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Throwing Stones

Throwing Stones

One of the most original and influential voices in the humanitarian arena, Dr. Samantha Nutt, a medical doctor and a founder of the internationally renowned non-profit War Child, is a speaker who is constantly in demand. For over 15 years, she has been at the front lines of many of the world’s major crises, in countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Darfur. These experiences have given her unique insights into the brutality of modern conflict: why it begins, what sustains it, and what must be done to prevent children being held in its terrifying grip. Dr. Nutt writes about the need to ensure the safety of all women for The Huffington Post, below:

When I was 12 I was left alone at the synagogue. It wasn’t on purpose; I’d been attending a friend’s bar mitzvah and, having misplaced the invitation, I’d guessed at the pick-up time and overshot by more than an hour. I tried calling home, but no one was there and cell phones wouldn’t become ubiquitous for another decade. Embarrassed, I assured my hosts that I’d reached my parents and they were on their way. I told the rabbi this same tale as he locked the front door and left me waiting on the concrete steps for my “any minute now” family to arrive. As I watched him drive away, I was more bored than afraid.

I meandered for a while around the empty parking lot like the last ball on a billiard table. I scouted the busy street for my parents’ lime green, wood-panelled Pinto. Nothing. Forty-eight minutes to go. But one car kept reappearing: A beige sedan with rusted rims. At first, I thought the driver might be lost; he passed once, twice, then three more times in the span of five minutes. The sixth time, he seemed to be slowing down in front of the synagogue, and I instinctively knew, as a gazelle in the savannah might know, that I’d better find a crowd. I started to walk up the street in the direction of “more”: more people, more cars, more obstacles. He trailed me for several minutes before pulling into a side street a few feet in front of me. “Do you live around here?” he asked solicitously through the passenger window, “I need help finding a place, maybe you know it?” I assured him I did not, but that my parents were picking me up at this corner in mere seconds and perhaps they could help him. “Well, maybe you could come here and just look at my map then? Can you come closer?” I didn’t move. He kept pushing, becoming more agitated — or was that excited? “Just come closer to the car and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.” White male, aviator glasses, receding hairline, he pushed open the passenger door from the inside, beckoning me. Another car approached. I tried to flag it down. The driver didn’t stop, but Mr Aviator Glasses in the beige sedan took his cue and bolted.

Not all men are predators, of course, but the fact that most women experience the predatory nature of some men from an early age changes the relationship we have with the world: Not fearful, but cautious. That’s not to say that men and individuals of other gender identities aren’t also sensitive to, and at times victims of, male aggression, but women are born into these waters, swim in them every day and are considerably more likely to drown in them. Women are five times more likely to be violently assaulted by a partner than men and more than twice as likely to be killed. Yes, there are predatory women out there, but they are the exceptions, while the trend of boyfriends killing girlfriends, husbands shooting wives, fathers murdering daughters and perverts abducting school girls has had much greater permanence. It is therefore infuriating, though not surprising, that in the same week that a 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a hate-filled rampage in Santa Barbara, a 25-year-old pregnant woman, Farzana Parveen, was stoned to death in front of a Pakistani courthouse for marrying the man of her choosing — a killing which her father, according to local police, claimed he’d orchestrated because she had “insulted” the family, adding “I have no regret over it.” Parveen’s new husband, meanwhile, reportedly killed his first wife to marry Parveen, but that case was dropped after he was “forgiven” by the victim’s family — his children — which is all that is required under Pakistani law.

Rodger’s own mother had become so concerned about her son’s increasingly erratic and hate-filled YouTube postings that she alerted the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office. Why did the police not treat Rodger’s threats seriously enough to ask to search his premises, or take the necessary steps to have him certified a danger to himself or others? Why didn’t his psychiatrists? Could it be for the same reason why a young woman can be stoned to death — a macabre process which is less than immediate — in front of a court house, while no one intervened? Is it because anger and hatred towards women has become too ordinary to warrant any kind of special attention?

Rodger’s victims, in the end, were both male and female. But upon reviewing his self-indulgent ramblings, it’s clear to me that women were the real objects of his resentment. He believed they were there for his pleasure, and that they personified his sexual frustration and pain. He thought they had no right to exist outside of his needs. Parveen’s father appears to have believed his own warped version of this too, based on his “no regret” comment about his daughter’s death. These men represent extremes, but they capture a brooding disdain for women that exists in all corners of the world, one that is too easily spurred on by social media, religion, violent pornography and the laughably named “men’s rights” sites. All this poison makes it seem OK, even though it is not OK.

Like all women with some public profile, whenever I appear on television, or publish an article, or take to Twitter, I am hounded by idiots making sexist, derogatory or plainly paternalistic comments about my appearance, my qualifications, my opinions or my last name (too easy, boys), book-ended by other churlish nonsense. “STOP TALKING YOU KNOW NOTHING” and “#BLOWME” are positively Hemingwayesque on the spectrum of insults I have received via social media. That to even complain about it now seems banal is equally worrisome.

The hashtag #YesAllWomen and #NotAllMen debate about modern misogyny that sprung up after the Santa Barbara shootings belies an even bigger discussion about the extent to which women are truly able to live freely anywhere. We sadly aren’t there yet. So as women, we must continue asserting and defining that space, by speaking up and speaking out in order to drive the conversation and prevent the ongoing slide towards our objectification — after all, there’s no power in being a play thing. And as progressive men, we need your participation in confronting the stone-throwers and the predators, in life and online. Because we all know these guys: The ones that brag about sex with drunken women; the ones who talk about her ass when she passes your desk; the ones who can’t see the wall that divides consensual flirtation and harassment; the ones who try to confine a woman’s sexuality and reproductive choices; and the ones who deny women an equal platform in politics, in editorial pages and in boardrooms. There’s no excuse for it. And so we shouldn’t give them any.

I don’t want future generations of girls waving their arms at passing cars, hoping someone will stop. Too many don’t, and too many of us end up dead because of it.

By Dr. Samantha Nutt/HuffingtonPost/June, 2014