The idea of women being used as silent conversations between men had never really struck me until 4th year in college in a colonialism module. But once it was mentioned it became very obvious, that it was something that occurred in everyday life that I had experienced first hand but had never considered deeply. Now, now, I can hear the grumblings of some people “Oh she’s blowing this out of proportion/of course she never noticed it because there was nothing to notice until the femnazi’s infected her brain”. Let me be clear I am not arguing anything I’m merely discussing something that I found interesting, more so because it was something every woman experiences but considers inevitable.
My first example is something every woman can relate to. Walking down a street at night or at any time of day and having to pass a group of men without a man with her. The men (though I want to stress not all the time) immediately see a woman walking on her own and feel they are free to make any comment towards her without fear of retaliation. They know she is unlikely to physically harm or threaten them. She is not intimidating to them so they know that even if she were to verbally attack them, they could just laugh it off. Now switch the scenario where she is accompanied by a man. The man unconsciously transmits a message that this girl is under his protection and care and that if they attack the girl verbally or physically they will have to deal with him. Now, if they attack the women or verbally harass her with him present they are challenging him, not her. They are challenging his ability to protect her, and though archaic, essentially his honour. The woman becomes a pawn through which the men assert dominance and power. Most of this is silent communication until things become verbal or physical. The man might make eye contact with the men and move this girlfriend to the other side of him. Where if the girl was alone the men might make a lewd comment, they remain silent because she is ‘shielded’ by another man. In order for a woman to remain hassle free and protected from some men, she requires the protection of another man. Many women will attest to this, that while men will make suggestive comments to them when alone, once she is with a man they become silent.
When women are pestered by men who can’t easily take a hint that they are uninterested we see this behaviour again. Though some women might find it easy to simply state “I’m not interested” I would say most women (like myself) find it difficult to be so direct, especially if this person is someone you interact with on a daily basis. The concern is that a man will react aggressively or very unpleasantly to a woman if she is so direct with him making her more careful with her behaviour towards him. And for some men even that statement doesn’t deter them because they assume that you could become interested in them given time. As a result the comment “I have a boyfriend” is uttered in the hope he will back off. The girl is allowing the fact that she has a boyfriend to put a barrier between the two of them, that another man has ‘claimed her’ and therefore she is off limits. The same occurs when a real or pretend boyfriend is conjured beside a girl to ward off another man who won’t take a girl’s “no, thank you” or limited responses and obvious discomfort, seriously. Men very rarely have to be faced with such a situation because they fear very little from an overeager woman; they also tend to be more direct than woman.
In most cultures men are expected to be bold, brash and without fear. Though that has diminished somewhat in some cultures it is still evident. Women, on the other hand are expected to be delicate, demure and appeasing. Both cultural expectations are damaging. Women are not expected to be brash and will reject a man in more subtle ways. A woman is more likly to deal with a man like this by remaining polite but distant. Sometimes such men get the interpretation that friendliness and a smile means something more when the girl is just being nice. These men can be quite difficult to discourage.
On a much more serious and global scale, women have been sinister pawns between men and communities during times of war for centuries. The most recent one that comes to mind is the kidnapping of Nigerian girls by Boko Harem. Prior to this, they had slaughtered a boy’s school which barely made a ripple international. The kidnapping of the girls however made international news for significantly longer. “Bring back our girls” was a slogan seen on every media outlet. The kidnap of those girls challenged the ability of men to protect their women, the ability of a country to ensure the safety of their women. By taking them, they claimed ownership of them. As Chimamanda Adichie stated: “You make a bigger point when you abduct girls” (HARDtalk, Youtube).
Women are often the more silent victims in wars, too. While in some situations they are more protected than men and that cannot be denied, in others they are victims of men trying to assert power. Rape is about power about control. Not only does it take power away from the women but takes away power from the side to which that woman belongs. This was seen in many wars and more so in civil wars such as Bosnia, where women where raped by the opposing side. Raping women can also be used as a form of ethnic cleansing, as the resulting child is half of the enemy. Women and children always take precedent in media so therefore they are powerful and yet easy targets. (A interesting fiction book that explores this issue is Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okoraforb). Those countries transmit messages to other countries through their women.
This theme is repeated in films and books constantly where the woman is kidnapped or using as a bargaining chip. When you begin to pay attention to it, you see it occurring more and more and notice much more in films and books who have see/read numerous times. For me, it’s quite an interesting and important topic to explore.