Jan 16, 2006
Within one recent week, five women were murdered in the streets of Detroit.
In the early hours of December 27, the bodies of Cheryl Parks and Angela Jackson were found four miles apart on the city’s east side. Each woman was shot once in the head. A man said to be the boyfriend of one of the women, has been charged with these murders.
Four days later, the body of 16-year-old Dantoya White was found in an alley eight blocks from the Thomas Edison branch of the Detroit Public Library, where she was last seen alive. According to the police, the teenager was beaten, raped and stabbed.
The next day, the bodies of two women were found near the intersection of Virgil and Pilgrim on Detroit’s west side. The women were shot several times.
These five Detroit women have joined the ranks of millions of women around the world who fall victim to violence on a daily basis. A study titled “Women in an Insecure World,” published in late December by an agency sponsored by the Swiss government, listed violence against women as one of the four leading causes of death in the world today, along with disease, hunger and war.
Based on population data, the study estimates that there are about 200 million fewer women in the world than there should be. “...The reason why they are not here is simply that they have been killed,” said Swiss ambassador Theodor Winkler, director of the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, the agency that published the study.
This figure, 200 million, is greater than the number of people killed in ALL the wars of the 20th century – by far the bloodiest century in history. The study found that women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to die as a result of male violence than through cancer, traffic accidents, malaria and war – combined!
As horrific as these figures are, they still don’t tell the whole story. For every woman who is killed because of her gender, there are scores who survive male violence and continue to live with its scars, both physical and psychological. The World Heath Organization estimates, for example, that one woman in five will be subject to rape or attempted rape, and one in three will be subjected to male violence during her life.
The precise reasons for the murder of, or generally violence against women are many. They include the killing of baby girls because their gender is “not desired”; so-called “honor killings,” usually because a woman had sex with, or judt dated someone not “approved” by men in the family; domestic violence; and attacks specifically on women in war situations.
But in the end, these reasons all boil down to one underlying cause: a male-dominated culture that implicitly accepts and encourages violence against women, by placing women below men in the social hierarchy.
Just consider the major religions, all of which declare the man “the head of the household” and order the woman to “obey her husband.” The Islamic Law, the Sharia, explicitly describes the punishment – which includes beating – that a husband is to exact on a “disobedient” wife. Both the Sharia and Jewish religious law sanction the stoning of women for “infidelity.” They also order women to cover themselves so that men are not “tempted to sin.” In other words, when it comes to sexuality, all these religions treat women as the source of everything “dirty,” and men as the helpless, indeed childlike, victims of evil women!
If anyone thinks that our modern western culture has risen above this archaic garbage, think about how many people in this country still subscribe to the story of Adam and Eve – complete with the “snake” and “apple” and “original sin.” And that, of course, is part of Genesis, which religious fanatics want to bring back to replace the scientific theories of the Big Bang, plate tectonics and evolution!
Or visit the internet web sites of Christian fundamentalist ministers like James Dobson, who sets out to “defend families and promote biblical values” and gives advice toward establishing a “godly marriage,” in which the man has to be the dominant figure.
Or consider all those politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who try to outdo preachers like Dobson with their endless preaching of “family values” – a code phrase for attacking women who don’t accept the role of a traditional housewife who has no means to support herself and is thus economically dependent on a man.
It’s not an accident that today these reactionary views, which originated thousands of years ago, are given so much credibility by the mass media as well as the political and judicial establishment in this country. Capitalism and modern industrial society may owe their rise to the advancement of science and technology. But capitalists, the big bosses who run society, have always used existing social patterns of discrimination – based on race, ethnicity, religion and gender – to divide their work force and pay everyone less. What better scheme than the “traditional family,” where the woman does the socially necessary work of housekeeping and raising children without being paid a penny? What better excuse to pay a woman less than a man is paid for the same job, on the pretext that “the man of the house” already provides for the family anyway?
And so it’s also not an accident that, in this supposedly “enlightened” day and age, the notion of the man being the dominant gender has not gone away. And neither has the unavoidable companion, indeed the means, of male dominance – socially condoned violence against women.