(Trigger warning for gruesome description of sexual violence against a child)
In Yemen, an 8 year old child bride died this week as a result of genital tearing and internal bleeding on her wedding night (READ: She was raped to death by her 40 year old husband). A large percentage of females in Yemen are married off as children, to become sex slaves and baby making machines to the men they’re sold to by their families for a dowry.
I weep to think about their enslaved lives, what their quality of life must be like, how they’ll have to give up school in 5th or 6th grade due to pregnancies and motherhood, what could have been their full potential. And of course it goes without saying I weep to think about how they have to endure the actual rapes themselves. Internal bleeding is extraordinarily painful. As if raping an 8 year old child isn’t bad enough, there is no way this man, her husband, didn’t know he was seriously injuring her/killing her during the commission of the act. I think we can all agree this whole situation is an atrocity.
In 2009, the Yemen government recognized that 8 year old brides is a human rights concern, and passed a law making the minimum age of marriage 17 years old. This was in response to a 12 year old bride that agonized through three days of labor trying to give birth, and another girl who also died shortly after her marriage due to internal bleeding caused by rape. However, the law was reportedly later repealed because forbidding a 40 year old man to marry an 8 year old girl is “against Islamic teaching”.
Folks, we need to have a serious conversation about this. We (those who despise violence against women and girls) blog, and we write news articles, we do SlutWalks, and we form facebook groups denouncing slut-shaming, victim-blaming, and rape jokes. We rail against song lyrics and magazine ads that mock or condone sexual violence. And I’m so glad we do, because these efforts are so important in creating a world that will abhor sexual violence as much as we do. But if we’re failing to have an honest, critical discussion about the ways in which religiosity plays into global rape culture, we’re failing.
Why can’t we talk about this? Well, I’ll speak for myself, and why I usually feel like I can’t publicly confront what I see as policies and traditions of the Abrahamic religions that contribute to tolerant attitudes about violence against women.
1. Religiously fundamentalist people do not want to hear one shred of criticism about their beliefs, and will make life difficult and even threaten violence against those who criticize their beliefs. I’ve been sued by a Catholic Church for opening a feminist sex ed shop 3 blocks from their building, I’ve had notes demanding I “repent” left under my car windshield. I’ve had a religious leader say I should be taken to the town center and stoned to death, and my high school sweetheart dumped me after he joined a Christian cult and became convinced I was going to burn in Hell. In my personal experiences, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for discussion or reason.
2. I know many non-fundamentalist religious people with faith backgrounds in the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, etc) who work tirelessly within their own lives to end violence against women. But attempts at discussions with them that would critically analyze religion as it relates to the subjugation of women and sexual violence derail into the defensive “well those are just bad humans doing _____ religion wrong, the REAL people of my _____ religion are peaceful and love women” and “Hey now, I’m of the _______ religion, so don’t criticize _____ religion just because some people use _______ religion as rationale to do _____ horrible atrocity to ______ group of already sexually marginalized people”.
So extreme people can’t engage, and reasonable minded people won’t engage in any discussion in which they might have to objectively discuss a shortcoming or weakness in their religion, even if said weakness is the systematic raping of children by their religion’s leaders or belief that 8 year old girls can be bought and sold- in my experience. So I, as I suspect many others, refrain from bringing up religion when talking about headlines like today’s about the child who died from her rape because I want to be PC, and I don’t want to get the shit storm of angry emails that will be inevitable, and I don’t want to offend the “good” people who follow these religions who will ream me out if I “criticize” their beliefs.
But I’m going to put this out there: If we say we want to end rape culture, and we deconstruct the rape culture in Robin Thicke lyrics that have been heard in passing by 200 million people, but we won’t deconstruct the rape culture found in religious texts read and devoutly followed by over 3 billion people, we’re kinda hypocrites. Religious traditions that condone or promote the rape of children- the rape of ANYONE, can’t keep getting a pass from critical analysis and evaluation.
Photo credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images