Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Politics of Rape

A report about a gang rape of an Indian woman, who was not only raped but bludgeoned and is currently dying  came across NPR this morning. Just a week ago,  a report in the New York Times about rape in Congo, by boys and men of the militias which terrorize the country side described, graphically, the prevalence of rape in that African country. In Haiti, a twenty something volunteer was raped and the head of the organization for whom she was working tried to press charges, but the Haitian government made that nearly impossible. The first step of simply having her examined, having specimens taken, giving her drugs to prevent pregnancy and HIV and syphilis and gonorrhea were delayed for days. During all this time she was not allowed to bath, because she might wash away the evidence of rape and the consistent refrain from the male officials was she was probably just asking for it.

The same act may well have different origins and meanings.  The rape by invading armies of soldiers visited upon the vanquished people of a nation which has waged war on the comrades of the rapists may be an expression of a different rage than the rape committed by the boy soldiers of the Congo or by the village rapist in Haiti.

When the American female reporter covering the Egyptian revolution strayed into Tahir Square, where demonstrations were in full throat, she was raped. Why? Was this rage against a representative of the West? Was this rage against a Western woman who had the folly to stray into the province of the male Islamic ego?

Why do men of some cultures seem to fear women so? There must be some connection between insisting on covering women completely and the attitude that those who are not completely covered are inviting rape. As if, women are so seductive it gives them a power to corrupt men which is so potent they ought to be raped at the first indication they might exert that power over men. The idea of rape as self defense.

Apparently, if you are an Afghan woman and raped, the shame is yours.

Google rape, and politics and you see sites in Norway and England which claim Middle Eastern men do all the raping in  Nordic countries. Just can't keep their hands off the white women. Right wing sites in Scandinavia say Scandinavian women are never raped by Scandinavian men, only by men of Middle Eastern origin.

 Sounds a lot like what I used to hear growing up,  from white men--those colored just can't keep their hands off white women. Got to string them up as a warning to the others.   Of course, nobody mentioned the rape of black slaves by their slave owners, but looking at any black from the Carolinas, Georgia or Alabama and you see blue eyes, light hair: American Blacks resemble white slave owners more than they resemble the Africans from Africa. 
And there was the case of the Central Park Jogger, where five Black boys were convicted of raping a white woman, wrongly, based on the familiar bias. 

What of the  men raping women of their own color--rape is what? A weapon? A form of torture? A terrorist tactic? But what strategic purpose does rape serve in the civil war in Congo?

How do we, as Americans, deal with stories of rape in cultures we do not understand?

Are we simply seeing the unleashing of restraint in the breakdown of law and order, like looting when the lights go out and the power fails? Is all that stands between women in our nation and rape, the power grid and armed force?

Are we seeing attitudes from distant cultures arriving here in the USA? Or are our rapists home grown and needing no inspiration from abroad?

The same act of violence against women likely has different origins in the minds of men, from an act of self assertion (the man who feels this is the only way he will have access to a woman who may otherwise reject him) to sheer hostility toward a woman because she is a member of a hated group, to an attempt to defile an entire nation, to a simple expression of power by men who fester in an underclass.  The woman in India was a medical student. Did those men who rape her come from an uneducated underclass? This may be a semester course we are talking about. 

All I know is I am mystified. Are these men who rape the same men who shoot school children?  If not, why not?

We clearly cannot look to our politicians for answers--those enlightened souls who assure us that women who were "legitimately" raped shut down their bodies so they don't get pregnant, or that pregnancies resulting from rape are "God's will."

Who has answers on this which are dispassionate, reasoned, informed and useful?


  1. Mad Dog,
    Depressing isn't it that, in soon to be 2013, women are still being brutalized like they were when then the human species still resided in caves. Thankfully US women aren't at the same risk of rape as women in the Congo or other developing counties, but as you mention, there is still the lingering doubt surrounding rape as Todd Akin, the moron from Missouri, made clear in his legitimate rape hypothesis. Obviously Mr. Akin and others don't look at rape as the violent assault that it is but as something else-a "crime" that the woman was somehow complicit in.

    If a woman is stabbed there isn't the thought she must have secretly wanted to be stabbed, done something to provoke the attack or somehow enjoyed it as much as her assailant. There's no thought of legitimate stabbing as if there could be different varieties. Rape has always been treated differently. The rape statistics for the US military and it's systemic failure to protect it's female members is a travesty. As women gain more power and equality worldwide the incidence of rape will decrease, but it will probably never be eradicated. There will always be some miscreants looking to abuse those that are physically weaker.

  2. Maud,

    This is an area which needs to be explored, but I cannot quite imagine any forum other than a college classroom where it might be examined with sufficient remove. Blogs, as open ended as they may be, cannot offer the depth of analysis.
    There was a famous "date rape" case at Brown with which I found myself in conflict with the prevailing opinion. There was a Jodie Foster movie about a rape in Fall River Mass, which offered considerable subtlety.
    But most of the rapes we read about, the brutal ones in particular, have no moral ambiguity--the only real question is the why question. For that, you need to examine the minds of the rapists, and the culture in which they live. The point about women being stabbed not being asked whether or not they enjoyed it is a trenchant one.
    The question about what happens in our Armed Forces is very important. Love My Rifle More Than You (Kayla Williams) is fascinating for what it says about gender roles and the military, and rape.
    With women entering medicine, the military, law, corporate executive suites, seems to me this ought to be a fundamental discussion.
    Americans may well be in a stronger position than nations from Africa, the Middle East, the Subcontinent, if only because we do not limit our use of talent to males.
    Next to the racial progress we've made, the change in the idea of what it is to be a woman in America is the biggest change in my lifetime. Both moved in the right direction, and America is stronger and better for it. I'm not sure we have caught up to the Europeans in terms of the support we offer women, but we've come a long way.

    Mad Dog