Ultraconservative Women: Choose for Yourselves, But Not for Me

Posted on September 4, 2012


During the Gulf War, I had occasion to get acquainted with some Saudi colleagues and their families.  We were curious about each other; we talked.  The conversation inevitably turned to cultural differences between the US and Saudi Arabia regarding women.  I tried to tactfully convey the idea that I really enjoyed my independence.  One man responded:  “But here, every woman is a princess.  She does not have to work.  Her husband will bring her anything she needs; she only has to ask.  She does not need to drive; if she needs to go somewhere, her husband will take her.”  He could not, or would not, see just how horribly stifling that might be.  How patronizing.  How it traps a grown woman in the role of childlike dependent.  “But,” I asked, “What if she has no sons, and something happens to her husband?  Shouldn’t she at least be able to drive and take care of herself in such a case?”  He adamantly shook his head.  “No.  Her male relatives will take care of her.  She will have someone.”  He was very secure in his absolute knowledge.

I did not ask him about the women I saw begging alone on the streets of Dammam or Hafr al Batin.

Fast-forward to last week and Stephanie McCrummen’s article in The Washington Post.  “Todd Akin’s Rape Comments Find Sympathy Among Conservative Women in His District.”  One quote leaped out at me:

“Is a ‘liberated woman’ really freer? …. To me, a woman should be on a pedestal. We are special — we bear children, we take care of children, we’re working.  Actually, if we had our heads on straight, women could really run the world. Actually, we do run the world.”

Wow.  I need to get this woman to my old Saudi acquaintance, and fast.  Two peas in a pod.

I actually agree with the conservative women in McCrummen’s article on the cheapening of our sexual mores.  I agree that hypersexualization of women and girls has cheapened the way people view women.  But taking away a woman’s control over her own body is just the other side of the exact same coin.  It is a false dichotomy:  on one side, women are tawdry sluts and whores who are only good for sex and  deserve what’s coming to them.  On the other, they are prim little housewives and mommies under the strong and sheltering wing of their husbands.  What the hell ever happened to that other choice we fought so hard for, the one where we are equal, competent, respected and accomplished human beings in our own right?  The one where we can build our own lives and choose marriage or motherhood or career, or all of it, or something else entirely?  The one where we can control whether or not we bear children, and when?  The one where rape is the rapist’s fault?

I think that my Saudi acquaintance and these conservative women have another thought in common:  that rape won’t happen to the prim little housewives under the protection of their husbands.  Interesting, isn’t it, that these prim, protected women are so often the same ones who advocate forcing rape victims to give birth?  After all, this is not a situation they will ever face, right?  Rape only happens to women who put themselves in bad situations.  Women who dress like sluts, who hang out with the wrong kind of people, who are out in bad neighborhoods at night without their lawfully wedded husbands.

Back to the scary, Saudi-like quote from the Akin supporter:  ladies, do we really believe that the “hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”?  Really?  Wrong.  The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the cradle.  And changes diapers, and cooks and cleans, and packs school lunches, and shuttles the kids around to soccer practice.  If you choose this, fine.  But millions of women want to choose something else, or at least something more, and should be able to do so.

Meanwhile, men rule the world.  The US ranks 90th in the world in terms of female participation in the legislature, and male cabinet appointees outnumber female appointees 2 to 1.  Some men – and some women – are all too eager to turn the women’s liberation clock back to… well, to something resembling Saudi Arabia.  Which is a great place to live, if you like being a wife, mother, and your husband’s powerless dependent.


Is this you?  Great!                                          But a LOT of women want more choices.

Related post:  Republican Todd Akin:  Don’t Worry, You Won’t Get Pregnant from Rape