HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnists16 Days of Activism and beauty for ashes

16 Days of Activism and beauty for ashes


Is the beauty of women really threatening to men? I ask this question because I am confused by what seems to be a protracted historical effort by patriarchal societies to control women by controlling their attractiveness. Disagree? Observe the following:

The Bible tells us a woman’s crowning glory is her hair. The same Bible also orders women to cover their hair when in worship.

Many churches encourage women to cut their hair and traditionally Catholic nuns would both cut and cover their hair with a veil.

The implication is that when your crowning glory is covered, you are holier and this is the desired state. In other words the less attractive you are, the better!

We all know of churches and sects where women are not permitted to wear earrings, makeup, trousers, high heels or skirts that fall above the ankle.

All of this is done in an effort to control women’s attractiveness. And the idea is sold to women under the guise of increasing their holiness.

I read a news story from The Daily Mail recently that said Saudi Arabia — one of the world’s most conservative Moslem states — is considering passing a law that will require women with attractive eyes to stop revealing their “tempting” eyes in public.

This in a country where women already wear the long dark robes that conceal everything, but their eyes!

While we are on the subject of tempting eyes, I sometimes get feedback to this column in the form of readers asking for relationship advice.

This is always difficult for me as I am in no way qualified to assist.

In one particular instance, a young man wrote to say that he was worried about the faithfulness of his girlfriend because every time he introduced her to male acquaintances, she would look down and avoid meeting their eyes.

I was baffled because I couldn’t connect the two issues. What if she was just shy and didn’t like making eye contact?

Male colleagues I consulted at the time were in agreement that this young lady had issues. They decided she was a flirt and that her partner was correct to be worried.

Perhaps they, like the Saudis, find “tempting eyes” a serious hazard.

As we commemorate the 16 Days of Activism against violence perpetrated on women, it is important for us to interrogate some of the assumptions and philosophies that we generally take for granted.

The reasons why violence is perpetrated against women are difficult to determine. This is mostly because all the research on the subject has been done looking back at violence that has occurred in the past.

Accordingly we then speak of risk factors rather than causes, and these risk factors indicate the problems that are correlated with violence against women, but are not necessarily the cause.

Individual risk factors can be biological or intra-personal traits of the perpetrator or the victim.

Inter-personal risk factors are associated with intimate relationships and may be influenced by societal expectations of gender roles, for example male dominance.

Societal factors include the influence of schools, churches, the media, the legal system etc. They include the practices and values of a community that allow or encourage gender inequality, that objectify women and that glorify violence, (Liebschutz, Frayne, Saxe, 2003 Violence Against Women).

Behind The Wall is a song in which the narrator talks about the sounds of fighting she hears behind her neighbours, wall and how these squabbles keep her from sleeping.

She speaks of the hopelessness of calling the police as they are likely to say they can’t interfere with domestic affairs.

The song crescendos at a point where the narrator hears the usual screams, but these are followed by the sight of an ambulance in the road, and the narrator prays that she is dreaming.

It’s a painful picture, but one that has become all too familiar as we read of men throwing acid into women’s faces in an effort to disfigure them after their advances are spurned.

Or sometimes as punishment for “bad behaviour” in the hope that once the woman’s attractiveness is destroyed she will then toe the line.

But the good news is that women remain indomitable and undefeated. In spite of the great injustices they suffer, they continue, as Maya Angelou would say, to rise.

Woman are still able to find great joy and fulfillment in their roles and they revel in the glory of womanhood, as expressed by feminist writer, Erica Jong:

“You are born a woman
For the sheer glory of it . . .
You are no second sex,
But the first of the first
And when the moon’s phases fill out
the cycle
Of your life,
You will crow
For the joy
Of being a woman . . .”

So, here’s hoping that in the 16 days — and more importantly beyond those days — we will begin to see a shift toward “beauty for ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair”, ( Isaiah 61:3)

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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