Solstice reflections: Women as Victims of Violence and as Peace Agents

Winter solstice eve, 2011.

The darkest day of the year, and yet presaging the return to light.  The stars and planets continue to wheel overhead, taking little notice of all the sturm und drang here on Earth.

Tonight there is one image that keeps calling out to me for comment.  It goes by the Web shorthand “woman with the blue bra, Cairo.”

Did you see that one?

Someone captured on camera a brief two minutes of violence in Cairo, Egypt, when an unnamed protester was dragged by military forces in the street, then stripped of her abaya, under which she wore only a blue bra–and then beaten up some more.

WordPress has taken away my ability to post video, so you can watch it here.

It goes right up there with the video from New York City, towards the beginning of the OWS protests, of a police officer spraying peaceful, captive girls in the face with pepper spray.  This video has apparently been watched on You-Tube more than 1.5 million times.

There is something about seeing women being beaten up by masked, uniformed security forces that sets off particular triggers in most of us.  It’s certainly no accident that the Occupy protests swelled dramatically in numbers after that pepper-spray incident, or that more than 10,000 protesters, mostly women, turned out in Cairo following the posting of this image on the Web.

Part of me wants to question why it is that we get so upset when women protesters are attacked.  After all, they knew the risks they were running when they went out into the street.  And what’s the big difference between a man and a woman being beat up by goons, anyway?

But there is a difference.

The difference is that it’s always men doing the beating.

Yes, we have some women in police and military uniforms.  And yes, women can be violent.  But you will have to look long and hard to find cases where women bore the responsibility for killing or attacking civilians, in any circumstances.  It may happen, but it’s pretty rare.

So when we see a mob of men stripping and beating a woman–in a society where nudity is absolutely taboo, to boot–it’s impossible to ignore the full impact of the insult intended.  And in a society where women are forcibly kept out of leadership roles, the message is all the clearer.

Stay at home where you belong, or we’ll do this to you, too.

I’m so glad that the women of Cairo did not take this attempt at intimidation lying down. Just like the women in New York, who took the unwarranted police brutality as a gauntlet thrown down to test their protest mettle.

The question of whether men are in fact more aggressive than women is still a matter for debate in academic circles, but taking a look around the world, it’s pretty clear that men commit almost all the violence in every context.  When women murder or assault, it’s almost always in self-defense.

And yet women are still held back from leadership roles in most societies, and even held back from the peace-making negotiating tables in post-conflict regions.  A big exception is Rwanda, where women have taken a leadership role in rebuilding that shattered society–mostly because the men had succeeded so well in killing each other off.

We have moved past the point in the intellectual history of gender studies where feminists were striving to be “the same as” men.  Women don’t want to be the same as men if it means repeating the same old history of violence and abusiveness.

What we need is to move, as men and women, beyond the violence that has continually plagued human society.

Violence towards each other; violence towards other species and the rest of the world.

The only way to move forward as a species is to disable that aggressive switch, and become the consensus-seeking conciliators we have always been in our finest moments as human beings.

As we return to light this solstice night, this is my fervent prayer: that the aggressive, masculine energy that has dominated this planet for the past 5,000-plus years will begin to shift to a more peaceful, creative, feminine energy, from which both men and women–and the planet as a whole–will benefit.

Let it be so.

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