There is a war on women. We know it is a war because there are battlefields, injuries and casualties. This war has no memorials and no solemn speeches are given to commemorate the victims who have been injured or killed. It is most often an invisible war.
More and more frequently, however, this war is becoming visible and its roots in a sexist, racist, gun-mad American culture revealed. The Isla Vista shootings are the latest example of this deadly war, as the women-hating, racist postings of Elliot Rogers, presumed to be the killer, reveal.
The hashtag #YesAllWomen started trending on Twitter soon after the shootings,
giving testimony to the widespread culture of violence against women and to how it is becoming almost acceptable. The #YesAllWomen is a furious rebuttal to the familiar 'not all men' argument that deflects analysis of rape culture and redirects it to individual male behaviors.
If you read the Twitter feed, you will scroll through fear, rage, heartbreak, courage, lament, insightful analysis of rape culture, as the tweet above demonstrates, and more. It is a virtual tour of the battlefield of the war on women. You can, for a time, actually witness to the fact that all day long, all night long, every day and every night, the bodies of women and girls are turned into a battlefield. Their bodies are penetrated against their will; they are burned, maimed, bruised, slapped, kicked, threatened with a weapon, confined, beaten with fists or objects, shot, knifed; their bones are broken, they lose limbs, sight, hearing, pregnancies, and their sense of personal and physical integrity. They are terrorized and they are killed.
Yes. This is a war and the data back that up.
This war on women is not a "Just War," though many, many societal mechanisms function to convince men, and even some women, that it is. As a Christian theologian and pastor, I feel I have been working on this issue all my life, and more recently in a book, Women's Bodies as Battlefields: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women (Palgrave Macmillan 2015).
Christian theology has often been co-opted in the service of justifying violence against women, but now there are theologies and theories that can provide profoundly important perspectives to help us argue that this war on women is a war, and to argue that this war must be stopped.
To stop the war on women, we need not just outrage, and religious and ethical condemnation, but social policy. It is important to base policy on the fact that while we must say #YesAllWomen are, by virtue of being female, at risk in the war on women, we must also say "YesAllWomenDifferently".
One of the achievements of the modern women's movement of the 1960s was the assertion of gender as a political category. The parameters of this assertion were ultimately shown to have been flawed, however, as they followed the fault lines of social and economic hierarchies of race, class, sexual orientation, and national origin. Subsequent work in womanist, queer and post-colonial theologies and philosophies has reinvented these categories in indispensable ways, and this work provides crucial correctives for Christian theology that would be a partner in ending the war on women.
All Americans need to see, and act on the fact, that violent, misogynistic culture functions to threaten all women, but different women are subject to different social, cultural, political and legal mechanisms in relationship to misogyny, before, during and after violent assault.
The 2012-2013 fight over the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is a clear example. A bill that improved provisions for specific women's contexts met stiff opposition from conservatives. As Mother Jones so succinctly put it, "There are three reasons some Republicans are trying to block the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: Gays, immigrants, and Native Americans." The bill provided that groups that receive funding for combatting domestic violence would not be able to discriminate against LGBT people. It also provided that immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence could have work status so they are not dependent on their abuser for their income. And the new bill raised conservative ire because it gave tribal authorities the ability to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence cases on Indian reservations.
The comprehensive version of the VAWA passed after vigorous opposition, including from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who opposed the Act because of the language on "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.
The war on women is literally a war and it is going on all around us, all day long and all night long, all the time; it is a war of epidemic proportions. It is a war fought on the bodies of women, where their bodies are the battlefield, both in terms of violent assault and occupation. Women's bodies, minds and spirits are the objects of the attempt to occupy them, an occupation that is socially and religiously sanctioned and backed up by the threat of force or through violent attack. It is sanctioned by custom, religion and often law.
Like war, the war on women poses a threat to human lives, and thus it is a national crisis. Not only women were killed in Isla Vista, and all lives matter.
The importance of #YesAllWomen, however, is that there is such a ghastly commonality to a culture that authorizes violence against women. Those who post testify to their struggle to be self-actualizing human beings whose bodies, minds and spirits belong to them and not to another.
To end this war, however, the differences among women are equally crucial. This is a complex struggle and one where we need not choose commonality or difference. It's both.
The violence with which all women and girls live is a difference in common.
There is, however, only one choice before us: End the war on women.