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Code of Silence

When Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel, so the story goes, she learned that there was an ongoing problem of women being assaulted on the streets at night.  Her cabinet ministers had the solution:  For the safety of women, the government should impose a curfew for them at sunset.  The Prime Minister responded:  “Why should the curfew be imposed on women?  They are not the problem.  Impose the curfew on men.”

Golda Meir This story resonated with me because at the time I was attending a college where women had “hours” and men didn’t.  In other words, female students had an evening curfew; male students did not.  The administration justified its position by saying that it needed to “protect” women.

That blatantly sexist attitude towards women wouldn’t be acceptable today -- the blatant part, that is.  But protecting women by curtailing their rights remains what some still consider a "common sense," even chivalrous solution to keeping women safe -- or unable to compete on a level playing field.

If you saw Lara Logan’s gut wrenching and gutsy interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday, you had to be struck by her sheer courage not only in doing the work she does, but also in breaking the “code of silence” for women reporters.  As Kim Barker explains in her piece published simultaneously in Pro Publica and the NY Times, women reporters have long endured sexual harassment, sexual threats, and sometimes even assaults as they do their jobs as overseas reporters.  Still, she writes, “I would never tell my bosses for fear that they might keep me at home the next time something major happened.”

Closer to home we have the shameful and equally gut wrenching stories of sexual harassment and attacks that Lara-logan-2 some of our female soldiers have had to endure in addition to putting their lives on the line for our country.  The difference between them and female reporters, of course, is that the sexual threats for our military women come not from enemy combatants, but from their fellow soldiers.

Every time these kinds of awful things happen, one knee jerk reaction is to curtail women’s rights to participate in dangerous situations “for their own safety.”  I understand this; as a mother myself I know how hard it is to let your daughters take risks (and your sons too).  Things don’t always end well. Hearts are broken. People get hurt and even killed.

But … making your own choices for good or ill always trumps having to let someone else make them for you “for your own good.”   Curtailing women’s choices starts small, from praising little girls in school for “sitting quietly” to continually whining about Title IX to dividing class activities into boys’ teams and girls’ teams.  We need to keep firmly in mind a motto of the Wellesley Women’s Center:  A world that is good for women is good for everyone.


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