Gender: Issues and Reflections

Women’s issues have always obsessed feminists all over the world.  In the long history of humankind, the female species have always been considered as second-rate. For the longest time, the woman suffered from maltreatment, abuses and different kinds of torture.  It is only recently that she has been slowly accepted as man’s partner in life. Gender-related issues are all-encompassing. They do not only cover violence, torture, emotional distress and the like.  Even the way women look at love and sex has been highly-studied.  Because women have long been relegated to the background, their self-esteem would often plummet.  Having very low self-esteem would then result to bad relationships with men.

This is the subject of Bell Hooks’ Communion: The Female Search for Love. Hooks actually began her exploration of the meaning of love within the context of the American culture in the critically commended All About Love: New Visions. She then continued her quest in the bestselling Salvation: Black People and Love. Finally, Hooks culminates her everything in Communion: The Female Search for Love.

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In this work, Hooks challenged all women – especially those belonging to the thirty-something category — to have the courage to search for love (Hooks, 2002).  She intimated that that only through this heroic journey can women truly be free. Furthermore, Hooks answered all the questions about the place of love in a woman’s life. She explored how ideas about women, love and sex were changed by the feminist movement.  In other words, current perception of these things has been highly affected by women’s full participation in the workforce, and by the emerging culture of self-help (Hooks). This book also makes us feel comfortable about loving too much.  However, more that this, the book likewise challenges women and their roles in contemporary society. Admittedly, in spite of the radical steps already taken by the feminist movement, there is still so much space for women to love themselves, and the people around them without compromising their role in society.

Hooks is alternately exasperating and provoking in this book. In spite of this, however, Communion guides the women and readers alike toward the path that leads to true fulfillment. This is because Hooks’ work exposes women’s hopes, fears, and longing without being pathetic.  In fact, it seems to me that what Hooks really wanted to say is that women should not be afraid to love and being in love should not be considered a weakness. Hooks pointed out that women who cannot love can never really grow up (Hooks).

As I said earlier, in Communion, Hooks specifically focused on the experiences of women over thirty. She shares collective wisdom, and bestows on the readers the lessons learned from experiences of these women who dared to love. Hooks did not promise that love will always be synonymous with happiness and joy, but for her, it is what life is all about. As a matter of fact, Hooks pointed out that the root meaning of the word passion is “to suffer,” as has described the suffering of Jesus Christ.

Of course, I do believe that being “in love” is normally a roller-coaster ride that has its highs and lows.  This has been described, illustrated and discussed in many literature and works of art already. Yet, it is still worth taking the risk. As Hooks examines, “This suffering, rarely chosen, is in its own way a preparation for passion.” She explicates that many women in midlife come to love through suffering.  This is, after all, the only way that women are forced to take a deeper look t their life.

Needless to say, Hooks acknowledges the fact that it is not easy to be a woman in

a largely patriarchal culture, much less a woman “in love.” However, Hooks does confirm that self-acceptance and approval empower a woman to look outwardly for a “real love.” This takes her away from the notion that she can only be happy when a prince charming sweeps her off her feet, so to speak. She asserts “Passions we choose are different than those inflicted upon us because we are naïve, ignorant, or desperate. Passions we choose awaken and transform us.”

As a summary, Hooks emphasized that choice and self-direction are the key elements to women’s romantic lives, and these should be fully utilized so that women will be able to achieve complete fulfillment. “This book is a testimony–a celebration of the joy women find when we restore the search for love to its rightful place at the center of our lives,” she said.

Still, achieving what Hooks has prescribed is not a walk in the park.  Even now when society has become more lenient, it is still difficult for some women to find their niche in the universe.  This is because oppression, through many ways, is still prevalent.  This is especially true in countries where religion is used to subdue and discipline people. In many religious scriptures, it is indicated that women must serve and kowtow to the needs and wants of men. This is not only true in Christian teachings, but also in the Islam doctrine.

The fact that until now women are still having a hard time insisting on their rights has a lot to do with the influence of religion.  Sensitive gender-based issues, such as abortion, divorce, and gay marriages, are highly religion-based. Of course, it is unfair to treat religiosity and spirituality as one because they are entirely different concepts. The truth, however, is the barriers towards the ultimate fulfillment of the women are often hindered by religious considerations.  How then can a woman be free when the source of humankind’s belief does not acknowledge her equal rights to men?

In Virginia Sapiro’s Women in American Society, women’s studies focus on the impact of gender on women’s lives in the United States. It incorporates the latest research and theories from a variety of disciplines.  This includes the fields of anthropology, history, law, economics, political science, education, mass communication, psychology, and sociology (Sapiro, 1994). This, I think, is very vital as women are already everywhere and it is safe to assume that the prevalence of violence in many fields has become highly probable. The book specifically dealt with the various experiences of women, especially those that have been defined by class, race, age, religion, geographic location and sexual orientation (Sapiro). Because of this, it is a very helpful textbook for those who want to study the feminist movement, or even women’s issues prevailing in the world today.

After all, being a woman in a patriarchal society is, indeed, a complicated thing. However, it does not mean to say that they should already be helpless in the face of all the obstacles. In fact, as far as gender-based violence and coercion is concerned, women should not take this sitting down. Emotional torture is bad enough but being physically battered is something that should be addressed the moment it happens. Of course, many women take abuses for granted; some even go to the extent of ignoring it hoping that their abuser will eventually relent.  Then again, this kind of women has a very low self-esteem. This is the reason why the cycle goes on and on.

Five years ago, I know somebody who allowed her husband to physically abuse her for nearly two years.  She only sounded the alarm when she realized that even her toddler daughter would ignore the domestic violence she was experiencing.  “I realize I had to put a stop to his beating when I noticed that my daughter would treat every fight as something normal already,’ she told me.

Instances like this are still common even in western and developed countries.  In most cases, these women are psychologically treated to uplift their self-esteem and to teach them how to behave in certain compromising circumstances.

As was discussed earlier, as a human being, a woman has a choice. Whether she chooses to be battered or not is already up to her. Although society may tell her to get up and fight her assailant, the choice will still ultimately be hers.  However, it has been noticed that battered women are most likely to possess very low self-respect.  This eventually defines her relationship with her loved ones and the people surrounding her.

It is therefore important that a woman has a very healthy self-respect in order for her to be able to contribute substantially to society. Unless this happens, she will just be another doormat for men who consistently think that they are god’s gift to the universe.

I could not forget the fact that every time I witness a wedding ceremony in Christian churches, the bride always meekly agree to “obey” her husband come hell or high water.  In many ways, this makes me cringe.  For one, I have always believed that men and women were created as equal human beings.  The fact that the other one may be physically stronger most of the time should not be an excuse to hurt another human being.

However, complaints of marital violence often beget more controversies because in this patriarchal society like ours, men’s opinion usually matter more than the women’s.  This is one lesson that has been imparted to the readers of Sapiro’s Women in American Society.  As it seems like a collage of inspiring stories of women in the United States, it gives the readers the chance to reassess their lives. By comparing experiences with other women, female readers are often empowered to do what they think is right.  In the same manner, men who are open-minded also learn a lot from Sapiro’s book by acknowledging that women should be treated with respect and admiration.

In many countries where religion is a way of life, women can hardly confront certain issues about their bodies and beliefs right away.  For example, Roman Catholics encourage women to be submissive to their husbands – what with the much abused “obey” in the vow.  As a result, divorce is prohibited, trapping many couples in a loveless marriage just because Vatican and its guardians do not approve it divorce. In the same manner, Muslim women are also kept from doing things that their male counterparts are allowed to do.  One example of this is that in most cases, women do not mingle with men in worship during Fridays. Sure, this may be a case-to-case basis but even then, women are still generally treated as a second-rate citizen in many countries where religion rules its people’s way of life.

In the end, women’s issues are not yet done. In our society today, discrimination is still rampant and this is where the feminist movement should focus their efforts on.  Huge steps have already been taken to champion women’s rights but it is still a long way to go. Until then, feminist movement cannot – and should not – rest. As Hooks and Sapiro illustrated, the quest for lasting gender equality has just begun.  Whatever steps were taken before only opened previously locked doors.  Now is the time to move forward because only then can women say that they have finally gotten hold of their much-coveted, and yet elusive, freedom.