Why is there such a high incidence of rape in South Africa? I understand what the problem is, it appears so obvious to me, but for some reason it’s not really being talked about in detail by many women who are in the forefront of the fight against violence against women.
Most women who are working to stop violence against women understand that we live in a rape culture but let me spell out what this description means to me.
Why is it that women, girls, children and even babies are so easily victimised? What is it about a man that makes him so dangerous to women? Not all men across all cultures are violent in this way; there are cultures where I believe there is no violence, no sexual abuse of women. Certainly there was no violence against women observed by those who recorded the Koi-San cultures in South Africa. Violence is not intrinsic to the development of masculinity, violence is learnt, just like racism that other form of violence, is learnt. Baby boys are not fundamentally violent. Just like puppies and kittens, some are more pushy and boisterous, some are shy and retiring, some are sensitive and defensive but they are not born fundamentally exploitative, predatory and violent. This is something they learn and this is where rape culture comes in.
I will never forget what one survivor of gang rape told me when I was helping her at Rape Crisis. She said of the four boys who raped her, one whispered to her that he couldn’t rape her but she must please pretend that he was raping her or the other boys would bliksem him and mock him! It made me feel sick when I heard that.
We all know that we live in a culture that glorifies male deities. All the different religions do this. There is no religion that glorifies female power or spirituality. Powerful women are depicted as witches, the embodiment of evil.
Our culture glorifies war, and boys are given war toys and dressed in combat outfits. Video games train boys to shoot and kill enemies, not to have discussions with them and iron out their differences. Boys are encouraged to disrespect girls – if you really want to humiliate a boy tell him he is acting like a girl! Naturally lithe, graceful boys are called effeminate, which the dictionary defines as effete, lacking strength, sissified, having womanish qualities. Oh so flattering to women!
Boys are conditioned to feel entitled to service from women. They are led to believe that that’s what women are for; they believe that women have no other value other than as servants to men. And then to cap it all now boys and men are bombarded by the porn industry, which attempts to entrap them early and keep them buying and consuming porn as long as they live. The message of the porn industry builds on the myth that women are there to service men and in this case sexually. This industry puts out the lie that women are sexually insatiable and that nothing makes them happier than to sexually please men in any way the man demands, that is supposed to be their whole reason for living!
Popular rappers call women nothing but whores, the icon Madonna has herself photographed enjoying being raped in a back alley. Popular female singers enact pornographic sex on the stage. Romantic novels and movies give out the message that women swoon for the love of rough, tough men. Male dominated fashion houses dictate that women wear clothes that look as if they are half ripped off them, that their lips should be swollen with lust, that their hair should be mostly blond, (and blonds are supposed to be stupid) that their bodies should be shaved of hair so they look prepubescent, that they should be thin so that they look infantile, that they should wear high heels so that they look off balance and vulnerable and on and on it goes.
The answer to the question why do men rape? is obvious to me, they are conditioned to rape it’s not a naturally male thing to do.
We have to work to change rape culture.
We need to build a counter culture. We can’t continue to glorify war. We need to teach boys practical conflict resolution skills. We need to teach boys to respect girls. We need to emphasise, enhance and publicly admire the positive qualities of girls. We need to replace images of women as merely decorative, passive and pleasing with images and depictions of women and girls full of character, originality, wit and energy. We need to showcase the strength and skills of female athletes, scientists, international airline pilots, astronauts, engineers and doctors.
The current ideal images of men and boys as hard bodied, clamp jawed, warriors, need to be replaced with images and depictions of men known for their intelligence, originality, humour, creativity and gentleness. The heterosexual imperative should be recognised as oppressive and limiting of human development. It should be replaced with an acceptance of multifaceted types of human relationships as long as they free of coercion and exploitation.
Let us work to create an intelligent, loving, caring global culture where humanity, animals and the planet’s abundant, diverse natural environments thrive. Wouldn’t that be lovely!
Think of ways we could build an alternative to rape culture. Write in and let us know.