Thought for the Day - Anne Atkins - 24/07/2012

I was attending a workshop on women and violence. One told her story. She was eighteen and visiting a farm with her boyfriend. Alone together, they had sex even though she didn’t want to. Guilt-ridden, humiliated and demeaned, why didn’t she report anything? Because even though she had clearly said no, it didn’t occur to her for nearly ten years that she had just been raped.

We heard yesterday that one woman in four, in England and Wales, suffers domestic violence during her life; two women a week murdered by partners. A hundred thousand females living in Britain have had their genitals mutilated so they can never feel sexual pleasure, and not one prosecution in the years since this became illegal. There are thousands of incidences of so-called honour-based violence a year, and many more forced marriages.

When our daughter took part in a BBC programme in the East End of London, she found that all the girls there her age had suffered brutality from their boyfriends. They thought nothing of it: you have sex, you get beaten, at least your man protects you from others.

Researching for my first book, on gender issues, I studied God’s pronouncement to the woman, after the archetypal couple disobeys God’s laws. “The man... will rule over you.” Not God’s punishment for sin, but the inevitable consequence of it. Given that we put self first, the strong will exploit the week; always have and always will. Judeo-Christian Scripture is full of God’s bias to the vulnerable: the poor, the dispossessed, the underclass. It is not just men and women who are equal in value, but not necessarily in power or strength.

In the civilised West we’re all against oppressing women. I don’t suppose you beat your wife any more than I do. But there are many kinds of exploitation. How many women will come home from a long day today, to a longer evening of housework? How many bullied in the workplace? Or pressured into roles they didn’t choose: in recent history with little opportunity to go out to work, now with little opportunity to do otherwise?

We pride ourselves on our liberal democracy. We don’t like to censure porn - but Kier Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, has linked the high level of violence in teenage relationships to exposure to sexually explicit sites. We mustn’t question alternative forms of family - though boys brought up without their biological fathers are more likely to demonstrate aggression. We feel uncomfortable about clamping down on prostitution - despite the danger we all know they work in.

They brought Him a woman who had done wrong. The proscribed punishment was to throw rocks at her until she was killed. Would He forgive, and break their law? Or comply, and initiate violence?

He bent down, and wrote in the dirt.

She had been caught in the act of adultery. A misdemeanor that takes two. So where was the other one?

In many areas of life men remain more powerful than women. One sure mark of civilisation is when the strong raise passionate voices in protection of those who are less so.
When men battle against violence towards women, we’ve taken a good step forward.

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