Gender based violence
A men looks on as a row of women hang until they are dead. He is pleased by what he sees, the result of his own decisions and actions. This incident from the Odyssey occurs when Odysseus returns home and finds that his wife has been under siege from a group of male suitors for years. The suitors have had sexual relations with the maids of the household, so these servant women must be put to death. It is Odysseus’ son Telemachus, who had lived in the same household as these women, who ends their lives. In Emily Watson’s translation of the Odyssey (the first in English by a woman), Telemachus says: ‘I refuse to grant these girls a clean death’. The violence against these women is part of the outworking of patriarchal power and honour, where women are dominated and their chastity policed by men.
The foundation myths of many cultures include stories where women are treated with extreme violence, often by the heroes in the stories. There are many such stories in the Old Testament, not surprising as it was formed in a patriarchal culture similar to that of the Iliad and Odyssey. Women writers, artists, and theologians are revisiting these stories, moving the stories of the women from the margins to the centre, and so questioning the cultural values that allow such activities to pass without much comment or critique.
The picture here, Odysseus and Penelope 1973/4 is by Dame Elizabeth Frink. In her series on the Odyssey, she chooses to make this image essential to her illustrations.
We are coming towards the end of 16 days of activism raising awareness of gender based violence. These days are supported by the United Nations, and in a year where such violence has escalated, this picture is a visual commentary on the present, as much as the mythical past.
They would be hung like doves
or larks in the springes triggered in a thicket,
where the birds think to rest—a cruel nesting.
So now in turn each woman thrust her head
into a noose and swung, yanked high in air,
to perish there most piteously.
Their feet danced for a little, but not long.
Loving God, we lift all victims of abuse to you. We ask you to give them your love and protection. We ask for your courage and strength, so we can speak up against the violence inflicted upon your precious people. Help us to see situations where violence is taking place and give us wisdom to know how to act. Merciful God, we lift every girl and young woman to you who has suffered or witnessed violence. We pray for justice in each of these situations and provision for a safe place where they can find healing. We ask this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Prayer for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.