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Justice

Hong Kong “Freedom Cunt”: Sexual Violence and Crucifixion

There is the rising emergence of a new breed of women protesters in Hong Kong—women who are fearless in the face of escalating brutality from the police and authorities. They remind us of the women in Galilee in the Gospel who were so brave and caring and overcame community pressure and even the fear of execution.

The following reflection is an abbreviated account of Tso’s chapter, “Hong Kong ‘Freedom Cunt’: Sexual Violence and Crucifixion,” in The Hong Kong Protests and Political Theology.

The term “freedom cunts” (自由閪) first appeared to be aimed at insulting female protesters who participated in the 2019 Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in Hong Kong. However, later protesters fearlessly reclaimed the insult as a badge of honor. The leaderless characteristics in the movement broke through patriarchal restrictions, thus welcoming fluid gender roles and possibilities. Most of the networking and strategic discussions of the movement were through online channels or forums that favored anonymous participation for different genders, classes, age groups, and with a range of family roles and people with diverse levels of experience in social engagement.

Women’s Participation at Front and Back

A group of housewives, for example, formed a concerned group to initiate a petition (全港九新界離島師奶反送中聯署) and organized a rally that subverted the stereotypical image of housewives as being naive and indifferent to social issues. Moreover, Hong Kong mothers hosted two assemblies that expressed solidarity with young protesters through their slogans “No Tiananmen Mothers” and “Don’t shoot our kids.” Through seniors from Hong Kong—the silver-haired protesters—and some frontline team members Protect Our Kids, female protesters have also shown their care and support for the demonstrators. Since many protesters are youth and students, the need to care for them by providing food and offering counseling and other resources was crucial with many women providing gaps in services.

During the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement in 2014, female protesters were always asked to stay in the back due to stereotyped gender roles and the traditional homosocial, masculine view that frontline protesters should be men. In contrast, the anti-extradition bill movement has broken this gender dividing line as most protesters wear black to protect their identity, making it difficult to distinguish the gender identity of the protesters easily. Some female protesters have used this gender-blurred “uniform” to be part of the frontline team combating tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannon trucks. Through the solid cooperative and accommodating atmosphere of “No division,” “Come as one, leave as one,” there is a space and tolerance in welcoming different kinds of protesters and strategies.

Female participation in the local social movement is nothing new. Feminist activism in Hong Kong began in the 1980s and 1990s with the formation of pioneer groups that sought to transform gender inequality, increase women’s political participation, and respond to domestic violence. Later more feminist groups were created concerned with a broader range of topics, including women’s sexualities and autonomy and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Sexual Violence Cases during the Protests

Women’s participation in the anti-extradition bill movement had met with gender violence by the police. Rape, sexual harassment, body-shaming, and doctored photos have frequently occurred during the protests. The Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women in Hong Kong reported that female protesters experienced “insulting, intimidating, and provoking words with sexual intention” (54 cases), “unwelcome bodily contact” (26 cases), and a “lascivious or unpleasant gaze” (25 cases). These were forms of “politically motivated sexual violence” that took place simultaneously with other forms of violence to impose or consolidate power and eliminate the opposition and silence the women.

The largest anti-sexual violence rally in Hong Kong’s history was organized by the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition on Equal Opportunities (香港平等機會婦女聯席) in Chater Garden on August 28, 2019, which estimated that 30,000 people participated. This protest was dubbed #ProtestToo in reference to #MeToo, a worldwide movement that has called attention to gender-based sexual violence. The organizer called for action to be taken against those in the police force who have sexually assaulted protesters as well as protection for the dignity of all of Hong Kong’s people. Rally participants wore purple ribbons and shone purple lights to show their support for the victims and also displayed messages on their arms in lipstick.

In response to sexual violence against women, I want to discuss (1) Jesus as a victim of sexual abuse and (2) the witness of women in Galilee in the Jesus “movement.” They might serve as empathic and resistance figures for sexual violence victims and protestors in the movement.

#ChristToo

With reference to Matthew 27 and Mark 15, one can visualize the sexual violence Jesus Christ experienced, including acts of public humiliation, mocking and physical beatings by the soldiers and guards when he was naked. Roman crucifixion was meant to do more than kill the victim: it was also intended to dehumanize the person and reduce them and their influence in the eyes of society. This kind of public humiliation also served as a warning to the community that there will be terrible consequences if you oppose the people in power.

Why is this not just physical violence but is instead a specific category of violence with a sexual element?

The enforced nakedness and humiliation are the key to differentiate the two forms of violence. Rocío Figueroa Alvear and David Tombs write, “For both the Romans and the Jews, nakedness during execution was a sign of humiliation and absolute powerlessness in which shame and dishonor were integral factors in the punishment.” The Romans and other despotic authorities who have used sexual violence as a weapon of war solely aimed to shame the opponents. 

David Tombs highlights that this kind of sexual abuse was not accidental or incidental to crucifixion as a form of torture and execution, but rather, it was intentional and integral. Therefore, physical pain and suffering are not enough to explain the sense of abhorrence and obscenity associated with crucifixion in the Roman world. When reading the transformative crucifixion image, Tombs wonders how it could help sexual violence victims today. He explained that Christ, who embodied the figure of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned (Matt. 25:31–46), is always the symbol of people suffering abuse and torture. Hence Jesus can also serve as an icon for sexual violence survivors to give a new dignity and self-respect to those who continue to struggle with the stigma and other consequences.

Several scholars from University College London hosted a psychological study of five nuns in Spain who were sexually abused by priests. They introduced to them the idea of Jesus as a sexual violence victim. One of the nuns said, “I felt I was very much a victim, and I felt Jesus very much a victim too. I felt great solidarity with the Lord: we were both undergoing this horrible moment.” She felt that Jesus could understand her suffering as they suffered the same. The connection between both experiencing suffering is prominent. Identifying Jesus as a victim can help sexual violence victims redeem their spiritual well-being. Simultaneously, remembering Jesus’ crucifixion as a sexual violence victim evokes empathy for the current victims.

Women of Galilee

However, if we solely focus on the crucified God, that is still a doctrine of redemptive suffering that serves to normalize violence, promotes passivity, and fails to call the perpetrators of violence to account nor promotes resistance. Karyn Carlo suggests that we can have transformative attention to the Cross as it disrupts the normalization of violence and serves to move people toward a more “positive ethical response”. She believes that such a vision can be found in the story of the women of Galilee.

Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, Salome, and many other women (Mark 15:40–41) had followed and served Jesus from the beginning of his ministry in Galilee to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection into the beginning of the first-century Church. They witnessed the crucifixion with weeping and lamenting publicly. Women in Galilee were so brave and caring and overcame community pressure and even the fear of execution.

Mourning was prohibited at crucifixions as evidenced by the Gospel of Peter (12:1–5). Through their lament and resistance, these women challenged the Roman oppression of the Galilean community and the dehumanization of its people through the crucifixion and other forms of violence. 

Whereas the oppressors did everything they could to prevent people from knowing the identity of the dead body, the women witnesses in Galilee did everything they could to spread the truth from their compassion. They refused to let the Roman Empire define the worth, value, and humanity of their people. Carlo argues that by putting these women at the center of our own story about Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can come to see the Cross, not only as a saving death or heroic sacrifice but as the place where we also learn to grieve the violence and oppression of this world more fully and to find the strength to rise up against it.

As described in the Gospel of Mark, Mary Magdalene is historically plausible as one of the core disciples, a key witness, and in the end the first to bring the news of the resurrection of Jesus to others. Thus, she serves as an example to them to overcome their own fear, break their silence, and do the same. As a strong leader whose lamentation and protest gave way to a resurrecting vision, Mary is also very much alive today, particularly in communities of oppressed women. 

Like Mary and the women in Galilee in their era, these women are still determined to struggle against crucifying and dehumanizing violence against them and their people. The suffering and grief of these Galilean women are also the stories of women as active agents in transforming the numerous injustices in their lives and communities. And these stories also resonate with women resisting oppression today.

There is the rising emergence of a new breed of women protesters in Hong Kong—women who are fearless in the face of escalating brutality from the police and authorities. Future studies should explore the struggle of women’s activism in Hong Kong over nativism and anti-migration politics, leading to gender irrelevance. In addition, more exploration of the crucifixion story can make a profound contribution to attitudes of the Church and society toward victims of sexual violence today. #MeToo, #ChurchToo, #ProtestToo thereby offer a belated opportunity for transformative renewal within theology and the Church.

Uncivil and Civil Disobedience in the 2019 Hong Kong Protests

The coexistence of numerous means of resistance in Hong Kong underscores the limitations of the violent/nonviolent dichotomy, pointing out that achieving social change is not either peaceful or militant but can be both, depending on the context. It also raises questions to Christian theologians and ethicists regarding the justification (or perhaps critique) of coexistent ways of resistance in facing authoritarian regimes.

Hong Kong “Freedom Cunt”: Sexual Violence and Crucifixion

There is the rising emergence of a new breed of women protesters in Hong Kong—women who are fearless in the face of escalating brutality from the police and authorities. They remind us of the women in Galilee in the Gospel who were so brave and caring and overcame community pressure and even the fear of execution.

The Demonic in Hong Kong

We need to recognize the tragic aspects of the events, in which the perpetrators of evil are themselves grasped, enslaved, or “possessed” by demonic powers as structures of evil.

Reasoning about (Non)violence in the Hong Kong Protests

It is not always clear what we mean by violence or nonviolence, though, like pornography, we assume, we’ll know (non)violence when we see it.

The Significance of a Derogatory Term

A derogatory term, “freedom cunt” uttered against a female is offensive, but it is also instructive.

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