Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rule by rape

Half  the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn has more practical suggestions for transforming the world than any other book I know. It is painful to read. The first chapters are so packed with excruciating information, “the brutality inflicted routinely on women and girls in much of the world,” I could stand to read only small chunks at a time.

Its detailed evidence of sexual violence against women and girls—honor killings, bride beating, bride burning, genital cutting, forced prostitution, rape as a tactic of war, acid to disfigure, and selling of 7- and 8-year-old girls into sexual slavery—tells us that gender violence and discrimination is the paramount human rights problem of our time. Indeed, it tells us that nothing would do more to ameliorate the problems of the world than raising the status of women.

I say it’s painful, but you will read Half  the Sky easily, with absorbed attention, because these journalists, husband and wife, know how to tell engrossing stories; it is not academic. One part of you seeks relief from the brutality; another part of you can’t put down the stories of individual women who defy their tormentors and with dogged determination escape their circumstances and now are helping others.
Some facts that document and illustrate the horror:
  • Biology produces more males than females, but China has 107 males for every 100 females (a greater disproportion among newborns), India has 108 and Pakistan 111. What makes the females disappear? The murder of women (femicide), the murder of female babies, deliberately less care and feeding of girl babies.
A Nobel laureate economist estimates that the globe should have 107 million more women.
  • “One third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. . . . Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.”
  • “Far more women and girls are shipped into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year in the 18th or 19th centuries . . ."
Foreign Affairs observed: ‘It seems almost certain that the modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th or 19th centuries was.’”
A story:
Meena and the other girls were never allowed out of the brothel and were never paid. They typically had 10 or more customers a day, 7 days a week. If a girl fell asleep or complained about a stomachache, the issue was resolved with a beating.
And when a girl showed any hint of resistance, all the girls would be summoned to watch as the recalcitrant one was tied up and savagely beaten.
“They turned the stereo up loud to cover the screams,” Meena said dryly. . . .
“They held my children captive, so they thought I would never try to escape.”
From a victim (sincerely, not ironically):
 . . . if the wife is truly disobedient, then of course her husband has to beat her.
From the chapter “Rule by Rape”:
Woineshet—a battered, pint-sized girl surrounded by men who were threatening her—told the court official that she had been abducted [and raped], and she pleaded to be allowed to go home. The official, a man, didn’t want to listen to a girl and told Woineshet to get it over with and marry Aberew.

“Even if you go home, Aberew will go after you again,” the official told her. “So there’s no point in resisting.”
Half  the Sky also exposes the complexities of achieving change. Genital mutilation has cultural approval in all of north Africa; women insist on it. Sometimes aid groups have committed blunders that worsened conditions for women and girls. Banning prostitution, for instance, does not work, and legalizing-regulating may not work either.

Nothing works better than education. So say women in the field and the world’s chief economists in the UN and World Bank. They state that educating and empowering women in the developing world is the most effective way to reduce poverty and, for the highest possible return on investment, to raise all economic indicators and bring benefits to whole societies. Women are the linchpin of effective economies. But education does not mean imposing Western values (learn how Tostan finally is making progress toward overcoming female genital cutting in Africa after Western methods failed).

I invite readers to consider the pain of these women and also the hope of real transformation, only possible if we allow women to become confident and powerful. Half the Sky lists effective organizations and gives specific suggestions. I don’t see how you could read these chapters without being changed in some way.

In churches, we need to change the talk about a lord or lords in the sky. Women of the world have too many lords lording it over them—they don’t need a god-lord besides. Yes, it’s hard to confront the aging, ultra-conservative men ruling from Rome, but not harder than the cultural changes we demand of the developing world.

March 27

While reading Half the Sky I thought with satisfaction, “At least things are good in this country.”  Now I’m astonished to read in The Week quoting Lea Goldman in Marie Claire:
Being a woman in this country has become an increasingly expensive proposition. It’s not just dry cleaning and haircuts where women get socked. We pay more for home mortgages, health insurance, and cars and car repairs (even when we . . . do our homework . . . [California] the first state to ban gender pricing, found that women paid about $1,351 annually in extra costs and fees. Apply that figure to the rest of  . . . the country and the total burden is staggering—roughly $151 billion in markups.
Laura’s response to my post below also gives a good reminder:
I believe that the male world view seems to support rape and oppression of women.  In one of my psychology classes I took back in the eighties, a survey of college males showed that over fifty percent of them said they would rape if they had no possibility of being caught. 
She sent this link which reports that Nelson Mandela, former U.N. official Mary Robinson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Kofi Annan, and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, among others, say that religions oppress women. The former U.S. president speaks out strongly against religions keeping women subservient “in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.”

On Internet radio, Karen Tate interviewed me on how Christian language perpetuates male dominance and, consequently, sex abuse.  Following me on the program was JannAldredge-Clanton, who subsequently asked to interview me for her blog. As you navigate their sites, you’ll see how much we have in common. 

March 30

 If God is male, then male is God.
Mary Daly
Some thoughts after listening to our interviews:
You readers have let me know that you like seeing personal stuff from me. You'll see it on Jann's site. 

Karen, the interviewer, asked how I can have optimism in view of the grip male-dominant religion has on us. I take consolation from the Arab spring, which shows that when strong feelings and thoughts simmer under the surface, they will eventually erupt. We don’t have to know how or when, but we can know with confidence that the male god’s domination will not last. Signs of his demise are abundant:
  • More inclusive theological language (despite the ridiculous, imposed Mass language)
  • Increasing criticism of theism by religious people who see that atheists are correct on this point
  • Panicky activity by the Christian right, which senses the shift away from oppressive religion.
Jann reminded me of Mary Daly’s refrain above. She said that, when she suggested bringing feminine images into liturgical language,
You’d think I’d asked to bring pornography into the church.  
Coming soon—Jann’s beautifully inclusive liturgical language.

Why do women participate in victimizing other women (It is the women in N. Africa who insist on cutting their daughters’ genitals to remove the possibility of sexual pleasure):
Being victimized is all some women have ever known; they have been culturally trained to disrespect the feminine. This also applies to Christian women beaten down by the constant references to male gods.  As a result, some of them sincerely can’t relate to a Divine Source who isn’t male.

1 comment:

Karen Tate said...

Not only do we have to shut down the talk of lords over women in the sky, we need to shut down patriarchy, particularly Republicans, who think women need their oppression and mis-use.