Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rape — sex or power?

Boy, oh boy! My comments follow after the post...

from Thought Leader, Jennifer Thorpe

Rape happens every day in South Africa. It is estimated that each year about half a million rapes occur, but only 1 in 9 of these is reported. With roughly 24 million women in South Africa this presents women with a scary picture. It means that if you are a woman and you live to the age of 50, you have a damn high chance of being raped in South Africa. You can debate with these statistics, but that’s not the place of this blog. Even if only 1 occurs, there is something going on. And I’m interested in what that something is. Is rape about sex, or is it about power?

For a long time many women’s groups have advocated for the idea that rape is about power. They have argued that it is about the relationships between men and women, and the “expected” relationships between men and women in a patriarchal political system. To explain, the “expected” relationships say that men should have more power than women, and historically this has largely come from their physical size and economic power. Men have been the breadwinners, businessmen and success stories whilst women have played a background role. This has been intimately tied with masculinity, and in fact being dominant has been one of the central historical traits that have been labelled as “masculine”. Similarly, being sexually powerful, having a good libido and the ability to be sexy to women is part of the script of masculinity that appears cross-culturally throughout history. In summary, men are supposed to be strong, rich and virile.

However, the times they are a-changing and increasing numbers of women are gaining their economic independence. In South Africa especially, they have been given constitutionally entrenched equal legal status. Women have also been granted sexual freedom. They are legally empowered to have sex with whom and when they want to. Women are no longer legally required to have sex with their husbands, boyfriends or partners. They are sexually liberated (in theory). So women too are legally enabled to be rich, and sexually free post 1994. For all intents and purposes, they are equal to men for the first time in the history of the country.

How is rape related? The explanation goes that these changes can make men feel emasculated and powerless. This can result in feelings of anger, and sometimes these feelings can be directed at women. Women represent the unwanted changes in their power status and are thus the perfect object of their anger. Men who do not find some other way to renegotiate their masculinity will take their anger out in a physical way, and the most invasive way to teach women their place is to rape them. The level of invasiveness is unlike any other because during a rape, a man is physically inside of a woman. It takes away women’s sexual freedom, and it is an insult to her dignity.

I have been a firm believer in this explanation for a very long time. In my understanding the way that masculinity and femininity are constructed, renegotiated and formed are essentially political and are not without their links to power. The fact that rape is so invasive, whether it is of a man or a woman, with a penis or an object is linked to this power relationship — it is a demarcation of that most intimate space as someone else’s property. It is a taking-away of the survivor’s power. A re-assertion of the rapist’s power.

Sexual relations are necessarily based around power and as rape is the most unfortunate and damaging of sexual relations, rape is about power. It is about putting women back in their places. It is about taking sexual freedom and showing women that it is not theirs to have.

But there is a second stream of thought that says that this is not the point of rape. If it were about power, men could just beat up a woman (and some do). They could simply kick a woman out, or kick her to show how powerful they are. So what is it, that makes a man choose to use his sexual organs? Could rape be about sex?

If we think that rape is about sex, then we explain that rape is about men’s (socially constructed or physical) needs to have sex with women when they want to. Rape involves the sexual organs because it is the part of the body that is associated with their sexuality, their sexual pleasure and their reproductive power. This explanation also links to biological drives like reproduction and the reproduction of the species.

I have an extremely close friend who has been part of the women’s rights struggle for the 37 years of her life, and she suggested that in her experience of dealing with survivors she has begun to change her mind about what the “cause” or “explanation” for rape is. Through hearing the narratives of rape survivors and alleged rapists, she has come to believe that rape is very much about sex. It is about men wanting sex and women being forced into sex. It is about the inability of women to negotiate the sex that they have, and thus being forced into situations where sex happens to them without their consent. Rape then, for many women and for some men, is about sex.

These distinctions are not about light matters. They define the solution. If rape is about power we must renegotiate power relations, masculinity and femininity, and ensure that equality is something that does not become a situation of equal disempowerment. In order to stop a rapist you have to understand why he is raping, and not understanding this will leave many organisations with the simple task of picking up the pieces. If rape is about sex, new strategies and solutions will need to be devised and enacted to create a better way of living for men and women.

The most disheartening thing about both explanations is that neither provides us with an explanation of why one man chooses to rape and another does not.

My comment on the origional post follows:

A large part of a rape survivor's recovery will come from the realization that she was the victim of her rapists' feelings of powerlessness, which was transferred to her through sex. In that respect I think feminists are right.

However, I don't think your conclusions about rape in the present day political context have much merit, to the extent that you have generalized in your post. Rape and violence have always been a part of Western culture, going back to the Dark Ages and beyond to historical times when Western society was much more patriarchal. I don't believe we have more rapes occurring today than we did back then, even though we are much more likely to talk about it openly. Another contradiction in your thought process is the fact that other societies that have been liberated much more, in terms of sexual equality, have much lower incidents of rape than South Africa. Be careful not to down play South Africa's horrific rape statistics in your post.

Still, I commend your efforts to raise the issue and create public awareness. I take a keen interest in this topic in a personal capacity, having been raped at the young age of three years.

27 Opinion(s):

Kathleen said...

Rape is about being sexually aroused as a result of the anticipation and enactment of abusing someone else. Rape often leads to serial rape, and serial rape often leads to serial murder; rape is about destroying someone else. Serial murderers often climax during the act of murdering women or children.

Exzanian said...

A sensitive issue indeed. I wish Jenny could have given a better definition of rape. It seems to me there are different degrees to this act; ranging from the abominable violations of childhood trust, to the rohypnol date rape scenario, to the fumbling misinterpretions between a couple that lead to sex that both actually enjoy (albeit leaving the woman filled with shame) We need different, and more, definitions!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous

I think rape especially today in South Africa is mainly SEX, with a small pinge of power relations.

In europe/america, maybe its about power relations due to the continued emasculation of men over the last 50 years.

1). However in SA, when men routinely rape 10 - 12 yo girls, that cannot be seen to be a power issue. Ofcourse in all countries children are abused, but not at the seemingly "PERMISSIVE" levels in SA. Simple Savagery.

2). In muslim countries, pedophilia is literally sanctioned by their religion (Child marriages anyone).


3). Even when they rape white women, its not about apartheid and showing the white woman who is boss, its about a sick need to taste what was once the forbidden fruit.
Rapes of white women based on power issues (woman resistng or calling black guy names) usually end with torture, mutilation and death.

"African psychological need to impose as much pain as possible to ensure compliance." Frankly it is simple BASIC SAVAGERY. There is no other term for it.

However, you will find some leftist females trying to explain it in other words.

For a Long time I have always believed that cultures are not equal, some are progressive, while others are retrogressive. But you will always find retrogressives in every culture. And I am Black.

FishEagle said...

@Exzanian. I imagine it can get very confusing during 'the chase' if couples don't know each other very well, leading to situations that some may or may not call rape. There are lots of confused women out there and my advice to men is this. Never do anything if in doubt. No self respecting woman is ever going to be disappointed in a guy that knows what he wants, or a guy that knows when he's not sure what he wants.

Of course there are just as many confused men out there and women should take the utmost care when they consider having sexual relations with their partners. Never under estimate the value of your body and never test the theory about you don't know what you had until its gone. There are other ways of discovering how much your body is worth.

There are extensive legal definitions of rape but it always boils down to the feelings of powerlessness that motivate the person's abusive actions.

Lime Lite said...

There are many causes of rape. South Africa's problem is the black man. Their testosterone levels are high and they act on impulse due to their low IQs. If there's a female victim, she'll be raped most times just because they can. They don't think of the consequences - because there are none. They rape females; from babies to grannies - no discrimination. As long as their itch is scratched they're happy.

FishEagle said...

Anon 6.35. I am glad that the black race has at least one decent individual in it! Jez' kidding. I'm sure there are many decent black people like you. But you are right about the general savagery that blacks have shown in South Africa when it comes to rape. It petrifies me.

Viking said...

Great post - and a sensitive issue.

Of course it is about sex - priests who raped boys in their care used to claim it was to 'punish' them, and who believes that?

Of course there is a school of thought (if you can call Marxism "thought") that says that Western colonialism is the cause of African males' emasculation resulting in rape, to "take back" their masculinity - and this claim should likewise be laughed at heartily.

FishEagle said...

Viking, the fact that blacks have such a high propensity for rape must be tied to their comparatively high libidos. But rape is about powerlessness, after all. I'd give the theory some merit that colonialism caused a rise in rape incidents. Of cause the story about the priests - hahahaha - bastards!! Spoken like the classic sex abuser. I can't imagine what the social environment in a Catholic church must be like. Obviously not that great. It shouldn't be too hard to pin point the source of the abusive priests' feelings of powerlessness. But I can guarantee you, it's not because of a lack of compliance on the part of the students!

Maatie said...

"Rape and violence have always been a part of Western culture,"...

Why single out Western culture ?

Krokodil said...

On the issue of "powerlessness", their might well be an argument that this specifically DOES relate more to SA than other African countries.

SA is the only country on the continent that is quite fixated with pc gobbledegook and advancing women (especially black) at the expense of men (especially white, but applying to all males in SA).

Therefore, the emasculation argument is at least feasible when it comes to SA and the very rapid inversion of traditional African cultural and gender norms - at least as espoused by the ANC guardians of "morality".

Obviously, nothing can justify the wanton disregard for another human being, no matter what the social circumstances one finds oneself in, but trying to prevent criminality is also a sensible measure.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but rape is WAY more prevalent in SA than in other Black African countries. And, of course, most rape in SA is black-on-black.

As for the colonialists having "emasculated" African men, at first glance there seems to be some merit in the idea. But only at first glance. Since time immemorial lands and cultures the world over have been subjugated and conquered by others. Has this always resulted in a big increase in domestic levels of rape, due to the emasculating of the men within that particular society? I've never come across that as a general trend of history and, I'm sure, if it were the case, it would be far more documented.
Furthermore, Blacks now have control of SA, but rape is certainly worse now there than under Apartheid.

There are no doubt a number of reasons for the rape epidemic in SA today, but ill thought through social experimentation tends to reap all kinds of negative social consequences (conspiracists might argue that they are well aware of it - and are doing it for that very purpose. Probably not, but who knows?).

FishEagle said...

@ Maatie, I singled it out because Jennifer Thorpe seemed to be forgetting her own culture. There are no societies that have been liberated more in terms of sexual equality, other than white societies. By implication the blacks are responsible for the horrific rape statistics in South Africa. It surprised me that no one picked it up.

FishEagle said...

Maybe I should rephrase part of my last comment. Parts of the East are just as liberated in terms of sexual equality.

Viking said...

FE
"the fact that blacks have such a high propensity for rape must be tied to their comparatively high libidos."
Well, is it that or is it colonialism?
FAct is, as one commenter points out, the rest of Africa is not similarly afflicted. Or is it? would we know? The DRC is probably as bad as would be most war zones.

I think there is a cultural element too, it's something that gangs of bored teenagers do, for kicks.
I think, too, the colonial argument is a bit flawed. Surely emasculated men would turn to violence rather than rape? Or maybe both, given the state of SA.

The flipside of the colonial argument is that, because we whiteys don't trust a black man as far as we could throw him, we are more likely to let a woman into our homes and workplaces.
The result is higher unemployment for men and more bored, frustrated husbands with breadwinner wives.
This is a social disaster, but one could argue that if they earned trust, they'd have jobs.

Krododil makes possibly the most valid point, though.
Lots of cultures have been colonised and only in SA do we have the rape epidemic.

FishEagle said...

Viking, blacks have high libidos AND they're experiencing a sense of powerlessness. It's a dangerous combination and we are seeing the consequences in our high rape statistics. Any community that is experiencing stress, including war zone communities, will have a higher incidence of rapes due to the sense of powerlessness that goes with it for some of the individuals.

Emasculated men do turn to violence. There is nothing peaceful about rape. Rape is a form of violence.

I don't know of any other African country that has such a large white population as South Africa. Blacks simply don't have equal intelligence and it's impacted on their welfare, causing them to have feelings of inferiority and powerlessness. I bet you if you took the whites away, the number of rapes would drop in black communities, provided that political peace is maintained.

FishEagle said...

I also bet you if you took the blacks away, the number of rapes would drop in white communities, provided that political peace is maintained.

Jim Beam said...

Sex has nothing to do with rape. Rape is simply put a violent hate crime.

Let me give you some perspective if I may since I spent many years amoungst the scum. The first piece of GOD created shit was a guy who was sentenced to death but the death sentence at that time was abolished so it became life imprisonment. His crime was really horrible and I mean horrible yet he spoke about it without any emotion. When I asked him why he did it he said because it made him feel like GOD as he could go onto the street and decide who dies today and who gets to live. It was the power that he felt that drove him to continue his crimes.

Then there was a gang rapist. He had a normal white collar job and was middle class. His explanation was nothing short of mind bending. He said he felt a sense of power when he raped the women as if it made him feel all powerful. He could do what he wanted without having to ask permission. The odd thing about him was when I asked him why as a group. His explanation I could not fully understand. He asked me if I had ever seen hyenas eat as a group when they fight over food. Much like that gang rape is. It becomes a feeding frenzy that apparently makes you feel as if you are high. The screams and cries of the victim drives this frenzy even higher. It's about power and having the power over a helpless person that drives them. Sex - no, it's about domination and hate. I got the feeling he did not even view the victims as human but as pieces of meat.

Now how to fit this into where South Africa finds itself? Well look at any war zone in the world. South Africa, the DRC, Bosnia, name the place - rape is the first tool in domination and control.

FishEagle said...

@ Jim Beam. The question I'm asking is why did those scumbags have the need for to feel such power. My motivation for asking it is simple practicality. I want to avoid other people that were exposed to the same factors that caused such a deep sense of powerlessness. Of course there are some that respond to threats much better than others and finding help is always a sure sign of strength in people that have been psychologically damaged. But it's not my job to help, forgive or dish out justice for people that have harmed others. I've forgiven (at least tried to forgive) my rapist. I want to stay as far away as possible from others. Rape victims have a tendency to attract the same ordeal, over and over. I've spend some time on rape counseling web sites and it's an eye opener to see how many times some of the girls have been raped, in completely unrelated incidents. One of the worst cases was a girl that couldn't remember all her rapes, but it was at least 10 times. She was obviously suppressing her memories to some extent, but they will all come back with time when she's ready to face them. Her life has been doomed to a journey of never ending hell.

Jim Beam said...

@FE

Sorry but I don't know why. It was part of the reason why I asked them all these questions as I always have this need to understand how and why people think a certain way. Call it a pet project, but I had access to the scum so I made my own little unofficial research project.

Pluto said...
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Pluto said...
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FishEagle said...

@ Jim Beam. I'm sure the scumbags would never have volunteered that information. They would have been too shit scared to talk about it, rather remembering the moments when they had power like during the rapes. The answers usually come from the people that are close to the scumbags.

Jim Beam said...

@FE

Connect the dots would you!

FishEagle said...

@Jim Bean. Meaning? Were you in prison?

FishEagle said...

@ JB, I just didn't think you would have a criminal record because you said you weren't in SA anymore.

FishEagle said...

@Jim Beam. If you were a rapist, you may have asked the scumbags about their motivation to rape in the hope that they would show the way of courage, so that you would be able to confront the fears that led you to rape.

I'm just guessing now. I really don't know if I'm on the right track.

Jim Beam said...

@FE

The prejudice mindset coupled with stereotypical thinking. A man of colour with intimate knowledge of how the criminal mind works automatically makes him a former or present criminal, prisoner or rapist. Of course with this mindset in place the person cannot have been a policeman, prison warden, psychologist or loan behold legal counsel.

It's this backward way of thinking that will always keep South Africa on the skids.

I have known for years that without an intermate understanding of the criminal mindset in South Africa, we as a civil society will never be able to slow or stop crime without understanding what really drives it.

Oh the joys of being a man of colour on this blog, oh hold on let me put that chip back on my shoulder now!

Viking said...

Jim Beam

LOL
don't take it personally!
My first reaction was that you were a lawyer, actually, but I'm sure she meant no offence.
Your response cracked me up though...