March is Women's History Month, a time to honor women's contributions to our world. One is tempted to think, "We've come a long way, baby."Yet as Iım writing this, a news reporter on television is talking about the relevance of a rape victim's sexual history. The reporter asks two other reporters what they think. The three women agree that the victim's sexual history is important. Especially since she was allegedly raped by such a good, decent, and famous basketball player. As I listen to these women, I don't feel like we've come a long way.
The statistics about violence against women worldwide is staggering. In this country alone every year 1.2 million women are raped by current or former partners. Every day four women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends.
As a girl, I lived an hour outside Detroit, then the murder capitol of the country. On the nightly news they tallied up the number murdered as if they were giving out baseball scores. This is what I learned growing up near
Detroit: men killed women. Sometimes they did it in broad daylight. Sometimes at night. Always they had a reason. She shouldn't have said this or that, done this or that, worn this or that, been in this or that place. In other words, she was asking for it.
When I was in junior high, a man began killing young women in Ann Arbor, near my hometown. My best friend's father was the lead detective on the case. As the killings continued, he watched his daughters more closely. He made my girlfriend kneel at his feet every morning to make certain her skirt touched the floor. My girlfriend was not afraid. I was. I wondered why so many men were killing so many women.
When I was a teenager, a schoolmate of mine was murdered. I learned about it on the 11:00 news. The news anchor described how long the knife was and how many times she had been stabbed--and how she had driven home, beeping the horn, and made it into her driveway, only to die in her sister's arms. I knew her car. I knew her sister. Her house. Her parents. I could smell the inside of her car. I could feel her terror as she pressed on the horn.
I was never the same after her murder. I can only imagine how it affected her family and close friends. No one who has been touched by violence and murder is ever the same.
Violence against women occurs all over the planet. In some Arab, African, and Asian countries (by people of various faiths), adults hold down their girl children when they are about five years old and cut off their clitoris--usually without anesthesia, using a knife, broken glass, or scissors. Often they sew the vaginal opening nearly shut, so the girl can only urinate. These female genital mutilations cause a host of problems, including frequent urinary tract infections, pelvic infections, infertility, and pain during intercourse, not to mention the inability to have any pleasure during sex.
In Barbara Ehrenreichıs article "A Mystery of Misogyny"written soon after 9/11, Ehrenreich said that politicians were asking the wrong question about the Taliban and other Muslim extremists. It shouldn't be "why do they hate Americans?"but "why do they hate women?"That's a question that needs to be directed to most of the societies on this planet. Why is there such a pervasive hatred of women?
Not long ago, the so-called Green River Killer in Seattle confessed to killing 48 women. The killer of those 48 women--those mothers, sisters, daughters, friends--tried to blame one of his wives for his killing spree: if only he had killed her when he had a chance, maybe he wouldn't have killed all those other women.
In Juarez, Mexico, a border town across from El Paso, Texas, over 320 girls and women have been murdered. Some reports say up to 500 more women are missing. Do you know how many daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends that is? Despite massive protests from area citizens, the government does little and seems incapable of finding or bringing to justice the killers. Bodies of women continue to show up in the desert and in vacant lots like discarded trash.
Why is this kind of crime tolerated? The rape, torture, and murder of one woman is horrible. How can the murders of over 300 be tolerated? Let's not kid ourselves: it is tolerated. Otherwise, it wouldn't be happening. It would have stopped. Why is there such hatred of women? Such disregard for them? For us?
Sometimes when I am in yet another battle with government officials (and
others) over environmental or political issues, I feel too visible--as if someone is lining me up in his sights. Sometimes an almost overwhelming urge to withdraw comes over me. It feels safer to be quiet, to not stir the pot. To disappear.
But then that's the idea, isn't it? If you violate or kill enough people because they are a part of any given group--because they're black, brown, women, Muslim, witches, gay, doctors who give abortions, etc.--the people who are a part of this group get the idea they are in danger. Some try to change their behavior so that they're no longer part of that group. It's only natural, isn't it? Only one cannot easily change their skin color or their gender.
Now during Women's History Month, these television reporters speculate about a rape victim's sexual history. The unspoken implication is that the victim is a slut because she had sex with other men and whatever happened to her she deserved. She was asking for it.
Many women don't want to discuss violence or the threat of violence they live with daily. "We're past all that now."The statistics belie that belief, of course. Whenever I go for a hike in the woods, take a long drive by myself, or walk in a parking garage, I am aware that I could be attacked and killed. I try to take steps to keep myself safe. Admitting violence against women is pervasive does not make me a victim. It makes me a realist.
Admitting violence against women exists is a first step in stopping the violence. Then we must stop participating in it ourselves. Which is why I just got up and switched off the TV and the women talking about the rape victim's sexual history. They may not have come a long way, baby. But I have.
Kim Antieau is the author of the novel, 'Coyote Cowgirl', published last summer. Her weblog is at: http://www.furiousspinner.com, and her website is at: http://www.kimantieau.com