I posted the following story about women in the news where I blog every Tuesday at The Thoughtful Christian. For years I’ve wished that violence weren’t such a big sub category of “women’s issues”; I’ve lamented that one of the few areas young women are asked to comment on in Christian media is sexual abuse; I’ve wanted to move past the issue of violence and on to a vision of liberation. But I can’t. And I won’t.
I used to get paid to follow the news.
I was a book publicist whose job it was to pitch authors as expert commentators on the cutting-edge trends and up-to-the-minute stories of the day. I ate cereal with the cotton candy fluff of Good Morning America, hitched a ride into work with the hearty granola of Morning Edition, procrastinated through lunch with the beefy Daily Beast, and unwound at home with the decadent dessert of Glamour.
The only kink in my routine was that I hated the news. I hated its fear, its negativity, its polarization, its triteness. I hated the violence it directed my gaze towards.
February’s news stories were wrought with violence, and an overwhelming portion of it was against the bodies of women. It is ironic, as fellow blogger Greg Garrett points out, that the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition arrived to such a climate.
On February 15th, a landmark class-action lawsuit was filed by 17 women accusing Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld of creating a culture where violence against women in the military was tolerated. The report on the Daily Beast identifies statistics that female recruits are now far more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed in combat.
On February 16th, I heard the news of reporter Lara Logan’s sustained sexual assault while covering the riots in Egypt. As women took to the streets to participate in a swelling protest of their oppression, another woman, Logan, was whipped, stripped, beaten, and pinched, according to the U.K.’s Daily Mail.
And then, on February 18th, word came from Politco of 240 congressmen and women voting to strip Planned Parenthood of their federal funding. The fine print is that this funding is already restricted to non-abortive services. Therefore, what these congress people are really preventing is basic healthcare for women in the form of pelvic exams, breast exams, safe-sex cosunseling, basic infertility counseling, and access to birth control from one of the country’s largest providers. Planned Parenthood is not without fault, but some of its comprehensive measures could most certainly be viewed as pro-women-and-children’s-lives.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed or desensitized to the violence. I know I just want to stick my head in a box of Thin Mints and ignore the raging war against women’s bodies that is being fought across the world. It’s dangerous to essentialize women’s experiences, but by nature of our biology, many of us share in a collective fear of abuse. Let us not forget either that men’s bodies are violated, too, when used for such abusive purposes.
The Bible, like the news, is no haven from violence. Men and women participate in the destruction of human life and creation throughout the text. But unlike the news, God is an anchor of hope.
If we are to be real critics of how stories about women are framed in the media, we must heed the thoughts of theologian Walter Brueggeman, author of The Prophetic Imagination, and learn that grieving the violence is as transformative as visioning for equality.