Scars Across Humanity, Elaine Storkey. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2018.
Summary: A description of the global crisis of violence against women, possible explanations, and the measures being taken to address different forms of violence.
Selective abortion and infanticide. Female genital mutilation. Early, forced marriage. Honor killings. Domestic violence. Sex trafficking and prostitution. Rape. Sexual violence in war. From the Congo, Egypt, Pakistan, southeast Asia, to the metropolitan centers and suburbs of Europe and North America, there is a pandemic of violence in various forms against women–most of it perpetrated by men.
One of the signal contributions of this work, written by Elaine Storkey, an advocate for women, is to rigorously document this pandemic, describing specific instances as well as the overall prevalence of the forms of violence against women listed above. Some of the descriptions are graphic and heart-breaking of women facing debilitating physical injuries and psychic scars of the violence done against them. Nine of the thirteen chapters in this work delineate the extent and nature of this violence. Her comments on the effectiveness of gender-based violence as a tactic of war that “inevitably hits the target” is chilling. Along the way, Storkey reports on efforts being taken in advocacy, law, and support to address the violence, much of it after the fact. Much remains to be done. For example, Storkey notes that “603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is still not a crime.”
All of this begs the question of why is this so universally a part of the human experience (a “scar across humanity”) and particularly why is violence against women so pervasively a male behavior? Three chapters explore evolutionary, patriarchal, and religious explanations. Each, to some extent, offer some explanation for this behavior but none are completely satisfying, and none can be used as a warrant to ever justify violence. A problem that I saw with the chapter on religion is that it focused exclusively on Islam. I felt a broader treatment would have been more even-handed and would avoid feeding anti-Muslim stereotypes (although she does describe movements defending the rights of women within Islam).
The final chapter on Christianity and gender acknowledges the sad history of patriarchy and a turning of a blind eye to domestic violence in the church but also notes how scripture gives warrant for the dignity, equality, and full partnership of women in marriage and the church, and no warrant for any form of violence. She notes the “texts of terror,” but argues these are descriptive rather than ever prescriptive. Finally, Storkey traces the root cause of gender based violence to human rebellion against God–sin. She writes:
“At a far deeper level than either ‘biology’ or ‘culture,’ then, ‘sin’ helps us explain the ubiquity of violence against women. We are responsible. Patriarchal structures are a product of human choices and attitudes; oppression and brutality are rooted in the power sin exercises in human communities. A Christian theology of sin places accountability for attitudes, culture and actions firmly on human shoulders; we have to own what we create” (p. 223).
This is good a far as it goes, and I would agree with everything here, but I found her brief treatment less than satisfying in explaining why violence against women is a preferred male expression of our fallen sinfulness, particularly in light of her extensive treatment of evolutionary and patriarchal explanations. For this, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen’s Gender and Grace goes into far greater depth.
Storkey’s book is an important one for men to read. This cannot remain a women’s conversation. As men, we need to own what we have created and face our collective “heart of darkness” and the tragic mayhem we have wrought across the globe, from date rape to femicide. We need to own that we are the reason that no girl or woman from eight (or earlier) to eighty can live without fear in our presence. This book faces us with the ugly consequences of the abuse of our masculinity and challenges us to join our mothers, sisters, and daughters as advocates and allies rather than aggressors. It challenges us to live redemptively, joining with Jesus, who elevated the status of women throughout his ministry.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
10 thoughts on “Review: Scars Across Humanity”
I agree that men have to stand with and support women on the issue of violence against women – and men need to hold other men accountable.
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Bob, thank you this review of this most devastating and cruel treatment of women around the world. The books title is true to what is being perpetrated in other societies.
How we have turned a blind I to these practices of violence and cruelty of women.
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The pervasiveness of violence across cultures was disturbing.
You would strengthen your commentary by providing specifics as to how “Jesus elevated the status of women throughout his ministry.” Further, the long history of institutionalized misogyny in organized religion needs explanation and analysis. For the most part, overwhelmingly, churches TODAY are
run and controlled by men with women playing a subservient role. The number of passages in the Bible legitimizing male authority far outweigh those that teach gender equality. Sadly, throughout recorded history, religion and religious institutions have been an integral part of the problem, not of the solution.
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The author does this in her text and addresses the texts you mention. I simply wanted to summarize rather than repeat. I do agree that our institutions have contributed significantly. It’s sad. I work on a ministry team led ably by a woman with both women and men, and it is a blast, and we are so much better for the mix.
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Looks like a great read!
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Saw your comments on several posts and that you began following the blog. Thanks! And Scars Across Humanity certainly was a challenging read pushing one to understand the global character of violence against women.
No problem, you have a great blog enjoyed by many of us in the team!