Patriarchal Inflicted Female ‘Outsiderness’: Looking through the Glass Window

By Jeanne Sarson | Apr 3, 2013


To make sense of my looking through the glass window at this year’s United Nations CSW57th Session and how this created a painful disquieting knot in my feminist gut I, first, have to share bits of herstorical and historical reflections about the CSW and women’s and girls’ human rights. For those who may not be familiar with these three letters—CSW—they stand for the Commission on the Status of Women. Established in June 1946, following the creation of the United Nations Charter, the Commission’s intended purpose was to establish the principle of women’s human rights equality, in reference to men, in all aspects of human life as written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Declaration established evolutionary relationship boundaries that dictated the do’s and don’ts about how countries and citizens needed to evolve in order to stop the infliction of patriarchal-based horrific brutalities that had occurred during World War II. I suspect that the Nazi inflicted Holocaust comes immediately to most people’s mind. And, rightly so.

Patriarchal Inflicted Female Outsiderness in Warring Times

Invisibilized inside such patriarchal-based horrific warring brutalities is the condition or state of positioning women and girls outside of the dominant patriarchal group and the human rights privileges afforded patriarchs. Women and girls were outsiders—they were considered ‘the others’ thus suffered the burden of patriarchal inflicted female outsidernessIn the pre-and post-World War II warring periods, women, for instance, as outsiders were dehumanized and sexualized in Japanese torture rape camps—objectified as ‘comfort women’ to ‘service’ men-at-war; inside Nazi death camps women were also forced into ‘prostitution’ to ‘service’ men-at-war; and it is estimated by some that 200,000 women and girls were raped by Russian victors-of-warring when they invaded Berlin with the fall of Nazi Germany. Women and girls were not considered equal to the warring men but were seen and treated as objects that men could use or do with as they wanted. The women and girls were the outsiders devoid of human equality and human rights.

Patriarchal Inflicted Female Outsiderness: Post-WW II & the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As I just mentioned, outsiders are considered to be those that do not belong to the dominant collective or group. It’s a “we” and “them” position. From a global patriarchal perspective the “we” are males; the “them” are females. In the post-World War II patriarchal human rights perspective this meant that women did not enter into the negotiations of the writing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as equal to men. The Declaration, for example, was originally called the ‘Rights of Men’. The condition of patriarchal inflicted female outsiderness was successfully challenged. The Declaration language was transformed. Fundamental freedoms and human rights, with “dignity and worth of the human person” were affirmed equally for women as for men. But the transformative words of the Declaration were not a magic wand. The words did not automatically transform patriarchal inflicted female outsiderness into women’s social equality, fundamental freedoms, human rights, dignity and worth. The work of the CSW continued. Establishing the living reality that women and girls must have human equality and human rights in reference to men and boys in all aspects of human life was why I was looking through the glass window in 2013.

Looking through the Glass Window at Patriarchal Inflicted Female Outsiderness

I need to share a bit more herstorical reflections, beginning with the World Conference on Human Rights held in 1968. Discourses on women and their human rights did not occur in 1968. This invisibilization changed during the second World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. Women’s voices crystallized, demanding that human rights were women’s rights and that all forms of violence inflicted against women, whether in their public or private lives, had to be eliminated. In reality they were demanding an end to patriarchal inflicted female outsiderness.

Patriarchal inflicted female outsiderness jumped at me differently this year than in previous years. I first started attending the CSW sessions in 2004, the year after the 2003 CSW session which had as its main theme women’s human rights and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. This similar theme of women’s right to human rights with the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls was being revisited this year at the 57th Session of the CSW. I do not dismiss for a moment the demanding work required of many to facilitate the Commission’s sessions but taking this one little picture looking through the glass window unexpectedly jarred me.

I took this picture, a very mundane one, of looking through a glass window because I was interested in recording the herstorical and historical reality that was taking place inside this UN room. Discourses on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls were taking place. It was a closed session meaning we could not go into the room; we were confined to standing outside the room looking through the glass windows. Inside the room members of the Commission—45 government appointed members and their teams of negotiators—were talking about, were in essence negotiating women’s and girl’s human right not to be subjected to gender-based violence of many forms which are inflicted against women and girls because they are women and girls. All forms of violence that causes destructive consequences on all aspects of our lives. Governmental delegates were working to have an outcome document known as agreed conclusions. This document would say what women’s and girls’ human rights would be supported, what control they would be granted over their own bodies, and which women and girls and their human rights would be excluded. It was being decided what would be or not be considered violence. These decisions solidified in the agreed conclusions document which is supposed to serve as human right guidelines for countries to follow when back home. Back in 2003 such an outcome document was never attained because negotiating countries could not agree on its wording about women’s human rights, their rights to have control over their bodies, and their right not to be subjected to forms of gender-based violence.[1]

After I took the picture through the glass window I replayed it on my camera. What looking into the camera, what looking at the picture of looking through the glass window did was propel me outside the event that was occurring in the room. It removed me from my interest in the event; it took me away from the moment, it showed me in a different way of looking at the event. It gave me a different emotional feeling about how in 2013, we as women and girls were still being talked about—we were still the outsiders. The emotional reality of the moment almost sent me to my knees. Here we were, women of many ages all lined up outside the glass window looking in. Being half of this planet’s population—being one-half of the human group didn’t matter—we were still the “them” and struggling against patriarchal inflicted female outsiderness. Regardless of belonging to the same human species group or collective we as women and girls still do not belong or have human right equality for it was not and never has been men’s human rights being negotiated in that room, rather it was the human rights of women and girls. Not that this was news to me, but in those seconds of time and space of looking into the picture on my camera of looking through the glass windows, I was propelled from subjective interest to being an objective observer—to feeling and being the outsider. Emotionally when I looked through the glass window of the picture it created and still does create a painful disquieting knot in my feminist gut. That women and girls must continue to experience patriarchal inflicted female outsiderness, must still struggle to achieve fundamental human rights and the elimination of all forms of violence inflicted onto them sinks to the depths of human ‘insanity’. In my opinion, that the CSW 67 years later must still be struggling to achieve women’s and girls’ human rights and human equality is beyond the capacity of human rationalization to justify!

[1]. Commission on Status of Women Fails to Adopt Draft Agreed Conclusions on Violence against Women, as it Closes Forty-seventh Session.


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