Thursday, August 30, 2012


      Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Dr. Felicia H. Stewart and Dr. James Trussell have estimated that there are twenty-five thousand rape-related pregnancies each year in the United States. While these numbers make up only a small part of this country’s annual three million unwanted pregnancies, the numbers are still extremely high. Nonetheless, the relationship between rape and pregnancy has been a topic of highly politicized debate since long before Todd Akin’s comments on “legitimate rape,” Paul Ryan’s bill with its category of “forcible rape,” and Sharron Angle’s suggestion, two years ago, that women pregnant through rape make “a lemon situation into lemonade.” There is a veritable war of statistics about rape and pregnancy, and the confusion is exacerbated by the competing agendas of the pro-choice and anti-abortion movements. It has been argued that fear promotes ovulation, and that women who are raped have a ten-per-cent risk of pregnancy; there are estimates of as little as one per cent. Numbers are also skewed when they are adjusted to include or exclude women not of reproductive age; for sodomy and other forms of rape that cannot cause pregnancy; for rape victims who may be using oral birth control or I.U.D.s; and for women who are raped and become or are pregnant as a result of consensual sex with a husband or partner who is not the rapist, before or after the rape. Women who are being abused on an ongoing basis are particularly likely to conceive in rape. Catherine MacKinnon has written, “Forced pregnancy is familiar, beginning in rape and proceeding through the denial of abortions; this occurred during slavery and still happens to women who cannot afford abortions.”
I have been researching a book, “Far from the Tree,” that deals in part with women raising children conceived in rape, and have therefore met the living reproof to Akin’s remark. Life for these children may be extremely difficult. One of the few groups founded to address this population, Stigma Inc., took as its motto, “Rape survivors are the victims … their children are the forgotten victims.”
And yet there’s a lot of history behind their experience, and that of their mothers. Augustine saw a noble purpose in rape; while promising women that “savage lust perpetuated against them will be punished,” he also praises rape for keeping women humble, letting them know “whether previously they were arrogant with regard to their virginity or over-fond of praise, or whether they would have become proud had they not suffered violation.” The Roman physician Galen claimed that women could not conceive in rape—could not, in fact, conceive without an orgasm based in pleasure and consent. Classical mythology is full of rape, usually seen as a positive event for the rapist, who is often a god; Zeus so took Europa and Leda; Dionysus raped Aura; Poseidon, Aethra; Apollo, Euadne. It is noteworthy that every one of these rapes produces children. The rape of a vestal virgin by Mars produced Romulus and Remus, who founded Rome. Romulus organized the rape of the Sabine women to populate his new city. In much later civilizations, the rape of the Sabines was considered a noble story; in the Renaissance, it often graced marriage chests. The hostility such children inspired due to their origins has also long been acknowledged. In both the ancient and the medieval world, women who bore children conceived in rape were permitted to let them die of exposure—although in medieval Europe a few weeks’ penance was deemed necessary for doing so.
Historically, rape has been seen less as a violation of a woman than as a theft from a man to whom that woman belonged, either her husband or her father, who suffered an economic loss (a woman’s marriageability spoiled) and an insult to his honor. There was also the problem of bastard children, who were considered a social burden; the Athenian state, for example, was primarily occupied with protecting bloodlines, and so treated rape and adultery the same way. Hammurabi’s code describes rape victims as adulterers; English law of the seventeenth century takes a similar position. In Puritan Massachusetts, any woman pregnant through rape was prosecuted for fornication. In the nineteenth century, the American courts remained biased toward protecting men who might be falsely accused. In order to prove that an encounter was a rape, the woman had to demonstrate that she had resisted and been overcome; she usually had to show bodily harm as evidence of her struggle; and she had somehow to prove that the man had ejaculated inside her.
In the early and mid-twentieth century, rape remained underreported because women feared adverse consequences if they spoke out about what had happened to them. In 1938, Dr. Aleck Bourne was put on trial in England for performing an abortion on a fourteen-year-old rape victim, and his acquittal reflected a populist movement to liberalize abortion, especially for rape victims. The trial was widely covered in the U.S. and led to open debate about the validity of abortion; the following year, the first hospital abortion committee in the United States was formed, and by the nineteen-fifties these committees were ubiquitous. Although they approved only “therapeutic” abortions, they increasingly accepted the recommendations of psychiatrists who said a woman’s mental health was endangered by her pregnancy. Well-connected and well-to-do women could obtain psychiatric diagnoses fairly easily, and so abortions became the province of the privileged. Ordinary rape victims often had to prove that they were nearly deranged. Some were diagnosed as licentious, and had to consent to sterilization to obtain abortions. Here is a typical caseworker report about a woman who had been raped in the postwar, pre-Roe era:
She became a passive object and could not say “no.” Here we see a girl who having lost parental love, continues to search for love and her primary motivation became centered in getting her dependent needs met. She took the man’s sexual interest as love and an opportunity to be loved by somebody.

That is to say, mentally stable people are not the kind who get raped. The emerging field of psychoanalysis did not help matters. Though Freud himself wrote little about rape, Freudians in the early and mid-twentieth century saw the rapist as someone suffering a perverse, uncontrolled sexual appetite, who fed into women’s natural masochism. This position seemed to exonerate the rapist; in 1971, the psychoanalyst Menachem Amir called rape a “victim-motivated crime.” A rapist was the embodiment of virility, while those who were raped were utterly abject; the aggression was deplored less than the disenfranchisement was pitied.
Appalled at such positions, feminists of the nineteen-seventies began the reclassification of rape as an act of violence and aggression rather than of sexuality. Susan Brownmiller’s 1975 landmark “Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape” maintained that rape had very little to do with desire and everything to do with domination. She proposed that rape was a much more frequent occurrence than had previously been acknowledged, that it was not the obscure behavior of a very occasional person with severe mental illness but rather a common result of the power differential between men and women. She also tied the problem of rape to the issues of pregnancy, writing, “Men began to rape women when they discovered that sexual intercourse led to pregnancy.”
For several of the women I interviewed, the crisis was exacerbated by the question of what rape means, by the idea that some rape is not forcible or legitimate. Men who have gotten away with rape seldom retreat in shame or repentance; they often play out their ghoulish exuberance by claiming their reproductive successes. Among the women I interviewed, such men’s bids for custody or visitation rights felt far more like acts of further aggression than expressions of care. Nevertheless, in instances where rape cannot be proven or charges were never filed, the threat of joint custody is real. Many women who cannot cope with prosecuting their assailant are then left without any proof of assault. In a time when DNA evidence can establish biological ties scientifically, this lack of evidence as to the social circumstances of conception can be a serious problem. Stigma Inc. had a posting that read, “The father/rapist is thus deemed ineligible for visitation or custody of the minor child. However, as in the case of rape victims in general, the burden of proof that a rape took place is often placed upon the woman who has suffered the crime. Often it comes down to a ‘he said/she said’ issue.”
The aftermath of rape is always complicated. Many victims are simply in denial that they are pregnant in the first place: a full third of the pregnancies resulting from rape are not discovered until the second trimester. Any delay in detection reduces women’s options, especially outside major urban centers, but many women struggle with the speed of the decision; they are still recovering from being raped when they are called on to make up their minds about an abortion. The decision of whether or not to carry through with such a pregnancy is nearly always an ordeal that can lead, no matter which choice is ultimately made, to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and P.T.S.D. Rape is a permanent damage; it leaves not scars, but open wounds. As one woman I saw said, “You can abort the child, but not the experience.”
Even women who try to learn their child’s blamelessness can find it desperately difficult. The British psychoanalyst Joan Raphael-Leff writes of women bearing children conceived in rape, “The woman feels she has growing inside her part of a hateful or distasteful Other. Unless this feeling can be resolved, the fÅ“tus who takes on these characteristics is liable to remain an internal foreigner, barely tolerated or in constant danger of expulsion, and the baby will emerge part-stranger, likely to be ostracized or punished.” One rape survivor, in testimony before the Louisiana Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, described her son as “a living, breathing torture mechanism that replayed in my mind over and over the rape.” Another woman described having a rape-conceived son as “entrapment beyond description” and felt “the child was cursed from birth”; the child ultimately had severe psychological challenges and was removed from the family by social services concerned about his mental well-being. One of the women I interviewed said, “While most mothers just go with their natural instincts, my instincts are horrifying. It’s a constant, conscious effort that my instincts not take over.”
The rape exception in abortion law is so much the rule that many women who wish to keep children conceived in rape describe an intense social pressure to abort them, and the pressure to abort can be as sinister as the restriction of access to abortion. There can be no question that, for some women, an abortion would be far more traumatic than having a rape-conceived child. I read the harrowing autobiography of a girl who was put under involuntary anesthesia to have an abortion of the pregnancy that had occurred when her father raped her, so that her parents could keep their reputation intact. It’s a horrifying story because the abortion clearly constitutes yet another assault: it is about a lack of choice. But ready access to a safe abortion facility allows a woman who keeps a child conceived in rape to feel that she is making a conscious decision, while having the baby because she has no choice perpetuates the trauma and is bad for the child. Rape is, above all other things, non-volitional for the victim, and the first thing to provide a victim is control. Raped women require unfettered choice in this arena: to abort or to carry to term, and, if they do carry to term, to keep the children so conceived or to give them up for adoption. These women, like the parents of disabled children, are choosing the child over the challenging identity attached to that child. The key word in that sentence is “choosing.”
One sees the problem abroad, where the Helms Amendment is taken to mean that no agency receiving U.S. funding can mention abortion even to women who have been systematically raped as part of a genocidal campaign. The journalist Helena Smith wrote the story of a woman named Mirveta, who gave birth to a child conceived in rape in Kosovo. Mirveta was twenty years old, and illiterate; her husband had abandoned her because of the pregnancy. “He was a healthy little boy and Mirveta had produced him,” Smith writes. “But birth, the fifth in her short lifetime, had not brought joy, only dread. As he was pulled from her loins, as the nurses at Kosovo’s British-administered university hospital handed her the baby, as the young Albanian mother took the child, she prepared to do the deed. She cradled him to her chest, she looked into her boy’s eyes, she stroked his face, and she snapped his neck. They say it was a fairly clean business. Mirveta had used her bare hands. It is said that, in tears, she handed her baby back to the nurses, holding his snapped, limp neck. In Pristina, in her psychiatric detention cell, she has been weeping ever since.” The aid worker taking care of Mirveta said, “Who knows? She may have looked into the baby’s face and seen the eyes of the Serb who raped her. She is a victim, too. Psychologically raped a second time.”
In working on my book, I went to Rwanda in 2004 to interview women who had borne children of rape conceived during the genocide. At the end of my interviews, I asked interviewees whether they had any questions for me, in hopes that the reversal would help them to feel less disenfranchised in the microcosmic world of our interview. The questions tended to be the same: How long are you spending in the country? How many people are you interviewing? When will your research be published? Who will read these stories? Why are you interested in me? At the end of my final interview, I asked the woman I was interviewing whether she had any questions. She paused shyly for a moment. “Well,” she said, a little hesitantly. “You work in this field of psychology.” I nodded. She took a deep breath. “Can you tell me how to love my daughter more?” she asked. “I want to love her so much, and I try my best, but when I look at her I see what happened to me and it interferes.” A tear rolled down her cheek, but her tone turned almost fierce, challenging. “Can you tell me how to love my daughter more?” she repeated.
Perhaps Todd Akin has an answer for her.

We Are All Sonali

Why is it so hard for some people to understand that women's bodies are their own?

This is what Eve Ensler calls a #ReasonToRise:

Today 27-year-old Sonali Mukherjee will have surgery to help reconstruct her face. It melted nine years ago, leaving a painful mask in its place, after three young men poured acid on her while she slept. This was their response to her fending off their relentless sexual advances as she made her way to school every morning. In India the ubiquitous harassment that women face is called, in a "family-friendly" euphemism, "eve baiting."

Today's surgery will be the first of many, involving eye operations and hair and ear transplants, that will take place over years at a hospital in New Dehli. What do we need to know about Sonali? That she was studying sociology? That she was a happy 17-year-old? What she was wearing when she slept? Or that's she's now petitioned her government to either help her find justice or give her the right to euthanasia?
For six of the past nine years, her assailants have been free. Sonali and her family, bankrupted paying for her care, had to move villages after they were threatened by the men when they returned. She has, over the years, persistently appealed to the Indian justice system for medical assistance and stricter penalties for assailants, and a fund has been established to help cover the enormous expense of her medical care. This woman, with whom I have been in touch through mutual friends, is, remarkably, a bright, brave, and determined and dignified person. To hear her petition (she is essentially asking for help raising roughly $30,000 or the right to die) watch this video, or join the Friends of Sonali Facebook page and send her a note to help buoy her spirits in the hospital.

Sonali is why GOP spokesman Jay Townsend's comment, "Let's hurl some acid at those female Democratic Senators," was not just inappropriate but inhumane.

She isn't alone, however. In Columbia, where there were at least 150 acid-throwing incidents last year, women like 51-year-old Consuela Cordoba wear masks every day of their lives. In England model Katie Piper was doused in acid after a rejected ex-boyfriend hired someone to attack her. In Afganistan schoolgirls are habitually subjected to acid throwing and poisoning. In Uganda 25-year-old Regina Nannono is one of an increasing number of women attacked by ex-spouses, romantic rivals, and competitors trying to change property inheritances; most of the victims are women. In Pakistan 10-year-old Zaib Aslam thought someone had lit her face on fire when men on motorcycles threw acid on her face as she waited with her mother at a bus stop. Many simply cannot go on living. In Rome last year, after 38 grueling surgeries, 33-year-old Fakhra Younasfinally committed suicide, 10 years after she was assaulted in this way. These are only a handful of readily available examples.

Not "our" problem? In that case, let's consider "our" version of acid throwing, say, lighting women on fire.
In Maryland Yvette Cade had gasoline poured on her and was lit on fire by her estranged husband. In Florida Naomie Breton was lit on fire at a gas station in what the newspaper termed a "dispute" with the father of her child. She was then charged astronomical towing fees, which she refused to pay (shocking!). In Cleveland Tiffany Lawson, 31, threw her 18-month-old son out of a second-story window into the arms of a stranger and then threw herself out behind him, after her boyfriend threw lighter fluid on her and lit her on fire. In Detroit 22-year-old LaTonya Bowman, three weeks short of delivering a baby, was kidnapped by the baby's father, lit on fire, and then, just for good measure, shot in the back. She survived and gave birth. In St. Louis last June, a man lit his 36-year-old girlfriend on fire. In Seattle an unnamed 17-year-old girl died -- her house was set on fire, so the man accused, a boyfriend, took a less direct route. Clearly all these women weren'tsubservient enough.

How can I say "we are all Sonali" when what she and these other girls and women have experienced are extreme and terrifying injustices? I can say it because women all over the world are not in possession of themselves. And we have the right to be.

There are people who agree, and those who do not. Some of them are U.S. legislators (some withclose ties to the mail-order bride business, for example).

What women experience as victims of abuse, or when they're seized and forced to undergo surgery against their wills, or even when they hear a vice-presidential candidate say publicly, without widespread and uniform condemnation, that rape is just another "method of conception," is someone else (or the state) claiming ownership of their bodies and existences. Usually that someone else is a man they know. The abuse and rape of women is oblivious to social status, education, race, nationality, ethnicity, or anything else. What Sonali asked for when she resisted her harassers every day, and what was denied to her when they attacked her, was the right to be female and in control of her own body. Men wanted to control her and wanted access to her body. Indeed, they felt that this access and control were their birthright. Her culture, the men and women in it, supporting the notion that her body was somehow public property, allowed this to happen. When she did not comply, they punished her severely. They invaded her privacy. They violated her bodily integrity. They ignored her autonomy, and they damaged her body horrifically. They denied her her agency. Does this sound familiar yet?

What do Sonali and these other women have to do with you or me, sitting at these computers, probably relatively safe and sound?

Well, maybe it depends on how aware you are of the prevalence of violence and its threat in the lives of women; whether you think we, collectively, should care about people other than ourselves; and what you think the role of government should be in seeking justice. Apparently, a lot of what I believe flies in the face of a longstanding frontier ethos of individual destiny and the making of the traditional, successful American man. This mentality hasn't gone so well for women in America -- or in the rest of the world. I think women's freedom -- bodily, reproductive, economic -- requires government intervention to offset pervasive, traditional biases that prop up and perpetuate corrupt structures, violence, and abuse.
When the right to privacy was extended to women, men whose authority this undermined switched their focus to "family privacy." Abortion was the nominal catalyst, but in reality it was just the proxy du jour. The family is often the place where incursions against women's rights have their strongest breeding ground. And the public sphere, we keep getting told, is just the private, family sphere writ large.
"The family's right to privacy" is a specific code for certain male heads-of-households' exercise of traditionally held privileges of male domination that allow the violation of the human rights of the women and girls they are intimate with. It doesn't matter where in the world the girls and women are. This family, in which a man made his young children videotape 51 minutes of his verbal and physical abuse of his wife, had a right to privacy. It's a family privacy that many women suffer for in similar ways. Our inability to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because of the right'shomophobia, sexism, and racism, is a national shame with international consequences.

I know that many will say that these egregious examples do not represent all men. That's certainly true. I also know that it's irrelevant given the reality that one third of the world's women are subjected to violence of this sort, more than 1 billion women. In addition, there are those, especially in this country, who question these numbers. Their claims are regularly debunked. Besides, 1 billion is an awful lot of lying women.

If you doubt what I am arguing, particularly as it pertains to the United States, consider this map of 34 states (the number is now 31) that have failed to pass laws that deny rapists the right to visitation and custody, against their rape victims' will, to children born as a result of the rape that caused the pregnancy. By not passing these laws two thirds of our states effectively ensure paternal rapists' rights. Who gives rapists rights, even by default? This is an illustration of the degree to which we live unconsciously with state-sanctioned support of the rights of men, especially fathers, over those of women. By any measure of justice this map should not exist. This is as Handmaiden's Tale as you get. If there has ever been a map of male domination and the legislative subjugation of women, this is it. Just ask Shauna Prewitt what having the man who raped and inseminated you against your will gain legal access to your child feels like. She became a lawyer, and her recent CNN appearance caused a firestorm because of it. Conversations like Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment, Tom Smith's likening rape babies to "out-of-wedlock babies," Paul Ryan's reference to rape as just another "method of conception," and other similar fantasies all reflect a fundamental denial of women's bodily autonomy and rights.

Women also have the right to have the state protect their rights rather than perpetuate the privilege that results in the denial of their rights. That means changes conserve-atives don't like.

For men, the ability to be successful and pursue their individual destinies in traditional ways might require the government to be small and go away. This tenacious idea has meant that women's rights were subsumed. For individual women, in order to offset systematized sexism, misogyny, and violence (most of which takes place at the hands of individual men in a domestic context), it may mean that government has to intercede in new and different ways. That's why patriarchy hates real democracy, because equality for women gets in the way of individual men's exercise of long-held power and privilege. All these things come together, as usual, over women's bodies, which, until relatively recently, were entirely subject to laws based entirely on male norms and male supremacy.

The state of India, in collusion with Sonali's assailants, has largely stood by and allowed multiple injustices to occur. It has failed to protect Sonali and other women like her and to adequately protect their rights under the law. In Sonali's case her bodily involvement in the stripping of her rights is clear. In the U.S. risks to women's bodily integrity are obscured and less obvious to most people, but similar situations occur to women all over the country.

Next time you are at a party, look around and remember:

More than half of school-age girls experience sexual harassment.

Sixty-nine percent of American women surveyed report that they do not look people in the eye when they walk in public streets, in order to avoid harassment.

Between 85 and 99 percent of all women experience varying degrees of street harassment.

One in four women in the U.S. experiences violence at the hands of a partner in her lifetime.

One in three in the world will.

One in five women is a survivor of sexual assault and rape.

This is why I can say "we are all Sonali."

"Violence against women crosses boundaries regardless of nationality, ethnicity, culture, class or economic status. With 1 in 3 women affected, it may well be the biggest human rights atrocity of the 21st century," explains Regina Yau, founder of The Pixel Project, and organization dedicated to raising awareness and fighting against violence against women worldwide, "If you can reduce gender-based violence by even 50 percent across the world, imagine the human potential that could be released: girls can have a fighting chance to be healthy and to go to school, and women can start their own businesses and earn money to feed their families and get out of poverty."

Clearly we both think we have an obligation to others. Many think we have none. This is a defining issue in the U.S. election in November. Individual rights and the limited role of government vs. societal good and the involvement of government. What is going on here in the United States is a social contract debate about women's bodies and who controls them. Just like the debate going on in India. And Columbia. And Afghanistan. And Pakistan. And Uganda. And England.

If we have slipped so far in our commitment to protect the rights of at least half of our population, how can we possible expect to lead the rest of the world in anything? Women's rights in the United States affect women everywhere.


Eve Ensler started One Billion Rising to combat worldwide violence against women.

No More is dedicated to raising awareness and eliminating the shame associated with being a victim, male or female, of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Pixel Project is a global effort to raise awareness and end violence against women.

The Half the Sky Movement, based on the book and documentary of the same name, seeks to change oppression into opportunity for girls and women.

In the U.S. make sure you representatives support the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act when it goes to the U.S. Senate later this year.

Acid Survivors Trust International
Men Against Violence Against Women
Bell Bajao
Men Stopping Violence
Say No Unite to end violence against women
Men Can Stop Rape
UN Women
RAINN Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network
Stop Street Harassment

By Soraya Chemaly

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Laurie Penny: It's nice to think that only evil men are rapists - that it's only pantomime villains with knives in alleyways. But the reality is different

Link to Original Article

This week, everybody has been arguing about rape, and what it means. Following the Assange case, standing in the crowd to hear him deliver his Evita speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorean embassy, debating with men and women online, I've heard a great many people from all parts of the political spectrum tell me that the women who accused the WikiLeaks founder of sexual assault were lying, or they were duped, or they were "honey traps", or, most worryingly and increasingly often, that their definition of rape is inaccurate.

The people saying this are not all prize imbeciles like George Galloway or frothing wingnuts like the Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin. Some of them are just everyday internet idiots who happen to believe that if a man you have previously consented to sex with holds you down and fucks you, that isn't rape. If you were wearing a short skirt and flirting, that isn't rape. If a man penetrates you without a condom while you're asleep, against your will, that isn't rape, not, in Akin's words, "legitimate rape".

Old, white, powerful men know what rape is, much better, it seems, than rape victims. They are lining up to inform us that women – the discussion has centred around women and their lies even though 9 per cent of rape victims are men – do not need "to be asked prior to each insertion". Thanks for that, George, not that it's just you.

There's an army of commentators who also believe "that's not real rape" is both a valid defence of a specific political asylum-seeker and objective truth. Women lie, they say. Women lie about rape, about sexual assault, they do it because they're stupid or wicked or attention-seeking or deluded. The observation that the rate of fraud in rape cases remains as low as the rate of fraud in any other criminal allegation – between 2 and 4 per cent – has no impact. Women lie, and they do it to ruin men in positions of power.

As a culture, we still refuse collectively to accept that most rapes are committed by ordinary men, men who have friends and families, men who may even have done great or admirable things with their lives. We refuse to accept that nice guys rape, and they do it often. Part of the reason we haven't accepted it is that it's a painful thing to contemplate – far easier to keep on believing that only evil men rape, only violent, psychotic men lurking in alleyways with pantomime-villain moustaches and knives, than to consider that rape might be something that ordinary men do. Men who might be our friends or colleagues or people we look up to. We don't want that to be the case. Hell, I don't want that to be the case. So, we all pretend it isn't. Justice, see?

Actually, rape is very common. Ninety thousand people reported rape in the United States in 2008 alone, and it is estimated that over half of rape victims never go to the police, making the true figure close to 200,000. Between 10 and 20 per cent of women have experienced rape or sexual assault. It's so common that – sorry if this hurts to hear – there's a good chance you know somebody who might have raped someone else. And there's more than a small chance he doesn't even think he did anything wrong, that he believes that what he did wasn't rape, couldn't be rape, because, after all, he's not a bad guy.

The man who raped me wasn't a bad guy. He was in his early 30s, a well-liked and well-respected member of a social circle of which I am no longer a part, a fun-loving, chap who was friends with a number of strong women I admired. I was 19. I admired him too.

One night, I went with friends to a big party in a hotel. Afterwards, a few of the older guests, including this man, invited me up to the room they had rented. I knew that some drinking and kissing and groping might happen. I started to feel ill, and asked if it would be alright if I went to sleep in the room – and I felt safe, because other people were still there. I wasn't planning to have sex with this man or with anyone else that night, but if I had been, that wouldn't have made it OK for him to push his penis inside me without a condom or my consent.

The next thing I remember is waking up to find myself being penetrated, and realising that my body wasn't doing what I told it to. Either I was being held down or – more likely – I was too sick to move. I've never been great at drinking, which is why I don't really do it any more, but this feeling was more profound, and to this day I don't know if somebody put something in my drink.

I was horrified at the way his face looked, fucking me, contorted and sweating. My head spun. I couldn't move. I was frightened, but he was already inside me, and I decided it was simplest to turn my face away and let him finish. When he did, I crawled to the corner of the enormous bed and lay there until the sun came up.

In the morning I got up, feeling sick and hurting inside, and took a long shower in the hotel's fancy bathroom. The man who had fucked me without my consent was awake when I came out. He tried to push me down on the bed for oral, but I stood up quickly and put on my dress and shoes. I asked him if he had used a condom. He told me that he "wasn't into latex", and asked if I was on the Pill.

I don't remember thinking "I have just been raped". After all, this guy wasn't behaving in the manner I had learnt to associate with rapists. Rapists are evil people. They're not nice blokes whom everybody respects who simply happen to think it's OK to stick your dick in a teenager who's sleeping in the same bed as you, without a condom. This guy seemed, if anything, confused as to why I was scrabbling for my things and bolting out the door. He even sent me an email a few days later, chiding me for being rude.

When I walked home, it didn't occur to me that I had been raped. The next day, when I told a mutual friend what had happened, the girl who had introduced me to the man in question, I didn't use that word. By that time, I was in some pain between my legs, a different sort of pain, and I was terrified that I had Aids. I had to wait two weeks for test results which showed that the man who raped me had given me a curable infection. I told my friend that I felt dirty and ashamed of myself. She said she was sorry I felt that way. Everybody else in that circle seemed to agree that by going to that hotel room and taking off my dress I had asked for whatever happened next, and so I dropped the issue. Did I go to the police? Did I hell. I thought it was my fault.

My experience was common enough, and it was also years ago. Looking back, being raped wasn't the worst thing that ever happened to me, although the experience of speaking out and not being believed, the experience of feeling so ashamed and alone, stayed with me for a long time, and changed how I relate to other humans. But I got over it. I rarely think about it. For some people, though, experiencing rape is a life-changing trauma.

Yes, even when it's not "legitimate" rape. Being raped by a man who you liked, trusted, even loved – 30 per cent of rape victims are attacked by a boyfriend or husband – is an entirely different experience from being raped by a stranger in an alley, but that doesn't mean it's any less damaging. Particularly not if others imply you are a lying bitch. Sorry if that hurts to hear.

You know what also hurts to hear? People telling you that your experience didn't happen, that you asked for it. That you hate men. That you're against freedom of speech. That's what hundreds of thousands of women all over the world are hearing when they hear respected commentators – not just Galloway or Akin – saying that the allegations made against Julian Assange "aren't really rape".
The idea that fucking a woman in her sleep, without a condom, or holding a woman down and shoving your cock inside her after a previous instance of consensual sex, is just "bad bedroom etiquette" – thanks again, George – the idea that good guys don't rape, that idea has two effects. One: it fosters the fantasy that there's only one kind of rape, and it happens in the proverbial alley with the perennial knife and certainly not to anyone you know. That's what is most disturbing about the discussion going on right now. There are many young men, most of them extremely well-meaning, trying to figure out a way to negotiate boundaries without hurting themselves or others, and those men are being told that sometimes women say things are rape when they aren't really. Two: it makes any man or woman who has ever been raped by a nice guy suspect, yet again, that it's all their fault. It makes rape victims less likely to come forward and report. I didn't report my rape. It took me months even to understand it as rape. I stopped talking about it, because I was sick of being called a liar, and I got the shut-up message fairly fast. I tried to stop thinking about it.

But this week brought it all up again. I'm definitely not the only one who has been revisiting those scenes in my head, playing them over like CCTV footage. I'm probably not the only one, either, who went quietly back to a few friends from the old days to talk about what happened. And what one of those former friends told me was: I wish I'd taken you more seriously, because I think it happened to somebody else.

This isn't about Julian Assange any more. It's becoming an excuse to wrench the definition of rape back to a time when consent was unimportant, just when some of us had begun to speak up, and it's happening right now, and what's worse, what's so, so much worse, is that it's happening in the name of truth and justice, in the name of freedom of speech.

If those principles are to mean anything, this vitriol, this rape-redefining in the name of conscience and whistleblowing and WikiLeaks and Julian Assange – it has to stop. Non-consensual sex is rape, real rape, and good guys do it too, all the time. Sorry if that hurts to hear, but you've heard it now, and there are things that hurt much more, and for longer, and for lifetimes. Those things need to stop.

White Powerful Men on the Question of Rape

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” -Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri

"The method of conception doesn't change the definition of life." Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's vice-presidential running mate on the Republican ticket

Therefore, rape is just another 'method of conception'

"Even taken at its worst, if the allegations made by these two women were true [against Julian Assange], 100 percent true, and even if a camera in the room captured them, they don't constitute rape.  At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it. And somebody has to say this.  Let's take woman A.  Woman A met Julian Assange, invited him back to her flat, gave him dinner, went to bed with him, had consensual sex with him, claims that she woke up to him having sex with her again... something which can happen.  Not everybody needs to be asked, prior to each  insertion.  Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them.  It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, 'do you mind if I do it again?'  It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning." George Galloway, a British politician, author and talkshow host noted for his left-wing views

Vickers: So in cases of incest or rape...

Laura Olson, Post-Gazette: No exceptions?

Smith: No exceptions.

Mark Scolforo, Associated Press: How would you tell a daughter or a granddaughter who, God forbid, would be the victim of a rape, to keep the child against her own will? Do you have a way to explain that?

Smith: I lived something similar to that with my own family. She chose life, and I commend her for that. She knew my views. But, fortunately for me, I didn't have to.. she chose they way I thought. No don't get me wrong, it wasn't rape.

Scolforo: Similar how?

Smith: Uh, having a baby out of wedlock.

Scolforo: That's similar to rape?

Smith: No, no, no, but... put yourself in a father's situation, yes. It is similar. But, back to the original, I'm pro-life, period.

All of these perpetuate rape myths.

Rape myths and Julian Assange by Maia

Link to Original Article 

I don’t want to write about Julian Assange or the rape charges he is facing. I don’t speak Swedish, a lot of the material in English misrepresents the Swedish legal system and. I don’t have time to unpack all that.

However, I need to write about the way people have been talking about these rape charges. A facebook friend (who is political enough to know better) quoted from a a Daily Mail article* “The prosecution’s case has several puzzling flaws, and there is scant public evidence of rape or sexual molestation.”

Most women who have been raped had little public evidence of their experience. By repeating these rape myths in defence of Julian Assanger people are attacking not just the women involved, but other women who have been raped and had their experiences dismissed. They are also contributing to a culture where rape is denied, minimised, and distorted.

Left-wing defenders of Julian Assanger have been using rape-myths over and over again (as have his right-wing defenders, although they will not be the focus of this post). I think it’s both disgusting and unnecessary to uphold rape-culture to defend Julian Assanger. I want to explain why.

“There is scant public evidence of rape or sexual molestation.” As opposed to what? Is the person who stated this really arguing that usually there is an abundance of public evidence of rape? It’s a ludicrous statement, but a damaging one. Because while the antithesis of ‘scant public evidence’ sounds ridiculous when it is spelled out, it has a lot of power when it’s implied: women’s statements about their experiences cannot be public evidence and cannot be relied upon. “No-one will believe you” – rapists say that to women and women say that to themselves. So many of the repsonses to Assange’s case give that statement more weight, more power – they tell women all over the world “No-one will believe you.”

Then there’s the idea that some women are unrapeable. People uphold this rape myth if they describe some characteristic of a woman – most often, but not only, that she’s a sex worker – as evidence that she wasn’t raped, and can’t be raped. The left-wing version of this du jour appears to be that one of the accusers had connections with the CIA. But there’s a problem with this women who have had contact with the CIA, even CIA agents, can be raped.

There’s a huge difference between stating “She has X Y and Z connections with the CIA. If she was working for them then this may be a set up.” and “She has CIA connections you know.” One is making the argument – the other is constructing some women as unrapeable.

Added to this we get a re-run of the Polanski trial and an argument that what happened to these women isn’t ‘rape-rape’. People were running these lines, before they even knew what the charges are. The charges are actually really clear cut: he had sex with one woman while she was asleep, and he didn’t stop when another woman said stop. It doesn’t require a very in depth and complex understanding of consent to understand that that is rape. But there is a constant narrative that anything other than stranger rape where force is used is somehow a lesser form of rape. That narrative is really damaging to rape survivors.

But I think that defenders of Julian Assanger do the most damage when they construct a way that rape victims behave and imply that the woman involved isn’t acting like a rape victim: she tweeted about him, or she seemed happy, or she saw him again.

I lose it at this point. There is no way that rape victims act – there is no way that rape victims don’t act. Seriously. If you don’t know this then you have no right to say a word about rape.

It does so much harm to so many women, the idea that there’s a way that rape victims act. It’s not just some idea that you’re spinning off into cyber-space. It’s something that women who are going through trauma have to struggle through – their own, and other people’s expectations of how they should be behaving. And it doesn’t stop – the idea of the acceptable behaviour of a rape victim gets used as a weapon again and again.

Most rape myths are about women, about attacking suvivors of rape, discrediting them trashing them – and there’s been a lot of that. But some are about men John Pilger said that he had a very high regard for Julian Assange. And? The rhetorical rapist – the scary man, who no-one holds in high regard – is a weapon that is used against actual victims of rape all the time.

And what is most ridiculous about this spreading of rape myths by left-wing supporters of wikileaks is that these myths are completely unnecessary to stand in solidarity with the wikileaks project.
It is states and companies that are attacking Wikileaks and Julian Assange, not two women. It is perfectly possible to criticise the actions of prosecuters, interpol, judges and government’s without invoking rape myths.

Believing the women, or at least not disbelieving the women, does not mean that you have to stop criticising the way the (in)justice system operates or decide that that wikileaks is a bad project.**
The rape myths are unnecessary, and damaging. By repeating rape myths, you give them power. Doing so doesn’t just hurt the women involved, but strengthens rape culture, and makes it harder for many, many, many other rape survivors.

Stop it.

* If you must look at it yourself the link is here – but no good ever came of reading the Daily Mail.

** On the other side of this, having a feminist analysis of rape does not necessitate accepting that the (in)justice system prosecuting rape is a victory for rape culture. I think these are actually flip sides of the same argument, and brownfemipower has made some really interesting points about the limits of posts like this one.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Listen. I’m really slowly dying
inside myself tonight.
And I’m not about to run down the list
of rapes and burnings and beatings and smiles
and sulks and rages and all the other crap
you’ve laid on women throughout your history
(we had no part in it -- although god knows we tried)
together with your thick, demanding bodies laid on ours,
while your proud sweat, like liquid arrogance,
suffocated our very pores.
Not tonight.

I’m tired of listing your triumph, our oppression,
especially tonight, while two men whom I like --
one of whom I live with, father of my child, and
claim to be in life-giving, death-serious struggle with --
while you two sit at the kitchen table dancing
an ornate ritual of what you think passes for struggle
which fools nobody. Your shared oppression, grief,
and love as effeminists in a burning patriarchal world
still cannot cut through power plays of maleness.

The baby is asleep a room away. White. Male. American.
Potentially the most powerful, deadly creature
of the species.
His hair, oh pain, curls into fragrant tendrils damp
with the sweat of his summery sleep. Not yet, and on my life
if I can help it never will be "quite a man."
But just two days ago on seeing me naked for what must be
the three-thousandth time in his not-yet two years,
he suddenly thought of
the furry creature who yawns through his favorite television program;
connected that image with my genitals; laughed,
and said, "Monster."

I want a woman’s revolution like a lover.
I lust for it, I want so much this freedom,
this end to struggle and fear and lies
we all exhale, that I could die just
with the passionate uttering of that desire.
Just once in this my only lifetime to dance
all alone and bare on a high cliff under cypress trees
with no fear of where I place my feet.
To even glimpse what I might have been and never never
will become, had I not had to "waste my life" fighting
for what my lack of freedom keeps me from glimpsing.
Those who abhor violence refuse to admit they are already
experiencing it, committing it.
Those who lie in the arms of the "individual solution,"
the "private odyssey," the "personal growth,"
are the most conformist of all,
because to admit suffering is to begin
the creation of freedom.
Those who fear dying refuse to admit that they are already dead.
Well, I am dying, suffocating from this hopelessness tonight,
from this dead weight of struggling with
even those few men I love and care about
each day they kill me.

Do you understand? Dying. Going crazy.
Really. No poetic metaphor.
Hallucinating thin rainbow-colored nets
like cobwebs all over my skin
and dreaming more and more when I can sleep
of being killed or killing.
Sweet revolution, how I wish the female tears
rolling silently down my face this second were each a bullet,
each word I write, each character on my typewriter bullets
to kill whatever it is in men that builds this empire,
colonized my very body,
then named the colony Monster.

I am one of the "man-haters," some have said.
I don’t have the time or patience here to say again why or how
I hate not men but what it is men do in this culture, or
how the system of sexism, power dominance, and competition
is the enemy, not people -- but how men, still, created that system
and preserve it and reap concrete benefits from it.
Words and rhetoric that merely
gush from my arteries when grazed
by the razoredge of humanistic love. Enough.
I will say, however, that you, men, will have to be freed,
as well, though we women may have to kick and kill you
into freedom
since most of you will embrace death quite gladly
rather than give up your power to hold power.

Compassion for the suicidal impulse in our killers? Well,
on a plane ride once, the man across the aisle --
who was a World War Two paraplegic,
dead totally from the waist down,
wheeled in and out of the cabin -- spent the whole trip avidly
devouring first newspaper sports pages
and then sports magazines,
loudly pointing out to anyone who would listen
(mostly the stewardesses) which athlete was a "real man."

Two men in the seats directly behind me talked the whole time
about which Caribbean islands were the best for whoring, and
which color of ass was hotter and more pliant.
The stewardess smiled and served them coffee.
I gripped the arms of my seat more than once
to stop my getting up and screaming to the entire planeload
of human beings what was torturing us all -- stopped because I knew
they’d take me for a crazy, an incipient
hijacker perhaps, and wrestle me down until Bellevue Hospital
could receive me at our landing in New York.
(No hijacker, I understood then, ever really wants to take
the plane. She/he wants to take passengers’ minds, to turn
them inside out, to create the revolution
35,000 feet above sea level
and land with a magical flying cadre
and, oh, yes, to win.)
Stopping myself is becoming a tactical luxury,
going fast.

My hives rise more frequently, stigmata of my passion.
Someday you’ll take away my baby, one way or the other.
And the man I’ve loved, one way or the other.
Why should that nauseate me with terror?
You’ve already taken me away from myself
with my only road back to go forward
into more madness, monsters, cobwebs, nausea,
in order to free you -- men -- from killing us, killing us.

No colonized people so isolated one from the other
for so long as women.
None cramped with compassion for the oppressor
who breathes on the next pillow each night.
No people so old who, having, we now discover, invented
agriculture, weaving, pottery, language, cooking
with fire, and healing medicine, must now invent a revolution
so total as to destroy maleness, femaleness, death.

Oh mother, I am tired and sick.
One sister, new to this pain called feminist consciousness
for want of a scream to name it, asked me last week
"But how do you stop from going crazy?"
No way, my sister.
No way.
This is a pore war, I thought once, on acid.

And you, men. Lovers, brothers, fathers, sons.
I have loved you and love you still, if for no other reason
than that you came wailing from the monster
while the monster hunched in pain to give you the power
to break her spell.
Well, we must break it ourselves, at last.
And I will speak less and less and less to you
and more and more in crazy gibberish you cannot understand:
witches’ incantations, poetry, old women’s mutterings,
schizophrenic code, accents, keening, firebombs,
poison, knives, bullets, and whatever else will invent
this freedom.

May my hives bloom bravely until my flesh is aflame
and burns through the cobwebs.
May we go mad together, my sisters.
May our labor agony in bringing forth this revolution
be the death of all pain.

May we comprehend that we cannot be stopped.

May I learn how to survive until my part is finished.
May I realize that I
                                    am a
                                    monster. I am


I am a monster.

And I am proud.

by Robin Morgan

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Beauty Hurts

Man’s love for woman, his sexual adoration of her, his human definition of her, his delight and pleasure in her, require her negation: physical crippling and psychological lobotomy. That is the very nature of romantic love, which is the love based on polar role definitions, manifest in herstory as well as in fiction —he glories in her agony, he adores her deformity, he annihilates her freedom, he will have her as sex object, even if he must destroy the bones in her feet to do it [foot binding]. Brutality, sadism, and oppression emerge as the substantive core of the romantic ethos. That ethos is the warp and woof of culture as we know it.

Women should be beautiful. All repositories of cultural wisdom from King Solomon to King Hefner agree: women should be beautiful. It is the reverence for female beauty which informs the romantic ethos, gives it its energy and justification. Beauty is transformed into that golden ideal, Beauty —rapturous and abstract. Women must be beautiful and Woman is Beauty.

Notions of beauty always incorporate the whole of a given societal structure, are crystallizations of its values. A society with a well-defined aristocracy will have aristocratic standards of beauty. In Western “democracy” notions of beauty are “democratic”: even if a woman is not born beautiful, she can make herself attractive.

The argument is not simply that some women are not beautiful, therefore it is not fair to judge women on the basis of physical beauty; or that men are not judged on that basis, therefore women also should not be judged on that basis; or that men should look for character in women; or that our standards of beauty are too parochial in and of themselves; or even that judging women according to their conformity to a standard of beauty serves to make them into products, chattels, differing from the farmer's favorite cow only in terms of literal form. The issue at stake is different, and crucial. Standards of beauty describe in precise terms the relationship that an individual will have to her own body. They prescribe her mobility, spontaneity, posture, gait, the uses to which she can put her body. They define precisely the dimensions of her physical freedom. And, of course, the relationship between physical freedom and psychological development, intellectual possibility, and creative potential is an umbilical one.

In our culture, not one part of a woman’s body is left untouched, unaltered. No feature or extremity is spared the art, or pain, of improvement. Hair is dyed, lacquered, straightened, permanented; eyebrows are plucked, penciled, dyed; eyes are lined, mascaraed, shadowed; lashes are curled, or false —from head to toe, every feature of a woman's face, every section of her body, is subject to modification, alteration. This alteration is an ongoing, repetitive process. It is vital to the economy, the major substance of male-female role differentiation, the most immediate physical and psychological reality of being a woman. From the age of 11 or 12 until she dies, a woman will spend a large part of her time, money, and energy on binding, plucking, painting, and deodorizing herself. It is commonly and wrongly said that male transvestites through the use of makeup and costuming caricature the women they would become, but any real knowledge of the romantic ethos makes clear that these men have penetrated to the core experience of being a woman, a romanticized construct.

The technology of beauty, and the message it carries, is handed down from mother to daughter. Mother teaches daughter to apply lipstick, to shave under her arms, to bind her breasts, to wear a girdle and high- heeled shoes. Mother teaches daughter concomitantly her role, her appropriate behavior, her place. Mother teaches daughter, necessarily, the psychology which defines womanhood: a woman must be beautiful, in order to please the amorphous and amorous Him. What we have called the romantic ethos operates as vividly in 20th-century Amerika and Europe as it did in 10th- century China.

This cultural transfer of technology, role, and psychology virtually affects the emotive relationship between mother and daughter. It contributes substantially to the ambivalent love-hate dynamic of that relationship. What must the Chinese daughter/child have felt toward the mother who bound her feet? What does any daughter/child feel toward the mother who forces her to do painful things to her own body? The mother takes on the role of enforcer: she uses seduction, command, all manner of force to coerce the daughter to conform to the demands of the culture. It is because this role becomes her dominant role in the mother-daughter relationship that tensions and difficulties between mothers and daughters are so often unresolvable. The daughter who rejects the cultural norms enforced by the mother is forced to a basic rejection of her own mother, a recognition of the hatred and resentment she felt toward that mother, an alienation from mother and society so extreme that her own womanhood is denied by both. The daughter who internalizes those values and endorses those same processes is bound to repeat the teaching she was taught —her anger and resentment remain subterranean, channeled against her own female offspring as well as her mother.

Pain is an essential part of the grooming process, and that is not accidental. Plucking the eyebrows, shaving under the arms, wearing a girdle, learning to walk in high-heeled shoes, having one’s nose fixed, straightening or curling one’s hair —these things hurt. The pain, of course, teaches an important lesson: no price is too great, no process too repulsive, no operation too painful for the woman who would be beautiful. The tolerance of pain and the romanticization of that tolerance begins here , in preadolescence, in socialization, and serves to prepare women for lives of childbearing, self- abnegation, and husband-pleasing. The adolescent experience of the “pain of being a woman” casts the feminine psyche into a masochistic mold and forces the adolescent to conform to a self-image which bases itself on mutilation of the body, pain happily suffered, and restricted physical mobility. It creates the masochistic personalities generally found in adult women: subservient, materialistic (since all value is placed on the body and its ornamentation), intellectually restricted, creatively impoverished. It forces women to be a sex of lesser accomplishment, weaker, as underdeveloped as any backward nation. Indeed, the effects of that pre scribed relationship between women and their bodies are so extreme, so deep, so extensive, that scarcely any area of human possibility is left untouched by it.

Men, of course, like a woman who “takes care of herself.” The male response to the woman who is made- up and bound is a learned fetish, societal in its dimensions. One need only refer to the male idealization of the bound foot and say that the same dynamic is operating here. Romance based on role differentiation, superiority based on a culturally determined and rigidly en forced inferiority, shame and guilt and fear of women and sex itself: all necessitate the perpetuation of these oppressive grooming imperatives.

The meaning of this analysis of the romantic ethos surely is clear. A first step in the process of liberation (women from their oppression, men from the unfree dom of their fetishism) is the radical redefining of the relationship between women and their bodies. The body must be freed, liberated, quite literally: from paint and girdles and all varieties of crap. Women must stop mutilating their bodies and start living in them. Per haps the notion of beauty which will then organically emerge will be truly democratic and demonstrate a respect for human life in its infinite, and most honor able, variety.

-Andrea Dworkin from her book "Woman Hating"