I recently had the great opportunity to attend the 3rd annual “Gender Justice” film festival sponsored by The Marcella Project. The event featured two documentary films highlighting issues of injustice on opposite sides of the world but with some surprising, even haunting similarities.
“It’s a Girl“
This is a well told story of the systematic killing of girls as fetus, newborns and infants, simply because they are girls. Although this is practiced in many parts of the world, the film focuses on India and China, both highly populated areas where “gendercide” is driven by economic traditions, that by default, place a higher value on boys than girls. In China, the one child law puts a great deal of pressure on families to have a son, believing that a son will be more valuable to the family over the course of his live. In India, the “dowery system”, though outlawed, is still widely practiced. This leads to the belief that a daughter is a liability while a son is a asset.
The implications in both countries are widespread and have lead to the abuse and neglect of girls and women for centuries. In most cases these issues are either promoted and endorsed by the government or ignored by the legal system.
“Power and Control“
This film follows the story of Kim, a woman in Duluth, MN as she moves into a shelter and seeks to rebuild her life after fleeing from an emotionally and physically abusive husband. As the story is told, interviews and film clips also tell the story of the “battered women’s movement” dating back to the late 1970’s. It also discusses the differing opinions and politics surrounding the legal protection provided to women who are being abused and the varying therapeutic approaches to help both the abused and the abusers heal and recover.
The data presented highlights the fact that a safe reconciliation is highly unlikely. One reason given for this is that an abuser is usually grounded in a belief that he has a right to the power and control in his home, however he choses to demonstrate and maintain it. Women all too often don’t believe that they are capable or deserving of anything better.
Belief and Behavior
The common thread that struck me in these stories was that the behaviors stemmed from a belief. Efforts to change behavior – laws, punishments, certain rehabilitation programs – are destined to fail as long as there is a system of belief serves as the root of the behavior. Unless the system of belief is adjusted – a man changes the way he perceives and respects women, a culture moves away from a system that places a monetary value n women, etc. – changing behavior is simply like putting a mask on a bruised and broken face.
This hit particularly close to home when I realized that the behavior and belief issue is not limited to violence against women.
Any belief system we ascribe to, whether religions, political or otherwise, where we are devaluing a specific group of people has the potential to drive damaging behavior.
We have seen this throughout the history of civilization and organized religion, including (sadly perhaps, especially) Christianity. The Bible has been used to justify the crusades, slavery, the oppression of women, the abuse of children, the isolation and targeting of the LGBT community. Christ tells us that we are to be identified with him in the love we have, not the power, control or dominion we claim over another.
In the next few moths I’ll be filling out applications for graduate school. One of the questinos I’ll have to answer is why I want to be a counselor, why I want to work in the mental heatlh field. These stories, along with my own story, serve as a reminder that I wnat to help people understand what they belive about themselves, those they love and world they move and breath in.
At the end of the day, when I think about raising my own kids I would rather have kids who believed well than kids who behaved well. Obviously we social responsibilities to maintain and teach our kids, but I am convinced that good behavior will flow naturally from healthy beliefs and convictions. Defining, and in many ways redefining those beliefs, is what my “sojourn” and all our spiritual growth is about.
Take some time, get a group together and watch these films. And when you do, be willing to challenge what you believe about the world around you.