Women Bound Long Before They Found Themselves in Binders

During the second presidential debate, “women in binders” was Mitt Romney’s marvelouslyunconscious description of the way he sought talented women for his cabinet in Massachusetts. It was a businessman’s way of talking; data is found in binders or files or in the cloud. What he thought he was saying was how hard he had worked to include women, but instead stumbled and stepped into his own deep-seated, malignant attitudes toward women.

Unfortunately Romney’s attitudes also mirror those found in the U.S. and most other societies: Women are the universal scapegoats, rivaling Jews, gays, Gypsies, et al for that horrific honor. Excuses are rarely needed to put women in psychological and physical chains. Women were “bound” in Massachusetts long before Romney put them in binders: They were placed in stocks for being witches, or adulterers, or for just being sexual or pretty, or uppity, or smart.

Beyond our borders, for centuries women’s feet were bound in China to make them beautiful in men’s eyes (and not so incidentally, to stop them from moving out in the world). In the name of being alluring to men, women’s “fashions,” or costumes, still bind them: like stiletto heels, too-tight clothes, etc., fashion conspires. And until very recently, women passively conspired against themselves in their own bondage.  

Since scapegoating is a group or collective phenomena, the very fact of gender scapegoating is something of a mystery. Women make up more than half the world’s population. They are not the usual “vulnerable minority,” which can be easily expelled, or worse, from the majority group; in fact, women’s exclusion by any group is hardly believable or even possible.

Yes, in muscle volume, women are the “weaker sex,” and perhaps that helps us understand the beginning of their wholesale oppression in societies where strength was power. Fast-forward to today. Guns and legal recourse level the playing field, don’t they? In democratic societies, women could elect representatives who could pass laws to protect them. They rarely do. Instead, they were willing to be humiliated for the sake of what … the love and respect of their husbands or their fathers, or their sons. Their village? Their community? Their religion?

The world is changing and women are definitely unbound and on the move. Romney’s psyche has was laid out on the media’s psycho-surgical table. Except for a few jokes, he seemed to get a free pass, until the election results, that is. Changes in women’s role and authority are evident. In the United States, it’s been a long hard road covering more than 150 years of political activism.

But the question remains, Why are women such common victims, and why, in general, do women accept that role?

I don’t think anyone knows. Some ideas: men’s fear of women, a long held psychoanalytic hypothesis; sexual tension that scares groups into scapegoating attractive women who mobilize competition and desire among themselves and men. But we must also include the question of why mothers scapegoat their own daughters (and in some cultures, why mothers still allow their girl child to be clitoridectomized). So, what is it? What do you think? Why do you think women as a group acquiesce so often to the patriarchy?

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