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Published Date: March 9, 2015

Published Date: March 9, 2015

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International Women’s Day: Celebrating Those Who Misbehave

In commemorating International Women’s Day, we remain sober about the future safety of girls and women. According to the United Nations 35% of the world’s females, over 1/3 have encountered physical abuse in their life. What is more, in most of these communities women are rarely included in the strategies and implementations that address systems that perpetuate their own violence. Too often communities lack a “gender-lens” in dealing with power-imbalances that women and girls are best acquainted with and therefore are best able to address. When developing solutions to gender-based violence, their voice and experience is essential but frequently ignored. What is more, perpetrators depend on the silence of their prey, not only through systems that marginalize their experiences but also actions that diminish their agency. For this reason, Eleanor Roosevelt observed those who have the courage to break the silence, making more than a few people uncomfortable, are the very people who make history for having challenged deeply imbedded, culturally accepted, endorsed as biblical, systems which are in truth, deeply abusive and in steep opposition to God’s justice. Consider the following examples:

For years, women were denied the vote because, as their opponents argued, women were designed by God for the domestic sphere and men for the public square. They claimed that if these realms were reversed or intersected in any way, it would undermine the stability of families and the health of children and the workforce of the US. However, for the last several decades, studies show that just the opposite. When husbands and wives share in child-rearing and domestic tasks, these are by far happier marriages. What’s more, when mothers and fathers share parenting, it benefits (counter-intuitively) not only their careers of men and women, but also their daughters’ self-confidence, career success, and emotional maturity. It also leads to greater health for men. As couples shared more equally in professional pursuits, chores and parenting, even the US economy improves.

As each parent is equally invested in child-rearing, there are many positive outcomes for children and parents alike, according to the research of Jack and Judy Balswick, summarized in Discovering Biblical Equality. This is particularly true for sons/boys who, when both parents are involved in their daily lives, are more secure and less likely to posture hyper-masculine behaviors such as risk-taking behaviors in vehicles or premarital sex. Sons who are co-parented show more empathy, affection and nurturing behaviors. They are more likely to want to become fathers themselves. Girls who are co-parented are more confident and careful about personal boundaries. When fathers are invested in their daughter’s achievements, their daughters are more likely to succeed professionally.

Parents benefit too. They continue their employment and are less enmeshed in their children’s lives. Children recognize they are not the center of the universe because their parents have their own lives and careers. Fathers who co-parent develop their social, emotional and relational skills that they bring to the workplace. When both spouses are involved, they work together and lessen the burden and resentment of one spouse having to attend to all the housework and parenting. While co-parenting requires thoughtful negotiation and work, it also helps maintain a balanced and healthy life. It requires established priorities, flexibility and support systems. It also means being less perfectionistic. Crossing spheres of work (postindustrial) brings health to both spouses and children, despite the fears of an uninformed generation. Those on the frontier of co-parenting and of women working outside the home boldly challenge the status quo of separate spheres, which for some was uncomfortable. The same is true for global gender challenges.

Economists, journalists, NGOs and medical professionals working with abused women in developing countries are also asking significant questions about sharing power and authority with girls and women in global patriarchal cultures. After all, the consequences of male-dominance and abuse fall disproportionately on girls and women as Jimmy Carter noted A Call to Action. Clearly, the more prominent factor determining whether a person will be sold to a brothel, killed as a fetus, denied an education, nutrition or medical help, abused in their marriage, family, or community is not simply gender but the value we assign to gender coupled with female docility. To say it another way, the epidemiology of preventable disease, abuse and poverty is directed correlated to male-preeminence and the marginalization of females and their own diminished agency.

A 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning book by WuDunn and Kristoff, Half the Sky, though not without weaknesses, offers a helpful preview to the suffering of girls and women globally again, paramount of which is the expectation that girls and women will be raped and abused repeatedly throughout the day and night, smiling and cooperating with their abusers. According to WuDunn and Kristoff male domination and female docility are both sides of the same abuse coin, as research of Prepare and Enrich also suggests. According to WuDunn and Kristoff, female docility “makes it easier for women and girls to be kidnapped, trafficked, raped, and otherwise abused. Stoic docility—in particular, acceptance of any decree by a man—is drilled into girls in much of the world from the time they are babies…” Females are taught to obey males even “when the instruction is to smile while being raped twenty times a day.” [1] According to their field research, only as females challenge their oppressors does culture undergo changes. Here is one example:

Woineshet lives in rural Ethiopia, where it is a time honored tradition to kidnap and rape girls, especially for males without a bride or dowry price, or if the male fears rejection by the family. Laws in Ethiopia prevent a family from prosecuting for rape if the woman marries her offender. Woineshet was kidnapped late at night. Four men broke down her door and carried her off. For two days Woineshet was beaten and raped. She was 13 years old. The man guilty of this crime wanted to marry her, but father and daughter decided to prosecute. She was kidnapped again, taken even further from home, beaten and raped, yet she refused to marry her accuser. So, he then dragged her into court. She refused even though the court official warned her there was no point in resisting. He will just return the court official said. Docility was expected of her. Woineshet said, quote, “People were saying I broke tradition. They were criticizing me, saying I had escaped. I was furious with that attitude…Everyone around them condemned the family for breaching tradition.” [2] Woineshet is now in law school. She intends to break tradition as long as that tradition means violence and abuse of women.

Woineshet is making history because she was, in the eyes of her culture, not well-behaved. She valued the dignified treatment of girls and women a higher moral priority to that practiced by her perpetrators. Researchers are discovering that when a culture values men and women equally, and where agency is shared equally there is much lower incident of infant girls aborted, girls and adolescence sold to brothels, and violence against women in the home. In fact, a significant indicator for equal numbers of females to males in a culture is an egalitarian worldview. Yet, the cost of resistance is very high. Many have and continue to suffer for resisting cultural patriarchy. In celebration of International Women’s Day, let us pray without ceasing for all of God’s change agents, working to end the abuse and marginalization of girls and women, making not a few people uncomfortable through their challenges.  Let us thank God for their courage!

[1] Half the Sky, WuDunn and Kristoff, p. 47
[2] Ibid, p. 65.

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