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“Do they both belong to you?” a man asked as he approached my 21-year-old daughter’s group of three.
The “both” he was referring to were my daughter and her female friend. The person he addressed was my daughter’s friend’s boyfriend. They were at the beach, standing in the water talking, when this 20-something man approached them and, without making eye contact with my daughter and her friend, addressed his question to the boyfriend, acknowledging the women with nothing more than a head tilt.
“Because if not, I can take one off your hands…” he continued. He wasn’t joking.
It’s hard for me to imagine the audacity. It’s hard to believe that the younger generation is still marinating in this kind of garbage language. It’s hard to believe that there are any people out there who, in 2021, still look at women and see nothing but property.
It’s hard to believe—until you see women seeking to be “claimed” in modern dating circles.
If we are single, over 30, and on Facebook, we find a specific narrative thrust at us: that it is our responsibility to shift our mindset and do the “inner work” to attract men. The purpose is, theoretically, to find our softness, vulnerability, intuition, and, ultimately, to be “claimed” by a man.
The idea of ownership by way of being claimed is not only not scandalous but it’s presented as something desirable. The opposite, of course, is being “unclaimed”—like baggage left at the airport.
Being single and female in our culture is deemed unworthy, unwanted.
Single women were once called “old maids” or “spinsters.” It calls to mind a scene of desolate and barren land.
“Nobody wanted her.”
“No one chose her.”
“No one claimed her.”
The carousel is empty, other than the one bag. And nobody is there to retrieve it.
There’s shame in this narrative, and conversely, validation in being “chosen,” ideally through engagement rings and marriage.
By telling women that being claimed is sexy and that relinquishing our power to a man gives men the gift of “being in his masculine,” is asking women to give up our sovereignty in exchange for an idea of safety, love, self-worth, or societal acceptance.
But, this language is essentially tricking women into giving away their power, all the while telling them that this—her submission to a man— is her power.
This narrative is dangerous and we ought to reject it at every turn. It is not making us more “feminine” to be claimed. Nor is this the cornerstone of a desirable relationship: any kind of relationship.
I am a married woman, but I will never say that I was claimed. Nor did I claim my husband. We are in a partnership, and we share a desire to take care of and love each other. We do not own each other’s time, attention, or love. We give those things freely. Neither do I “claim” my children. They are not “mine”—not in any sense of ownership and control over their destiny and choices.
It is believed that patriarchy started as human beings shifted from a hunter-gatherer way of life to a farming way of life. Up until that time, the land was free to roam for everyone—there was no such concept as property or ownership.
But farming required land, and so property needed to be claimed. With that, the idea of ownership, as well as the concepts of property and hierarchy, were born. Ownership then—of property, of items, and of people—is a manifestation of patriarchy. Being claimed is nothing more than a reframing of patriarchal intentions and desires.
The current narrative around women and relationships is that men must protect and provide and women must receive. This is seen as “traditional.”
Yet, there is no historical precedent for women sitting around, being the recipient of benefits. Hunter-gatherer tribes could not afford deadweight. And besides, many of them were matrilineal.
The idea of women as household property dates back to the beginning of the patriarchy, but our current narratives were formulated from 1954-1968, in a fictitious turn of events that we now refer to as a “traditional relationship,” where women could be stay-at-home moms and men could gain cultural capital by being affluent enough to support the entire family on one income.
Today, 75 percent of women are currently in the workforce, adding value to our homes and communities, just as we have been through most of history. There is nothing “traditional” about women giving away our power.
If we are single women today, we are being held responsible for this relationship status, often told that it’s because we are “in our masculine” for working outside the home. We are led toward a purported pathway to successful partnerships: that of doing our “inner work”—a vague promise that often references doing the popular concepts of embodiment work, trauma work, and inner child work. Along with these often comes an urging that we need to change our “mindset.”
We are told this helps us trust, let go, and release the need for planning and organizing: tasks deemed by the patriarchy best left to men.
It also clearly puts the responsibility on women’s shoulders. If we are single, it is our fault for being unworthy of garnering male attention or desire. They are ready to “claim” us, if we could just be softer, more sensual, and more desirable.
We are urged to drop our requirements for security and safety, and instead connect to our “feminine.” It’s never clarified what feminine or embodiment mean, but they are used as the lure, and the promise is the ultimate status available to women: that of being “claimed.” It’s as if our failures to be validated by the patriarchy are all about our thoughts and not the microaggressions and dehumanizations acted out on females daily.
And no one is urging the men to do embodiment work, mindset work, emotional work, or in any way take responsibility for relationships. All they need to do is show up and utter, as the brute on the beach did: “Mine.”
No one benefits from a world in which some human beings hold a claim over others based on which sexual organs they were born with. Each of us is a whole being: soul, mind, and body. Sex and gender are constructs pushed by patriarchy so that men could sort, divide, and conquer.
Turning the concept of “claimed” into a metaphor for being loved, seen, or valued is not empowering. It’s a trick to turn our heads with sexy, Harlequin-romance-type fantasies, while men attempt to steal our power and strip away our wholeness.
Any relationship that begins with one person “claiming” another is destined, if not to fail, then to create such a power imbalance between the two, how could respect ever grow between them? And without respect, how can love grow between them? Surrendering our power is not the path to love, self-worth, or belonging.
Being “feminine” should have nothing to do with being claimed, captured, or hunted as though we are prey.
And yes, there are benefits to doing the “inner work,” but a woman who has done this work will have integration between her inner protectors and her inner softness. There will be no need for fictitious roles that imply we need to find our wholeness in someone else or turn to another to give us what we are too helpless or weak to give ourselves.
Gender roles are a patriarchal concept, and the truth is we are not equals and don’t need to be.
But rather than claiming or being claimed, we need to recognize:
>> Partnerships are about a meeting of equals.
>> We are searching for authenticity, not ownership.
>> Authenticity brings us closer to ourselves, not to someone else.
>> Our sovereignty should be protected, not packaged up and handed away.
>> Doing the inner work should never be a pathway to be owned or to meet someone who can validate us: it should integrate us into wholeness.
It is questionable today whether or not human beings should be able to own land. It is out of the question that we should own human beings.
My daughter was with trusted friends that day at the beach, and was able to laugh off this strange event. But I’m not laughing. It might seem cute, harmless, or even romantic to think of being “claimed” by someone—but my daughter’s story shows what it can look like in action. And it’s flat-out dangerous.
The only things that should be claimed are our wholeness and our authenticity.
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