Men, Women and the Whole Subject-Object Thing
As Donald Trump insanely pirouettes off the presidential stage, I’ve been struck by a pair of statements regarding women by Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, and John Cornyn, who occupies the #3 Republican leadership spot in the U.S. Senate.
“I am disgusted by Mr Trump’s words about women: our daughters, sisters and mothers.” So wrote John Cornyn.
John Cornyn could have just written, “I am disgusted by Mr. Trump’s words about women.” But he added: “our daughters, sisters and mothers.” Cornyn used possessive language: women are “ours.” Women are possessions. Whose possessions? I can’t tell you; Cornyn hasn’t defined who the possessors are. But women are the possessions; they are someone’s.
“Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified.” So said Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan’s sentence is odd for its stilted “are to be.” Again, there’s a implicit subject of this sentence, and I can’t tell you who the subject is meant to be. But women are, despite the “not objectified” part of the sentence, the objects of the sentence. _________ champions women. ____________ reveres women. Women are to be done to.
Speaker Ryan’s choice of things to do to women — champion them, revere them — is part of the thousand-year-old code of chivalry in which it is men’s job to act in the world, to do, to be subjects of sentences, and in which it is women’s job to be championed, to be revered, to be sanctified, to be placed on a pedestal, to be desired objects. A woman’s job in the chivalric code is to be ultimately won, as a prize, as an object.
You can say you want to do bad things to women, or you can say you want to do nice things to women, but no matter what adjective you use with that construction, women are still the passive recipients of your action. Is being a passive recipient better than being a possession?
Here’s an alternative to all that possession and objectification: women speak, women think, women do, women choose.
One more: women vote.