On November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women is celebrated, a timely occasion to talk about this topic represented in art, a useful expression as a visual testimony in this regard. First, we will talk in general about the origin of this social scourge that hurts the dignity or the dignified being of women, a situation that has suffered from remote times to the present day. Curiously, some anthropologists who have studied the development and way of life of prehistoric humanity, before agriculture and livestock were consolidated, have agreed that this society was more egalitarian than future ones, about the distribution of tasks between men and women. These scholars have confirmed that at the time of nomadism there were no exclusive activities for men and others for women, since they, despite taking care of their children, also participated in hunting, fishing, cultivation and the creation of handmade products; however, it cannot be completely ruled out that there was no violence against women at that time.
Violence against women represented in Art
The most evident cases of violent ideas and behaviors against women date back to ancient civilizations such as Greece and Rome, where discrimination and inequality, misogyny and patriarchal cruelty towards them are represented in mythology, in literature ─epic, dramatic and lyrical─, in art, as well as in the legal and religious order, practices that, for those cultures, were considered normal, legitimate, which continued in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, up to the present day, based on the patriarchal model.
In the Bible, in the Old Testament, the woman is considered as the incarnation of sin, of the diabolic, of evil, since she, in the figure of Eve, is the only one responsible for the rest of human beings having been expelled from the Terrestrial Paradise, despite the fact that who ate the forbidden fruit was Adam, and not his partner. In fact, at the beginning of the Modern Age, the fifteenth century, the witch hunt began and, consequently, many women were harassed, tortured and burned at the stake for social behaviors not accepted by the Christian religious authorities, considered as works of the Devil.
It is from the seventeenth century that some people began to sanction violence against women, one of these was Marie de Gournay (1565–1645), French writer and philosopher, author of the work The equality of Men and Women, considered as one of the pioneers of feminism. Although in later centuries there were people like her, it was the feminist organizations of the second half of the 20th century who tried to give greater visibility to the problem of violence against women and proceeded to act against men who mistreated women psychologically and physically, both in the private and public sphere.
Now, what was the origin of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women? Well, in 1960, in the Dominican Republic, under the orders of the dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, three political activists, the Mirabal sisters, were viciously assassinated. As a result of this event, the “First Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Meeting” was held in Colombia, Bogotá, in 1981, an event in which it was decided to baptize November 25th as the “International Day of Non-Violence Against Women”, in memory of the Mirabal sisters.
Then, in 1993, the United Nations General Assembly approved the “Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women”, in which it defined the term violence against women as: Any act of gender-based violence that has as its possible or actual result of physical, sexual, or psychological harm, including threats, coercion or arbitrary prohibition of liberty, whether it occurs in public or private life. Finally, in 1999, this organization designated November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
With the exception of Liberty Leading the People (1830), by Eugène Delacroix, and the Statue of Liberty (1886), by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, both French, throughout the history of art, works of undeniable aesthetic value have been appreciated that represent ─in a suggested way, in some cases, and explicitly, in others─ kidnapping, rape, and other insults towards women that, in the eyes of many, seemed normal before, but from the 20th century an art of a feminist nature emerged, conceived by women artists with the firm intention of producing a vision different from that of previous times, giving the character of social denunciation to the issue of violence against women, giving as an example, even, their own experiences, such as the case of the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta (1948–1985), mistreated by her partner, who was accused of murdering her after having a fight.