The Western male presumption of ownership over women is particularly evident in the social treatment of women who dare to deviate from prescribed gender roles and expectations.
As a society, we castigate ambitious women as being cold harpies and equate them managing men in a brusque manner with castration (whereas the same managerial style from a male leader is expected; it's as if subordinate men expect a compassionate mother figure instead of a boss). We traditionally celebrate homemakers as the epitome of woman-hood, and this is wrong. Although I am not suggesting that all homemakers are unhappy, it does seem that it would present a life of social isolation, financial dependence, menial tedium, and absolute boredom. However, with recent modern revolutions, homemaker women have, to a degree, come to be both looked down upon and become a source of envy (because they don't really work, but if it's a stay-at-home father, he's a martyred hero).
But the most glaringly obvious cases arise when men interact with out lesbians. If the man* interacting with them finds them attractive, there are culturally approved denigrating tropes to fall back upon that always involve him getting involved in her sexual life or at least watching. And if that same man finds the lesbian with whom he is interacting unattractive, he will commonly write her off as a misguided woman who just hasn't had the "right man" yet (to put it politely). Both cases invoke explicit assumption of ownership by the man over that woman's sexuality.
Here there is a substantial level of cognitive dissonance. On the individual level, women completely own their sexuality and control when, how, and with whom they choose to have sex. Often, men inappropriately perceive this as women "holding out" or having an undue control over them when in reality it has absolutely nothing to do with them. But on the societal level, men implicitly control women's sexuality. Through cultural invocations of idealized beauty, through cosmetics, through lingerie, clothing, make-up, hair styles, shoes, and pornography. Although cultural conditioning allows individual women to find empowerment in their femininity, the social machine sets and enforces the standards of "beautiful" femininity and is driven entirely by men's desire and lust. Through dissemination of culture in pictoral advertising, men express their idealized desires and women strive to meet what they are told is beautiful. This leads to insecure, depressed women and demanding men in a self-amplifying feedback loop, which furthers neithers' cause nor equity.
To move forward, we need to dissociate our individual images of ourselves from those idealized images we see in the media-driven world around us. It is far more constructive to look to a loved one for a compliment on one's appearance than to try to use a fashion magazine as a mirror. In effect, if we continue to do the latter, unwittingly or not, we are allowing cultural standards to own all of us. Men become owned by the standardized ideal femininity and pursue it to the exclusion of everything else, and this reinforces the male privilege of owning females' sexuality. Women become owned by the same standards and torture themselves trying to meet them because the advertised message that beauty = happiness has been so deeply ingrained by Western media that it is now unavoidable and pervasively subconscious.
Maybe it's time Western ideals were broadened, both to increase the happiness of women as well as to dilute the male sense of cultural ownership over women.
*Singular term used generally, not specifically.
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