Opening a dialogue on rape, violence and gender.

Unpublished letter to The Guardian. Opening a dialogue on rape, violence and gender.

keywords: rape, violence, gender, denial, complicity, misogyny,

 Eve Ensler (The Guardian, 02 07 2011), as ever, expertly cuts to the heart of the complexities that continue to embroil issues of rape, violence and gender. Her ‘how’ questions expose both the severity of the experiential challenge faced by women living inside misogyny, and the intellectual and political task facing feminists, as we routinely find ourselves trying to clamber up the down escalator of evasion, denial, slur, fear, ridicule and abuse.

The Strauss-Kahn case has brought to the surface key features of this gendered status quo that together provide a basis for the necessary dialogue:

  • his longstanding reputation as a prominent man of the left in France and Europe, who has long been recognised in his own country as a ‘lapin chaud’: see her / want her / chase her, if necessary using force: ‘hot rabbit’ sounds funny, makes it a joke………….
  • the complicity of the French media and academics (and a fair portion of the general public in France) in maintaining a discrete silence over many years based on the traditional private/public, personal/political binary, which serves to protect the gendered status quo and its abuses;
  • the implicit or open approval this stance delivers for sexually predatory, even violent behaviour by men in positions of power;
  • the terrible model this provides for sons;
  • the complicity of his socialist and feminist life partner, who, in line with what is expected of her as a French woman (of the left), has apparently been happy to go along with his established sexual lifestyle, which has involved habitual, sexually predatory behaviour, in particular towards women in positions of ‘inferiority’ or subordination – to the extent that he was warned to curb his lust when taking up his post in New York.

To further demonstrate how court cases sometimes illuminate the murky corners of misogyny, which fuels rape, sexual violence and pornography, compare the Strauss-Kahn case (the old normal?) with the murder of a young girl.

In the final, haunting photograph after the court case, the father of the murdered girl, whose pornography was found littered throughout their home (and had been discovered by his young daughter) read out a statement complaining about his treatment by the Police during the investigation, which had brought his use of pornography to light.

His wife, Milly’s mother, must have lived in the knowledge of her husband’s intensive use of pornography. She is staring at him as he speaks, with a devastated expression on her face. We don’t know if she cared or not about his use of pornography before the murder investigation, but by default, she was complicit with his behaviour. Rendered silent.

Milly’s sister has her arm draped around her father’s shoulders in the photograph; she too looks devastated. This image could be read as a wife and daughter feeling sorry for the husband/father (whose use of pornography perhaps reveals something about his attitude to women generally; and they are women, as would have been Milly). He has been exposed: the ‘private’ made public. And they feel bound to show how sorry they are for him.

Then there is Milly’s killer: established as a murdering misogynist, who really made it his business to silence girls and women.

So, as a woman, this case faces me with further evidence of the pervasive and lethal impact of misogyny, and I see that it involves the exploitation, complicity and silencing of women: symbolic as well as actual. Given the galloping expansion and intensification of the sex industries, exacerbated by the ease and kind of availability on the net, is this the ‘new normal’?

And then there is our Minister for Justice, who thinks there are degrees of rape. See my poem at http://poetry-24.blogspot.com/2011/06/good-weather-bad-weather.html.

Ensler is right: let’s stop not asking those questions. Let’s  stop looking away and open a real and useful dialogue on rape, violence and gender.

val walsh / 02 07 2010

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