We women have long struggled to make it in a man's world. The cosmic deck seems to have been stacked against us. Our troubles go back to the biblical Eve, God's prototype for the feminine, who is simultaneously a manipulator and a dupe. Why can't she leave well enough alone in the Garden of Eden? Why must she cause the proverbial trouble in paradise? She can't resist the serpent's temptation, and she in turn becomes Adam's temptress. We learn at a young age that a woman was the first sinner, and thus the reason for everyone's subsequent unhappiness. In some ways, we've been paying for it ever since.
But there is plenty of history for modern women to celebrate in March, designated Women's History Month. Just in the space of my lifetime, women have come up from the barefoot-and-pregnant status of old. They have put on their shoes, stepped out of the kitchen, asserted their equality, and had more of a say in their futures.
Things that my daughters take for granted -- rights and opportunities and respect -- were unheard of in my mother's day. But these advances have largely taken place in America. As long as there are women in the world who are enslaved or abused or subjugated or treated as property, there is work to be done.
During Women's History Month, I am mindful in particular of a controversy involving the history of the "comfort women" of World War II, Korean women who were kidnapped and forced to service the sexual needs of Japanese soldiers during wartime. Comfort women: the euphemism is maddening. How does one comfort against one's will? Where is comfort present in the context of rape? This is a truly horrifying chapter of women's history. The controversy stems from a commemorative statue here in California that honors the plight of comfort women, and that causes outrage in officials from Japan. In a park in the city of Glendale, next to the public library, a bronze statue of a girl in traditional South Korean dress sits next to an empty chair, in mute witness to the abduction, enslavement, and rape of between 70,000 and 200,000 comfort women. Most of the comfort women were Korean, although there were also Filipina, Chinese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, and Dutch women. Most of them were teenagers.
While Japan has admitted its role in the military brothels, it has never apologized to or directly compensated the victims. Now a Japanese delegation has demanded that the city of Glendale remove the statue, which they contend is anti-Japanese propaganda. Some have even argued that the women were not coerced, which the surviving comfort women, now in their 80s and 90s, who still bear the scars of their years as sex slaves, contradict with their traumatic tales of kidnapping and unending rape.
Those who defend the honor of the comfort women assert that Japan does not have the right to sanitize the sordid parts of their history, that the Glendale monument, among others, is in keeping with monuments and museums that immortalize the injustice of historical atrocities like slavery or the Holocaust.
If America must atone for buying and selling human beings and Germany must atone for the attempted genocide of Jews, the argument goes, should not Japan own and atone for their brutal treatment of the comfort women?
Women's history is not always pretty. An old saying is that behind every great man is a woman. Behind every woman, however, is a history of abuse. Statistically, one in three American women will be sexually abused during our lifetimes: We might think of that the next time we are out to lunch with two girlfriends. From our childhood homes to school to church to the workplace to dates to the military, girls and women have endured horrific types and degrees of sexual abuse that they come to view as normal.
We have come a long way from the days of blame, when we were told that we must have done something to be the cause of our own attack, or were told never to speak of such things. Thanks to education and a greater social transparency, both reporting and prosecution have come a little more into the light of day.
As we celebrate Women's History Month, we remember the suffering inherent in much of that history, as we share the stories of both darkness and light, as we honor the struggles and sacrifices that define us, and as we strive to bequeath a better, more enlightened world to our daughters.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.