Please try and contemplate that the following exists in our world: somewhere in the Middle East, there is a man who feels he has a certain responsibility. He rides a bicycle and wears a canister of acid on his back, patrolling the streets. He is not in search of terrorists. Instead, he is in search of little girls on their way to school. From this canister, he flings the acid at the faces of young women, disabling and distorting them forever, and all they have done wrong is want an education.
My platform, “Love Shouldn’t Hurt: Protecting Women Against Domestic Violence,” has given me knowledge and experience beyond any imaginable measure. It’s been my strength, my passion, and the driving force that eventually led me to the Miss America crown. Along the way, I’ve begun to understand that domestic violence stems from an even more monstrous global epidemic: violence against women.
President Jimmy Carter once said, “the world’s discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most serious, pervasive, and ignored violation of basic human rights.” His writings about the issue are his call to action. Now, here is mine.
In preparation for Miss America, I tried to have as many conversations about my platform as possible. Those conversations led to a bigger and bigger conversation, including the story of the man with the acid until, finally, I realized that domestic violence is a very small part of a much bigger problem. This problem permeates women of all ages, socioeconomic status, geographical locations, and religions. It hangs in the air like a thick fog, seeping through doorways and windowsills, silently, but leaving its poisonous mark on our global community.
So where does this violence come from? Is it the deep-rooted patriarchy that dictates our society? Or simply testosterone that leads some men to exhibit dominance and control through whatever means necessary? Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon.
Roman men had life and death authority over their wives. King Henry the 8th simply beheaded a wife if he no longer sought her company. 18th century English common law gave men the authority to discipline their wives physically at their discretion. Let’s not forget the centuries of forced sexual servitude all around the world from Japan to India to Western and Sub-Saharan Africa to right here in the United States — and everywhere in between. The list continues with genital mutilation, torture, and in some cultures, if a rape takes place, that woman will most likely be executed for something she is a victim of.
Religious texts have even been manipulated over generations into justifying a woman’s status as being lesser than a man’s and deserving of this sort of behavior. I bring all this up not to scare people, but to shock anyone who continues reading into a very stark reality: This is happening. And it has been happening for thousands of years. We can’t afford to look the other way just because this isn’t a topic that is easy to talk about.
Last week, Emma Watson gave a speech on this subject to the United Nations in New York City. She mentioned her opinions on the word “feminist” and I too have something to say. Some have criticized me as being a “feminist.” I believe that word has been hijacked and its true meaning has been lost. The word “feminism” literally means belief in the equality of men and women. So yes, I am a feminist and I take no offense to that critique. I believe women have the right to make an equal living for equal work, that they can make their own decisions about their bodies, and that no one has the right to control them. If equality translates into feminism, then so be it.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month but almost no one knows it. This month is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month — a very important cause. Everything is pink, from Starbucks cups to professional athletes uniforms, and the fundraising dollars are coming in. Breast cancer prevention is something everyone can get behind and collectively agrees it is absolutely terrible. But why can’t people come together and do the same for domestic violence or even violence against women on a global scale?
The color for Domestic Violence Awareness Month is purple. I see very little purple anywhere, no mentions on national media outlets, and no major events to speak of that are raising awareness. To me, this is disheartening. Have we really come to this point where nothing is being done?
Emma Watson said, “If not me, who? And If not now, when?” I share this sentiment with her and have asked myself the very same questions, thus leading to my efforts in doing something about it and encouraging others to do so as well.
Once you are done reading this, please head to your various social media outlets, share this article, and post that you #VOWtoEndIt. VOW stands for Violence against and Oppression of Women. #VOWtoEndIt for a better future. #VOWtoEndIt for a more inclusive society. #VOWtoEndIt for the protection of women. #VOWtoEndIt so every woman and girl receives the respect she deserves.
This is my call to action…and I #VOWtoEndIt now.
With Love and Solidarity,