One sunny day, Persephone and her friends were playing in the fields of Eleusis, picking wild flowers. As Persephone reached down to pluck one of the beautiful blossoms, the Earth suddenly opened up beneath her feet, and Hades rode forth, in his golden chariot, and seized her, before any warning could be sounded. Persephone actually did cry out for help, before she vanished, but only two mortals heard her cries.
So opens the tale of the abduction and rape of Persephone. Mere mortals, it seems, cannot intervene if the gods want their way. And 2 millennia later, abduction and rape are still the rage. Gang rape especially is getting lots of attention these days, from India to Ohio to Texas. The more the merrier, it seems, and the more matter-of-fact.
As with mass shootings in the U.S., we also consider rape in isolation. Nicholas Kristoff tried to connect some dots and was upbraided by for not his efforts. He actually didn’t go far enough. The India case, in which 6 men deliberately planned to rape and murder a woman, caught us with its calculated brutality. Making outrage easier? The young woman had done nothing ‘wrong’: She wasn’t traveling alone. She wasn’t dressed provocatively. She wasn’t where she shouldn’t have been. She was just riding a bus home.
The Steubenville case kicked us in the gut with the absurd disregard of the boys and the total objectification of the girl. She was wasn’t a person, just a thing for their amusement. Though most of the boys’ video around this case has been yanked, a few pieces remain from other sources. As disturbing as the young man’s glee is the commentary by the boys’ football coach. You might not like this narrator’s intoning, but look for the clips and quotes. Whether drunk or drugged, she quickly became a thing to be taken.
The Steubenville case I tried to write off as one more example of terminal American male immaturity. Then I stopped myself and read more. I heard the fast-talking of kids with lawyers covering their asses, saying that capturing backseat finger-fucking of an incoherent girl on their cell phones was about “making poor choices.” I read that coaches let the boys play football without penalty because “the boys…didn’t think they’d done anything wrong.” I read of the sheriff “accidentally” deleting key video evidence. I read that “football is the only bright spot” in this economically depressed town. The town has even put up its own spinsite, Steubenville Facts.
Shortly after the New Delhi attack, another woman, taking a bus alone, was driven to a warehouse by the bus driver, where she was repeatedly raped by multiple men throughout the night. The bus driver had the ‘courtesy’ to drop her off at her own town. With no fear of prosecution, she’s just another fare.
In Cleveland, Texas , 18 males – from a middle-schooler to a 28-year-old – repeatedly gang-raped an 11-year-old girl. Like the Steubenville case, blame quickly went to the victim, who some claimed “dressed more like a 20-year-old”. Really? Is that the best you can do? Read more details here if you want to be sick.
Because of chronic myopia, America magnifies its own events, thinking itself unique against what the larger world has lived for years. So I kept looking. Rwanda. 1996, deliberate strategies carried out by Hutu soldiers against Tutsi women. In 2001, after the systematic rape of Muslim women in disintegrating Yugoslavia, rape was finally listed as a crime against humanity. Saudi Arabia and the young woman from Al Qatif, victim of a gang rape, was sentenced to 6 months in jail and 200 lashes because she’d been alone in public with a man who was not a relative. Then back to Africa, and the Congo, where Rwandan rebels are claimed to have raped 240 women, girls, and babies, at least in part, because their village sits atop valuable natural resources. Violate the women. Violate the Earth.
And one more–I fear I will simply keep adding more and more again–Gang rape, mutilation, and death–a case that has raised outrage in a country known for having one of the highest per capita rate of rape in the world. Will the people’s cries of ‘Enough is enough!’ be enough to create change?
The Arab Spring and celebrations of democracy in Tahrir Square have devolved into assault central for women–to the point that there are now Tahrir Bodyguards to protect women who dare to join the protests. India has instituted women-only train cars. So the “culture of rape” invoked by the video narrator is far broader than the US, and speaks of the enculturation of women everywhere. The common message? Men cannot control themselves, so women must be segregated for their own good.
In the U.S., physical assaults come from men, but legal assaults come from politicians. We can list — and try to write off — statements made by politicians during the last election: “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” during a ‘legitimate rape,’ girls who “rape easy”, and how a child conceived during rape is a “gift from God”. After all, most of these guys were ousted at the polls.
But that ignores two things: what these statements by men in power reveal, and the nature of laws already on the books or being proposed. These laws include states that guarantee parental visitation rights for a rapist who impregnates his victim (31 and counting), and making it a potential felony for a woman who becomes pregnant through rape or incest to abort the fetus (“tampering with state’s evidence”). As ludicrous as we might see such attempts, they redefine boundaries. They must be answered or they become part of the new reality.
The response to rape, the social acquiescence and acceptance of excuses, results from a simultaneous enculturation of the psyche. Within this mind, I am at fault. Within this mind, I must be vigilant to protect myself. Within this mind, I must justify choices to those who judge: What was I doing at that party, on that bus, in my own bed? Why was I wearing that dress? Why didn’t I fight back? Within this mind, I am less worthy. Within this mind, I am an object. Within this mind, I limit where I go. What I do. What I say. Within this mind, the rage I feel is turned against myself.
Rape is gender-based eminent domain. The authority? Political, military, physical. Rape strips people of their will. Rape disseminates fear. Rape takes to repress, to humiliate, to control. The taking involves a bizarre pleasure from the pain of violation, and pain is part of the intent. The pleasure comes from is a kind of revenge, an assertion of power, whose true root is fear.
As the cities “rape” the countryside, and the civilized “rape” indigenous peoples, so (by psychotic extension) weakened and infantilized men, indoctrinated within such a curriculum of systemic violation, feel entitled to rape women. Disconnect is complete and profound. Everything and everyone becomes an object for the viciousness of would-be gods and their enraged consumption. But the rage of rape must be turned back against the viciousness itself. Why must we endure infantile men acting out the patterned sickness of the Greek gods who helped deliver to us this culture of abuse? When will mortals hear the cries of Persephone and say “No more”?