As the year turns yet again, reflections are the order of the days as the compliments flow and plans for the future move ahead, still remnant of the past follow like bee to honey. Never mind that the remnants are not always sweet but sour in some cases. The year ended with events that sparked world attention. It was the gang raping of a young woman in Delhi, India. The world was brought to their knees as the festivities of the holidays turned to panic for some and then prior to that the shootings in the US, whilst just healing from Sandy’s wrath left many feeling helpless. These horrors of dominance, victimization and control left the world crumbling for safety.
The news of the young women in India who was gang-raped, in bus in the presence of several other people is not only shocking. It is disgusting that such a crime can be so watched- without stopping the perpetrators. The young woman died from injuries she sustained after being thrown off the bus. And then to add insult to injury the victim has since been called a culprit too the incident, who should have fought the five or six men according to Asaram Bapu. Bapu is a spiritual guru who is said to have remarked that the victim is as guilty as the perpetrators who gang-raped her. His remarks are sick, sexist, misogynistic and perverted. Bapu claims that the victim should have begged her ‘ brothers’ to stop-yes she could have used one hand to slap the men away. My guess is as good as yours! How do you slap or clap to rid a group of men who are threatening your life and convince them that they are your brothers and they need to stop gang raping her.
So as the end of the year drew close, rape across the world brought much talk of the safety of women, children- boys and girls alike. These heinous sexual violent crimes, and killing of women and children are becoming part of our ‘lives’ and to some extent a problem that is allowed and supported by many systems, political and socially to some extend. Most urgent and pivotal is to analyze why there is a growing “rape culture” in our midst.
Dehumanization and insertive role of rape
Whether rape is used as an instrument of male dominance and a method of bonding for those who violently penetrate, tear and rip the vagina and anus of victims, there is certainly dehumanization to both. This pervasive and ultra dehumanization of women and children through rape needs attention and so much so in distinguishing one type of rape from another -the point remains that it is a violent crime that aims to hold its victims in fear. Like the fear that gripped and terrorized the minds of people on the bus in Delhi- watched in some frozen state and for a moment that fear remains to silence victims and those in the moment- a real personal experience for me.
The perpetrators are men in our societies who desire to cause pain without reason on a body like that of a child or woman. The penetrative role of rape is to dehumanize women and children victimized. It is a way of making one remember how their body is terrorized over and over and violated to the brink of numbness to pain and that brings fear too. The purpose of rape is a way of bringing order to those who do not conform. In considering the ‘acceptance’ of rape towards women, children and LGBTI is the level of outrage that is expressed by the community. The outrage is often silenced by threats made towards those who speak out and condemn the perpetrators. The brutality of crimes of rape towards LGBTI persons is most severe and inhumane in nature- a guaranteed message. Rapists perverse the system that is encouraged though this kinship, a way of political alliance between men who bond through victimization of women. The patriarchal social order facilitates aggressive, heterosexual and dominant behavior with men on top as the winner for the prize and women, the prize.
The feminization of violence on women’s bodies is not a new phenomenon – and it should stopped- with hundred of years’ of activism and calling for an end to gender based violence- it has to stop. Starting with the DRC, the atrocious sexual violence that women and girls have to endure on a daily basis. The biggest scandals are the mechanisms that are not working for us nationally, regionally and internationally. What are we doing? With so many resources it is disgusting that they are not being used to stop this violence. There is much contradiction particularly from the west who claim they are emancipated yet continue looting of natural and human resources.
The realities are more horrendous than the highlighted incidents herein and a clear argument that there is a silence around violence against women and these atrocious crimes. The silence of the victims or survivors who fear reporting such crimes is problematic and deeply rooted and supported nationally within political alliances and patriarchy. Because of being abused, traumatized and in some cases raped by police, victims are afraid to speak out. This is not just here in South Africa but everywhere – Rape and sexual violence remain stigmatized for the victim.
The “deliberate” failure to capture criminals who have committed such crimes makes me think there is a need to analyze the role rape plays in the methods of male bonding and dominance. The “deliberate” sabotage towards justice by police in responding to crimes, collecting evidence with gross negligence, losing rape kits enables the accused to walk free. This is a growing trend that destabilizes the justice progress and process. It is necessary to understand why there is an increase these crimes in our communities in order to get to the root cause of ‘rape culture’ and its connectedness to male bonding- from a macro level as- can be witnessed globally.
The realities and sentiments coming out of India on the issue are not that far away to the realities in South Africa. The so called ‘rape culture’ has had devastating effects on citizens with more than seven reported incidents one following the other in the months of June to September 2012. Young black lesbians, one gay man, and transgender person were either raped, killed, raped, mutilated or all the forms of violent acts performed. The incidents called for a national outcry but none was forthcoming.
Toxic masculinity and bonding
In South Africa it is necessary to consider “hegemonic masculinities”, a concept that probably can explain practices of men in our society according to positioning. “Hegemonic masculinity” in simple terms is the static behavior that a group of people in a society have, which entails making a pact, written or unwritten between those involved. The kind of actions expected in order to join these groups are acts of violence towards stranger in a the streets, cursing and using foul language and trashing or vandalizing property similar to gangs that might terrorize a neighborhood. It is this connectedness that this method of male bonding and homosocialization-can share women through gang raping. It is this act that allows them to carry out such acts and claim these as part of the ‘bonding’ process. This extends further to raping and gang-raping women and children to confirm and show solidarity. The power system is like the food chain, to work towards the top one has to show what they can do to be included in the circle. The more one shows prowess towards acts of violence the better they can reach the top and be trusted. As such the domination of women through rape continues and then children too become victims of this “culture”.
Rape whether it be during the war, marriage, raping to conform one’s sexuality or under the influence of date rape drugs —it is all rape. Yet, the growing “rape culture” cannot be presented as a blanket statement rather it is necessary to deconstruct the realities behind this “culture” that is raging war against women and their bodies. In South Africa, President Zuma is yet to say rape must be condemned for obvious reasons. So for those males who flock together in this “culture” there is a kind of understanding of solidarity and coercion to how things are in regards to rape.
South Africa is an example of how hegemonic masculinities reign over females and that even the law is silent in the crimes committed by men and bringing them to justice. The reality is that even when cases reach the courts the trials are sheer spectacle in our country. The dockets are ‘misplaced’, the convicted rapist(s) escape without a chase, and the prosecutor is not present on the date of hearing in court. Most if not all cases the victims are women and the perpetrators men. Many rape victims report being taunted by men in their communities. Perpetrators are released on ridiculous bail conditions not befitting the crimes committed.
The whole system is slap in the face towards justice and equality for women who continue to suffer injustices under the rule of patriarchy and heterosexism. In South Africa there is clear structural support that encourages dominance of females and this need not be written on walls. South Africa has seen what prominence does to perpetrators and how the victims become exiled from their own homes for speaking out. There is a chain which links to high profile people in the system that are able to make things happen or disappear. These unlabeled men who partake in these acts of violence answer to the big guy, who is top dog in that society. There is no need not explore events of the 2005 trial to understand what this entails. “Rape culture” remains in our midst with much fear to speak over deaths and raping of women and girls in South Africa. Women in townships live their lives under lock and key for fear of being raped whilst the state turns a blind eye for justice to prevail.
Sinister justice, takes the opposite
Some time in the year 2012, women in Zimbabwe made headlines with accusations of rape. Women who were the supposed rapists were arrested for having harvested semen from men whom they had purposely given a ride in their car. The men claimed to have been surprised at the women taking advantage of them and then continuing to rape them. The women were arrested and flogged in public with pictures taken and shared with local tabloids in Zimbabwe. The time it took to pick these women up and the evidence found was a clear case of guilt- at least from readings and speculation. At the same time other cases of rape of women as victims take a long time to reach the courts. I am not condemning the swiftness. I am merely wondering what delays the process if a man is not the victim. Or if the victim breaks the silence by reporting a prominent man she risks becoming destitute and loses citizenship rights of protection and freedom. The fact that “hegemonic masculinity” or homosocialization is reflected in cases that affect the male prowess is a critical point that needs to be analyzed too.
The media plays a critical role in constructing the very expectations of hetero-patriarchy society in how they write. The remarks of Bapu towards the victim in India are full of hetero-patriarchy ideals that again claim women ‘asked for it.’ Why she could not have fought with the other hand, perhaps she could have prayed for the rapists too. Bapu, a (not so) respected spiritual leader plays right into the toxic masculine behavior and he clearly has lost the plot of humanity. And the many dangers of leaders like him saying such crap is that there are people who actually believe him. The reality is that world over —there are high incidents of sexual violence and rape and low conviction. Some of our leaders continue to take a blind eye and do not realize the damage done and being done to initiative such as ZERO.
Zero AIDS related, Zero Rape!
Young men, women and children need to know that they are protected and safe from RAPE! As we zoom in to reach the Zero towards new infections, Zero AIDS related deaths and Zero discrimination of all isms, we need Zero Rape. We are faced with complications of a war brewing on the female body..
As regional and international bodies are talking about post MDG, UN’s CSW 57th Session is focusing on Violence Against Women (VAW) and children. It is with hopes that we are also planning ahead and hitting a home run rather than talking about VAW as though it has just happened. But there needs to be an expansion of the conversation directly to men and boys. I remain deeply bothered by “rape culture” and this impunity in our communities. Is this to say that, we have become too complacent towards violence? It is becoming the norm and there is a sense that even those who abuse, rape, violate, and break the law are masters unto themselves- nothing happens to them-they are untouchable! From crimes of child abuse, sexual violence, child marriage and moral panics over youth sexuality and homophobia, increasingly to lesbian killings go unpunished in most regions.
When I last wrote an article of reflection on sexual violence- it was under the guise of respect and dignity for women and girls in my own country receiving sanitary pads. I questioned the ideals and agenda away from the small gestures that would enable young girls to attend school instead of staying at home to bleed during their days of menstruation. I was glad of the initiative and yet I still hoped to hear, and see action in my own country on how leadership takes the issues of sexual violence and rape-seriously for those who seek justice in addition to the sanitary pad. So what has happened to all that glitter with the sanitary pad? Have more girls been enrolled, attended classes and passed successfully sans textbooks?
Unbelievably, the woman body is a battleground and when war is declared on our bodies how are we going prevent the possibility of completely losing the battle on sexual violence stinking and spreading around the globe. What about our children’ pleasure to life?
So as many gather again just in time for to plan for the next 16 days of agony not activism because everyday a woman is raped. Until we can come in our numbers to demand justice and push the system for justice- we can start right now- we count bodies- mine, yours your daughters’, sisters’ mothers’ and brothers’ too. I can hear that little voice of anger growing and I hope you are angry too. Voices will be heard. Our vaginas are ours and zero in on that! We are being attacked and at this rate we need to be innovative and find successful means to bring awareness and justice against all violence against women, girls and boys. We must work with men, boys, girls and women to succeed.
Glenda is a gender justice and development researcher. She is still writing after her 15 month sabbatical with much reflection and returns to write and seek her own voice through many platforms like this one. She is determined to work with for income and livelihood; therefore, she writes to earn and for change.