In 1959, Howard Griffin, a writer from Texas, chemically darkened the color of his skin and journeyed through the Deep South, chronicling the hatred and racism he met along the way in his controversial book Black Like Me (1960). In later editions of the book, he discussed the hatred and death-threats he and his family suffered as a consequence of having exposed the plight of the black man in the racially segregated South.
In preparing for his journey, Griffin understood that if he were to really understand the harsh realities of a black man living in the South in the late ‘50’s, he would have to experience firsthand the persecution and discrimination they lived with on a daily basis. He knew that it was only by walking in their shoes, that he would be able to truly feel and appreciate the depth of the pain, suffering, and degradation of these people.
My life of late, recounted in my own ‘chronicles of discrimination’, has taken the same path as Griffin’s did over half a century ago. I am from a very privileged class and affluent society, and until a decade ago my experience with sexism and discrimination had always been more of a ‘nagging’ inconvenience than anything else – a fact of which I was well aware, and why I always defended the rights of others. It was not until I attempted to start a business (defying my husband’s will) and my consequential divorce, that I came to realize how and why societies deploy ‘weapons of oppression’ to control and dominate people. But, most amazing during my ‘journey’ was to observe how people rationalize and justify their discriminatory actions, and how the courts ‘buy into’ these rationalizations, in front of all logic to the contrary.
In order to understand the devastating consequences discrimination in the courts has on half of the world’s population and their ability to function, it is important to consider that “the judicial system is the cornerstone of democracy… If a justice system is corrupt, public officials and special interest groups can act in the knowledge that, if exposed, their corrupt and illegal acts will go unpunished… judicial corruption facilitates corruption across all sectors of government and society. Human rights are debased as citizens are not afforded their rights of equal access to the courts, nor are they treated equally by the courts.” (The Relationship Between Human Rights and Corruption: The Impact of Corruption on the Rights to Equal Access to Justice and Effective Remedy by Victoria Jennett)
And, in order to understand how this discrimination contributes to the oppression of women and dis-empowers them in their personal and professional lives, it is important to examine the situation from an ethnographic perspective.
As Susan Faludi states in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, “The real source of divorced women’s woes can be found not in the fine print of divorce legislation but in the behavior of ex-husbands and judges… Patriarchy has not disappeared it has changed form.”
Lundy Bancroft examines this discriminatory behavior in his book Why Does He Do That? “some judges and custody evaluators – both male and female – go out of their way to discredit and demean women who report abuse and request protection for themselves or their children, and if the woman protests the professional response, they explode into verbally abusing her or retaliating against her. In this way the mentality and tactics of certain professionals can closely parallel those of abusers, and the result is revictimization of the woman.”
Bancroft further declares, “In reality, to remain neutral is to collude with the abusive man, whether or not that is your goal. If you are aware of chronic or severe mistreatment and do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you do not speak out against it, your silence communicates implicitly that you see nothing unacceptable taking place. Abusers interpret silence as approval, or at least as forgiveness. To abused women, meanwhile, the silence means that no one will help – just what her partner wants her to believe. Anyone who chooses to quietly look the other way therefore unwittingly becomes the abuser’s ally.”
As long as government officials, journalists, the general public, and the international human rights community continue to ‘play ostrich’ to the violation of the rights of women in the courts, the war on the oppression of women will never be won. It is time to wake-up, and stand-up to a situation that is neither banal, nor inconsequential, but rather one that goes to the very heart of what a democracy is, and for which it stands. Rights do not exist if they are not respected, protected, and defended.