The Truth Board

A Blog by the Editors of
The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

History's Hold on Modernity

During yesterday’s lecture on the study of women’s anatomy during the Renaissance, upper division art history class was all giggles. I guess many of us couldn’t help but chuckle at notions of instantaneous sex change induced by jumping around, or the idea that a woman’s womb swims around her body, causing her to act irrationally. Giggles tapered off as we got to the point of the lecture; ridiculous as some of the scientific beliefs were, they nevertheless translated into real social implications for women.

In Renaissance Italy, studies of the body tied into culture, influencing gender constructions. Women’s bodies were seen as weak, susceptible, craving, and inherently inferior to men’s. Therefore, women were to be protected, contained, and chaste. In a society that viewed man as the measure of all things, woman was merely an afterthought to be dealt with like a liability. These gender constructions supported the need for women to have a dowry, a monetary incentive for a potential husband.

I know what most of the women in art history class were thinking: Wow, I’m glad times have changed. But, take a closer look. Have they really? The more I learn about the lack of women’s rights in specific cultures and time periods, even in our own society a hundred years ago, the more I’m alarmed to notice similarities in modern times. Elizabeth Enslin notes one such instance in her essay “Fieldnotes on Flooding in Nepal” from last years’ journal; during her time abroad a woman was killed by her in-laws when the new wife’s family refused demands for more dowry. A woman being treated like some kind of investment or property, disregarded when she was no longer a financial asset.

In my generation and location, many of us unintentionally take our rights for granted. No wonder we scoff at Renaissance views of women, or simply shake our heads at our grandmothers’ stories about their own rights, hearing, but failing to really understand their experiences. It’s easy to assume that what you are born into is a guarantee, and it’s easy to be ignorant of real experiences of women to this day. But consciousness is of vital importance.

A sad story was recently forwarded to me. ADIYAMAN, Turkey -- Turkish girl, 16, buried alive for talking to boys. An honor killing committed by her own family shows the still engrained belief of many cultures that women are to remain contained, submissive, chaste. Sadly enough, dowries still exist, views of women as property, liabilities, weak and inferior beings are still a reality, and so is violence. A closer look reveals ongoing oppression of women on a global scale. Like the widespread violence against women in the Congo, erosion of women’s rights in Egypt, or violence against Afghan women in rural areas who attempt to go to school.

It is important to be thankful for our rights and the level of equality we enjoy. At the same time, we can’t let this comfort become ignorance. By failing to realize the suffering of other women, cultural practices that undermine women, and our own history, we become a threat to our own rights, and to women who are currently oppressed. Knowledge is an empowering tool. Let’s pay attention to women’s rights on a global scale, join together to prevent regression and work toward greater equality in whatever ways we can.

Corinna Ace


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