When women are considered property

I’ve had more discussions than I care to count with American women who wax indignant about the way women are treated in other countries.  They seem to regard it as this country’s mission to force gender equality and related issues upon societies everywhere.  When I try to point out to them that in many countries, if they tried to do that in person, they’d be assaulted and/or raped and/or killed for their temerity, they look at me as if I’m some sort of dinosaur or Neanderthal, and demand to know why I and people like me wouldn’t protect them and enforce ‘civilized’ standards.  They simply can’t accept that no amount of protection or enforcement will suffice when an entire culture is set against them.

A tragedy is being played out in South Africa right now that drives home this reality.

A middle-aged Shembe man’s insistence on taking a 14-year-old as his bride after her older sister reneged on the terms of an arranged marriage with him, resulted in the 14-year-old being “rescued” by social workers after a relative tipped off the police.

. . .

Biyela [the girl’s mother] explained that she and her husband had wrestled with their decision to allow the man to claim their teenage daughter, but could find no other solution after accepting lobolo. Their 20-year-old daughter, whom they believed to be a virgin, was betrothed to the man and the wedding was scheduled for December 2.

Overnight, the arrangements were thrown into disarray.

“My daughter’s betrothed came to us and said he suspected she was pregnant. When we confronted her, my daughter admitted it. She had been impregnated by a schoolboy she was seeing behind our backs.

“The groom-to-be said he would not accept ‘damaged goods’ and demanded that we return the money he had paid in lobolo,” she said, weeping.

Biyela said he then insisted that her younger sister would be a perfect replacement.

“We were shocked when the lobolo delegation arrived and said we had a choice; we could hand over our younger daughter or pay back the lobolo.

“We refused initially because she is young and not ready for marriage, but even church leaders were putting us under pressure and we didn’t have the money, so we had no choice but to give up our daughter.

“Most of the R29 500 [about US $3,400] we received had already been spent on preparations for the wedding. In terms of our faith we would also have been expected to provide three cows for slaughter in a ceremony to cleanse the church. We were unable to do that.

“Then the man pointed at our younger daughter and said: ‘I will take her for my wife instead.’ We did not want to do it, because we know it is wrong, but we did not have any other way to make right what had been done.”

There’s more at the link.

There are still many (far too many) places in this world where women are regarded as property, goods and chattels, rather than as human beings in their own right.  I’d invite you to imagine the response of an American couple if their daughter was put in such a position . . . but you can’t, of course, because that’s so starkly unimaginable in this country that it would be beyond ridiculous.  Nevertheless, I’d hazard a guess that at least a quarter of the women in this world, perhaps as many as a third, live under such circumstances.

The human race has a long way still to go in our development, haven’t we?




  1. Peter, it not that hard to image this even in this country. Christian groups that follow the writings of the Bible strictly make women chattel property.

    English Common Law makes women second class citizens. Try buying property as a single woman, the deed has to specify that you are a single woman.

    I remember, my mother, in the early 60's, had to have my father's permission plus another doctor's permission to have her tubes tied when she and Dad decided that three children were enough. (She was having surgery and wanted to know if the doctor could also tie her tubes while in there.) I also remember, not being allowed to take the classes I wanted in high school because I was a girl and my dad had to give permission for me to take mechanical drawing.

    It wouldn't take long for the Western World to backslide into that old ugliness. It's not that far in our past.

  2. Heh. Nowadays docs in the US won't perform a vasectomy without the wife or girlfriend approving. Single unattached guys wanting the procedure are turned away.

    My son couldn't take a computer programming class this semester – too many guys were in it already. It wasn't full, but the college didn't want to look like it discriminates against women in the STEM classes (although there's no such limit in the other classes and women are now in the majority in college).

    We're the same way, just on the other side of the pendulum swing. If a woman is at my house and claims abuse, I will be evicted from my house and arrested, unable to go back until the authorities deem it okay. At work I can be cited for sexual harassment with no proof other than a woman's word. It's reverse sharia: a man's word is worth half of a woman's word here in the US.

  3. I have NEVER seen Barbie take math or biology. I don't even know if she can balance her checkbook. Yet she is the prototype for most women's idea of the perfect adult female. But if women can't balance a checkbook or take care of whatever money they have, they are doomed to poverty. What is so great about being poor? Well, at least they look good.

  4. While the idea of women as property may fall far short of the ideal, I suspect it would be a far better arrangement than the Tragedy of the Commons.

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