The injustices of gender-based violence are not limited to physical attacks on our bodies. They are attacks on our very personhood, and are embodied in manifold monsters, of different shapes, yet each with a very ugly face. Considering how many different faces abuse against women and girls carries across the world, I couldn’t decide which one to start off with today.
And then it came to me: why not tackle the root of the problem at the start? The disproportionate and gargantuan volume of harm that is done to women and girls globally all stems from a fundamental misunderstanding – or indeed, in many cases, denial – of who the woman / girl-child is.
She is a human being, created in the image of God.
I wish I could just end there, because gender-based abuse wouldn’t be an issue if this was treated as fact by everyone in the world.
But sadly this isn’t the case, and that’s why organisations like Press Red have to exist.
As a Christian educational charity, the belief that all human beings are created in the image of God is part of our blueprint. It governs and informs everything we do.
On the other hand, the perception that persists on every corner of the globe – that women and girls are inferior and that their bodies are tools with which men can get what they want, or objects that can be manhandled and tossed aside anyhow– governs and informs the abuses that women and girls face every day.
If we want to turn the tide of gender-based violence and abuse, then we must first address the way our society views women and girls. We must get our sight checked. We must change our specs. For as long as we continue driving with a skewed and blurred vision of the road, the likelihood becomes greater that we will soon have ploughed down everyone and everything in sight.
“He created them male and female, and blessed them and called them Mankind in the day they were created.” – Gen 5:2a
When we talk about the commodification of the bodies of women and girls, we are talking about the female being reduced to merely an object of trade. She is relegated from her place as a princess (or maybe we should say, Queen?), made by the King of the universe, and born into His royal family, to something that you might walk on. I think you can see how this is a problem.
As soon as we start dehumanising human beings, we are capable of doing awful things to them. Think of the rhetorics that fed the beasts that are Holocaust, slavery, colonisation… They are embedded in a basic and brutish ideology that the people subject to these crimes were inferior: that they were less than human. The same thing is happening with women and girls at every point of the Earth’s diameter.
Sexual objectification is just one symptom of this reduction in the value of the female person.
The world of pop music is a prime example of how this works. If an artist wants to be at the very top of this sphere, she is expected – and often, forced – to play along with the rules that have been created for her: her body is now a commodity – because, as they say, ‘sex sells’.
Have you noticed that the creators of this narrative have written the script in such a way that the key asset a woman possesses is depicted as her ability to provide sexual gratification? By virtue of her sex, she becomes sex incarnate.
The sexual objectification of women is not just something you see in the world of popular music. You will most likely see it any time you catch the advertisement slots on your telly, or when you are interrupted by a YouTube ad. You will likely see it when you open your paper, and when you’re driving past and see a virtually naked woman in a seductive position on the billboard. You probably hear it in lyrics that reverberate through your radio waves. You don’t have to watch pornography or watch R. Kelly videos to see the sexual objectification of women. It is everywhere.
It is in this context that rape, sexual assault and countless other crimes against women’s and girls’ bodies thrive. It is also in this context that women and girls are beginning to believe that our only asset is our sexuality.
Is this really where we want to be?