From the May-June 2013 issue of News & Letters:
Woman as Reason
by Terry Moon
We are living in contradictory times, especially when it comes to women’s struggle for freedom. On the one hand you have a Women’s Liberation Movement that has never been more radical, unified and global. On the other hand there is more repression, and the violence is more brutal and deadly than ever before.
In just the last few months we have learned of new atrocities: the gang rape and murder of 17-year-old Anene Booysen in South Africa; the 14-year-old Bangladeshi, Hena Akhter, who was charged with adultery after being repeatedly raped and brutalized by her older married cousin and ordered lashed by the local imam. She died after being hit 70 times. In India the attacks keep happening: a Swiss tourist beaten and raped by eight men at her campsite; a seven-year-old girl sexually assaulted at school. In the Maldives, a 15-year-old rape survivor has been sentenced to be whipped 100 times in public for “sex outside marriage” after being raped for years by her stepfather, who also murdered the baby she bore. The list never seems to end.
VIOLENCE NO LONGER WITHOUT PRECEDENT
Five years ago in March 2008, we wrote in these pages about the “obliteration” of women in Congo: “rape has become so brutal that not only are women’s reproductive organs destroyed, but so are their digestive tracts. Some, lucky enough to find medical care, undergo six operations to repair their injuries….Doctors Without Borders…reports that ‘acts of sexual violence accompanying the carnage have been without precedent in their frequency, their systematic nature, their brutality, and the perversity of the way they’re planned and staged.'”
What only five years ago was an astonishing level of violence in Congo “without precedent,” accurately describes the rape suffered by Jyoti Singh Pandey—the young woman in India whose rape and subsequent death galvanized massive demonstrations there—and the level of violence against women worldwide.
We are experiencing what some call a “normalization” of violence against women. You see that “normalization” in the USA when you have elected officials talking about “legitimate rape,” or that it is impossible for a raped woman to become pregnant, or that if she does, that is god’s wish and will. What is it but normalized if teenage boys in the heart of the USA think it’s OK to rape a 16-year-old honor student who is unconscious, strip her, urinate on her and post pictures and videos of her—and of them brutalizing her—on the internet?
Rape is so accepted as normal that—even with all the stress on stopping sexual assault in the military—an Air Force commander felt both free and justified in throwing out an aggravated sexual assault court conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot. He reportedly “wanted to show the pilot community [which evidently in his mind included no women] that he had their backs.”
RAPE AND THE LEFT
Nor has the Left escaped this normalization of violence and rape. That at least partly—and only partly—explains how the rape of a teenage British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) member by a Party big shot was dealt with in such a disgusting manner that it has brought scandal and mass flight from that Party. The case was tried by the SWP, with friends of the accused doing the investigation. Surprise, surprise, they decided that the young rape victim had not proven her case. As in a bourgeois trial, the woman was treated like the accused: questioned about her sexual history, her drinking habits. She was the one punished, banned from speaking at the party’s 2012 conference. SWP members who had questions about what amounted to her prosecution were expelled from the Party for discussing it among themselves on Facebook; any others who objected were charged with being guilty of “bourgeois morality” and of capitulating to feminism. This is another way that feminism was presented by the leadership of the British SWP as an evil.
The Left in this case, which is supposed to be about the transformation of society, decided to try to save the reputation of their organization and its leadership and sacrifice a teenage girl. Whatever principles they may have had are thoroughly destroyed. What they accepted as normal was: the girl was lying, the sex had to be consensual (although sex between those with power and those without in any organization is always questionable as “consensual”), feminism is bad, and anyone who questions our authority is the enemy.
The escalation of violence is not happening in a vacuum. It is at least in part a response to women’s increasing demands for freedom, demands to be treated as whole human beings who are determined to change their reality.
Be it in Egypt, Tunisia, other Arab Spring nations; India or the U.S.—in fact anywhere in the world—there can be no turning back, no retreat for women. The barbarity of the present makes clear that what is a necessity is for women’s demand for full freedom—for full personhood—to be an articulated, nonnegotiable revolutionary demand. Today’s reality shows that nothing short of a deep and total revolution that can transform all human relationships will mean women’s freedom.