Women are angry. We have been for some time. The volume with which we express it may ebb and flow over the years but the culture of patriarchal violence that surrounds all women constantly reproduces fear and anger in equal measure. And when cases emerge like that of Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old whose death – and the subsequent arrest of a serving police officer – has deeply disturbed a nation, that anger is calcified. Emboldened, women push back at what we have been forced to accept for years: that violence against women and girls is seen as a fact of life. When it absolutely shouldn’t be.
This is no new fight, as shown in the powerful work of photojournalist and activist Donna Ferrato. Donna has been documenting women’s fight for equality and freedom from violence for over 50 years, capturing the moments when women of all backgrounds have resisted a patriarchy that attempts to control them.
Donna was radicalised in 1982 when working on a story about wealthy swingers for Japanese Playboy. While documenting the life of one American couple, she saw the man suddenly driven by rage to smack his partner then grab her by the throat. As a witness she decided to photograph what was happening in an attempt to deter him from continuing. It didn’t work.
Seeing how entitled the man felt to his outburst and how justified he assumed himself to be, she was driven to continue to document the hidden world of domestic violence.
Alongside her work on domestic violence, Donna documents and humanises the women invisibilised from society – migrant women, sex workers, queer women, transwomen – and shows how they, too, fight against a patriarchal force which endangers them daily. Her black and white photographs have brought humanity and vulnerability to their subjects and won her several awards, even changing policy in the US. Time named that 1982 image of a husband raising his hand to his wife as one of the "100 Most Influential Photographs Of All Time" and Donna's 1991 book on domestic abuse, Living With The Enemy, pressured Congress to pass the Violence Against Women Act.
From documenting domestic violence to the #MeToo protests to sex workers waiting for clients, Donna's work captures the strength and resilience of women in a world that is still only built to accommodate a privileged few. And even those few are never truly safe from violence.
All this outrage and resistance is brought together in her timely – and timeless – new book HOLY, which depicts 50 years of women’s power and outrage. To coincide with the book's release and our campaign to push the government to listen to us about violence against women and girls, we spoke to Donna about harnessing that outrage. At a time when women’s anger and fear is so close to the surface, there is an opportunity to fight back, and to keep fighting until the day we win.
Following the national outpouring of grief and anger following the death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, the government has reopened its consultation which looks at how to deal with systemic violence against women and girls. The consultation ends on Friday. This week, we have a historic opportunity to do something about entrenched patriarchal violence and improve the lives of all women, girls and people who are impacted by it. Join Refinery29 and Level Up, a feminist organisation based in the UK that works to interrupt all forms of gender injustice, in calling on the government to update its violence against women and girls strategy by submitting your response to the consultation.