Is everything in life to be measured by its dollar value? That’s a question that arose in the following conversation I had recently with a young man on the Lower Yard.
One morning he walked over to me, shook his head and shared his story. Following is the gist of what was said:
“Look OG, I picked up this lady friend in my car and took her to this club. Later, we went and got something to eat at this nice restaurant. We seemed to be hitting it off real well. After doing all that, I was ready to take her to this motel.”
I asked, “So what happened?”
“That b—-,” he snapped, “had the nerve to tell me she wanted to go home. I spent my money and time on her, and she wants me to take her home? Now you know that ain’t right. So you tell me, OG, if a girl decides to go out with you, and you spend your money on her, then she’s got to give up something, right?”
I asked, “So what did you do?”
“I put that b—- out my car.”
I stood there for a few minutes, wanting to be clear about his argument as well as his attitude. I’m always careful not to respond too quickly or in a tone that might be perceived as preachy. I allowed him to make his point.
Later that evening, while sitting in my cell, I found myself thinking about what he had said, and how common his attitude is among many of our young people.
Regardless of where we might think our basic assumptions about women come from, it is safe to assume that we were not born with them. These ideas do not fall from the sky, nor do they emerge in a vacuum. The fact is that we live, breathe and function in a capitalist society. And capitalism reduces relationships and parts of relationships into commodities — things to buy and sell. One basic and compelling assumption of capitalism is ROI, “Return On Investment.” In other words, in this social reality, the assumption is, “You don’t give or get something for nothing… Everybody and everything has a price.”
“Women often feel pressured to accept
and participate in their own exploitation”
This fundamental value not only operates in the economic and political realm of our lives, it penetrates and impacts every aspect of our social relationships. This capitalist value is deeply embedded in our society and informs our interactions with each other. Thus, it’s completely logical for us to assume and argue, “If we pay for something, we should own it!”
Now I’m not suggesting that disrespect of women comes exclusively from capitalism. In fact, we would be hard-pressed to find a world or economy where women are treated as equals. However, I do believe capitalism promotes objectification and gives a paradigm for the kind of exploitation that this young man was talking about.
In such a context, parents groom their daughters to look for men with money, someone who will “take care” of them. Too often, sex is exchanged for economic security and renamed marriage. The young man who spent his money on the young woman felt that her body was an entitlement, a return on his investment — part of the “deal.” When money and material consideration form the basis of a relationship, it increases the sense of human alienation and dependency. It undermines the possibility of building quality relationships.
The sad and tragic thing about this relationship is that this value is so engrained in the fabric of our culture that women often feel pressured to accept and participate in their own exploitation. They buy into the assumptions and find themselves collaborating with their own objectification. The important thing to understand and remember, however, is that this relationship demeans and damages everyone, not only its direct victims.
Although I have articulated the problem from an OG’s perspective, the crucial question remains: How can we begin to imagine a more egalitarian and mutually beneficial relationship, one that is not motivated and measured by the value we place on money (ROI.), but by the mutual value we place on each other’s humanity? If we believe that women have the same human worth as men, then we have to believe that they are deserving of the same human respect and entitled to the same human rights.
Perhaps I should have said to the young man in the Lower Yard:
What if it were your grandmother, mother, sister or daughter being degraded and disrespected in such a manner? What would a society and world look like where women are genuinely empowered, valued and respected? What is your responsibility as a man to speak out against this longstanding oppression of women? Just as advocacy against racism should not only be the work of victims of racism, so should advocacy against sexism not only be the work of victims of sexism.
If you have thoughts or ideas on this, please send them to:
San Quentin News
1 Main Street
San Quentin, CA 94974