Sunday, April 11, 2010

Barbarism Against Women

I was chatting with the Cynical Nymph earlier this evening about what it is that makes women, especially young women in this day and age, feel like they are so inadequate and about the fact that many feel they are even unjustified in feeling unhappy or are constrained in their expression. Indeed the outlets for unhappiness among women in the Western world may not be as radical as women who self-immolate in India, Afghanistan and other places where their rights are so constrained that they make our lives look like a cakewalk. And yet so much in life is relative. None of us really knows what it is like to walk in another woman's shoes, to feel that other woman's perceptions of herself, her body, her rights.

After brooding for more than a day over the horrifying death of a 13 year old Yemeni child bride from internal bleeding after her "wedding night" (I just shudder to imagine what that child endured) I am more in awe than ever of a child like Nujood Ali, who ran away and went directly to a Sana'a Court and told a judge who noticed her that she wanted a divorce, that she'd been raped and then refused to reunite with her husband in three to five years. (As if sex at thirteen to fifteen with her barbaric husband was going to be better? As if he was going to be nicer now that he'd been arrested and brought before the judge?) I admire young women like Nujood Ali, adult women like her lawyer Shada Nasser, who no doubt took her life in her own hands to represent this child in a cause that was quite unpopular.

Nujood's book, translation published in March 2010

Nick Kristof's column this morning on Elhad Assi, the 13 year old girl whose childhood and life came to a terrifying end at the hands of a 23 year old rapist to whom she was married, says the tide is changing in the Muslim world on this issue because of the public censure over cases like Elhad's and Nujood's. Many have suggested that the practice of child marriage of girls holds back societies by devaluing the role of women, their worth and relevant potential. Kristof feels the fact that in some countries a better educated bride is finally at long last more valuable is a sign of change. He closed his column saying "there’s still a lot of work to be done."

When I talk to beautiful and amazing friends, my own lovely daughter, and so many young women, I see that perhaps we all need to do more work. Cynical Nymph has made a number of brilliant posts about eating disorders and their relevance as a Western form of self-immolation. I can see her point, that it is a kind of prolonged and silent scream. Our lives are indeed so much better, freer and less fraught with terror than a child like Elham's. But our lives and how we feel living them are what we know, the constraints on any psyche are no less real. Barbarism in society can come in both overtly visceral or perniciously subtle form.

Girls like Phoebe, Elhad, Nujood and so many young women I know hunger for self-worth and worth in the eyes of their culture, families and peers. It isn't trivializing things to compare them in their disparate worlds. And it's not overstating it to say that even now in the 21st century, it seems like many women are just starving for that worth...


Readers interested in learning more about the practice of child marriage are encouraged to check out the PBS documentary Child Brides, Stolen Lives. It is not for the faint of heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment