With the recent cover of Time Magazine, the violence waged against women and girls became much more visible. For many people, it's an intellectual concept and thus easier to brush aside, but the photo of 18-year-old Aisha, an Afghani woman, is a visceral, very real reminder of the horror experienced by too many women.
A beautiful young woman, and very courageous for allowing herself to be photographed, Aisha was trying to escape the brutal beatings in her home, and was 'sentenced' to be returned to receive punishment. Her brother-in-law held her down, while her husband cut off her ears and nose.
Other photos in the Time gallery show women who've been severely burned or jailed for such 'infractions', and there are frequent true stories of women being cut, whipped, having acid thrown in their faces, or being stoned to death.
Bureaucrat-diplomats, talking about the recent negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, said "sacrifices must be made" and "would you rather educate girls, or save their lives?" The sacrifices, of course, are women enduring such brutality. The 'lives' being saved are lives lived in terror of being beaten, maimed, burned, tortured, murdered, and 'disappeared'.
It would be easy to make this about the violence in 'that part of the world', where such brutality seems as normal as the sun rising and setting each day. But such violence touches us all; it's a legacy all of us carries, and a cost all of us pay. After all, women are beaten, brutalized, and raped in all parts of the world, and it's a common 'collateral damage' in cultures of perpetual war.
When brutality against women and girls is normal, the same gross inhumanity, the lack of empathy, leaks out into other areas of behavior as well -- including the marketplace and financial sectors.
There is another way...Though it's a common belief that "It's always been this way, and it always will be," that's not true. It wasn't always this way. And it doesn't always have to be this way. We have another legacy to choose from.
Riane Eisler, in her classic and powerful book, The Chalice and the Blade, talks of 'partnership societies' that prospered before being displaced by more brutal 'dominator' cultures.
A growing awareness of societies like those of ancient Crete, for example, suggests that women and men worked collaboratively, celebrating life, creating art, revering the beauty and abundance of Nature, prospering, and ensuring that the wealth and wellbeing was enjoyed by everyone alike.
Thanks to diligent work by archaeologists, anthropologists, and others, aided by more recent technology, we know that these 'golden age' cultures were more real than legend (though in our time, they certainly seem mythical and legendary!).
Then slowly, in waves, a more violent, war-and-conquest-obsessed culture took hold, helped about by natural catastrophes that threw the previous societies into chaos.
These 'dominator' cultures, as Eisler aptly terms them, were not equalitarian or partnership oriented, and didn't hold reverence for Nature or the Feminine (or the healthy Masculine, for that matter). Archaeological digs show evidence that dominator cultures were more hierarchical, status-oriented, punitive, and death-fearing yet death-obsessed. Creativity and wealth were used to solidify rank and status, and aid efforts in war and conquest, rather than to benefit the society at large.
The latter, dominator-society may be the legacy we're more familiar with, and yet the other lives in our ancient memory as well.
When the Feminine values of partnership, empathy, appreciation of beauty, connection, reverence, wisdom, and so on go missing, brutality and cruel logic proliferate. Like cancer cells.
When I think of the lack of empathy and the violence that it breeds -- like that experienced by Aisha and too many like her, over centuries into the present, through wars, inquisitions, and other 'man over nature' conquests -- it's as inconceivable to me as it is heart-breaking. What's missing, what's been so injured, that one human being can do such violence to another, or to other living beings, or to the planet itself?
And it doesn't have to be 'just the way it is'. It doesn't. We know that there have been people and societies that lived very differently, where everyone flourished and prospered, where such violence would have been aberrant and seen as the soul-sickness that it is They were based on different values, on different beliefs.
We can allow the horror of one to reawaken our commitment to re-envisioning and cultivating the other. We do have the choice. We can work together, and within ourselves, to make it so.
* Image Credits:
Photograph of Afghani women from WikiCommons (White House, public domain)
Image of Cretan artwork, WikiCommons