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Thursday, May 17, 2018

"Scars Across Humanity" by Elaine Storkey. A Review

Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against WomenScars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women by Elaine Storkey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Her book will raise your blood pressure and stoke your sense of outrage. But it will also sharpen your perception of what is happening around you, just out of ear shot or out of eye sight. Wife, mother, scholar, author, speaker, journalist, tireless advocate for the marginalized as president of Tearfund and cofounder of Restored: Elaine Storkey compiles a sturdy dossier on violence against women and girls across the world in her 288 page paperback, "Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women". On the one hand it is easily readable no matter your skill level; on the other hand it is hard to read if you have a heart!

"Scars Across Humanity" is a studious report on the ways nations and societies assault and violate their women and girls. Storkey takes whole chapters to meticulously describe the universality of specific forms of violence. After asserting that gender-specific violence is a global pandemic, she then takes eight chapters to work over various manifestations of female-focused coercion. Abortions that target female fetuses and infanticide of girls; genital mutilation; early, enforced marriages; honor killings; domestic abuse; trafficking and prostituting; and sexual violence in war. Each subject gets its own chapter thoroughly researched and rigorously packed.

The author then takes on theories of gender-based violence. She examines sociobiology's and evolutionary psychology's explanations, and exposes their inadequacies. Storkey also gets into Marxist/Socialist forms of feminism, showing where these are unsatisfactory. The author kindly grapples with Islam, pointing out the ways it has been misused to fuel gender-based violence, and registers ways that Islamic feminists are making inroads from within. Finally, she presents a chapter on Christianity and gender which I thoroughly enjoyed, and appreciated.

I found two areas that gave me some concern. To begin, the author seems obsessed with "patriarchy" throughout the book. She lays all of these evils at the feet of patriarchal societies, patriarchal traditions, patriarchal power, patriarchal authority, patriarchal cultures, ad infinitum. But, as far as I could see, it was never defined. There is a load of ideological baggage encumbering that word, but it means different things to different groups. As it stands, the book leaves the reader with a bad taste for "patriarchy" so that if they ever heard it used they would immediately think bad things (in a kind of Pavlovian way). I really did find this unhelpful.

Further, Storkey is a Westerner, as am I, and it hit me that some of her analysis showed a smidgen of Western snobbery. For example, while describing the badness of "early and enforced marriages" for girls, she targets Niger, where "a staggering 75 per cent of all girls marry under 18, and 33 per cent under 15" (50). That statement strikes me as culturally and chronologically condescending. It wasn't that long ago our very own grandparents and great-grandparents married at those ages. No doubt there were social pressures that pushed this, but there was also a shorter lifespan that inspired urgency. Now that Americans and other Westerners live, on average, well into their 70s, we can (and are) postponing marriage to later years. So I checked it out with a simple Google search, and World Bank says the average lifespan in Niger in 2015 (when the UK version of this book was originally published) was 53 and rising (other sources gave slightly different lifespans, but all were 60 and below). Though there may be other social expectations and cultural perceptions at work in Niger, shorter lifespans are surely giving some sense of urgency as well. I'm not sure that earlier marriages are proof positive of gender-abuse.

But neither of these concerns takes away from the value of the book, in my eyes. This is an important read for all. It is eye-opening and heartbreaking. "Scars Across Humanity" needs to be picked up and poured over be men and women, politicians and pastors, academics and medics. I highly recommend the work, which you can purchase here: "Scars Across Humanity".

My thanks to IVP Academic for sending the book used for this review. There were no strings attached. The conclusions and concerns herein are my own, and freely given.


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