Just as I was getting ready to pack it up for my last work week of 2012, my twitter feed exploded with the news that gang-rape victim in India has died in the hospital following cardiac arrest and massive organ failure.
The unnamed medical student was beaten with iron rods and raped (for at least an hour) on Dec. 16 by at least six men after she mistakenly boarded what appeared to be a public bus, but was actually being used in a joy ride by the six men (who have been taken into custody). The attack, which the student endured with a companion before both were stripped and thrown from the vehicle, has been a disturbing reminder of the world-wide prevailing rape culture.
Can we take comfort in the fact that there have been waves of angry and violent protests in New Delhi following the attack? The prime minister has said he shares the people’s genuine anger and anguish. But I can’t help but flash back to the shooting in Newton, Conn., which took place within about 24 hours of the New Delhi attack. These events are not related, but the anger and horror feel very familiar. Do the words of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ring just a bit hollow, as perhaps some of us worry President Barrack Obama’s words will turn out to be?
I am struck by a similar call to action after the New Delhi attack. After Newtown, the talk has been about gun control. (Can’t resist sharing this piece by another Alaskan who can’t believe that guns are less regulated than reproductive rights.) But this time, instead of gun control, the voices around the world are talking about systemic rape culture.
When the culture around us normalizes and even rewards violence against women (and sometimes men), when violence against women depicted on TV jumps 120% in a five-year period and rape jokes become predictable plot points, when the public hates an athlete who abuses dogs more than for raping a woman, when police departments think that “stranger danger” PSAs are well-intentioned rather than victim-blaming (and male-bashing) … Hell, even when we have not one but at least two college football teams with (alleged) rapists in their ranks going to bowl games (at least one coach sent the accused players home)… When the criminal justice system condones an epidemic of sexual assault against Native American women because of legal loopholes…When we accept rape as somehow inevitable — as part of the rites of womanhood to live with the fear of this kind of violence — that is when we collectively give up our power. THAT’S RAPE CULTURE!
Indeed, the onslaught of anti-woman, anti-choice, and anti-science comments made in politics in 2012 is proof of how deeply entrenched these ideas are. From “legitimate rape” to the arguments against exceptions to abortion bans, our cultural denigration of women, their bodies, their sexuality, and their autonomy has been on full public display right here in the USA.
If you are not outraged about what happened in New Delhi, if you do not see that the exact same thing can happen here (this story broke yesterday), then you have been anesthetized by rape culture. You have swallowed the blue pill. You are complicit with those who would tell a rape survivor to marry her attacker. You are the authority figures who force a middle school girl to write a letter of apology to her rapist.
Just as we wept and raged about Newtown, our hearts should burn for all these victims, too. But it’s not enough to rage. It’s not enough to wonder why. We must forge an oath right now — you and I — that we will call out rape culture every time we see it.
And once you start looking for it, you will see it everywhere. We must call it out for ourselves, our friends, our lovers, and our sons and daughters. We must not rest until there is a full-tilt revolution in our cultural hearts and minds. Because all these are symbols of the deep cultural hatred of women. They are all linked by that hatred. Every “trivial” street harassment, every student who gets no sex education in schools, every politician who winks at the camera after he says no woman deserves the right to make decisions about her own body, and every time we turn away from the victims of sexual violence/abuse/assault because we do not know what to do… Those are links in that chain.
AND WE MUST BREAK THIS CHAIN.
This chain of misogyny that runs so deep in our society — and societies all over the world — shackle us to rape culture. We become slaves to a cultural ethos that devalues women to such a degree that rape can become the punchline of a joke. The only way this ends is if we finally see the misogyny and rape culture that is imprinted on all of us, the branding of our society. We must throw off these shackles and see rape for what it really is: A hate crime.
Rape is not about sex. It’s about power. And just as bigots use violence against people of other races and sexual orientations, people who use violence against women (in all its forms) are using the blunt force of their bodies to show their power over a woman. Right now, this moment, we need to recognize that the rape of a woman is akin to the lynching of a black man or the murder of a gay man because of “gay panic.” This violence may play out in different ways and be fueled by hatred that seems different on the surface. But it is all hate. They are all hate crimes. Rape is a hate crime.
Be outraged. Be hurt. And then get up. We have work to do.