First things first, I would like to specifically address men and male bodied individuals with a message we don’t often hear addressed to us; it’s a fairly straightforward one and one that should be easy to understand: Don’t rape! Do. Not. Rape. Regardless of what you thought you saw in her eyes, regardless of what she may have said earlier, what she is wearing, how many drinks either of you had, how she may have seemed to be into it a moment before – if you find yourself facing any resistance at all then STOP. Just stop, regardless of how far along things have gone. If someone says “no,” and/or attempts to push you away and you still proceed – you are a rapist. If someone is unconscious and you have sex with them without their consent – you are a rapist. Of course if you’re reading this and you happen to be a unrepentant rapist this exhortation won’t stop you, but screw you, I’m making this appeal to those who still have a shred of human decency. More on this later.
The recent headline which sparked off the burning desire to write this commentary read: ‘6 Held In New India Gang Rape‘. Surely it must be a mistake, I thought. Perhaps it was some sort of typo, or maybe new details of the December 16th brutal rape-murder in New Delhi were accidentally being presented as new information; surely that must be what they meant! But no. On Friday, January 11th around 5pm, a young woman boarded a seemingly empty bus in the northern Indian state of Punjab. The driver and the conductor promised to take her directly to her village but she didn’t make it there that night. The young woman was kidnapped, taken against her will to a secluded area where five other men joined the driver and the conductor in raping her throughout the evening. The next morning when she went to the police for help she found them less than sympathetic. Senior superintendent of Police Ranjeet Singh later described the rape survivor as “a bit mentally weak” before proceeding to release her identity to the public even though releasing the identity of a rape survivor is a crime against Indian law.
India has been a recent flashpoint for the rape crisis, there’s no denying that. India of course has its own particular social issues contributing to the rape crisis there (including a wildly skewed gender imbalance thanks to widespread female infanticide), but so does every other country. Regardless of where the crisis manifests itself at any particular moment, the underlying factors are the same. We should constantly remind ourselves that we are facing a global disaster, a literal war against women, a war women are losing.
For those who are uncritical and gullible it’s easy to believe the mainstream media slant which tells us, subtly of course, that we should be thankful to live in a civilized society, a society so unlike those black and brown countries where women are constantly raped. Of course this is a farce. Closer to home here in the United Snakes we have seen our own fair share of rape related horror splashed across the headlines recently. The Steubenville, Ohio gang rape brought to light by the hacker group Anonymous once again reminded us of the falseness of the myth of the idyllic sports town filled with good-natured all Americana; little to no compassion was shown for the rape survivor whose comatose, drugged body was dragged across town from party to party and repeatedly raped by at least five young men. Many townspeople simply want the case to go away so they can get back to reaping the benefits of sports culture, and at least 10 adults were involved in the cover up of that terrible crime with people at the highest levels of local government involved.
This past fall in New York City a fifteen year old girl with a developmental disability (who was for some reason the only female in a classroom full of teenage boys) was pinned down underneath a school desk and forced to perform oral sex on several boys while another physically assaulted her whenever she tried to escape; her ten minute long ordeal mercifully ended before her attackers could complete their attempt to anally sodomize her. All of this took place while a teacher was in the classroom, presumably absorbed in playing on their smart phone, oblivious to the commotion which must have been nothing out of the ordinary for an underfunded inner city school. All across this nation it’s likely, no, certain, that untold numbers of women and girls are suffering in obscurity from similar traumas that go unreported.
The previously mentioned phrase, “war against women”, has sadly become somewhat of a cliché. The topic of rape and sexual assault is still somewhat of a taboo even though the rape and assault statistics should have us literally arming women for self defense until that distant day when men have been socialized to act more like human beings and less like depraved, entitled monsters. A recent infographic released by The Enliven Project reveals the shocking scope of the rape crisis, highlighting how the vast majority of rapes go unreported and the callous ineptitude of so called law enforcement. I’ve begun asking myself why these statistics have not propelled us all towards more drastic, militant action. Is it that people don’t care if their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and friends are being raped? Are people really content to simply sit around talking about the problem and writing about it on the internet? The dominant culture’s minimization of the rape crisis in the public consciousness certainly plays a role, but there also seems to be a sort of paralysis at work due to the (perceived) complexity of a problem which in many instances involves deeply intimate interpersonal relationships. It complicates matters when in the context of these relationships women find themselves being lulled into a false sense of security, tricked and influenced by pheromones, placated by affectionate words, and for women in the so called “first world” especially, ensnared in this myth that they are somehow safer than their “third world” counterparts. The psychological conditioning of women and female bodied people (which often begins in their infancy) certainly contributes to this false sense of security and facilitates their victimhood; all over the world women are groomed for predation by men who hate them yet who cannot live without them. Women are asked to fulfill the impossible fantasies and expectations of men and made to feel guilt when they cannot cope with men’s frustrating contradictions; in Western culture especially there is a long tradition of women being simultaneously put on a pedestal and torn down, desired and maligned, yearned for and spurned, romanticized and demonized.
Thanks to the patriarchal nature of our world and the ways in which these attitudes permeate all levels of society including the media, there is a huge disconnect between the facts of the current tragic situation and people’s behaviors. For instance, a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that rape is actually more common than smoking in the United States, yet when is the last time you saw an anti-rape PSA on television or during the previews before a Hollywood film? Where are the prominently displayed warnings about rape on sexually charged billboards and magazine covers? Unfortunately, the dangers facing women are being hidden from view via a vast conspiracy of deceit. The full magnitude of the truth is hidden, especially from so called “first world” women who are, by virtue of their proximity to centers of power, burdened with privilege relative to other women around the world. These privileges are indeed a double edged sword – they can make it difficult to see the bars of the beautifully gilded cage.
The plight of women continually reaffirms Aeschylus’ famous quote about truth being the first casualty of war. And yes, I reiterate again, it is a war women are facing; it is not a metaphorical one, but a literal one with many of the trappings of conventional battle including torture, murder, kidnapping and psychological warfare. War, after all, is essentially about subjugation, and the subjugation of women was the precursor to the subjugation of the earth and its natural forces. Unlike men, or in a fundamentally different way from men, most women and female bodied people are inextricably linked to natural forces. For a significant portion of their lives they experience a connection to these forces via bodily functions which mirror the lunar cycle; this rhythmic waxing and waning also reflects aspects of the natural forces of life itself: birth and death, growth and inevitable decay. Either consciously or unconsciously, patriarchs fear women and the natural forces they embody, forces they view as disturbing and ungovernable; therefore women must be controlled, they must be subdued, and their mysterious, wild, and primal mystique must at the end of the day be harnessed and civilized. Layla Abdel-Rahim, author, anthropologist and educator, writes:
At the basis of this Civilized worldview is the idea that those who exploit deserve their fortune which in itself justifies them even when there exists extensive documentation that their wealth – hereditary or “earned” – comes through the rape and pillaging of others (for example, what were the first “scandals” we heard of from Iraq and Afghanistan in our own century if not those of rape and humiliation of prisoners of war and the pillaging of museums whose artifacts surfaced on e-bay in Europe and America?).
Rape functions on both the symbolic and the real planes…anyone who seriously challenges [their] position or refuses to collaborate is exterminated.
If an orgasm achieved through consensual sex is a “little death”, then what does rape represent? It must of course represent a form of of complete obliteration which, as Layla pointed out, can be both symbolic and real. The physical and spiritual femicide initiated during the Middle Ages with the rise of capitalism (a fascinating topic explored at length in books like ‘Caliban and the Witch’) continues to the present day, albeit in a somewhat muted form in the “advanced” industrialized nations. Some would argue that the war against women actually began many centuries before the Middle Ages with the rise of civilization and domestication, but for now let’s focus on when the proverbial shit really hit the fan during the time when women began to be routinely burned alive and otherwise tortured at the hands of Church and State. Despite some gains in the women’s rights movement since then, the same old patriarchal structures remain pretty much intact with women like Hillary Clinton managing to break through the glass ceiling only to find themselves in the position of henchmen (or henchwomen?) for empire and the same old familiar repressive forces.
Unfortunately, the women’s rights movement has had little impact on the lives of women living in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia and Papua New Guinea. For those without substantial access to privilege the situation is almost as grim as it was centuries ago with many women around the world treated little better than livestock; sex trafficking is a bigger problem today than ever before thanks to globalization, women are routinely killed by their husbands and partners in state and religious sanctioned murders, and many still have no control over their reproductive processes thanks to the replacement of traditional ways of being with patriarchal religions and bureaucracies. The transformation of the entire global system is one which still relegates most women to the status of property while giving a relatively small percentage the illusion of freedom under the guise of purchasing power. Despite their suffrage, women in the “first world” work for lower wages, are still subject to extremely high levels of sexual assault, and are still, for the most part, valued by the dominant society mainly in relation to their eye-pleasing abilities and reproductive power. The self image and self esteem of women is under constant assault as their objectification reaches new, terrifying heights thanks to technology and the ready availability of all sorts of twisted pornography. When we get down to the nitty gritty we can see that not much has changed for the majority of women in this world, and in fact, women are today facing new, unprecedented dangers and threats to their well being.
The outlook is indeed grim, and until the rotten structures of this malignant, patriarchal system collapse under the weight of their own folly there is not much we can do on a global level. However, there are some concrete steps we can take to minimize the damage being done. First, I urge men to educate themselves. Try and find a venue to hear the stories of rape survivors. Make this issue real in your mind; don’t let it be a mere abstraction. Listen to what women and female bodied people have to say about rape and take them seriously. Try, if you can, to put yourself in their shoes. For those of us in radical communities, well, we really have no excuse for tolerating or minimizing the seriousness of rape, and this is why the continuing reports of rape in our communities is so shameful. We’re supposed to ‘get it’, we’re meant to be on the cutting edge of social justice and the movement towards building a new, better society. Rape and the added insult to injury of rape denial and slut shaming in radical communities not only destroys lives, they delegitimize all the hard work so many of us have done. A moment of pleasure isn’t worth destroying our communities. Please, guys, let’s get our shit together.
The last word goes to rape survivors. If this isn’t a war zone, please tell me what is.
“My husband was on a trip to Bukavu when some Interahamwe broke into the house where I was staying with my sister-in-law at around 9 pm. It was in December 2006. They came with flashlights. I had my baby in my arms. They pulled it away from me and threw it aside. I was alone in the house. They left the kids behind, and they stayed with a neighbor. It was a blessing that they did not rape my daughters—they were so young and small, it would have been the worst tragedy for me. They pulled me and tied my arms behind my back with a rope together with my sister-in-law. They dragged us out and brought us to the home of another family where they collected other people. They also took my brother with us. Soon there were five of us. On the way they shot one elderly woman because she could not walk fast enough.
”When we got to the bush, they pulled me down to rape me in front of my brother. They gave him the flashlight to hold. As he hid his face in shame, they struck him with a gun and pulled him away to kill him.
“When they were about to kill me, one of them said I resembled his sister and that I would become his wife instead. They killed another woman. We were beaten many times…
My sister-in-law was killed during a dispute between two men who wanted to have her as a wife. They decided to solve the problem by killing her.
“Another woman was impregnated. She tried to abort the baby, but she bled too much and died due to lack of access to medical treatment. I remained alone with my sister. I was also pregnant with this baby, Luck, whom I delivered in October 2007. I spent three months and a half with these people as a sex slave.”
“One of the men brought a knife to my throat. They told me not to speak. They pushed us to the back of the car and started driving. We drove a lot, but I didn’t see anything since my head was forced down.”
“They took us to an area … with lots of palm trees. No one was there. If you kill someone there, no one would know about it. They took out the man with me, and I stayed in the car. I was so afraid. They forced me out of the car. They pushed me really hard … took me to a dark place. Then two men came in. They said, ‘What are you going to do? Take off your abaya.’ They forced my clothes off. The first man with the knife raped me. I was destroyed. If I tried to escape, I don’t even know where I would go. I tried to force them off but I couldn’t. [Another] man … came in and did the same thing to me. I didn’t even feel anything after that.
“I spent two hours begging them to take me home. I told them that it was late and that my family would be asking about me. Then I saw a third man come into the room. There was a lot of violence. After the third man came in, a fourth came. He slapped me and tried to choke me.
“The fifth and sixth ones were the most abusive. After the seventh one, I couldn’t feel my body anymore. I didn’t know what to do. Then a very fat man came on top of me and I could no longer breathe.
“Then all seven came back and raped me again. Then they took me home. … When I got out of the car, I couldn’t even walk. I rang the doorbell and my mother opened the door. She said you look tired.’ I didn’t eat for one week after that, just water. I didn’t tell anyone. I went to the hospital the next day.”
It may sound strange but I don’t know when my father started abusing me, exactly. The first incident I can distinctly remember I was eleven, and had just brought my first ever bras, ready for starting High School. He locked himself in my bedroom with me when I was getting ready for bed and groped me, claiming it was to see how grown up I was and check if I needed a bra or not. Then he shoved his tongue in my mouth and told me he loved me. I have memories from before that though. Times he made me sit on his lap for ‘special’ cuddles, half remembered things from when I was very very young and still in nappies, when he would bathe or change me when I visited him. My parents were divorced, so I only saw him some weekends. Which I am so thankful for as I know things would have been worse if I had lived with him full time.
Whenever it started, it went on for years. I repressed it by dissociating to such a degree that except when it was happening I somehow ‘forgot’ about it. I knew it had happened and would happen again but somehow I just managed not to think about it. I even managed to convince myself I had a good relationship with my father because when he wasn’t abusing me he was so nice and caring. Yet I hated being alone with him and would become physically sick when I had to visit him at his house. I even had a stress induced seizure once when I was visiting.
All through my teens I suffered with bulimia, self injury, depression, anxiety and suicide attempts. Yet I couldn’t make the connection between this and what was being done to me. Finally, when I was 18 and went to uni I acknowledged to myself what had been happening all these years and was able to make the decision not to see him ever again, which I never have. However I also never reported him and I have always regretted that since. Especially as he now lives in another country and has another daughter. I will never meet her but I just know he is doing to her what he did to me, making her do the things he made me do.
I just have to remind myself that it is him who is at fault, who is responsible for what he does and not me. I couldn’t tell at the time, because my mind refused to let me remember/confront what was happening to me. Then it took me years to feel able to speak out to anybody – and when I did it was not a good experience. My doctor told me to get over it and when I finally went to the police they said there was no evidence so they couldn’t do anything.
Even so, I still feel guilty as I am sure that he is still abusing girls – my unknown half sister amongst them.