TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains references to violence against women.
The election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States has emboldened the forces waging the War on Women. The Christian Right would have you believe that women have already achieved equality in the West and that it is the “Islamic World” that oppresses women.
Yet oppression of and violence against women is not unique to Islam; it is every bit as present in Christianity. Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn discuss this in their book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. They note that Muhammed comes across in the Koran as more pro-women than do many early Christian leaders. “The apostle Paul wanted women to keep silent in church, and the early Christian leader Tertullian denounced women as ‘the gateway of the Devil.’” While tempered with words like “modesty” and “virtue,” messages like this are still preached from pulpits around the country perpetuating a view of women as second-class citizens.
In the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the book of the same name by Stieg Larsson, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Bloomkvist (played by Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig, respectively) attempt to hunt down a man who murders women with biblical names by biblical means. In the clip below, they discuss evidence that corresponds to passages from the Old Testament (This clip contains graphic descriptions of violence against women):
As in the film, patriarchy has used these passages to justify violence against women for millennia. By electing a man who boasts about sexually assaulting women, America took a disturbing step in the wrong direction. President Trump’s choices for high-level positions in his administration are also alarming, fanning the flames of the “War on Women.”
In her book, Women’s Bodies as Battlefield, Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite, professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, writes that the War on Women “extends beyond the immediate death and injury as happens on the battlefields in war.” The ideology that undergirds the War on Women “is that women’s bodies, minds, and spirits are owned by the males in their lives and in their societies.”
Rape culture says that women are to blame for the violence that happens to them. This is unequivocally wrong. Victims are not to blame for their abuse.
As a Christian seminary student and mother of two sons, I believe we must raise our sons to see women not as property or prey, but as equals. Rather than lament girls’ lack of modesty or worry over how “aggressive” girls are, parents of boys must have difficult discussions with their sons, taking into consideration rape culture’s prevalence and the extent to which the socialization of boys perpetuates it.
We must accept that Christianity’s scriptures have been used to perpetuate rape culture and acknowledge that it is our job to dismantle it. We can begin with how we raise our sons here in the United States, but we must not stop there.