It’s the end of women’s history month, and I’m thinking of three stories of women today, all part of women’s history.
The first is recent history. In May 2000, Pakistani woman Fakhra Younus claimed that she suffered an acid attack at the hands of her estranged husband, while she slept in her mother’s house. Twelve years and more than thirty-six surgeries later, in Rome, she jumped from a height of six stories to her death.
Fakhra Younus wasn’t the victim of someone’s psychopathically creative crime. “Acid throwing” has its own entry in Wikipedia. And it isn’t limited to the present day or the non-western world. Which brings me to the second story.
I remembered this morning, after reading Fakhra Younus’s story last night, that I had read about an acid attack in my own family history. When I was younger, my grandmother gave me a copy of an account that her father had written of his life. His mother died when he was six years old, and his father took the children to a “Catholic home” and never visited them.
My great-grandfather Gus Dominguez grew up and re-connected with his father. “He started off by telling me that he was married again and has two fine girls and that he changed his name and that from now on I will have to call him uncle. He said he had to change on account of something he had done in Brooklyn – that the law was after him. Then I asked him, did you kill, steal or what was it all about. Then I heard the story.
“He was running around with a young woman and that she wanted to marry him. They became engaged but he found out that she was a high flyer and try to give her up but she did not want it that way, so to get rid of her he throw acid in her face. From then on he left town with the full account in the paper and police after him. So he change his name to Mr. Frank Hidalgo.”
I read this story years ago with great interest. My great-great grandfather was such a colorful man. I told this story to other people and even laughed a bit as I mentioned casually, “he got in trouble with the law for throwing acid in a woman’s face.”
It wasn’t until today, connecting these two stories, especially after seeing photographs of acid-attack victims, that I ever imagined the story from the perspective of the woman who “Uncle Frank” accosted.
Which reminded me of the third story, another one whose most sobering details I had simply missed the first few times I read it. It’s a story in the Bible, in Judges 19, subtitled in the NIV, “A Levite and His Concubine.” When I read this story as a child (oh yes I did; how do you think fundamentalist children get through long boring services with only a Bible to amuse themselves?!), I was most intrigued by the man cutting the woman’s body into twelve pieces and sending them to the twelve tribes of Israel.
Somehow I missed the much more disturbing piece of a husband sending his wife (concubine to be specific) and a father sending his daughter out on the street to be gang-raped by a crowd of men, in order to avoid the “vile” and “outrageous” act of the man himself being raped by the men on the street.
This story hit me with its full force when I came across it again in my young adulthood. I spent an entire day simply sitting with the story. I wrote a song for the nameless woman. She needed to be remembered.
Women’s history is filled with amazing accomplishments and beautiful stories. It is also laden with suffering. I end with a simple but powerful word from my friend Jodi, who arrived in Haiti just before the earthquake hit. In her remembrance of that day, she said, “Don’t forget the suffering. Add to the beauty.” These are words for all of us to live by, as women and men remembering and making history.