Dignity and Depravity

By Morrison, Toni | Newsweek, September 26, 2011 | Go to article overview

Dignity and Depravity


Morrison, Toni, Newsweek


Byline: Toni Morrison

You shouted. You fell. But you kept rising.

To a Sudanese Woman:

Some months ago, I watched a video of punishment meted out to you--a lawfully mandated public whipping that I understand is not uncommon in your country. I have seen many instances of human brutality, but this one was particularly harrowing.

In the midst of my revulsion, certain thoughts surfaced.

I have been wondering how much courage it takes to lash a woman. (Even guillotine executioners had the decency to mask their faces to hide their shame as they cut off heads.) Perhaps the man who whipped you took pride in his expertise: in never missing, always connecting his whip with your flesh. How satisfying it must have been to maul a helpless, weaponless female. How empowering, how masculine. Watching those onlooking men laughing at the spectacle of your humiliation distressed me as much as watching the executioner. I understand that historically the control of women--not only their movements, their speech, but especially their uteri, their ova, their fetuses--is one of the major foundations of sovereign nations. And although certain modern nations are slowly abandoning that ancient requirement, some, like yours, as well as Saudi Arabia and others, cling to male guardian laws as a singular characteristic of power. For them an ovum is a matter of state; sperm is not. The raped is responsible for her assault; the rapist is not.

How afraid such regimes must be, how puerile their claims of power.

I don't know, or care to know, what "law" you broke. …

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