Rage and the Rape of Persephone


by m.benoit

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”?

42 Responses to Rage and the Rape of Persephone

  1. feelitoff says:

    looks like you want to dwell on Dostoevsky’s message in his “Crime and Punishment”

  2. It’s this idea, in many cultures going back thousands of years that women are just property, things to be possessed, our wants needs, wishes and dreams mean nothing to the male. All one needs to do is look at the 3 desert monotheisms, which blame women for all the woes of the world, or the Greek myths and Pandora, or even blaming women for the winter, as is Persephone. I know that this is not just a western idea, but endemic world wide Rape is showing power, a taking of that which isn’t yours to take. Rape is a way for any male to become an alpha, with the power of life and death over another person. The laws forcing a woman to carry the child of rape, or give the rapist any “rights” are just more of this dominating idea telling all women “you are nothing but property” Sometimes humans, especially males with their rape and destroy crazy lusts and evil warrior gods make me ill

    • kulturcritic says:

      Good rant, Marlena. I agree.

    • javacat says:

      Well said, Marlena. In reading the articles for this piece, I did become ill. i found myself breaking down from the thought of the pain inflicted. The stories gave me nightmares.

      In the three desert monotheism, there is such control over females, and female sexuality in particular, that a sexual violation absolves the violator while punishing the victim. We are no longer ‘pure’, no man will want us, we will be a burden on our families, we have brought dishonor on our families. It’s all a deeply planted mind-game for control.

  3. derekthered says:

    this is a hard one for men to comment upon, maybe Marlena has nailed it with “Rape is a way for any male to become an alpha, with the power of life and death over another person.”. certainly the Biblical myths set the stage for our misogynistic society. Narcissus comes to mind, many people forget that Echo was calling for him, but Narcissus was to busy admiring himself to answer her call.
    please believe me, not trying to change the subject, but men are raped also, mainly in prison, but not just there.
    “Andy: I’m a rock hound. At least I was in my old life. I would like to be again on a limited basis.
    Red: Or maybe you’d like to sink your toy into someone skull.
    Andy: No, I have no enemies here.
    Red: Really? Wait a while. Word gets around. I’ve heard the Sisters have taken quite a liking to you—especially Bogs.
    Andy: Does it help to tell them that I’m not homosexual?
    Red: Neither are they. You have to be human first. They don’t qualify. Bull queers take by force. It’s all they want or understand. If I were you, I’d grow eyes in the back of my head.
    Andy: Thanks for the advice.”
    Shawshank Redemption

    nope, men may not be the ones to comment on this. but i’ve tried. we live in an insane society that objectifies people, turns them into commodities, screws with their minds everyday, makes them powerless every day of their lives, men are “supposed” to be powerful, that’s what the media and society tell us, what a mess. rats in a cage, apologies to the rats. geez, please take anything i said with a grain of salt.

    • javacat says:

      No salt needed. 😉 Some common responses is that men are raped as well, and that women falsely accuse men of rape. Both are true and both are wrong. But if one looks at the numbers–including estimates of under-reporting of rape and sexual assault–the attacks against women far outnumber the others. Rebecca Solnit recently had an excellent piece on TomDispatch called “The Longest War” that gives some important stats.

      The sexual abuse that occurs in prisons seems epidemic. There is a disturbingly casual popular assumption that this is simply the way things are. Online comments on the local newspaper here will regularly make jokes, with some smugness, about who will get theirs when they get to prison. It’s as if we’ve accepted that this is okay and somehow just. The insane society, once again.

      Your last ‘graph sums it up nicely. Thanks for commenting.

  4. derekthered says:

    a woman who is very close to me once said that she became promiscuous because “if you pull down your own pants you can’t be raped”, she had been raped, sad to say, “he said,she said”. what a screwed up state of affairs. of course she has a hard time maintaining a relationship with any man when she has been so deeply damaged. i would like to here your comments on this. what does it say about our society as a whole?

    • Ivy Mike says:

      Derek Jensen addresses this often. A quick sampling:

      Rape is a toxic mimic of sex. War is a toxic mimic of play. The bond between slave owner and slave is a toxic mimic of marriage. Heck, marriage is a toxic mimic of marriage, of a real partnership in which all parties help all others to be more fully themselves.

      I like the phrase toxic mimic, but it didn’t quite help me uncover the relationship between these types of dependency. I asked my mom.

      She gave me the answer in one word: “Identity.”

      “Really,” I said. I had no idea what she was talking about.

      “Abusers have no identity of their own.”

      Abuse (part 1), (part 2), (part 3), (part 4).

      • derekthered says:

        i will check your link, but going back to what i said, “men are “supposed” to be powerful”. we men are supposed to be powerful, and women are supposed to be powerful, we are all supposed to be powerful, but not in a destructive domineering way. just dawned on me on the way to work. we are all supposed to be powerful.

      • derekthered says:

        oh my gawd, i love it, especially part 2. i can’t read it all now, thanks for the link. reading stuff like this, makes me want to chuck it all and go to school, just don’t know how i would manage it.

        by the way, i followed every link in the main post, a lot of it made me want to cry. when i stopped and let it sink in, it’s just overwhelming.

      • javacat says:

        Great quote. The last line is startling. Thanks for the link, too. Jensen writes powerfully about his own childhood abuse and its long-term effects, as well.

    • javacat says:

      incredible that she could share this with you. What hits me hard is the powerlessness and the choices that are not.

      Thank you for sharing this. it opens things up to really big questions. i need to think about it more before i respond.

      • derekthered says:

        i’ve been fortunate to be around people who are smart, who have their own take on things, there are different kinds of smart. one person may be good at one thing, one at another. one of the failings of our mode of thinking is pushing people into uniformity.
        one of my family members in another town was affected by what we are talking about last night, she’s hurt, but oddly i don’t even feel angry at the guy; i don’t like him, never have, but all i care about is her. so, yes, the proofs in the pudding, another man going off on a woman. goddammit.
        my first tendency is to say how much pressure people are under, probably money. there comes a point where when talking about any of this stuff, whether gang violence, domestic abuse, corporate exploitation, the whole big ball of wax, where we say enough with the excuses, straighten up and fly right.
        when you are down is when you have to be better. like i am one to talk. i’ve got to go, getting angry, that’s been my strategy, to withdraw, be pacifistic.

      • derekthered says:

        could be that women have internailized the repression, what gives rise to the thesis that all sexual realtions in our society is of necessity rape. i used to scoff at this line of thought, but i can see that when the entire culture is twisted? there may be some truth to this supposition.
        still, people are not going to stop loving each other, every single person cannot have the entire weight of our societal failure on their backs.
        this is why semiotics and syllogisms are such an important subject. what are our societal assumptions that produce this unhappiness?

  5. Ivy Mike says:

    “Rape Culture” is a redundant expression; the Rape of Demeter (Persephone’s mother,) the goddess of grain, illustrates the rapine premise of agriculture itself.

    Once Mother Earth had been degraded into being mere property to be exploited, it wasn’t too long until her children were also.

    • javacat says:

      Well said.
      With agriculture, the giving became a taking, accompanied with a geometric growth in entitlement. The wound of separation, the disconnect, that we often speak of here, has become cauterized, and with it, we’ve lost compassion and empathy.

  6. derekthered says:

    just float away for a few

    but for the electronics it sounds like a Jerry Garcia jam.

  7. derekthered says:

    it just never stops
    Oscar Pistorius: Drama of the courtroom
    really? really? the “Drama of the courtroom”?
    jesus fucking christ. they turn it into a blow-by-blow. i’m not there, but come on, shooting at an intruder thru the door? sure, whatever you say.
    but it still never stops. we had a term for the way societies the world over go about their daily affairs, power trip. perhaps it’s time to power down.

    • javacat says:

      derek, thanks for bringing in this example. I read this pieceand kept looking for information. There was nothing of what truly transpired, only the heavy breathing of the reporter, creating the drama and tension. This is another example in which so many distractions enter the scene: Olympic athlete, sports endorsements, South African sports, etc. What seems get lost is that the woman is dead. A friend posted this article, and the only word that describes it is “lurid”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/15/reeva-steenkamp-body-on-front-page The beast gets fed from many sources.

      • derekthered says:

        yes, likewise. many men have had women dump them, not much fun when you are in love, i have banged my own head against the wall (quite literally), but not my partners.
        there’s no excuse, this possessiveness, it comes from the very top of the social structure, it permeates the entire kit and kaboodle.

        check out the bit about Snoopy in this link.

        yup, even old Snoopy, a canine chauvinist. 🙂

  8. leavergirl says:

    That’s why I been chasing the root of domination. Within the domination culture, everything is tainted with coercion. Sex, marriage, work, conflict… it’s in the air we breathe from birth. And of course, the more men are raped by the economic system the more they want to rape someone else themselves. Women, not so much, though. Like among baboons, it’s men who do the raping, on their own sex as well as the other.

    As some say, the culture of domination encourages “lack of brakes” on aggression, and is eager to buy into excuses.

    I know there is a distinct anti-religious sentiment here, but religion at least teaches that some things are just wrong to do, and the need for genuine remorse and amends. The secular culture tossed those quaint things out of the window for the detriment of us all.

    • derekthered says:

      baboons is a good metaphor.

    • derekthered says:

      “Lenina Crowne?” said Henry Foster, echoing the Assistant Predestinator’s question as he zipped up his trousers. “Oh, she’s a splendid girl. Wonderfully pneumatic. I’m surprised you haven’t had her.”

      “I can’t think how it is I haven’t,” said the Assistant Predestinator. “I certainly will. At the first opportunity.”

      From his place on the opposite side of the changing-room aisle, Bernard Marx overheard what they were saying and turned pale. (3.118-20) – Brave New World – Akdous Huxley

      this discussion could go really, really, deep. the effects of mass media. the caricature of the desirable female, likewise for the male of the species. look at breast augmentation, used to pump up the breasts, for what? there are legitimate uses for plastic surgery, such as for survivors of breat cancer, if they so wish; not to say that losing a breast makes a woman of any less value. see? right there, the phrasing in terms of value. i’m leaving it to make a point, i could change it to less of a person.

      while men may give lip service to equality? most of us are in thrall to the prevailing culture. is the typical movie star, vogue model, or victoria’s secret girl going to make the typical male happy? will the typical male ever get close to any of these women. hey, just tossing out some ideas, it’s all part of the same situation.

      • leavergirl says:

        It’s a sick world. I once had a friend who insisted on breast reconstruction after cancer. Then the cancer came back… she wasn’t that young, either, not looking for mates… but the culture got to her. And who can say if the cancer did not come back because of all the stress to the tissue?

        • derekthered says:

          i know i am a rare bird, i have always questioned assumptions, from my early Catholic indoctrination to the present. i may change my mind tomorrow.
          “I know there is a distinct anti-religious sentiment here, but religion at least teaches that some things are just wrong to do, and the need for genuine remorse and amends. The secular culture tossed those quaint things out of the window for the detriment of us all.”

          i’ve been on both sides of the fence on that one, problem is these codes come with their own baggage, yes, let’s protect our women from everybody but the male patriarchy? but then secular society seems to be reducing everything to an eqation, to interchangeable objects. maybe we are on the verge of some sort of new code. maybe some other posters have written some sort of screed dealing with this effect.

          as for your friend, breast cancer is a horrible thing, i know. what has caused this seeming epidemic? dunno, drugs? deodorants? (there is some suspicious stuff in those underarm applications), anti-biotics in the food, hormones? sorry to hear about your friend.

          i dunno, i hear about grants and awards for people dealing with Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and i think yeah, great, half the people in the world don’t have clean water. it’s terrible to be such a cynic. cest la’ vie, however it goes.

          • leavergirl says:

            Derek, thank you. And that is very perceptive of you… we need a new code. Soon.

            I think the cancer epidemic is caused by… ta-da! — civilization. They don’t call it (and diabetes and heart disease) a disease of civilization for nothing. I got lymphoma… and that is linked to herbicides. The nasties are everywhere… and we don’t know half of them.

            What’s the deal with lack of clean water? Isn’t that a disease of civilization too? Used to be, if you were in remote areas, you had all the clean water you could ever want…

            • javacat says:

              Water is the big global question these days…who owns it, who’s buying it, who controls it?
              As for remote places and clean water…those big coal stacks and global air currents changed that tune. The mercury from China’s coal plants are in ‘untouched’ Maine lakes.

              You’re right about the diseases of civilization. And we look for cures more than causes, for the aha! moment of finding the culprit gene rather than looking around and thinking, “Huh? Wonder what that BPA is doing in there?” Too many folks I know have gotten too many things too young and too strange.

              I like the idea of a new code, btw.

    • Ivy Mike says:

      Within the domination culture, everything is tainted with coercion.

      Yes. Even with those who are ostensibly against domination. One of the most egregious examples is the LoLbertarian movement, whose motto seems to be “Liberty for me—but not for thee.” A couple examples follow:

      “We libertarians do not oppose hierarchy or command or authority…”
      ~Stephan Kinsella (attorney, former professor at South Texas College of Law)

      “…many libertarian theoreticians who disagree with me on this issue of voluntary slavery. But none of them confuse voluntary and coercive slavery…”
      ~Dr. Walter Block (professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans)
      Privatizing Rivers and Voluntary Slave Contracts

      I suppose one must possess the wit of a college professor to conjure shit that deep. Ain’t that the Western Curriculum in action?

  9. leavergirl says:

    And he ain’t alone either… I’ve come across Christians vociferously arguing that OT slavery was not so bad after all. Much of it was of course debt slavery… selling yourself (or your family, if you were a man) in lieu of repayment.

  10. javacat says:

    Since this posting, several actions and incidents need mention. Following the 1 Billion Rising on Valentine’s Day, Patrick Stewart stepped up on March 8, International Women’s Day, to call for the end of violence against women. Celebrity backing and Facebook memes do make the news, but, sadly, in rare instances do make a lasting difference. At least Picard’s call to action is backed up by his own personal commitment to the cause.

    The Steubenville trial is unfolding rapidly and may be done as early as today. The testimony is sickening. The photos show young men scared out of their wits, with clearly not a clue how they got there. The trial garners attention on several fronts: the unprecedented use of digital evidence by the prosecution, the scrutiny of the football culture in the town, and the psychology of the culture as a whole. Cell phones, Twitter, Facebook: All have blurred the lines of personal and public. In this instance, at least, digital communication revealed what normally would have remained in darkness. Here’s one update: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/highschool–prosecutors-may-get-conviction-in-steubenville-rape-trial–but-it-will-come-at-a-cost-050043103.html

    Things got drastically darker when feminist writer Zerlina Maxwell appeared on Sean Hannity’s show. Maxwell dared to challenge the notion that arming women to protect themselves against rape was the answer. In response? Death threats. Read them here: http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2013/03/09/1695891/fox-news-guest-receives-racist-rape-and-death-threats-after-arguing-guns-arent-the-solution-to-rape/

    Such vitriolic wing nuts always existed but now technology gives them a digital megaphone. One could argue that these folks are still attacking from a safe distance, likely with fake screen names. Both are true. One concern is that the brazenness of these verbal attacks signals a broader change of what is acceptable in a ‘civilized’ society. They reveal a deeper, darker anger and fear gone viral.

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