put downs

Last week the news was full of a story about a heated response to a question which an offended Hillary Clinton made while in the Republic of Congo. There were several reports as to what the question really was and how it may or may not have been mistranslated.

I read the widely distributed account which held that this question, “We’ve all heard about the Chinese contracts in this country. The interference is from the World Bank against this contract. What does Mr Clinton think through the mouth of Mrs Clinton and what does Mr Mutombo think on this situation? Thank you very much.” Was muffed by the translator who substituted “Mr. Clinton” for “Mr. Obama”. I also read an account that said that the translator did not err, the questioner had said “Mr. Clinton”. I don’t think it makes any difference. Both questions belittle Hillary Clinton as a representative of her country and as a woman. They ignore her opinion and ask for the opinions of men implying that those are the only opinions which count. Moreover, the question belittles the US and President Obama for choosing a woman to represent the US.

A few years ago, I was at a meeting of social workers from around the state of Wyoming. At the social hour I was introduced to several people in a group which included a man who was a social worker at the state hospital in Evanston. I shook hands with people as we were introduced. But when I was introduced to this man he said, “I cannot shake hands with you. My religion forbids my touching women who are not family.” I smiled and nodded instead, but I felt put down. I also felt like I was on the horns of a dilemma. As a social worker, I try to respect the customs and cultures of others. However, the reason Muslim men do not shake hands with women is to avoid any possibility of temptation. This suggests either that all women are out to tempt them, or Muslim men have so little control that a handshake can lure them into sexual temptation. Ultimately, the message is that women are not to be trusted. I was lumped with all women as untrustworthy. I was right to feel put down.

I am so tired of customs and cultures, nations, cults, religions, sects and individuals who think, say and act in ways which make women second class, less than. It is this kind of thinking and acting which is responsible for violence against women which is pervasive in every country and culture. So I say, “Good for you, Hillary. It was a put down. You were right to be offended. You were right to show it.”