Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Violence Against Women

Lately there have been several different works that call attention to violence against women in our contemporary world. I will mention them in order of my encounter with them

First is of course Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,( original title, Men Who Hate Women)  and The Girl Who Played with Fire ( I haven't read the third one yet). These two books describe  a lot of violence against women, but there is also the fabulous heroine tough Lisbeth Salander, who has survived unspeakable violence against herself and is on a virtual crusade to punish those who perpetrate the violence. And we cheer her successes even though her methods are also violent because of the violence of her opponents. As a second theme, that relates to violence against women, the books are also a send up of the profession of journalism and the use of mindless sensationalizing smears.

The second forum for addressing violence against women is the play Ruined by Lynn Nottage. I have actually seen it twice, in London and in Seattle in a production by the Intiman Theater. The Seattle production was the original NYC cast and director. The night I went we had the understudy Victoire Charles, who was fantastically good in the lead part which required a huge range of emotions from sassy, sexy, and strong, to terrified and finally, happy (the hardest part to make believable).

Both productions confronted us with the position of women caught in the midst of meaningless war, guerilla conflicts, and their limited choices for survival.
1 be tough, tough, tough.
2 prostitution is preferable to sex slavery and rape
3. children are sacrificed toother people's violent desires
4 traditional society's perceptions of the position of women and contemporary war's utter disregard of respect for women are a terrible mismatch
The women of the cast were fantastically good, different types, different experiences, all of them riveting us with their personal stories. The stories are real, they are based on interviews that the playwright conducted by women from the Congo. The men of the cast seem more types, than individuals, but there were a lot of types within the general theme of guerillas, traders, and commandoes. There was one sensitive man, but each one had a range of strong feelings.
Then there is that other less emphasized theme, that the meaningless war was being waged today in the Congo for the rare minerals that go into all of our electronic gadgets. So as with the BP oil spill we are all implicated.

In partnership with the play Ruined  we went to see the movie Call and Response at the Northwest Film Forum, sponsored by Seattle Against Slavery. The film was bascially a documentary about a Concert to End Slavery, organized by Justin Dillon who is interviewed about how he came to do the concert. He includes amazing musicians like Emmanual Jal who survived being a boy soldier, Imogen Heap, Natasha Beddingfeld, and Dillon himself, Talib Kweli, and interviews with Ashley Judd, and the actress Julia Ormond as well as Nicholas Kristoff and others. It also included facts like there have one million people enslaved in the US in the last ten years and only 50 convictions. That there are17,000 people in sex slavery today, it is the single most lucrative enterprise (but Ormond pointed out the continuous flow between guns, war, drugs and slavery).
The magnitude of the problem is staggering. Everything we buy is probably touched by slave labor. This is sex trade that is getting younger and younger, we saw children of six or seven offering sex services. We saw the drug induced prisons for women sold out of villages for tiny debts, but we also heard from people who are trying to help people to get out.
All these media, novels, theater, film, music, addressed the same problems, the same issues. Collectively they are overwhelming. But there are many groups working on doing something, the meaning of the title of the film is here is the call, let us all respond.