Violence Against Women

News that the medical student brutally raped in New Delhi a few days ago has died of her injuries ought to give us all pause. Violence against women is tolerated in many societies, including our own. If that seems to you very shocking and makes you want to protest, you have clearly not listened to some of the terrible stories I have listened to in the course of my monastic life. What particularly struck me about some of them was the fact that otherwise decent, kindly men seemed to think it acceptable to slap or strike their wives/partners for what they (the men) perceived as domestic failures — a dish not cooked to their liking, forgetting to buy a particular brand of toothpaste and so on. The violence wasn’t always physical, of course. Some of the insults and disparaging remarks still make me wince. Also upsetting is the memory of those occasions where the man blamed the woman, ‘She provoked me. She made me do it.’ I don’t believe it. We can all restrain our fist if we want to. The truth is, we don’t want to; and we’re only annoyed when we don’t get away with it.

Now, I am not suggesting that women are always right and men always wrong; nor am I suggesting that violence is always male on female; but women are much more vulnerable, if only because we aren’t usually as big and heavy as men. The inability of the Indian government to do anything constructive about the situation in New Delhi highlights the basic problem that needs addressing. We need to change the culture which allows women to be perceived as of less value or consequence than men. By that I don’t just mean making it unacceptable to assault or rape women, but making it unacceptable to disparage or belittle women simply for being women. Where there is no respect, no real respect, all kinds of gross behaviour become possible.

It is important to note that what I am talking about is not equality but respect. Equality can be measured; respect cannot. The Christian Churches bear a great responsibility in this matter but I’m not sure we live up to it. Some of the comments following the Church of England Synod’s rejection of the Measure to admit women to the episcopate were embarrassing in their contempt; some of the remarks made about nuns (usually meaning religious sisters) in my own Church have made me very hot under the wimple at their arrogance and injustice; I’m sure you could think of other examples for yourself.

Today we celebrate the feast of St Thomas Becket whose thinking about a difficult question of the day led him into conflict with the king. Perhaps we all need a bit of Becket in us on precisely this question of violence against women. Unless we show that it is unacceptable in all its forms, major and ‘minor’, it will go on being tolerated; and the brutal truth is more women will die. I don’t want that on my conscience. Do you?

N.B. For thoughts on St Thomas Becket and conscience, see this post.



10 thoughts on “Violence Against Women”

    • I must also say that he was compelled by the Bishop to removed the pamphlet from the churche’s door. And he also apologized for it. However it is so disheartening.

  1. Thank you for your comments. I think the roots of this lack of respect which I see as being intrinsic to the culture of violence I was writing about are many. I agree with you, Stan, that regarding women as property is a contributory factor in many cases. Regarding ANY other person, male or female, young or old, as less than a person, will always make violence a possibility. Similarly, the kind of misogyny you refer to, Cinzia, is disheartening and more widespread than most of us would want to believe.

    Another commenter has pointed out offline that I did not address female on male violence (battered husbands, etc) beyond a glancing mention in my text. Please don’t think that I am deliberately ignoring it. Domestic violence is always unacceptable, as Ernie says above, but my main concern today was with brutality outside the home of the kind to which the Indian woman was subjected. I read this morning that there have been another 630 reported rape cases in New Delhi since 16 December. If that is true, I think anyone preparing a sermon on the Holy Family for the Second Sunday of Christmas should do some hard thinking. This is not a problem ‘out there’ nor ‘over there’: it is something that touches all of us.

  2. You’re right – it’s not just “over there”. I’m still shocked by the comments of one of my Year 11s in a PSHE lesson last year. An otherwise affable boy, he declared that girls in short mini-skirts were just “asking for it”, in a discussion about rape. Meanwhile the girls themselves think nothing of short skirts/shorts which leave nothing to the imagination because porn-star fashion is so normal to them. Whatever happened to feminism?

  3. Rachel, you have put your finger on something that should concern us all. Is it our indifference that allows both the kind of comment (and the mindset it reflects) of your year 11 boy and the fashion choices of the girls? Have we, as a society, opted out of parenting in an important area?

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