Feminism, Racism, And The Rape Debate

2012-02-27-context

Life is all about context. Not everyone who takes something without asking is a thief. Not everyone who makes a sex joke is a chauvinist. Not everyone who is nice to a white person is a racist. Not everyone who makes sarcastic comments is an activist.

Let’s talk about my friend Sam. He lives in Lang’ata and spends a lot of time on Twitter. Last week, he went out with online friends. After a fun night out, he called a cab, came home, and blacked out. The next day, he woke up on his sofa in his underwear. Apparently, some thugs had followed him home and carried everything except his sofa, because they couldn’t get him off it.

Being a normal middle class citizen, he went to the police. They laughed as he gave them receipts for all his electronics, complete with serial numbers. They took his statement, and told him he was the third guy in the building to be robbed that week. They asked him to fuel their car so they could inspect the crime scene.

They didn’t ask if he had flashed a lot of cash at the bar. They didn’t ask if he knew the cab driver. They didn’t ask if he had noticed the thugs following him. They didn’t ask if he had locked the door behind him. They didn’t ask why he didn’t hear the thugs when they broke in, or how much he had to drink.

Now, let’s think about a different story. Let’s think about my other friend, Susan. She lives in the flat next to Sam’s. She was with him at the tweet-up, but she came home much earlier. When the thugs were done with Sam, they peeped into her house. Her door was locked. Her lights were off. The rest of the building was quiet. They had a lot of time. And they were hungry.

Robbers

Susan didn’t go to the police, because she knew what would happen. The cops would ask her if she knew the thugs. They’d ask if she had flirted with them at the club. They’d ask if she was sure her door was locked. They’d ask why she didn’t call for help. They’d ask her what she was wearing. They might ask if she was a virgin, how many men she had slept with, or whether she had enjoyed herself. They might ask her to tell them, in detail, what had happened. They might even ask her to show them.

So instead of going to the police, Susan takes a shower and scrubs herself so hard that her skin bleeds. Then she calls her sister, who comes with her husband to take Susan to hospital. She moves to a different neighbourhood. She loses her confidence, becomes ashamed of her womanhood, makes herself as unattractive as possible.

She never leaves the house unless she has to, and when she does, something as simple as a hello from a male, or a tap on the shoulder from a makanga makes her scream. One day, she notices Sam across the street. She stares at him in hatred and fear, then rushes past, pretending she hasn’t seen him. She wonders where he was that night. She wonders if he heard the thugs, if he knew the thugs, if he was friends with the thugs. She might never trust Sam – or any other man – again.

Last week, there was an argument on Twitter. A woman said the only way for women to stop getting raped is for men to stop raping women. A man said women should stop blaming men and do something about it instead. Others said women should stop dressing provocatively, and that they should avoid being alone in dangerous places.

Walking alone

The average woman isn’t afraid of being raped by strange men in a dark alley. She knows enough not to go there. The average woman is afraid of being raped when she’s in a matatu on her way home, and the only other woman in the matatu has alighted. She’s afraid that if she follows the other woman and alights at that stage, far from her own home, she might be attacked by random men outside. But she’s equally terrified of staying in the matatu and having the men inside turn on her.

The men in this matatu might be rapists. Or they might be normal guys. Husbands, fathers, brothers on their way home from work. They might not even be aware that there’s a woman in the matatu with them. But for this woman, the terror she feels will be worse than walking through any dark street. It will follow her until she gets home and locks her door. And even then, she won’t feel safe. Not completely.

The average girl isn’t afraid of being attacked in the forest as she fetches firewood. She’s afraid of being called to the staff room by her male teacher. Or being invaded by the rugby team from the school across the field. Or being followed by the watchman who always smiles a her. Or being asked for a cup of tea by her uncle. Or being sent to serve food to her sick father while her mother is at the office. Or being locked in a room with her best friend’s brother.

The average woman isn’t afraid of being raped by rioting student mobs, soldiers, or violent hawkers. She’s afraid of being raped by her boss during overtime, or being attacked by the man who called her for an interview. The average woman isn’t afraid that nobody will hear her scream. The average woman is afraid this man will hurt her and nobody will believe her.

So she keeps quiet and hopes that if she just shuts off her mind, it will be over soon, and he’ll go away. She will never tell anyone, because they will ask her where she was, why she was with him, what she was wearing, why she didn’t fight back. Worst of all, she spends the rest of her life doubting her morals, blaming herself, wondering if she did something to make this man think she wanted it. And there are men who – when they eventually find out what happened – will ask the exact same thing.

depressed_girl_by_sniperacexiii-d5gl49b

I’ve undergone a violent rape, and as much as it broke parts of me, it made other parts stronger. I’ve also been in situations with men that I knew and trusted, men that I had been intimate with. I told them what I did and didn’t like in bed. I even told them why. I told them it reminded me of past experiences.

Then these same men, who claimed to respect and care for me, went ahead and did what I asked them not to. Maybe they thought it would be different with them. Maybe they thought I was missing out. Maybe they thought they could erase my hurtful memories by doing the exact same thing. I didn’t scream or lash out or fight. I knew they weren’t him. So I froze, stayed completely still, stopped participating, let these men that I cared about use my body in the exact way I had asked them not to.

It didn’t matter that I had said no, because in their minds, I simply didn’t know what I was missing. And because they were nice guys, and they smiled at me when they did it. They figured if I had really wanted them to stop, I would have MADE them stop. Because they apologized for going against my wishes, they didn’t think it was rape. They thought that because they said sorry, it was okay. They thought that when my body went still, I was mildly annoyed, and that they’d make it up to me later. They didn’t think that was rape.

This is a normal part of being a guy, right? Some girls play hard to get. You smile, charm, seduce them, and at first they say no, but in the end, they give you what you want. Some girls even ask you to play rough. So you think all girls are like that. But they’re not. You don’t look in their eyes when you fuck them. You don’t hear them cry into their pillows when you fall asleep.

Woman crying

You don’t see them scrub their skin because they feel used. You don’t see the fear in their eyes, fear that if they refuse, you won’t like them anymore, fear of what you’ll tell your friends the next day, fear of what their mothers or fathers will think of them. In the morning, you talk, you drop them home. You forget they said no. You think if they really wanted you to stop, they would have MADE you stop. You don’t think it was rape.

I can see how guys like that would feel challenged when someone says, ‘Men need to stop raping women’. They feel personally attacked, because they know they’ve crossed the line. Or maybe they feel indignant, because they’re one of the ‘good guys’ and hate being blanketed with all the rest. They say, ‘Women should stop blaming men.’ They say, ‘Feminists just hate men.’ They say, ‘Little boys get raped too.’

I’m not refuting any of that. I’m saying men don’t spend half their lives looking around in fear. A man doesn’t stop breathing when he realises he’s the only man in a room full of women. A man doesn’t wear protective underwear just in case. A man doesn’t think twice about reporting a crime because he will be asked what he was wearing. A man doesn’t look at every woman in his life – his mother, his daughter, his wife, his boss, his best friend – and wonder whether they will turn around a rape him.

A man does not feel afraid, unwanted, or ashamed because he can be sexually attacked by a woman – only for the woman to turn around, pay dowry, and claim him as a spouse, sanctioned by religious texts, societal mores, and cultural beliefs. A man does not walk around wondering if some woman will rape him for wearing too little, punish him with rape for refusing to give in to her advances, or ‘correct’ him with rape for preferring same sex relationships.

corrective-rape

A man does not feel filthy and disgusting because a woman looked at him a certain way, or whistled at him in the street. He doesn’t hurry away from those whistling strangers, wondering whether they will follow him home, break down the door, and violate him in the worst possible way. He does not plan his route home every day to avoid groups of women, even in broad daylight.

This is what women live with, every moment of every day. Dressing ‘decently’ or staying away from dark alleys doesn’t solve the problem. Talking about the fear we live with is not blaming men. It’s stating facts. And branding me a feminist and dismissing my opinion as a result doesn’t make women safe. Changing the attitude and actions of rapists everywhere is the only thing that will make women safe.

There are men who believe a woman’s only role on the planet is to be fucked. Those men rape their mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, random strangers, and they feel no shame, because they think that’s what women are for. But there’s a different kind of rapist. The kind that thinks he can impinge on a woman’s sexuality without asking, because even though she said no, she didn’t really mean it.

Men don’t understand how violated a woman feels when a random man grabs her ass, when a guy gropes her breasts in a matatu, when a man touches her thigh in a crowded room, when some stranger whistles at her in the street, or worse, when a random man looks sexually at her teenage daughter. Rape is a physical crime, but it’s also a mental crime, and the psychological effects stay with a woman long after the physical scars have healed. So calling me a feminist just because I spoke out is really not solving the problem. The problem will only end when a woman feels safe to walk, sing, speak, in her house, on the street, in a construction site, in a matatu, yes, even on social media forums.

alg-twitter-jpg

Now, let’s go back to context. I found this video today. It talks about a black woman who faced racial discrimination at a supermarket. A blonde, blue-eyed woman was served by a cashier. The cashier was nice to the blonde woman, polite, chatty, and accepted her cheque without complaint. The next customer was black. The cashier didn’t smile or chat with her. Instead, she asked for two forms of ID, then checked the blacklisted cheques form, to see if the black customer’s name was on it. All this while the black customer’s ten-year-old child watched in shock and near tears.

Here’s what the cashier didn’t know. The blonde customer she had just served was actually half-black, and was related to the black customer. The blonde customer politely asked why her black friend was being treated differently. Other white customers joined in, and the manager came over to fix things.

The video explains it beautifully. Because it was the allegedly white woman that spoke up, the matter was seen for what it was, and was resolved amicably. If the black woman had spoken up for herself, everyone would probably have assumed she was playing the race card and being an ‘angry black woman.’ It’s all about context. So let’s look at this rape thing again, only this time, let’s do it in context.

When a ‘feminist’ speaks out against rape, the issue gets overshadowed by her feminism. For that matter, if any woman speaks out against rape, abortion, or gender equality, the issue is side-stepped. It stops being about mistreatment and becomes about ‘uppity females’. When any woman talks about matters that affect her gender, the average man feels attacked because, well, he’s not a woman. Even a statement as simple as supporting education for girls is turned into an accusation about ‘ignoring the boy child’.

Let’s look at things in context. Women fear rape every day. Don’t make our burden heavier by going on the defensive, and by accusing us of blaming men. Victims of crime accuse their attackers. Survivors of rape do the same. So don’t play the victim. Don’t take it as a personal attack when a woman tells you about her ordeal. Help her to feel safe again.

In the video above, a ‘white woman’ protected a black one from discrimination. Don’t be the man that attacks the ‘feminist’ for daring to speak against the violence she faced. Be the man that protects women, all women, even feminists, from being violated in the worst way that any woman can be. And the next time a woman says no, even if she’s smiling as she says it, be man enough to listen.

Tied my hands Seether

36 thoughts on “Feminism, Racism, And The Rape Debate

  1. I have never read something so well written in my life. I am not a feminist and I hate that most times people think that a strong woman is a feminist. But this definitely describes it the way I have tried to say it all this while.

    Its horrible what happens to a woman that feels used by a man. the person she becomes after that experience. It doesn’t even have to be rape or rape related but from that one event, She can never look at men the same, trust them.. not expect that she will be double crossed eventually…

    Men need to stop abusing women in general.

    • In Chimamanda’s words:
      Feminist: a man or a woman who says:’Yes, there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’”
      OR
      Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes

      Watch her TEDxEuston Talk –>

      You might be surprised to discover that you’re a feminist, at least I was.

      -Beyonce even sampled her on her surprise album: check out ‘Flawless’ –>

  2. Wait, what? Guys were trying to explain away rape! This is sick! I mean since when did we start justifying rape…or demeaning people who fight rape? I know we live in the days of free expression, but we ought to know that even with Freedom of Expression comes the responsibility of knowing the boundaries…. I still cannot believe this is happening!

  3. The subject of rape is hideous and traumatizing, even reading about inspires agonizing chills. And to hear that such a wanton, heartless, barbaric violation could be defended! Any reason ever given, by any culprit, for committing a crime, any form of a crime, is usually only an excuse.

  4. Rape is a such a sensitive issue…..I know I went through what Susan went through… the denial, self blame, the shame and seeking for someone to believe me. It’s been 1 year 8 months, I’m not saying im ok, but i have gotten better. and talking about this issue helps in recovery a lot. It is the most painful experience…. wouldn’t wish it even on my worst enemy!
    My experiences: >> http://kuihmutathi.wordpress.com/

  5. A thought provoking piece. Rape is a crime and is wrong whoever does it and whoever talks about it. The criminal is the one to blame, not the victim!

  6. Reblogged this on Kuolewa and commented:
    Just had to share this piece. Was on FB and I remember a photo of a pretty woman was posted and many men began writing how they would rape her. Yes they used the word rape. As a woman I am tired of harassment in all its forms, and being made to feel guilty when i complain.

  7. Chilling story. I got lost at the Sam and Susan story and why Susan, after her ordeal, stared at Sam “in hatred and fear” and wondering “where he was that night”, and if “he heard the thugs, if he knew the thugs, if he was friends with the thugs”. Would you mind putting that relationship in the right context?

    As a brother who sympathises with the sisters (and brothers) who go through such horrific experiences, either in the hands of strangers or people close to them, I often wonder what exactly I can do in my capacity, as a sympathetic brother and a law abiding citizen, to help put a stop to this.

    The rape discussion usually get awkward and uncomfortable to me when a “premium responsibility” is put on “men” to do something to stop rape, which is a crime punishable by law. But whenever I engage the proponents of this problematic idea on how it can transition from just talk to action, nobody seems to say something and the discussion always ends at “men are not doing enough to stop rape”. This really bothers me.

    It bothers me because I’m supposed to feel guilty by association for other people’s acts. That’s not logical. That is hating on me for being a man. What really made me stop discussing any rape issue altogether was when some feminist-lady on twitter said “men should and take responsibility of the perpetrators of rape because they’ve have created the environment that makes it easy for men to rape women (and some men)”. That right there caught me off guard and till today, I have never made sense out of it.

    Then comes the issue of victim-blaming. I understand where it’s coming from, but I feel it has been used to discredit even genuine precautions. I don’t for a minute believe in the policing of dressing. That thought of policing what a woman should or should not dress in to avoid rape is stupid and should never be a debate. However, we know there are rapists out there, just like we know there are thieves and what not, I don’t think telling my sister, daughter, female cousin, aunt, girlfriend be careful when they are out there amount to blame nor does it amount to validating rapists.

    I’m careful myself when I’m out there. And I’d advise anyone, male or female, to do that same. Not because of rape, which I’m told is now on the rise, but because there other forms of crimes out there,. One can get killed or robbed. Trust me sisters, some of us men are afraid of being out in the dark alone. I don’t know about other men, but I can never go to the bar alone and get wasted, like I would if I were with my homies. It’s not fear of raped, which I should start worrying about, but there are other crimes that are gender-blind. Being careful does not validate these crimes, they are just realities that as human beings have to live with and try our best not to fall victims.

    One more thing, the argument that rape is a female-only issue is also problematic in my view. I mean, we have mothers, sisters, daughters, aunts, wives, girlfriends, friends and neighbours who are potential victims of the vice. On the other hand, we have sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, friends, neighbours who are potential perpetrators of the same crime. That makes its an issue for all of us. This “it’s our issue” vs. them doesn’t make sense. I mean Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o and wife were attacked and both were raped.

    So sisters, I understand your pain. I’m doing my bit, but I wish I could do more to take the pain of “always watching your back” away. But know this, we are in this together. I remember Njoki Ndung’u proposed castration as away to deter potential rapists, are there studies about it effectiveness?

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  9. The Sam and Susan relationship in context – when a woman is raped, she becomes suspicious and mistrustful of all men, even her own brothers. That’s based on my own experience – for the longest time, I was even afraid to be alone with my biological brothers. Susan is now afraid of Sam, simply because he is a man. She also wonders if he had anything to do with the attack, since as far as she knows, he was right next door the whole time. She doesn’t know he was blacked out. She’s too angry and afraid to ask him, or even talk to him, which is a tragedy in itself.

    Regarding men taking responsibility for rape. It’s not about causing guilt. As a woman, I don’t want men to feel guilty that I was raped. I don’t blame ALL men for my rape. I’d like them to understand that as a result of my rape, I do FEAR all men, even my own brothers. With time, the fear gets less, but at the back of my mind, it’s always there. Even now, years later, if I walk into a room full of men, I freeze for a few seconds and seriously consider leaving. So when men say, ‘Stop blaming men for rape’, a part of me wonders, ‘Who should I blame, women?’

    It’s not about you – as a man – feeling guilty. It’s about you not feeling attacked. Because the second you feel attacked, you get defensive, and then I – the rape survivor – ends up feeling attacked all over again. Then the discussion is no longer objective. I don’t want you to feel guilty, that doesn’t help me. I want you to acknowledge my experience without going on the defensive. Then maybe we can objectively find a way to stop it from happening to someone else.

    Now, about creating a culture of rape. The average man – not all men, but the average man – will cat-call, make sex jokes, watch porn, have female pin-ups, ask his girl for nude pictures. These are seemingly harmless habits that make a girl feel objectified. The issue is so common that some women start to think of themselves purely as sexual objects. Some women deliberately use their sexuality, which makes things worse for women – like me – that choose not to.

    Some women get flattered when men look at them sexually, which makes men wonder why the rest of us ‘take offense’ at getting cat-called or groped. That’s why it’s important that the average man learns to take ‘no’ for an answer.

    I heard a pastor in a marriage seminar say, ‘The main thing men want from women is sex. If he wanted companionship, he’d marry a dog’. He said it in a jocular context. It’s that kind of attitude that makes the rape culture possible because subliminally, it says it’s okay, and perfectly normal for a man to fuck a woman. It doesn’t question the woman’s opinion in the matter, and for rapists, it sanctions their behaviour as ‘natural’ and ‘normal’. Whether or not she wants it really doesn’t come into the discussion. That’s what I believe she – the feminist you’re referring to – meant when she said that.

    What you can do in your capacity to help is not get defensive. Don’t be so quick to feel shamed or guilty or attacked, because that affects your capacity to stand with the raped girl. You can’t defend her if you’re defending yourself against her pain. You can be the guy that listens when a girl says no, the guy that doesn’t question what she chooses to wear. The guy that doesn’t make her feel like her violation was her own fault, because it never is, no matter what the circumstances were.

    About precautions, the reason I dismiss them is that most rapes don’t happen in those dark alleys, or even to women who were in ‘danger zones’. My rapes – because there was more than one – all took place in places where I felt safe, and a lot of women are raped in those exact same situations. So focusing on precautions doesn’t help the average rape survivor. I’m not saying precautions are bad. I’m saying they’re not effective. Most rapes go unreported because of how and where they happen, and the only way to stop THOSE rapes is to change the attitudes and actions of THOSE rapists, by changing the attitudes and actions of ALL rapists.

  10. Rape happens when we dehumanize one another, the actions that follow thereafter are as a result of this dehumanization. To completely view a person as someone without feelings or personality, someone you can relate with. We do it everyday, in our minds as we walk down the street, when we shop in supermarkets, when we respond to posts online, when you oogle at a bare chested person captured in an magazine or newspaper.

    At the end of the day when we are all gathered at the fireplace, we all have horror stories to tell. Stories of Death, Rape, Theft, Conmen, Cheats…. Human beings, its who we are. “The Duality of Man”

    The one thing that ought to push you forward is the knowledge that there are people who view you as a human being, those who when seated at a campfire tell of jokes, peace, love and strength. When we lose this aspect of humanity, then we might as well be the horror stories that others will sit around campfires talking about.

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  12. FEMINIST: “A person who advocates for equal political, economic, and social rights for women”. When people say they are not feminists, are they aware that they are in fact admitting that they do not advocate for equal rights of that nature for women? Seriously, WHO wouldn’t want to be a feminist? Be they male or female? Why do we allow it to be viewed as a negative thing?

    That being said, this is a brilliant article. “A woman said the only way for women to stop getting raped is for men to stop raping women.” I cannot agree more!

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  14. Very well written. I’m sorry about your ordeal. The only time “President” Mugabe and I are in agreement is when he says all rapists should be castrated. Now you’ll hate me for this but it puzzles all men. I’m talking about the ones you call the good guys. When is a NO an “inviting No” and when is it a “No No”? There are times we can tell the difference but at times we can’t; coz women use them interchangeably in the very same or similar circumstances. So most times we take a guess and end up getting a thorough beating when it turns out we were mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way trying to justify some of our actions, but could someone clarify on this one. Please ladies come up with a clear way for men to distinguish the two NOs.

  15. I LOVE THE PIECE, BUT “rugby team” RAPING? I AM NOT A RUGBY FAN AND NEVER HAVE I HEARD OF THE RUGBY TEAM RAPING SOMEONE… MAYBE I AM WRONG, IT IS WRONG WHEN YOU SAY RUGBY TEAM AND MAYBE YOU ARE IMPLYING THE RUGBY FAN TEAM… otherwise, exhilarating piece

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  17. Many people think that when girl/woman is raped it her fault this is fallacy and even if it was does not negate the fact that it is a crime where you dehumanise another humanbeing to satisfy the demand of the flesh which you can control. We may it is hormones but have never heard hormones prevent us from thinking straight..lets value our women if it is not your sister, mother it someone else respect them what so ever.

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  20. frankly, i’ve never really given much thought on rape this way, that is, as some fear that can occupy the female’s mind. insight. thoughtful. you are actually right.

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