It’s February. The month of Valentines Day, and the beginning of spring according to some pagan traditions. Warmth and green are just around the corner, and I’ve been thinking about sex lately.
I’ve been thinking about sex as something I need more of in my life (a story for another post perhaps 🙂 ) but especially since last month’s news of Nirbhaya — the name given to the young woman who was raped on a New Delhi bus and eventually died of her wounds. When I read them, just these bare facts affected me deeply, partly because of all the horrified questions that came up — how can someone be raped on a bus (which I assumed was moving in New Delhi streets during the day)? Why didn’t anyone do anything? How did the assailant hide what he was doing (although I’ve been on some pretty crowded and anonymous busses in many different places in my life)? Why didn’t the driver do anything, or stop the bus? The whole scenario really rattled my fragile cage of faith in strangers and humanity.
Later, I learned more and gained a more complete picture — the young medical student, and her male companion/date, had accepted a ride on a private “party bus” one evening while making their way home from a movie. The men on the bus (including the driver) neutralized the male friend, then at least six proceeded to rape Nirbhaya for over an hour while she fought back viciously. Over an hour.
They also “inserted an iron rod” into her body.
Bullshit! Just writing those words give me chills. “Inserted”? I don’t think so! That’s what I do with a tampon. These grown men forcefully and repeatedly rammed a metal rod into the woman’s tender vagina so many times, and with such force, that she required mutliple organ transplants and died in Singapore from her wounds. “Inserted” is not factual. Why did the news reports consistently downplay the vicious and brutal violence of such an act, making it sound so innocuous and clinical? Fear of the public’s reaction perhaps? If so, then damn right!
Oh, but there’s more. After her rape and assault (the men beat them both as well) Nirbhaya and her companion were thrown out of the bus, bloody and naked, where they lay in the road for about an hour waiting for someone to stop and help them (this is crowded India, remember). And then they waited some more while local law enforcement argued over whose jurisdiction it was.
Just reading this story gave me secondary trauma on so many levels. I had pictures in my head of the scene, saw her tortured face, heard her screams in my head, watched her fight, felt her companion’s agony while he watched, saw her lay on the side of the road while passersby hurried on, and heard her heart monitor flatline.
And then the story of Steubenville came out. Apparently, last summer a group of football players in Ohio took a 16-year-old woman, who was super drunk, from party to party, raping her and taking photos. One of the teens was widely seen on video making fun of her plight, graphically describing what was done to her, and referring to her as a “dead girl” and that he wouldn’t care and would see her the same way if she were his daughter.
Someone please explain this to me. I have an excellent imagination and I have seen and heard some terrible things in my life. But I can’t fathom how a human being can be cruel to another being when that being is helpless, much less clearly demonstrating their pain and horror. HOW are we capable of such things? I can imagine myself doing some horrible things to people, but I can’t imagine causing someone to feel agony and terror.
I got an excellent sexual education from my parents when I was younger. I also learned somewhere that rape is violence, and not about sex. But that idea always bothered me. I remember being a college freshman and asking the older Resident Assistant on my dorm floor a question during a workshop on sexual assault. I wasn’t challenging the information being presented, I wanted clarity. My question went something like, “If rape is violence, and a man raping a woman is like stabbing her — but with his penis — then why does he use his penis instead of a knife?”
The RA basically brushed off my question, and 25 years later I still don’t have an answer, except this:
Rape IS about sex. It’s violence done to another — mostly to women and children — using sex. It’s about torture and terror in a way that is supposed to deeply traumatize. It’s about making us afraid and submissive. It IS about power, but it’s about wielding sex as a weapon of power — perhaps because women’s sexuality is such a powerful force.
This is also why men who are intimidated by a woman’s opinions and intellect threaten her with rape and hurl insults regarding her sexuality. Google journalists Laurie Penny or Jennifer Gish for some spine-tingling stories. Men who are intimidated by other men’s opinions and intellects don’t typically threaten to sodomize them to make them suck their dicks.
Men’s violence again women is sexual in nature. And that’s the case even if he never forces his body into her body — it’s also done with words, suggestions, and less penetrative physical actions.
Few things make me want to do intense violence to people, but stories like Nirbhaya’s and the Steubenville “rape crew” make me want to strap on a load of ammo and take to the streets with two HUGE automatic weapons and a Bowie knife, and just mow men down like grass. Imagine me as Sarah Connor from T2 … times ten.
I think we need to stop lying. Rape is about power and violence, but it’s also about sex. We combine the two all the time. Just look at the discussions about military women now being able to be in combat (a victory in the middle of a larger tragic narrative, I think). Check out the SuperBowl this weekend and the statistics on how violence against women goes up during Super Bowl weekends.
As we women continue to come into our power and full potential, we need to be prepared to deal with the reality of men’s fears, and with what we will encounter there. We need to tell the truth about sex, violence, and rape.
And we need to continue to stand up — all of us, every time — against any words or behaviors that glorify, minimize, or desensitize us to the rape culture we live in. That includes torture of people and animals, and cruelty of any kind (I personally don’t include wringing a chicken’s neck or slitting a lamb’s throat for food in the same category, but I suppose that’s up for debate 🙂 ).
In the meantime, I will continue to ponder how it’s possible for a human being to cruelly hurt and torture another person or animal that is obviously in pain. If any of you have the answer, please share.
Or maybe don’t. Maybe there are shadows best left alone — in the dark.
In lak ech~