Thursday, December 6, 2012

Death Angel

A 14-year-old girl was beheaded in Afghanistan last week for refusing a marriage proposal. The suitor and his brother grabbed Gastina (no last name) when she went to a well near her home to fetch water and cut through her throat with a hunting knife. They are under arrest, but it's not clear if they'll be punished. I read the story and saw this picture at  The Daily Beast.

Afghan women walk near the district police headquarters in the Kunduz province. (Johannes Eisele, AFP / Getty Images (FILE) )

The photo reminds me of Margaret Atwood's novel Handmaid's Tale, which describes a future in which the religious right takes over the U.S. and Canada and forces women into slavery, requiring they dress according to their rank in the new society. Fertile women, rare in the future, wear long, billowing red dresses and veiled hats signifying their wombs. Men of high rank impregnate the red women--the handmaids--in a religious ritual based on the Bible story of Abraham and his wife Sarah, who told him to make her maid pregnant when she couldn't conceive.

The novel impressed me. Reading it feverishly years ago, I thought over and over, "This could happen here!" Living in the Bay Area, it's easy to believe that we have evolved beyond primitive misogynistic ideas. We see women with power in the news every day. Both our senators are women. The former speaker of the house came from our town. Marissa Mayer lives in a hotel penthouse in San Francisco and was hired away from Google while pregnant to be Yahoo's CEO.

But humankind doesn't always progress forward. Heard of the Middle Ages? World Wars I and II? And it's not like we've run out of extremist ideologues who lust for power.

Anything, it seems, is possible on this planet. Human beings are capable of all manner of evil.

Malala is shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for advocating that girls should be able to go to school. Marita is kidnapped and sold as a sex slave in Argentina, provoking her mother's lifelong search. Eastern Congo is dubbed the rape capital of the world.

I have high school students who tell me they've never experienced gender discrimination, and for that I am glad. But I wonder if they even recognize when their rights and freedoms are being threatened, by this year's efforts to limit women's earning power and healthcare options in the War on Women, by a campaign to give embryos rights, even by something as seemingly innocuous as pop celebrities like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry saying they are not feminists.

Not feminists?

According to Wikipedia, Feminism is a movement pursuing equal social, economic, and political rights for women. Isn't everyone a feminist? What sane human being could disagree with these goals?

And I also wonder about the three women in this picture. Who are they? What are they feeling beneath their acres of cloth?

The thin white trees, the bare brown earth, the door slightly open in the tall clay wall, all are eerily beautiful--and frightening.

The way the far woman's black burka billows like wings on an angel of death when she whispers past...

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