As this weekend marks the end of Christmastide, I sincerely hope everyone had a good holiday with family and friends. This holiday season seemed more poignant insofar as we’ve been reminded of the fragile nature of life and society.
These reminders came in the form of recent horrific tragedies that threaten the foundations of civilized societies — the mass killing in Newton and the gang-rape of a young female medical student in Delhi. The inhumanity of violence and then the efforts to silence anyone who would speak out against the roots of these horrific acts are nothing new.
As always, we must continue to rise up against this vile globalized institutionalized misogyny — through ensuring the safety for young girls and women, through education, economic development, access to health services, and civic participation. It is a fight that we all have a responsibility to take on — in our homes, in our classrooms, in our jobs, in our governments, and all spheres of private and public life.
A couple of worthwhile reads if you haven’t already caught them:
Delhi gang-rape: look westward in disgust (The Guardian):
There’s something uncomfortably neocolonial about the way the Delhi gang-rape and subsequent death of the woman now known as Damini is being handled in the UK and US media. While India’s civil and political spheres are alight with protest and demands for changes to the country’s culture of sexual violence, commentators here are using the event to simultaneously demonise Indian society, lionise our own, and minimise the enormity of western rape culture.
A particularly blatant example of this is Libby Purves’s piece for the Times. She says the Delhi bus rape should “shatter our Bollywood fantasies”. For Purves, westerners enjoy a romanticised view of India, all heady spirituality and Marigold Hotels; and especially romantic in their views, for reasons Purves neglects to address, are the British. Thus, upright Europeans have sentimentally ignored the “murderous, hyena-like male contempt” that Purves says is an Indian cultural norm. Neatly excised from her account however is the relationship between poverty, lack of education and repressive attitudes towards women, and, by extension, the role of Europe in creating and sustaining poverty in its former colonies. Attitudes towards women in the east were once used by colonialists to, first, prop up the logic of cultural superiority that justified unequal power relations (the “white man’s burden”) and second, silence feminists working back in the west by telling them that, comparatively, they had nothing to complain about.
When it finishes calling Indian men hyenas, Purves’s article states that westerners “have the luxury of fretting about frillier feminist issues such as magazine images, rude remarks and men not doing housework”. Does anyone else see an unattractive historical pattern here?
Her article is not, by any means, the only one to report on this issue as if rape is something that only happens “over there” – something we civilised folk in the west have somehow put behind us. Elsewhere, the message is subtler, but a misplaced sense of cultural superiority shines through. For example, this BBC article states, as if shocking, the statistic that a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours. That equates to 625 a year. Yet in England and Wales, which has a population about 3.5 times that of Delhi, we find a figure for recorded rapes of women that is proportionately four times larger: 9,509. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal decries the fact that in India just over a quarter of alleged rapists are convicted; in the US only 24% of alleged rapes even result in an arrest, never mind a conviction. This is the strange kind of reportage you tend to get on the issue.
The coverage of Damini’s death strikes a particularly ironic note following recent media controversy over a rape, in Steubenville, Ohio, of a 16-year-old girl – allegedly by members of the high-school football team. The case is that the young woman was dragged, drunk and unresponsive, from party to party, where she was sexually abused. The brutal death of Damini has spurred Indian civil society to its feet, causing protest and unrest, bringing women and men into the streets, vocal in their demands for change. Sonia Gandhi has met the woman’s parents. The army and the states of Punjab and Haryana have cancelled new year’s celebrations. What happened in the US? In Steubenville, football-crazy townsfolk blamed the victim and it took a blogger – Alexandria Goddard, who is now being sued – and a follow-up article from the New York Times four months after the incident to get nationwide attention for the story.
Protesters of the Steubenville Rape Case Inspire Real Change (Politicus USA):
When as Anonymous was leading a second protest in Steubenville yesterday, the sheriff announced that no other people would be charged in the alleged gang raping and kidnapping of 16-year-old Jane Doe by football players referred to as members of the “rape crew”.
This case appears to be steeped in cover-ups and conspiracies, from the County Prosecuting Attorney reportedly being the mother of one of the “rape crew”, at whose house an assault may have taken place, to the victim’s ex-boyfriend allegedly setting her up to be drugged and gang raped as revenge for breaking up with him. It’s disgusting and shameful and horrifying, but it’s also sadly not that unusual.
What is unusual is that this time a group of mostly men, in a subset of Anonymous called Knight Sec, is leading a public charge against the rape culture and demanding justice.
Anonymous’ protests aren’t just impacting this case; in fact, because of the attention the Steubenville case has gotten, San Luis Obispo rape crisis agency in California has launched a “Start by Believing” campaign in order to promote the reporting of rape. Sexual Assault and Rape Prevention (SARP) Associate Executive Director Jesse Torrey explained, “If somebody discloses they’ve been sexually assaulted, you need to start by believing them. And if they are responded to with support, with validation, with ‘how can I help?’, with ‘this wasn’t your fault’…that’s the road to healing.”