Something happening in the news this week has crystallized some troubling thoughts I've been having about US culture and society. Thoughts that have been bothering me for some time now. That something is the disturbing case of rapist Brock Turner and the outrageously lenient sentence he was dealt after raping and abusing an unconscious, defenseless young woman. I feel like this case has brought the underlying and widely spread problem of misogyny in the US to the surface, a problem that is currently being brandished shamelessly by an actual, real-life frontrunner in the US presidential race.
Having been found guilty by a jury of his peers of three felony convictions, and facing up to 14 years behind bars for the awful, life-shattering assault that occurred on the highly reputable Stanford university campus, Judge Aaron Persky gave the defendant a measly six months jail time (of which he'll probably serve three). The reason? The sentence would have a 'severe impact' on this All American, white, Stanford student and professional swimmer with a bright future. Oh and his father wrote a letter to the judge documenting how his precious son is suffering for a dismissive '20 minutes of action'. Seriously, this is how justice works in the grand old US of A. In 2016.
Since moving to the US five years ago, I've built a great life here. I've had a wonderful time in this diverse country and enjoyed some amazing experiences. I've made friends for life, worked, married (twice to the same man!), had a baby and returned to the workforce. I've been through the system a little, shall we say. Like all countries, American society has its fair share positive and negative points. This one particular negative point, however, keeps raising its head; the perturbing, ugly face of misogyny that I feel, until now, has been lurking on the sidelines of society. During my time here, I've witnessed and learnt a few things that have kept this problem lingering in my mind. Things that really surprised me seeing as the US is such a progressive first world country. A country that has so often paved the way for other countries when it comes to social and economic progression. Things that really shocked me, because I lived in the Middle East for a time and didn't think any country in the western world could come close to degrading the role of women in the way a large swathe of middle eastern cultures tend to. I should say 'try to' as there are many amazing women and men are fighting the good fight for equality in that region.
But back to the US. Lets take the ridiculously short or non-existent maternity leave to start with. I was one of the 'lucky' ones living in California. I got a whopping 12 weeks maternity leave on 50% of my salary. My salary two years prior to my maternity leave, I might add, because who cares if I'd worked my arse off to get a raise in the 2 years since I started working at the company. Yet, as I said, I was certainly one of the lucky ones. In some states women must haul their aching, broken bodies back to work after 6 weeks of UNPAID leave, UNPAID my friends. That's if they can afford to stay off work for 6 weeks. Many can't and have no option but to drag themselves back within weeks of giving birth to another human being. A human being who needs them as much as they need to nurture them and let their bodies recover. No. America wants you to sit in a meeting while your boobs leak through your shirt like overfilled water balloons. America wants you to get back to it when it hurts so much to walk that you have to go the ladies to take deep breaths between serving customers. All when the beginnings of a smile is yet to dance on their newborn's lips.
So maternity leave, or lack thereof, is obviously one of the largely documented disgraces against women in this country. But once I started thinking about it I realized that it's not just when women start having children that they discover what little value American society puts on them, them who make up over half of the professional and technical American workforce*. From a young age, it's clear to see gender stereotypes in abundance and misogyny at play without looking far. National sports are dominated by hero worshipped, male superstars, while little known, beautiful, semi-clad women cheer and kick their legs on the sidelines. The service industry is awash with 'family friendly' chains and outlets where the only criteria for female servers is to where as little as possible.
Then there's the college fraternity and sorority culture, which, I admit, as a European is hard to get my head around. I have no doubt that they do a lot of good, but from where I'm standing I see the encouragement and almost admiration of a college culture that endorses women and men to look and act a certain way and carry out dangerous, often illegal, often sexual acts. And this acceptance and admiration infiltrates overall pop culture. You only have to look at the media, where this societal endorsement of abusive behaviour towards women is rampant. I'll leave just one name here - Chris Brown.
When you look around there is a concerning prevalence of misogyny in America today. But I feel like this terribly sad case has taken its ugly face from the sideline shadows and thrown it into the spotlight of center field. It's made it a bigger, scarier problem than I ever imagined. Until now I thought the idea of Donald Trump, the personification of misogyny itself, becoming the next President of the USA was laughable, impossible, surely? He who has said that sexual assault in the military is totally acceptable. He who has claimed that women are essentially 'aesthetically pleasing' objects. This has to be a joke, right? However, Judge Persky has demonstrated to us all that misogyny is even evident in the American judicial system, a system which represents this country's political system and inner workings. The reality suddenly hit me in the face that this problem is in fact deeply-rooted in the fabric of this country. This means that Trump, this feeble attempt at manhood, could actually get into office. And if that happens it's likely we will have to fight even harder to eradicate or even reduce this misogynistic behaviour and acceptance of it.
This case is as shocking as it is important. This young woman, who so bravely and eloquently shared her story with us, and her family deserve justice. Plus our daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, nieces, grandmothers, granddaughters and women everywhere deserve to hear that justice has been served too. America as a whole needs this if we're to feel safe and confident raising our daughters here. America needs this so that we can believe in this land of opportunity once more. And America needs to do this for the world to gain back some respect. Because if America makes it ok, if America sets an example of letting misogyny live and breed in its justice and political system, where does that leave the rest of the world?
Support the fight and join the recall campaign to remove Judge Persky from the Bench for his decision in the Brock Turner rape case by signing the petition here. Secondly, DO NOT vote Trump!
*Source: Department for Professional Employees.