Rapists deserve a taste of their own medicine

If I have been silent about the horrific rape and murder of the as-yet unnamed Indian medical student in New Delhi, it’s not because I don’t care, but rather because I care so much I can hardly bear to think about it.

We seem to be living through a time of tipping points: when thresholds are crossed that are so outrageous that they provoke long-overdue reaction from a generally compliant, inured and zoned out populace.

India, and indeed most of southeast Asia, is well-known for its misogyny and callous brutality towards its women.  From female infanticide, neglect of girls, dowry deaths, domestic violence and tribal justice in which female victims of sexual assault are blamed and punished, often with death, this is not a region that treats its women kindly.

This is old news to global human rights activists.  But suddenly, thanks to the martyrdom of that one tipping-point rape victim, it is front-page news in India and around the world, and men and women are out in the streets demanding a sea change in the way sex crimes are punished and in the discriminatory attitudes towards women, not just in India, but all over the world.

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Eve Ensler

Eve Ensler, long a tireless advocate of women’s right to live free of violence, observes in a recent article in the Guardian/UK that we live in a global “rape culture,” in which “a girl can be purchased for less than the cost of a mobile phone.”

Or simply taken for nothing, as happened on the bus in India, and then thrown away.

Ensler’s website for her One Billion Rising movement, which will reach its peak on February 14, tells us that “one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime.”

“One billion women violated is an atrocity.  One billion women dancing is a revolution,” the website continues, urging viewers to “strike, dance and rise in your community to demand an end to violence against women.”

I’m sorry, but I have a hard time getting very enthusiastic about the idea of “dancing” to end violence against women.

I think it’s time for a stronger response.

I’d like to see rapists and assailants of women get a taste of the kind of retributive justice so many of the patriarchal cultures and religions like to mete out to women accused of sexual crimes.

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Stoning to death.  Cutting off of body parts—noses are popular, but how about we try penises this time?

This is probably why I didn’t want to write about this issue.  I’m too angry.  I can’t sit around and talk rationally about it anymore, like Nick Kristof did in his column today.

Just once, I’d like to indulge my own rage and seriously entertain that favorite approach of the patriarchy: an-eye-for-an-eye retribution.

Touch that woman violently, young man, and you will feel the edge of this razor, right between your legs.

Throw acid in the face of that young bride, kiddo, and you will be ceremoniously dumped in a vat of acid yourself.

Like to jam iron rods up women’s vaginas, Mr. Bus Driver?  How do you like the feel of this one up your ass?

And no, don’t tell me to calm down!  Don’t tell me I’m hysterical!

Women’s rights advocates have been trying for years—for centuries!—to get the leaders of our male-dominated world to treat us with the respect we surely deserve.

And yet still a brave little Pakistani girl who dares to speak out for the right to education gets shot in the head.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai

High school and college sports stars still think it’s fine and dandy to gang-rape unconscious female classmates.

Women are pushed into the workforce and expected to still do the second shift of housework and childcare at home—and by the way, we’re paid less, too!

The list goes on and on, and sometimes it’s just too much.

Maybe the only way to get real change to happen in short order—in my lifetime, please!—is to give the men responsible for these crimes and inequities a nice taste of their own medicine.

Challenging rape culture

In my Gender Studies class this week, we’ve been talking about “rape culture.”  It’s a term that’s bandied about somewhat cavalierly on college campuses, and is probably much less familiar out in the ordinary workaday world.

Well, wake up world.  Rape culture is here.  And it doesn’t need the ironic scare quotes.  It’s real, and it’s not funny at all.

You know you’re living in a rape culture when women’s bodies are suggestively displayed, commodified, in sexually enticing poses obviously intended for the male gaze.

In the culture of rape, “no” means “try harder” and it’s always the woman’s fault if she doesn’t like what’s going on.  Stupid bitch, if she didn’t want it, she shouldn’t have worn those heels/had that drink/come to the party.

Rape culture sanctions violence when necessary to overcome resistance.  She was asking for it, anyway.

Rape culture oppresses dissenting men, too.  Men who fail to conform to the code of dominant masculinity are “faggots,” and being called out as anything akin to feminine–pussy, for example–is the worst insult you can throw at a guy.

Lately I’ve been realizing that rape culture extends a lot further than women’s bodies.  It’s also responsible for the prevailing attitudes towards our environment–our Mother Earth.

Not for nothing are both Mother Earth and Mother Nature gendered female.

Some patriarchal cultures manage to respect Mother Nature while still maintaining a stranglehold on her female children.  For instance, in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, which I’m re-reading now for another class, the all-powerful Oracle of the Hills, a goddess, is interpreted by a priestess whose pronouncements no men dare question.  This doesn’t stop the protagonist, Okonkwo, from beating up his wives on a regular basis.

In Judeo-Christian and Islamic cultures, the patriarchy dispenses with goddesses.  Or at least, goddesses of the truly powerful, fearsome kind.

In Euramerican cultures, we have sex goddesses, who exist to pleasure their men.  Islamic cultures shroud their women in veils, but towards the same end: women exist to please their men.

The explosive growth of the international pornography industry, in which it is still rare for women’s pleasure to be of any interest at all, bears testimony to the extent to which rape culture rules.

In 2006, the pornography industry had larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined–and it’s only grown in the past five years.

Porn is a vast unregulated jungle.  It’s not all bad.  But some of it is really terrible.  Some of it is sexualized violence–rape–thinly veiled as entertainment.

Yes, the girls get paid.  But many studies have shown that female porn stars often come from sexually abusive childhoods, or are teen runaways, or are lured into the trade through drug addiction and prostitution.

In Euramerican porn, women exist to give men pleasure.  Doesn’t matter if they get fucked over in the process.  Doesn’t matter if all that’s left in the end is a hollow shell.  There’s always another slut waiting in line.

Yeah.  It hurts me to talk like this, but I want to convey the mind-set of this industry.

And then I want you to think about how this mind-set translates to the Euramerican assault on the environment, our Mother Earth.

Or the sub-prime loan scandal (it’s Occupy Foreclosures Day, after all).  Fuck’em over, make a profit and move on.  All that matters is the bottom line, baby.

Sometimes it seems as though the more powerful actual women become in real life–ie, successful at playing the formerly all-male games of education and career–the more frantically obsessive men’s consumption of pornography becomes.  The power they miss in real life, they can find acted out for them in porn fantasies.

But the environment is another story.  Mother Earth is not going to play men’s games–that is, she doesn’t care to beat them at their own game.  When she starts to resist, the game will be over.

In porn, women go along with the game for a variety of reasons.  Generally speaking, women do it to survive.

Likewise, women collude with the patriarchy in the rape of the Earth because it’s just easier to go along than to resist.  And the lifestyle has been pretty comfortable over the last 50 years, hasn’t it.

I would like to see a frank discussion of the connections between rape culture as played out in porn and rape culture as played out between humans and the environment.

We need to acknowledge that there is a serious problem in both the private and the public realms (along these lines, we are just beginning to see confessions of “sex addiction” hit the media.  How about “fossil fuel addiction”?).

The problem is a symptom of much deeper ills in human social relations, which transgress the usual boundaries of race, class, gender & nation.

Why are porn and energy extraction biggest, the fastest growing industries in the world?

What does it mean to live in a rape culture?  Who benefits, and who loses?

Most importantly, how can a rape culture be transformed?  And what is our alternative vision?

My vision is this:

The one-sided model of domination and extraction (“getting some”) needs to shift to a dialogic model of sustainable mutual pleasure.

Human beings should serve in a steward relation to our Mother Earth, tending and enriching her in exchange for the nourishment and pleasure she can afford us.

Likewise, sex should not be about domination and debasement, but about mutual pleasure and uplift.

In these transition times, such a transformative shift should be possible, if each of us begins with our own selves, our own backyards, and lets the ripples of range move outward.

Let it be so.

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