Review of Elaine Storkey's 'Scars Against Humanity'

by Natalie Collins

Date added: 07/03/2016

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This review originally appeared on the Fulcrum website, and is used with permission.

Scars Across Humanity 

Elaine Storkey’s much anticipated ninth book focusses on the horrific reality of male violence against women globally. During her time as Tearfund’s President she heard stories from women across the world and in her counselling practice hearing the stories of many women abused by men.

The book covers violence against women globally, merging personal testimony, statistics, research and expert views on the issues raised. She starts the book before a female child is born, with sex selective abortion and the killing of girl babies (female infanticide), exploring the reasons why girls have so little value in many communities globally. She explores cultural forms of abuse found in dowry and honour based violence, moving on to look at early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation, violence in the home, prostitution and trafficking, rape and finally at the ways women are sexually abused throughout war.

The book is tough reading, it should have a warning sticker declaring “this book should change your life”. It is impossible to be unchanged while reading the harrowing accounts from women and the statistics that represent all-encompassing violence done to women and girls the world over.

As the church begins to wake up to some forms of violence against women, with a majority focus on trafficking, Elaine’s book brings together lots of strands that have remained (for the most part) disconnected from each other. Her intellectual capacity and passion for women’s liberation are joined as she moves from talking powerfully about women’s lives to exploring the reasons violence towards women exists the world over.

She gives a succinct overview of evolutionary biology and the ways it is ill-equipped to explain the abuse and violence women face. Moving on to critique sociological analyses and coming to various conclusions about where abuse of women and girls is rooted. The last two chapters reflect on religion and abuse.

It is rare that a book about violence against women from a Christian perspective is able to adequately tackle the issues; any Christian writers can be blinded to the ways Christian culture are part of the problem. However, Elaine engages fully with critiques of both Islam and Christianity as fundamentally oppressive to women. She concludes that religion can be a liberating force for women, and suggests that a Christian theology of free-will makes abuse of women neither necessary nor impossible to end.

As a specialist working in the area of violence against women, I really welcome this book and the analysis it offers. While Christians remain blind to the interconnected nature of all forms of violence against women, we will struggle to respond effectively to any specific aspect of the issues. I am so excited to have a book I can recommend to those wanting to know more about the issues! As a Christian, I am so grateful for Elaine’s careful and robust analysis; secular work to end violence against women is both critical and concerned with religious responses, and this book is an example of Christians approaching these issues in an expert way.

Many books could be written to expand upon “Scars Across Humanity”. To have covered so many aspects of violence against women in so few pages is an achievement in itself. The global focus of the book limits the ability to look at the unique aspects of abuse within each cultural context, but there has been a need for a long time for a book that will describe the global reality for women, from a Christian perspective, and this is that book.

Scars Across Humanity clearly and powerfully explains the “what and why” of violence against women, but the next stage must be asking “How?” How do we change things? Towards the end of the book, Elaine lists a number of organisations that are working to make a difference and hopefully as more people read this book, it will be a catalyst for many to begin working to change the world for women and girls.

For those who are interested in the “how” of bringing about change for women and girls, I am working with Gender Reconciliation International, to do a three day workshop on Gender Reconciliation. It is a really good step towards becoming aware and able to respond to violence against women globally. You can find out more about the training at Spark.

Natalie Collins

Natalie Collins


Articles by Natalie Collins

Review of Elaine Storkey's 'Scars Against Humanity' (07/03/2016)

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Mr Bowman Walton (12/06/2016 at 15:06)
“That the gendered body is performative suggests that it has no ontological status apart from the various acts which constitute its reality.” Judith Butler. Gender Trouble, p 185. “Human beings do not first have some kind of nature [Beschaffenheit], only then to be addressed by God in this nature. They do not have something different, earlier, and more basic, no deeper stratum, no original substance of being, in which they are without or prior to the word of God. They are. . . from the very outset ‘in the word of God.’” Karl Barth. KD 3.2:179. Translated by David Congdon. Elaine Storkey’s analysis of the causes of violence against women is surely better informed than my own, and I look forward to reading it. Reflecting on such cruelty, I myself have relied on psychologist Roy Baumeister’s account of violence in general: we hurt each other to avoid moderating our self-esteem when it is more exalted than a more realistic concept of ourselves can warrant. And alas, it is not hard to apply this account to many of the heartbreaking incidents in which men hurt women. This is most obvious where a man’s self-esteem depends on his honour and his honour depends on the behaviour of the women in his life. But more generally, men hurt women where societies with a history of defining masculinity and femininity as reciprocating essences begin to sponsor an expanded freedom for women without an analogous reordering of masculinity for men. Conversely, we should expect less violence between the sexes where men live their masculinity in ways that are unthreatened by the emergence of free women. The challenge for churches is then, not simply to insist that feminine self-determination is the will of God, but also to refer the freedom of women to their faithfulness in him, and to give an account of the masculine modality that corresponds to it in Christ. How is this challenge to be met? Judith Butler and Karl Barth are an odd pair to compare-- she is the Jewish, lesbian philosopher famous for Gender Trouble; he was a Swiss Reformed, systematic theologian whose Church Dogmatics are only beginning to be understood-- but a rare convergence in their views offers an interesting point of departure. Both of them deny that a fixed gender identity is prior to one’s personality, and both offer variations on the idea that the femininity or masculinity of persons takes shape through the lifespan. Rejecting a “metaphysics of gender substances,” Butler instead emphasises that we become women or men by performing the rituals and practises appropriate to our genders. Up to that point, she might almost be speaking for Barth’s own criticism of metaphysics and actualist ontology. For, as in the quotation above, he sees no aspect of human nature as more essential to it than the story of Jesus actualising humanity in communion with God. The two differ in roughly this: Butler sees us as *constructing* our genders in a project of self-realisation, whilst Barth sees us as *discovering* them with other aspects of our humanity in our communion with the God-Man, Jesus Christ. For both men and women, such a discovery requires a freedom in Christ to be faithful to Christ. Convergence is not agreement, of course. Both the secular and the evangelical projects recognise more human freedom than positivistic notions of gender can allow, but their streams diverge once again in their respective understandings of freedom as alienation and communion. And key writings of both are controversial at just the point that interests us. Gender theorists insistent on an essentialist account of homosexuality have been disappointed that Butler seems to reject that as the “metaphysics of gender substances” in a new guise. Meanwhile, a so called Barth War has engaged the energies of scholars who do (eg Bruce McCormack) and do not (eg George Hunsinger) emphasize the importance of Barth’s actualism. But our main concern here is, not reconciling or understanding Butler and Barth, but imagining a faithful church in which the self-understanding of godly men is complemented rather than challenged by the freedom of godly women. Such a church, reflecting the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and spreading throughout the earth, can be an antidote to the violence of men against women everywhere.
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