, 1536 – 1555
“Nature intended women to be our slaves … they are our property: we are not theirs. They belong to us, just as a tree that bears fruit belongs to a gardener. What a mad idea demand equality for women? … Women are nothing but machines for producing children.” Napoleon Bonaparte, first Emperor of France, 1804 – 1814
“Woman seems to differ from man in her mental disposition, chiefly in her greater tenderness and less selfishness”. Charles Darwin, English naturalist, quote from The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, 1871
“Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman hath one solution, it is called pregnancy.” Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, quote from Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1883
“When a woman has scholarly inclinations, there is usually something wrong with her sexual organs” Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, quote from Beyond Good and Evil, 1886
“They have the right to work wherever they want to, as long as they have dinner ready when you get home.” John Wayne, American actor and filmmaker, 1926 – 1976
“Educating a beautiful woman is like pouring honey into a fine Swiss watch: everything stops.” Kurt Vonnegut, American writer, quote from Happy Birthday Wanda, 1971
“A little bit of rape is good for a man’s soul.” Norman Mailer, American Writer, quote from address on Richard Nixon and women’s liberation, University of California Berkeley, 1972
“Henry VIII didn’t get divorced, he just had his wives’ heads chopped off when he got tired of them. That’s a good way to get rid of a woman no alimony.” Ted Turner, Founder of CNN, 1983
“Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society.” Rush Limbaugh, American talk show host, quote in Sacramento Union, 1988
“If rape is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” Clayton Williams, American businessman and former state governor contender, quote from Texas gubernatorial race, 1990
“Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” Pat Robertson, American TV evangelist and former presidential contender, 1992
“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Todd Akin, former United States representative for Missouri, quote from interview on KTVI Television, 2012
In a man’s world, women are inferior, unintelligent, weaker, rape material, and should be completely confined to the home. The outrage of radical feminists against the unsubstantiated hate of men is nothing short of empathy, tolerance and consideration. In fact, it is this incessant male oppression that partly agitates our relentless rebellion, resistance and determination to change the world for unborn girl babies. Some such resistance fighters include: Yaa Ansantewa, the Ejisu Queen Mother in the Ashanti Empire; Queen Nandi, mother of Shaka Zulu, King of the Zulu Empire; Naguset Eask, a Mi’kmaq activist who joined American Indians in education and resistance; Rigoberta Menchu Tum, a Guatamalan’s native rights activists and winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize; Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girls’ education activist and youngest Nobel Prize Laureate; and Kula Fofana, Liberia’s budding advocate for young girls and women empowerment.
In 1946, women began the long battle to enter the field of international law, specifically pursuing the basic principle of equal rights for all in the 1945 United Nations Charter. The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – originally a subcommittee of the Commission on Human Rights – sought to define and elaborate on the general guarantees of non-discrimination from a gender perspective. Seeing a failure on the part of the UN system to comprehensively address discrimination against women, the CSW set out change this. Having worked on a number of important declarations and conventions to protect women’s rights, on 5 December 1963, the CSW requested the Economic and Social Council draft an instrument that would articulate the equal rights of men and women in a single document. After 16 years, on 18 December 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted with 130 votes and 10 abstentions. Since 1982, when the Committee was first established, a total of 104 experts have served as members, five of whom have been male. The current membership comprises of 22 females and one male. Considering the vitriolic attack on women by men, women are completely justified in carving out a safe space in global polity. Notwithstanding, CEDAW has been criticised by the Against CEDAW blog as: “A tool for mischief as it promotes feminism and destroy cultures and families and undermines sovereignty of nations.”
As a war survivor who was internally displaced multiple times, and a refugee for well over nine years before becoming an immigrant in Canada, England, Switzerland, Australia and the United States, I have been exposed to much violence, discrimination and abuse. The trauma associated with my experiences is ever-lasting, and made worse by the fact I have been separated from my entire family for 13 years.
My past prompted me to embark on a PhD journey to question and understand the persistence of gender disparity; I was armed with the empowering label of educated independent feminist. I was excited about the fact that the parallels between systematic violence against Indigenous Liberians and Australians had not been researched, I began a year of fieldwork data collection for my doctoral thesis: Gender Violence and the Rule of Law: Indigenous Communities in Australia and post-war Liberia. I targeted service providers in law, health, education and civil society. By the end of the data collection periods, a total of 231 service providers were surveyed, 29 in-depth interviews with Indigenous women advocates were carried out, and 22 informal email exchanges with male colleagues took place. Additionally, historical, statistical and content analyses were conducted on 127,708 convicts to Australia; 14,996 former slaves to Liberia; 2,701 sexual and gender violence cases reported to the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in Liberia; seven case files from the Sexual and Gender-based Crimes Unit in Liberia; and 1,200 interview entries from the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children in Australia.
During my fieldwork, though I felt strong and ready to tackle violence against Indigenous women, I became vulnerable to sexual harassment and assaults, both in Australia and Liberia. Three incidents and offenders in remote Liberia haunt me to this day: a circuit court public defender; a Human Rights Officer at the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL); and a circuit court judge. All three made sexual advances, with one attempting rape – each occurred either during or after interview sessions. One said: “I’ve not seen such beauty since I was posted here.” Another: “When my driver returns from dropping my wife I’ll like to spend the evening with you.” Yet another, who had a wife and two daughters, proceeded to kiss and touch me inappropriately. I was frustrated and angry. Worse of all, I felt helpless and worthless. What is wrong with men? Is it really true that men are ruled by their dicks? Do these men care about their mothers, sisters, wives and children? I screamed and cried.
I am still hurting now that my PhD is almost done. Certainly, radical feminism can’t be working if we have had all these years of struggle. Among others points, my thesis recommends that violence against women isn’t going away unless women consciously engage boys and men to champion the gender justice cause. After all, aren’t men responsible for the persistent increase in discrimination and violence against women?
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You just tasted a bite of PhD candidate Veronica Fynn Bruey’s thesis. The bite-sized thesis project would not be possible without the generous support of the ANU Gender Institute; you can learn more about the project here.