Against Their Will: Everywhere, All The Time, Drunk, In Packs

I thought I had said everything I wanted to about the horrible gang-rape case in Delhi, but I feel compelled to put down a few additional observations. They center on what made this case notable, and what perhaps needs a little more attention. In no particular order, here they are.

First, the Delhi rape would not have been news had it not included a violent, savage assault with an iron rod on the young woman that resulted in her death. Had she been ‘just’ raped and not suffered more than the ‘usual’ injuries that raped women suffer, the case would have been forgotten rather rapidly. The humdrum announcement of yet another rape, somewhere, sometime, would have been unlikely to have attracted much notice. Something exceptional is always needed to jolt us out of our normal somnolent response to them. Perhaps the number of rapists, perhaps twisted acts of degradation (our social media culture now provides ample opportunity for old-fashioned ‘notch on the belt’ bragging to acquire an added new dimension), perhaps dramatic acts of violence (as in this case), or perhaps the location or placement of the victim (an American raped abroad always makes more news than one raped right here, at home.)

Second, the rape became a cause célèbre because it happened in India’s capital, and because its victim was an aspirant to the better life. She had moved from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’, from a small town to the big city; she sought to go even further. She was enrolled in a professional course of education, one that promised her and the family she had left behind a better life. Sadly, had she been a resident of a village in India’s hinterland, perhaps a Dalit set on by ‘high-caste’ goons, her gang-rape would not have made the news. Or if it had, via  a small paragraph not on the front page. it would not have provoked the current reaction. (In Govind Nihalani‘s Aakrosh, the landless peasant Lahanya Bikhu, in the movie’s horrifying climax, kills his sister to ‘protect’ her from the landlord and his foremen who have already raped his wife and condemned him to jail.)

Third, there was an old familiar companion in this story of rape: alcohol, our most beloved legal drug, whose removal from the index prohibitorum ensured that no other drug would ever be legalized. From college campus to invaded town, from frat party to street alley, rape and alcohol often go hand in hand. Sometimes, it seems, there is nothing quite as dangerous as a group of young drunk men. If they aren’t picking fights with each other–possibly the safest outcome for all bystanders–their roving eyes turn elsewhere. Quite often, it’s a woman they fancy. And of course, they attack in packs; nothing quite makes men feel as brave as alcohol and the presence of other conspirators.

Last, as I noted in my previous post, the ubiquity of rape of worldwide (in space and time) should give pause to those keen to turn this into a uniquely Indian pathology. When Susan Brownmiller wrote Against Our Will, she did not subtitle it Indian Men, Indian Women and Rape in India.

No Country (or World) for Women, Old or Otherwise

While my wife was pregnant with our now-seven-day-old daughter, I was often asked, ‘Do know if it’s a boy or a girl?’ On hearing my confession of ignorance and confirmation of wanting to keep things that way i.e., declining a glance at the prenatal sonogram’s report, I was then asked, “Do you want a boy or a girl?’ On more than one occasion, after indicating my indifference to that choice and my desire for a healthy child, I gave voice to what always seemed to be an appalling sentiment, ‘I suppose a boy would be better because this is a bad world for women.’

I write these words a day after receiving news that the now-famous-for-all-the-wrong-reasons victim of a brutal gang-rape in India’s capital, New Delhi, had finally succumbed to her injuries in a Singapore hospital, two weeks after that horrific night. While protests still take place in India, and intemperate, misguided, calls for the death penalty continue to be made, and reams of perspicuous commentary indicting sexism, misogyny, patriarchy, Indian police, India’s judicial system, insensitive, tone-deaf  Indian politicians, have been written, I’d merely like to offer a few words written by the concerned parent of a tiny baby girl who has no idea she has been born into a world scarred by such ghastly acts of unspeakable violence.

What makes these acts truly frightening is that they are so commonplace. Rape is a mundane occurrence in most parts of the world; violence, in other forms, directed against women, is a ritual all over the world. With probability one, someone you know has been raped. They might not have told you, but the numbers indicate that fact, hidden though it might be. And what underwrites this relentless epidemic of subjugation is the seemingly congenital misogyny of men, one aided and abetted by the cultures that surround them, and one that  men facilitate at great peril to themselves. (On which more anon.) Bring a boy up to be a boy and there is a good chance you are bringing him up to be someone that will be disrespectful to women.  If the women he comes into contact with are lucky, he will merely deny them an equal share in this world’s spoils; if they are unlucky, they will suffer a far worse fate.

Perhaps the scariest part of the rape epidemic, and the greatest misunderstanding that might be perpetuated in the aftermath of the Delhi brutality is to imagine that that act was a singularity, one committed by outliers. Not at all. It took place in a culture, local and global, of sexual harassment, ogling, innuendo, of men who, when talking about sex, cannot drop the language of conquest and domination, of conflating sex and violence (‘Dude, I fucked the shit out of her’ or ‘I was banging her all night’), who imagine sex to be a variant of rough-and-tumble sport (‘scoring touchdowns’), who associate weakness with womanhood (‘Don’t be a pussy’ ‘Man up’ ‘Put your pants on’).

If you are a man, and you find yourself in the company of men who use language like that sampled above, consider speaking up. Otherwise, you are part of the problem.