A Reflection Post-Delhi

3 Jan

A little over a week ago when I was at work and before any customers came in, I was listening to the news while I set up the bar.  CNN was covering the protests that had swept through India after the brutal gang rape of a female student in Delhi, a city that is known for having high instances of sexual attacks.  The station had set up an interview with someone they considered important and knowledgeable — a man in his mid-to-late 40s — in order to get some local input on the attack itself as well as the protests that had erupted in its aftermath.  He said the normal things.  You know, how horrible the attack was, how he hoped the young woman would pull through, how surprised he was by the size of the protests when so many similar attacks (although I would imagine the majority of them far less brutal) had elicited nothing to that degree.  And then he said something (which I will paraphrase), by way of explanation of the rape itself, that has been clanging in my head for the past 8 days:

The reason these attacks have been happening is because of the percentage of males to females in the overall population.  These men don’t have women to settle down with.  There aren’t enough of them.  So they are frustrated and this is what happens.

And then there was clattering and screeching noises inside my head and I had to sit down.

Okay, so, it is true.  There are more men than women in Delhi.  According to the Delhi Census of 2011, the city itself has an overall population of 16,753,235.  Of that 16.7 million people, 8,976,410 are men and 7,776,825 are women.  So that you don’t have to do the math, that means that, in 2011 at least, there were 1,199,585 more men than women living in Delhi.  Sure, that’s a lot of people.  And sure, I imagine it is very frustrating for men who want to get married and have sex…or have sex and get married…or just have sex.  Being frustrated, as legitimate as it may be, is no excuse to get together with your friends, pretend to drive a shuttle bus, and pick up a girl off the street who is simply trying to get home and literally rape her to death.  No amount of frustration can ever justify that.  Ever.

You know what that is?  That sounds to me like you are trying to take the weight of responsibility off of these mens’ shoulders and blame it on sheer numbers.  They simply couldn’t help themselves.  Their desires to stick their penis in something was simply too great.  They were powerless to resist.  You know what I think?  I think that what happened to that woman, what those men did to her, was generations in the making and not just in India but everywhere.  All over the world.  (This analysis does not take the onus of responsibility off the individuals who perpetrated this attack, but simply is an attempt to put it into a greater context of inequality and violence.)  We are all guilty.  Sure, female infanticide is a part of it.  But the fact that there are less females than males is not what makes female infanticide a crucial part of this story.  The mindset that allows the killing, the neglect, the abandonment of female children is what makes this important.  The mindset that many people have that females are worth less than males is what allows people to justify killing their own babies and is part of the society in which these men are raised.  It is what allows them to see women as less human than they are.  As simply a hole in which to stick their penises.

But it goes beyond India.  And it goes beyond infanticide.  That is just one small part of it.  We, unfortunately, live in a world where, as I have said before, the female body is a battle ground.  Where the word of a female does not count for as much as the word of a male.  I read today in the newspaper that the Indian government, in response to this attack, has fast tracked the investigation and the trial of these men in order to show that this is not acceptable behavior.  But what about all the other rapes that were never investigated in India?  What about all the unopened rape kits that sit on shelves in cities and town across the United States, their statutes of limitations running out?  It’s a lot of work, it takes a lot of resources, to go through all those kits and we simply can’t keep up with the rate of sexual assaults.  But shouldn’t that be the biggest sign that something is wrong?  That we are dealing not with a few isolated incidents but instead with an epidemic?  Women are raped every single day.  Every single one.  Every day a man, or a group of men, decide to force open the legs of a women and violate her.  Insert himself inside of her.  And every day a man, or a group of men, all over the world gets away with it and the woman is left to pick up the pieces.  Often it is she is who vilified.  At what point are people in the mainstream, not people in a corner of the internet, but people with power and sway going to admit that we have a worldwide problem with the way we think about women.

We need to stop making excuses.  We need to stop trying to blame specific policies or cultural norms or religious laws.  We need to realize that we have a serious worldwide, cross-cultural, cross-societal, cross-religious deficit in the way we view women.  We can change laws.  We can have protests.  We can even hang a few people.*  But until we look inwards and understand that this view of women is engrained in us, all of us, nothing is actually going to change.  We will have another horrific gang rape in Delhi, or a small town in Texas.  We will have another woman assaulted by a powerful man, be it the French leader of an international organization or the president of the United States, and then dragged through the media, her reputation completely destroyed while, for the most part, the man continues in his pursuit of power and sex relatively unscathed.

Honestly, I just don’t think it should be that hard.  Part of being a human being, in my estimation, is to keep your eyes and ears open and constantly take things in, learn and adjust your behavior.  Maybe you were raised somewhere where everyone told you the Holocaust never happened and that Jews were born with horns.  But then you read Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” and you realize what you were told simply isn’t true and you set off to learn and understand and adjust yourself to your new understanding of history and the world.   Women and men are physically different, sure, but in terms of our worth in the world we are equal.  It’s simple, just start there.  Without women, there would be no men and without men, no women.  We need each other for the species to survive.  So it’s not just that we need to respond to specific instances of infanticide, of rape, of abuse, of victim blaming. We need to acknowledge, and respond to, the environment that allows these things to continue happening.  We all, barring perhaps the sociopathic, think that murder is wrong, evil.  So why not rape?  Why not date rape?  Why not violence against women overall?  Let’s start there.  Raping a woman should mean the end of a political career.  It should be a sign that something is severely wrong with the perpetrator.  Rape is far too commonplace because people get away with it.  Because, for so many, the woman played a crucial role in her own assault simply by existing.  Because, in some places and to some people, a woman is tarnished by her rape, is considered dirty, undesirable.  The woman feels embarrassed, ashamed.  But it is us, all of us, that should feel ashamed that this keeps happening, again and again, and we don’t really, seriously, try changing the scope of the conversation.  So let’s try.

*For the record I am never in favor of capital punishment.  Let them rot in jail, I say.  And Indian prison, or so I have read, is not a fun place to live out your days.

3 Responses to “A Reflection Post-Delhi”

  1. creatingcarrie January 3, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    it’s such a big issue, big topic, that it is hard to breathe reading this. and to realize that this post can capture only so much of the problem.

    i’ve been thinking lately that one of the issues with prosecuting rape (hopefully i’m not derailing this post!) is that every rape looks different and every survivor or victim is different. it’s not like getting robbed or stabbed where we can point and say “the thing is gone” or “there is the injury” whether or not it ultimately is a robbery or a stabbing. our reaction to that is the define the “good rape victim” and how she looks and how she acts (she is always a she in our definition), and when she doesn’t look or act the way she is supposed to, then we refuse to name the rape a rape. this has to change.

    • FranklyRebekah January 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

      I think this actually fits well into the analysis that I tried to present. I definitely over simplified in some ways, but I think what you said is exactly right – we need to name it for what it is and I think that part of doing that is understanding the context in which we are unable to identify the crime for what it is. The context that allows us to make excuses for the rapist while blaming the victim. Sigh. I’m interested to hear what kinds of legal input you will have on this over the next few years!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Roe v Wade is 40! « franklyrebekah - January 17, 2013

    […] a woman really sucks.  I wrote about it here, when I talked about street harassment.  And again here, when I discussed this recent tragedy in Delhi.  And then here and here and here, when I went on […]

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