Sometimes, the only thing that will rouse us from torpor is having our nostrils immersed in the stench of excrement. That’s the only thing that will force us to acknowledge its presence… and thus to do something about it.
Two recent books have done this – they have buried my nose in the stench that is all-pervasive but of which most of us are complacently (culpably?) unaware. These books open our eyes and noses – perhaps to twist the metaphor horribly, they demand that we get our hands dirty, or, if we have dirty hands, to get them cleaned up immediately.
For I am talking about the abuse of, and violence against, women. These two books are by writers I greatly respect. I remember reading a Ruth Tucker book soon after I became a believer at 18 in 1989 – Strange Gospels, an excellent introduction to a vast array of weird and not so wonderful belief systems. I have been also, of course, aware of Elaine Storkey almost as long, and it was fun last summer to share a platform at a small day conference in London for school teachers.
Taken together, these books provide a powerful double-act: The macro, global picture, and the micro, personal picture. Both are ugly and heartbreaking pictures, but nevertheless, somehow hopeful. If heeded…
The global horror
The pace of Storkey’s book is relentless and it’s hard to persevere. It must have been even harder to keep writing. But the only thing that sustained me through every page was imagining that I wasn’t reading about impersonal statistics but stories about my mother, wife, and daughter. The thought that any would endure these horrors was too ghastly to bear.
Storkey works systematically through the big issues: like gender-specific abortion, female genital mutilation (FGM), enforced child marriage (which she calls child abuse by another name) domestic abuse, sexual violence in war. We are talking numbers of epidemic proportions. And many are even fatal:
As the statistics calmly tell us, acts of violence to women aged between 15 and 44 across the globe produce more deaths, disability and mutilation than cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined.
The truth is that violence on such a scale could not exist were it not structured in some way into the very fabric of societies and cultures themselves. (p2)
That second sentence about social structures will undoubtedly seem problematic to some. But it is precisely the scale of the problem that has convinced me of her argument. And I previously (chose to??) ignored it, or at least, I was ignorant of it. Here are one or two examples:
- Up to 140,000,000 women worldwide have undergone FGM (a bit less than the population of Russia). (Storkey, p29) I wouldn’t want that for my daughter. Would you?
- 39,000 girls marry too young somewhere in the world EVERY DAY (ie one every 3 seconds). (Storkey, p47) I wouldn’t want that for my daughter. Would you?
- Pregnancy is the leading cause of death for girls between 15-19 IN THE WORLD. (Storkey, p49) I wouldn’t want that for my daughter. Would you?
- 25% of women in suffer domestic violence. ONE QUARTER! This figure was confirmed by TEN separate studies commissioned by the Council of Europe). It is true that men ARE victims of domestic violence as well. In the course of my ministry, I have counselled one or two men who have been beaten regularly by their wives. But it is disproportionately the other way round, as Storkey points out. So for example, in an in-depth analysis of UK homicide figures, men are clearly more likely to be killed by someone they were abusing while women are more likely to be killed by someone they were abused by. (Storkey, p82) I wouldn’t want that for my daughter. Would you?
- In the face of advocates of a liberalising of sex-work legislation, the fact remains: for every 10 so-called ‘career prostitutes’, it is estimated that there are 10,000 who have been forced into it because of poverty, rape, trafficking and male domination. (Storkey, p110) I wouldn’t want that for my daughter. Would you?
Need I go on?
I feel numbed by this.
This is a tragedy of global proportions. And the thing is, it is not enough for women to be womaning the barricades. Men must too.
Which is why I have felt the need to start this sequence of blog posts. Which is why I find it bizarre, to say the least, that all the endorsements for Elaine Storkey’s important book are… women. It seems absolutely clear to me (not just from reading this book), that the horrors discussed here (including those perpetrated within Christian marriages, about which more in a future post) are the result of
an overt or subconscious belief in male privilege and entitlement, by which men assume rights to freedom, status and opinions not applicable to their partner. We don’t hear of because much of the abuse of women in ‘Christian’ homes is not brought under the searchlight of the Christian faith: it stays hidden and unrecognized, sometimes even by victims. The work of Nancy Nason-Clark and Catherine Clark Kroeger opens up some of the reasons why. They also identify why many women victims feel disappointed when they do seek help from the Church. in their study, 83.2% of pastors had counselled an abused woman yet only 8% felt equipped to respond to domestic violence. 95% of church women reported that they had never heard any sermon preached against abuse. (Storkey, p206)
The only hope for significant change is for MEN to understand this and to act on this. MEN need to read this book. But will they? There are several organisations stepping up to the plate. (Storkey p222) Many no doubt pour cynical scorn on Bono’s recent Glamour award. But I’m convinced they’re onto something here. And so is he. (And that’s NOT because I’m a totally signed up U2 nut).
I can only hope so. You see, I’m sorry, but this really isn’t about being politically correct. It is, in fact, a matter of life, and even death. I say this, for my (and many others’) precious daughter’s sake.
But more needs saying… as will be clear in the next post…