The uphill battle that women face worldwide in gaining the same rights as men was illustrated with appalling clarity in three news reports this week, the first from Saudi Arabia : in some restaurants there are now signs that unaccompanied women are no longer welcome. Too much flirting going on apparently. Shades of Gilbert and Sullivan! (In case you’ve forgotten, in The Mikado the Emperor of Japan decrees that anyone found flirting in his realm would be beheaded) Flirting is the woman’s fault obviously, that’s why they’re banned and not single men. If only they weren’t so beautiful, so irresistible, so flirt-worthy! And this in the country where women have to wear the hijab or risk being lashed or imprisoned, so the allure of the Saudi women is so powerful that the veil is not enough to keep it from being unleashed. What’s the solution? Iron masks?
The second report came from President Erdogan of Turkey who made it clear last week that women and men cannot ever be equal. The problem here of course is the meaning of “equal”. People tend to get mixed up about this, so pay attention. Of course women and men are not equal physically! ! No one needs to be reminded that women can have babies and men can’t or that you wouldn’t ask a pregnant woman to do everything a man does in certain jobs. What we’re talking about in the Western World is equal rights and equal chances. Erdogan’s heart is in the right place—he wants to protect women but he’s going about it wrong. He’d be all for the restaurant ban on single women I suspect. Cover that face and that body with burqa and hijab or men will be so enflamed by a woman’s curves, and the beauty of her countenance that they will be unable to control their biological mandate to be fruitful and multiply. So if women don’t cover up, it’s their fault if bad things happen.
But this is to get it exactly backwards. We have animal bodies and impulses, but we have that extra layer of brain that is there specifically to control our impulsivity. Instead of imprisoning women in coverings and banning them from public places, we should be making sure that boys and men get the message that women are people too, not second-rate human beings, not prey, but fully empowered with the same rights as men. If they’re not getting that message at home, then the state (that’s you, President Erdogan!) has to be the purveyor of this message, and they should make sure everyone gets it: we’re not beasts anymore, we’re aware of a higher dimension to life, where women and men come together in a beautiful, divine Oneness called sexual union and marriage. The road to that sacrament is not banning and covering, but freedom and respect.
This message is not getting through, and bad things are happening. Harassing women is a kind of sport for some men, and women are free game. Last month in Offenbach, Germany a brave young woman named Tugce Albayrak prevented a group of 18-year old boys from harassing two girls with tragic consequences. The boys had been hanging out at a McDonalds late at night, bothering people, especially women. They made their way down to a bathroom and screams for help from the girls ensued. No one did anything so Tugce went to help them. Later in the parking lot, one of the men became infuriated by her interference and hit her. She went down hard, fell into a coma for two weeks and died on her 23rd birthday. Tugce Albayrak has become a hero throughout Germany, someone who dared stand up and fight on the front lines of this war against women, a war whose end will not come by banishing women from public view or refusing them career opportunities or marrying them off as soon as they reach puberty, but when we all teach our sons to respect them.