Rape, violence and gender: the new normal?

Unpublished letter to The Guardian:

Rape, violence and gender: the new normal?

keywords: rape, violence, gender, media complicity, misogyny, sexual violence.

The Strauss-Kahn case has brought to the surface key features of the gendered status quo that together provide a basis for serious 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 of sexually predatory, even violent behaviour, by heterosexual 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 (initially unsuccessful) investigation of the murder of a young girl in the UK in 2002, and the recent indictment of a serial rapist and killer for her murder, in June 2011.  Nine years failing to establish guilt and deliver effective criminal justice.

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, murdered Milly’s mother, presumably 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 colluded with his behaviour. Was rendered silent.

Milly’s sister has her arm draped around her father’s shoulders in a protective manner in the photograph; she too looks distrought. 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. By implication, they accept his use of pornography as either ‘normal’ and/or his private right. None of their business.

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

And 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.

Does the galloping expansion of the sex industries, and of pornography on the net, make this the ‘new normal’ on both the home front and in society generally?

Failing to open up a real and useful dialogue on rape, violence and gender (see Eve Ensler, The Guardian: 02 07 2011) leaves this lethal culture of misogyny unchallenged; and its present and future victims unprotected and unacknowledged. As ever, we must ask: what kind of society do we want to be? And what do we have to do to get there?

val walsh / 06 07 2011



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