23-year-old student Jyoti Singh Pandey gang raped to death in New Delhi, India;
17-year-old Anene Booysen gang raped to death in Bredasdorp, South Africa;
“For years, Egyptian women have put up with sexual harassment, simply for walking down the street. Now they are coming out into the open to say ‘enough is enough’. At a rally in Tahrir Square last month, female protestors came under attack. Water was thrown into the crowd in an attempt to repel the mob of men who were groping women and trying to remove their clothes. An anti-harassment demonstration became itself a target for harassment. What used to be a silent shame has now been thrust into the open, with exhibitions and events.(1)
These are just recent events of the past three months that have gone around the world; shocked the world; and made people wonder – what is it that drives men to behave like this? What makes them turn into molestors? Into monsters?
The first two horrific events cannot be viewed as single, extraordinary deeds of disturbed individuals. Just like mass happenings in Egypt they are symptoms of “rape culture”.
“Rape culture is a concept used to describe a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.” (2)
But how does such culture develop? And, more importantly, how can it be changed?
Amaka Okafor-Vanni wrote an article for http://nigerianstalk.org in which she calls Nigerian culture a “rape culture”. She sees the underlying problem in her country’s “modesty culture”:
“The modesty culture we preach is a rape culture because of our insistence on female purity and modesty. Why is it the sole responsibility of the female to remain chaste? Why isn’t the male tasked with chastity? By focusing on the female, we reduce the woman to mere flesh and place control over the female body and sexuality in male hands.” (3)
Jyoti’s and Anene’s murders triggered countless outcries in India and South Africa. Social networks were and are filled with people voicing their shock and outrage at the crimes; but will this make a difference? Will this change anything? South African constitutional law scholar Pierre De Vos doesn’t think so.
On the contrary – he even thinks it “might do more harm than good.
The expression of outrage is a distancing device and ultimately self-serving. I fear the smell of self-congratulatory self-indulgence clinging to the enterprise. Expressions of outrage position us in opposition to the evil that we rush to condemn. Rapists are evil but unknown people ‘out there’. They are not our friends, our brothers, our fathers, our teachers, our sporting heroes”.
When we express our outrage about the prevalence of rape in society, I fear that we seek to affirm that we are not complicit in the (often violent) subjugation of women. Our expressions of outrage – well-meaning as such expressions might be – absolve us of our responsibilities.” (4)
“This allows us to continue with our lives without having to change what we think and how we live. We can express sentimental support for the survivors of rape, without having to problematise masculinity. We do not need to confront sexism. We do not need to become feminists. We do not need to confront the destructive power and dominance of patriarchy and how we continue to benefit from it. We do not need to give up anything.” (4)
South African columnist Bruce Gorton takes a similar stand in his article “Rape Shows There Are No South African Men”. He writes: “We do not get to proclaim ourselves men because one third of our brothers rape. One third of our sons rape. One third of our fathers rape.
We do not get to proclaim ourselves men because the two thirds of us who do not do this, we have allowed that one third to continue. A man is an adult with a penis, an adult is someone who stands up and takes responsibility for their greater society and we have not acted as adults.” (6)
So, what needs to happen for rape cultures to change positively? Ultimately the answer will be different for every affected country.
Amaka Okafor-Vanni believes that “we need to do away with this system that espouses the idea of woman as a possession and develop instead a society that sees the woman as human with rights, consent and abilities. A society where ethical sexuality is promoted and supported. Instead of telling the woman she is at fault for getting raped, we should teach our sons the importance of consent, that no means no and a woman can withdrew this consent at any time. Instead of telling the victim of sexual assault not to speak up so as not the shame her family, we should create a society were victims are helped to overcome the trauma of the assault. Instead of telling the young girl she ‘asked’ for it because of the way she dressed, we should punish severely and publicly shame rapists. We should consciously make the effort as consumers not tolerate music videos and home movies that objectify the female body form in the name of art.” (3)
Anand Soondas, author of the blog The Times Of India agrees that “the change will have to come first at home, from the family. Boys, as they grow up, will have to be taught that their sisters are not there to get the leftovers – the one piece of chocolate that couldn’t be eaten, the tricycle with a broken wheel that couldn’t be driven, the school with expensive fees that couldn’t be afforded.” (5)
According to De Vos, “rape is ultimately about power and domination. Men who feel threatened by the changing world in which they cannot automatically assume that they will be respected merely because they are men, will often take steps to try and re-assert their dominance and power over women and over other threatening groups like gay men. Some will do so by raping a woman. Others will do so by assaulting a girlfriend or a wife. Others will do so by sexually harassing women or denigrating them.” (4)
Many factors in society will have to change. The problem will have to be addressed from the very core of society – the family; where parents instill the right values and a proper sense of gender equality into their children as well as where boys learn self-confidence that does not come from dominating over anybody else, but from within.
This solution is at the same time a problem, because how can children learn this from parents who don’t know any better themselves?
I suppose all we can do is our best within OUR own family, set a good example and do our best to raise awareness.
We can also take Anand Soonda’s anecdote (5) to heart and resolve to never stand by and watch and never accept any kind of discriminating comments or jokes.
Bruce Gorton (6) also reminds us that we must get informed and become aware of what actually ARE dangerous beliefs and actions, because many of them are so inbuilt and deeply rooted in our upbringing and society that we don’t even recognize them anymore.