“Scars Across Humanity” is a book about our collective responsibility both for past violence towards women and the job of ending it today. Author Elaine Storkey is a member of the Church of England who gives public lectures regularly on philosophy, sociology, and theology. With this book, she is presenting a historical case for our complicity in gender-based violence, and what people can do about it. Read the excerpt below.
We can begin to see the alarming depth of truth in the statement of the UN report: ‘Violence constitutes a continuum across the lifespan of women, from before birth to old age. It cuts across both the public and the private spheres.’ It also takes many forms – physical, sexual, psychological and economic – which are interrelated yet which remain largely hidden, suppressed by silence. Intimate-partner violence is very widespread, and sometimes leads to death. Harmful and violent cultural practices, including early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting, are also pervasive. Traditional communities still somehow hide the insidiousness of femicide (gender-based murder of women), sexual violence, sexual harassment and trafficking. Violence perpetrated by the state, through omission of protection, torture, public agents or public policy is persistent, along with the high incidence of violence against women in armed conflict, particularly rape. Even women in high-profile professions can be subject to sexual harassment, and can be bullied into accepting unwanted attentions from powerful, predatory men. So we can begin to understand the all-encompassing nature of the problem on a global scale: that one in three women has either been beaten, coerced into sex or abused in some other way – most often by someone she knows.
In spite of all this, we have to recognize that cultural history is not on our side. Violence against women has actually been celebrated in dance and traditional rituals; it has been glorified in art, literature, film and music. In the history of even Western culture, male aggression has been described or depicted without censure, and woman’s suffering re-presented as somehow beautiful or part of her journey to refinement. Legends such as ‘The Rape of the Sabine Women’, an act said to have been carried out by men of ancient Rome in 750 bc, have excited far too many painters – from Nicolas Poussin (1635), Peter Paul Rubens (1635), Jacques Louis David (1799) and Pablo Picasso (1963) to the ‘lighthearted’ reference in the BBC comedy To the Manor Born about parting one’s spinach and finding the rape of the Sabine women on the plate underneath. It found its way into the happy 1954 musical film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew is still being debated with respect to its misogyny. Today rape and gender violence is being treated as a source of humour by misogynous stand-up comedians in sleazy gigs.
Yet, whatever its history, and however artists try to justify their material, it should be blatantly evident to all that violence against women has far-reaching consequences for women, their children and society. Without doubt, it violates human rights, undermines development, generates instability and makes peace harder to achieve. The unmitigated tragedy is that despite the fact that they are widely outlawed across nations, so many different forms of violence are able to persist. Passive sympathy for those who suffer is not enough. Elimination of such injustice takes commitment, perseverance and concerted global action. And it needs each one of us.
Taken from Scars Across Humanity by Elaine Storkey. ©2018 by Elaine Storkey. Used bypermission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426.
You can purchase Scars Across Humanity by clicking here.
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