A message to you today from Artemisia Gentileschi, kick-arse 17th Century feminist artist.
Oh hell yes. For those of you who don’t know (a) the story of Artemisia Gentileschi (b) the subject matter of her painting, let me give you a quick heads-up.
First, the topic of the picture is “Susanna and the Elders”. It’s a story from the Book of Daniel, Old Testament, the Bible.
A beautiful young married woman, Susanna, is having a bath in her own garden. She sends all her maids away for some privacy. Two Elders (and these are supposed to be respectable older men, the pillars of society in both religion and secular leadership) are spying on her. They threaten Susanna that, unless she agrees to have sex with them, they’ll spread a false story that she was meeting a young man on the sly.
Now, the point of the story is this: Susanna is a married woman. If she’s accused of adultery, she will be sentenced to death. The two elders know they can get away with this, because they’re respectable leaders of society and who is going to be believed: them or the woman?
Susanna refuses to be blackmailed into sex, and sure enough they carry out their threat. Susanna is only saved when a young man named Daniel interrupts the trial, says that the two men should be questioned separately, and he cleverly picks out the flaws in their testimony to prove they are lying and she is innocent.
Now, for the artist: Artemisia Gentileschi was a 17th century Roman woman, the eldest child of a painter who, unusually, encouraged and trained his daughter to be an artist as well as his sons (and she was better than her brothers).
Her father was working with another painter whom he also hired to tutor Artemisia. This guy raped her, but they continued to have a sexual relationship with the promise of marriage (this was because marriage was the only hope she had of keeping her reputation). Well, being a sleazeball, he never followed through on the promise of marriage and so her father took him to court.
Artemisia also supported the charge of rape, and while maintaining her testimony that she had been a virgin before being seduced/raped, she was subjected to torture by thumbscrews - this was standard practice to make sure witnesses/plaintiffs were telling the truth, but of course, it was important that she was tortured to make sure she wasn’t lying about him because she was a jilted vindictive woman, but he wasn’t tortured to make sure he wasn’t lying about being a rapist. Same old, same old, yes?
The point of this little history lesson? From the second century B.C. (the setting of Susanna’s story) to the 17th century to today, men have tricked, lied, bullied and threatened women with death if they didn’t have sex with them; treated them as whores and sluts if they did have sex with them, and the whole of society was stacked in favour of the men and not the women.
It’s not “one mentally disturbed young man” that’s the problem.
It’s the whole bloody attitude of entitlement: that women exist only and mainly as sexual property for men.