How Odd

On Tuesday, Reuters published a troubling story about the ubiquity of "child marriage" in India and its association with unwanted pregnancies and disproportionately high sterilization in young women. Researchers analyzed data from a 2005-06 national health survey, which included 22,807 Indian woman between the ages of 20 and 24, 44.5% of whom had been married between 16 and 17, 22.6% of whom had been married before they were 16, and 2.6% of whom had been married before they turned 13. The women had a high rate of sterilization because many of them had already had their desired number of children (or more) by age 25.
"Women who were married as children remained significantly more likely to have had three or more childbirths, a repeat childbirth in less than 24 months, multiple unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy termination, and sterilization," wrote the researchers, led by Anita Raj at the Boston University School of Public Health.

…While the practice of child marriage has decreased slowly, its prevalence remains unacceptably high, and rural, poor, less educated girls and those from central or eastern regions of the country were most vulnerable to the practice, the researchers wrote.

Such findings indicate that child marriage affects not only adolescents aged 16 to 17 years, but also large numbers of pubescent girls aged 14 to 15 years, and show that existing policies and economic development gains have failed to help rural and poor populations, the researchers wrote.
Naturally, this story was filed in the Odd News section.

As was a story about the Vatican's pronouncement that the washing machine has done more to liberate women than the birth control pill or the right to work (an article which begins, btw, with the line: "Feminists of the world sit down before you read this."), and a story about Japan appointing "three young women as cultural envoys because they represent Japan's long-running craze for all things cute." Right alongside the usual Odd News fare, like Police seize 1,200 pounds of pot in spinach cans and German maths whiz, dead for 450 years, gets utility bill. Because child rape, religious institutional oppression, and the exploitation of women are all just wacky highjinks!

And lest anyone be tempted to unearth the tired old argument that the inclusion of these stories is not because they are meant to be "zany" and "humorous," but because they are about something unusual, let me just point out that very point of the main story in question is that "child marriage" is far too common. The whole reason for its publication is that "child marriage" isn't the oddity it should be—which makes the only purpose of its being filed under the Odd News section the freak show quality considered inherent to so many stories about women. (Especially non-Western women.)

I'll just repeat, with some additional commentary, what I've said before about this subject, because I don't know that I can explain why it's important any better or more clearly than I already have:

The misplacement of stories about various injustice done to women in the Odd News section strikes me as one of those nuances of sexism that many men don't notice or understand. To have women's experiences like this trivialized as "Odd News" is just infuriating, and being obliged to think about someone chuckling over the hilarious oddity of girls being forced into marriage and raped at 13 can make a gal angry as fuck, particularly as she recognizes that the constant positioning of humiliated women as the butt of jokes humiliates us all. This shit is important, and even as I say it, I know why it doesn't seem like it is, or should be. But it is.

The real cost of sexism to women is not in our paying a single emotional penny here for this insult and a single emotional penny there for that disgrace, but in the cumulative negative balance it leaves inside each of us. Even if we let this thing or that thing roll off of the thickened skins of our backs, we pay another penny each time; letting it roll off your back is just another way of saying keep your complaints to yourself, but it doesn't change the reality that sexism takes its toll, whether one has the ill manners of mentioning the offense or not.

As I've said before, the word that comes to my mind when I try to explain how sexism affects me is history. And I don't mean history in an academic sense, as in the history of the feminist movement, but as in my own history—a thousand threads of experience that come together to weave the fabric that I regard as my life. That history contains lots of wonderful and not wonderful things, related and unrelated things. Little things, things like seeing so many stories about the mistreatment of women culled under the heading of "Odd News," prick at a particular thread as though it's a guitar string, but instead of producing sound, it produces memory, memory of all the other times I have seen women or their stories belittled for others' amusement, memory of all the times such degradation has been used to mask the need for helping women in real need of assistance, or even just in need of being regarded with some basic fucking dignity.

I don't carry these memories with me because I want to. I carry them with me because they have left indelible prints upon me, affected my understanding of who I am to other people. I don't want to be bothered when I notice things like the treatment of women in "Odd News" features. But it doesn't matter what I want. To protect myself against this reaction is to deny my experience, to deny part of myself.

I write posts like this in the hope that they will speak to a man who has never had to think about what it means to be a woman in the world, who wonders why we can't just let pass without comment, without anger, our irritation at the way stories about women are presented in the news. But mostly, I write posts like this for other women, who see things like this every day, and feel it chipping away at them, and whose pain is assuaged only by knowing that other women share it. In other words, I write posts like this for me.

[H/T to Shaker OuyangDan. How Odd: Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen.]

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