“The witches, the wise women and the healers were also the counselors. It’s a whole other tradition of learning that has been suppressed because it has political implications.” Starhawk
THE NEW FOREGROUND
If possible, please read this section prior to the session.
Violence against women
is a major problem both historically and in contemporary cultures around the globe. In her book Gyn/Ecology
Mary Daly has documented the world-wide brutalization of women that occurred as patriarchal religions came to rule the social order in many cultures. In India “The Hindu rite of suttee spared widows from the temptations of impurity by forcing them to ‘immolate themselves,’ that is, to be burned alive, on the funeral pyres of their husbands ... Since their religion forbade remarriage and at the same time taught that the husband’s death was the fault of the widow ... everyone was free to despise and mistreat her for the rest of her life.” In China “the ... ritual of footbinding was a thousand-year-long horror show in which women were grotesquely crippled from very early childhood.” Daly quotes Andrea Dworkin: “the hideous three-inch-long ‘lotus hooks’ -which in reality were odiferous
, useless stumps— were the means by which the Chinese patriarchs saw to it that their girls and women would never ‘run around. “
Daly points out that some atrocities “are unspeakable—incapable of being expressed in words because inexpressibly horrible. Such are the ritual mutilations—excision and infibulation—still inflicted upon women throughout Africa today, and practiced in many parts of the world in the past.” She quotes the definitions offered by Fran P. Hosken:
“1. Sunna Circumcision: removal of the prepuce and/or tip of the clitoris.
Excision or Clitoridectomy: excision of the entire clitoris with the labia minora and some or most of the external genitalia.
Excision and Infibulation (Pharaonic Circumcision): This means excision of the entire clitoris, labia minora and parts of the labia majora. The two sides of the vulva are then fastened together in some way either by thorns ... or sewing with catgut.”37
, “It should not be imagined that the horror of the life of an infibulated child/woman ends with this operation. Her legs are tied together, immobilizing her for weeks, during which time excrement remains within the bandage ... she can look forward to a life of repeated encounters with ‘the little knife’—the instrument of her perpetual torture. For women who are infibulated have to be cut open—either by the husband or by another woman—to permit intercourse. They have to be cut open further for delivery of a child. Often they are sewn up again after delivery
, depending upon the decision of the husband.”
Because of the overlay nature of patriarchal attitudes, these brutal treatments of women are frequently in opposition to older aspects of the religious traditions and historical circumstances of these cultures. Even the political and secular histories of these areas of the globe often reveal underlying woman-honoring attitudes and practices.
Many non-governmental organizations worldwide, most made up of women from the cultures where some of these practices still exist, have made violence against women, in its many forms, a priority. The United Nations promotes the equality of women, having held four international conferences from 1975 through 1995 where the international agenda for obtaining equal rights for women free from violence were set. Numerous member countries of the United Nations have programs in place to combat these attitudes and practices. The United States is no exception when it comes to violence perpetuated against women. Historically women in the United States have suffered many physical and mental brutalities which sadly are still in evidence.