With all the news this week about gender relations in Silicon Valley, an airplane crash, and various levels of unrest around the world, I almost missed the story of Teresa Fedor. Maybe you did too.
Teresa is a state representative in the state of Ohio. She stood in front of the Ohio legislature. She told them that she was raped while she was a member of the US military. She told them that she went through a pregnancy produced by that rape. She told them that she chose to have an abortion to end her nightmare.
Teresa”s audience did not hear that the military (among other places in the US and around the world) is saturated with rape culture. They did not hear the victim of a terrible violation of human rights and bodily integrity. They did not hear someone who went through unimaginable physical and emotional pain as a result of that violation. In fact, it does not appear that they heard anything.
The reaction was to laugh online casino at her. Audibly. On the floor of the Ohio legislature.
This post is cross-posted at the Polity Blog, in promotion of my recently published Gender, War, and Conflict (Polity Press, 2014).
It was a coincidence that Gender, War, and Conflict was formally published on the eve of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence, held in London. The Global Summit, as its webpage described, was meant to shatter the culture of impunity towards wartime rape, take practical steps toward decreasing it, provide support to survivors, and change attitudes of apathy.
This ambitious summit was attended by public figures like Hilary Rodham Clinton and Angelina Jolie, as well as by scholars of wartime sexual violence like my colleagues Amelia Hoover Green and Marsha Henry, among others. While I sat this one out at home in Florida, I followed its progress on Twitter and read news coverage as the summit looked to “write the last chapter in the history of wartime rape.”
Scholars writing from the Summit expressed a combination of hope – given the amount of high-profile political capital being devoted to the cause – and despair – given the long, complicated, and important history of social science research into wartime sexual violence that was largely ignored at the Summit. The biggest complaint I have seen and read is that the Summit’s policy-world and advocate speakers have a commitment to the social cause of ending wartime rape without a matching commitment to knowing and understanding the history of wartime rape, the conditions of possibility of the crime, the significations of rape in conflict, and the gendered contexts in which wartime rape is committed.
In other words, the advocates at the Summit understood that war rape is a terrible crime in which women are disproportionately victimized. But there is more to it, and scholars have been trying to communicate that in order to improve policy analysis, and, hopefully, policy solutions. While the summit is over and the media has moved on to its next target, I think that this point is still a very important one. Continue reading
The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict began in London this week. I wish I could believe that a summit attended by Angelina Jolie would end wartime rape. I wish I could believe that a conference attended by political leaders that wield power beyond the silver screen would end wartime rape. But more, I wish we could just end rape. We ‘know’ that rape is endemic in ‘peace’-time societies, such as India, South Africa, and Peru. We refuse to ‘know’ that it is a problem in the US. Laura’s post on Monday was an angry, rightfully so, response to George Will’s inane, ignorant, and, ultimately, violent comment—but he is not alone. I could make something of Rajiv Sinha, the former director of the Indian Central Bureau of investigation, who stated that those who are raped should just enjoy it. But I hate to let anyone continue to think that peacetime rape is a ‘brown’ person problem. It is an everyone and everywhere problem. I am angry, no, furious, and frankly exhausted by academics, pundits, and politicians who construct rape within post-coloniality. This allows for the West and in particular the US to construct itself within an exceptional frame, denying that any problem with violence against women exists within its boundaries.
It was not so long ago that Clayton Williams ruined his chances to be Texas governor by making a comment strikingly similar to Sinha’s. During his 1990 campaign against Democrat Ann Richards, Williams invited a group of reporters to his ranch for the weekend. Sadly it was cold and foggy. But no matter: Williams informed the reporters, like bad weather, “if [rape] is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.” I shouldn’t need to state that the formidable Richards was elected instead. (As a Texan, I feel I can write that this is the last time Texas chose a governor wisely. But I digress.) There continues to be a pervasive minimization of rape and thus a diminishment of victims of sexual violence within the US.
George Will recently suggested that liberal culture is making women claim to be victims of sexual assault when they are not, because liberals “make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,” which makes “victims proliferate.” Really?
There is no universal experience of sexual assault victimhood. And as my research with Caron Gentry has argued, being a victim does not take away the agency of the person victimized. But I’ve rarely been so angry as reading the argument that being a rape victim is a privilege, so I wanted to share my .02 on some of the “privileges” of being a sexual assault victim.
The ‘privilege’ starts with a massive amount of physical pain. For people who were drugged and/or because of trauma, it continues with struggling to remember what happened and how it happened, a struggle for which the victim often feels guilt and fear. That struggle is not the only guilt – victims often deal with self-blame, shame, and humiliation, social stigma, and rejection from families, friends, and communities. Other ‘privileges’ of victimhood include constant physical fear and insecurity, heightened awareness of rape culture, nightmares and reliving the experience, difficulty communicating feelings, avoidance and social isolation, and a proneness to suicide. Even victims who don’t experience all of these things experience many of them – and they are most certainly not privileges. Anyone who says we don’t need feminism anymore might want to look at the number of hits this misogynist asshole gets.