Femicide is a Christian issue
A recent Biola showing of a movie about Juarez sparks concern. | wikimedia.org
A spanse of hot desert flashes on the big screen in Business 103. Two small boys from the neighborhood play with a slingshot and, in their fun, they launch a small rock at a rabbit. To their surprise, the rabbit falls dead. As the audience full of Biola students swells with disturbed murmurs and gasps, the camera pans away from the dead rabbit, over a hill, and to a sandy scene of endless terrain filled with the mutilated bodies of dead, naked women. The room suddenly falls silent.
Afraid of discomfort
This scene is part of the 2009 Mexican film El Traspatio,The Backyard, which was shown at Biola a few weeks ago as a cultural event for Spanish classes. Based on true events, the film depicts the realities of the unmatched murder of women in the U.S.-Mexican border town of Juarez.
The audience’s heartfelt reaction to the dead rabbit compared to the silence that met the image of the field of ripe, discarded bodies of women reminded me of a lesson from Foundations of Christian Thought. Professor Oakes played the overly sappy, Sarah McLachlan-backed, ASPCA ads and then one of those UNICEF commercials showing a starving child with a fly on his eye. Even back then, the room of students in Calvary Chapel gave a more vocal response to the dying puppies rather than the dying humans. People, especially Christians, do not like feeling uncomfortable about the realities of the world. And in the United States we have the luxury of choosing to ignore it.
But the reality in many parts of the world, including in the United States, is that people are starving, and women are victims of violence and murder specifically for being women. According to the World Health Organization, femicide has varying definitions, but it is a worldwide phenomenon involving violence and murder of women — and is most frequently committed by a partner or ex-partner of the victim.
Through patriarchal hoops
There was only one other scene in the movie where Biola students reacted audibly — this time with applause. The subplot included a relationship between a young girl who had moved to Juarez for a better life and a seemingly virtuous man who lived on the outskirts of town. One day at his place, the girl wants to have sex, and in an endearing, nervous fluster, the man tries to resist, saying he cares about her — and he needed to talk to her father before anything happened between them.
Pain filled my heart as my classmates applauded at the kind-faced boyfriend in the movie. I thought, ‘Yeah, the girl might have been wanting to engage in less-than-Biola-approved activities, but his words reflect a very subtle form of misogyny.’
The fact is the boyfriend in the movie cared less about what the girl wanted for herself, and more about jumping through patriarchal hoops to ultimately get what he wanted. And sure enough, the mustard-seed-sized pride and male entitlement from that moment was cultivated to the point where it was strong enough to drive ruthless violence.
A deadly cultural phenomenon
The film did a great job of demonstrating that the cultural phenomenon of femicide is rooted in misogyny and its crippling effect is evident in more areas than just relationships: corporate greed, inhumane labor laws, government corruption and the effects of patriarchal and machismo culture. Even the most subliminal attitude disregarding a woman’s humanity can grow in someone’s heart to the point where it could motivate heartless acts of violence.
Regardless of your stance on the egalitarian or complementarian debate, Christianity’s history is rooted in patriarchy. Because of this, the fundamental belief that women are inferior is embedded in much of the Christian culture, especially related to how men and women interact. Dismantling the remaining remnants of misogyny in our theology should be at the forefront of Christian discussion. Through our own change of heart and perspective, we might better love each other as image bearers and help the world eliminate femicide.