How could Salon ask that? Readers take us to task for our article on the gender dynamics of Abu Ghraib, "How Could Women Do That?" Also: You're pregnant and thin -- what's the problem?

By Salon Staff

Published May 13, 2004 9:26PM (EDT)

[Read "How Could Women Do That?" by Cathy Hong.]

I am writing in regard to your article "How could women do that?" My answer is: "Just watch."

Women are human beings, just like men, and so have the same moral failings and temptations that men have. The reason why this may not seem apparent is because the structure of our society carefully corrals women into (or out of) situations where they need to make moral choices that many of their male peers are forced to make. This is the flip side of the oppression of women, the side effect that has always made us look good in comparison to men. Just as men once argued that women shouldn't be educated because they were not intelligent enough, all the while pointing to uneducated women as proof of their inherent stupidity, feminists have often pointed to women's inherent moral superiority because we haven't been involved in incidents like the My Lai massacre ... all the while overlooking the fact that we weren't allowed to be there and so weren't faced with the moral dilemma of participating.

I have wondered what would be revealed about the moral character of women once they were allowed the freedom to act in the sort of situations that men have been thrust into willingly or unwillingly for centuries. What has been shown is that we are indeed the same as men: just as corruptible, just as violent, just as gleeful about perpetrating petty acts of domination, and just as capable of despicable and cruel abuse.

Some may argue that this is not exactly an "empowering" message to women. They may even argue that this gives conservatives the ammunition to keep women out of the military so that we don't sully the sex that has traditionally been considered the keeper of our national morality. I argue that it shows that women can't consider themselves to be equal to men until we are faced with every situation that men must face. Virtue untested is not virtue but inexperience.

And I also wonder: If women possess the same moral character as men, should feminists be pushing for women to enter into the moral arena where men have been failing for millennia? Or should men be pushing to enter ours?

-- Kathy Reed

This is a ridiculous question to ask. It could only have been posed by individuals who are determined to see women as passive, gentle angels and innocent, oppressed victims instead of as complex human beings.

Plenty of chivalrous biases are still out there, always suggesting that women ought to be treated more delicately because they are simply incapable of doing supposedly "male" evils. Domestic-violence laws are set up under the assumption that women strike or murder their husbands strictly in self-defense. In the U.S. courts, female murderers (on average) receive more lenient punishments than a man would receive for the same crime.

As a society, we seem to get shocked that a woman is even able to do bad things. Women have killed, tortured, and (yes) sexually assaulted. They're perfectly capable of cruelty and violence and they deserve to be punished by the same standards.

Women are human beings, not sweetly passive angels. Get over it.

-- Linney Uston

I'm a man who went to an East Coast college in the early '90s, when radical feminism was all the rage. Suffice it to say, the assumption that women are morally superior by default was senselessly embraced by the faculty there, and it's an attitude I've encountered in women over and over since graduating.

Regardless of how women may try to spin the detestable behavior of Pfc. England at Abu Ghraib, she is an adult, and quite obviously guilty of crimes against humanity, specifically sexual crimes. Maybe these images will help to soften female arrogance in regard to the moral superiority idea, which, in my opinion, was always BS.

If the prisoners had been female, and England a man, the outrage from feminists would be tremendous. Also: It would be understood that England is a rapist, and would be instantly labeled as such. It's time women stop employing a moral double standard.

-- Thom Frost

[Read "No belly, no respect" by Katrina Onstad.]

Get over yourself! You're fortunate enough to have your health, to have a healthy baby with a stand-up guy, and to have the means to care for said baby (let's not even mention the advantage of having won the genetic luck of the draw by being tall and not having a weight problem in a society where too skinny earns you concern, but too fat earns you contempt), and all you're concerned with is the superficial and easily ignored commentary of strangers?! You must be joking.

-- Diane Tancredi

As so aptly described in Ms. Onstad's article, a visible pregnancy has a way of making everyone else an expert on the subject, and it seems to bolster a rare confidence to share that expertise.

I'm also 6 feet tall, but I had unusual pregnancies (my children are now 2 and 4) because during each one I gained exactly one pound. That's one pound more on the day before I gave birth (full-term), than on the day I discovered I was pregnant (about 4 weeks along). And I had no nausea. I ate differently but not really healthier, and certainly not a lot less. I had roughly 9-pound babies both times. The first time, I was a wreck. My baby must be starving even as my belly rapidly expanded. The second time I jokingly referred to my lack of weight-gain as the best diet I had ever been on.

It's a time when a woman is forced to redefine her femininity (sometimes kicking and screaming the whole way). The irritations, privacy invasions (so many people asked me the babies' gender and when told, then quizzed me on why I didn't want to be "surprised") and outright rudeness are a kind of boot camp for being a mother. After the birth, it's all about breast vs. bottle, what foods you feed and when, what childcare, what discipline methods, what educational toys, how much TV, etc. Seriously, it's enough to make any sane person never forget to use birth control again.

But my favorite remark? Someone riding with me in an elevator looking at me and my girth wide-eyed -- then giving me a conspiratorial grin, "I know what you did nine months ago ..."

Um, yeah. Thanks for the biology lesson, bud. And it was six months ago.

-- Delia Jones

One of the more interesting things about being pregnant is surviving the complete breakdown of normal social barriers.

People you don't even know will rub your belly and feel completely justified in making comments on your appearance and offering advice. Katrina Onstad shouldn't be surprised by the wealth of insensitive remarks.

I too am a tall woman, and gave birth to twins that weighed 8.9 and 8.12. Many people refused to believe that I was carrying twins because I wasn't "big enough." Come on, people.

I cried many times about the state of my body. I had permanent nerve damage to parts of my stomach thanks to the severe stretching, and I winced every time someone made an unkind remark. However, I must say that the experience was quite liberating. I learned I was still a worthwhile person and that my husband really did love me, no matter what I looked like. How fortunate we are to learn these things before the bloom of our youth fades.

Really, the only solution is to laugh and recognize that for whatever reason, pregnant women serve as kind of a totem for the human race. Pregnancy and parenthood is, after all, the thing we all depend on for continuation of the species.

-- Lisa G. Leitz

From the vantage point of Week 33 in Pregnancy No. 2, Katrina Onstad's essay was of timely interest to me. I'm sure it will be all too easy for many to dismiss it as "Poor me, I didn't get fat while I was pregnant and everyone hated me."

What Onstad apparently doesn't realize is that her weight, or lack thereof, was never the issue. The issue is that pregnant women become public domain no matter what. We don't get a say in that.

It's a rare outing with my toddler that doesn't include a well-meaning stranger pointing out how close my children will be in age. More rarely, I'll be asked if we "meant to do that." People feel free to scrutinize the contents of my grocery cart. I've been chastised for climbing ladders, for raising my arms above my head, and once, for flagrant cola consumption.

And my weight? During my first pregnancy, when I gained 50 pounds, I was tsked at. During my current pregnancy, where I've so far gained less than 25 pounds, I'm being tsked at.

The point? No matter what, people are going to feel free to say to a pregnant woman what they'd never be so gauche as to say to someone who isn't pregnant. Pregnant women belong to everyone, and everyone means to get his or her share.

-- Patricia Nichols

Salon Staff

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