By now perhaps you have heard of the Silence Is The Enemy project started by Sheril Kirshenbaum at The Intersection with help from Isis at On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess. From Sheril’s post:
Today begins a very important initiative called Silence Is The Enemy to help a generation of young women half a world away.Why? Because they are our sisters and children-the victims of sexual abuse who don’t have the means to ask for help. We have power in our words and influence. Along with our audience, we’re able to speak for them. I’m asking all of you-bloggers, writers, teachers, and concerned citizens-to use whatever platform you have to call for an end to the rape and abuse of women and girls in Liberia and around the world.
In regions where fighting has formally ended, rape continues to be used as a weapon. As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote from West Africa, ‘it has been easier to get men to relinquish their guns than their sense of sexual entitlement.’ The war has shattered norms, training some men to think that ‘when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.’ An International Rescue Committee survey suggests 12 percent of girls aged 17 and under acknowledged having been sexually abused in some way over the previous 18 months. Further, of the 275 new sexual violence cases treated Jan-April by Doctors Without Borders, 28 percent involve children aged 4 or younger, and 33 percent involve children aged 5 through 12. That’s 61% age 12 or under. We read about their plight and see the figures, but it’s so easy to feel helpless to act in isolation. But these are not statistics, they are girls. Together we can do more. Mass rape persists because of inertia so let’s create momentum.
Please go on and read Sheril’s entire entry. There you will find all the details about the project, as well as links to other blogs participating, and you will find which blogs are donating their proceeds this month to Doctors Without Borders. (TSZ is not only because my tiny monthly blogging proceeds already go to a charity.) You’ll want to visit those blogs often, knowing that your clicks will help raise money for a good cause.
I’m not going to attempt to cover the same ground here that every one else has. I urge you to go to Sheril’s post, read what she has to say, check out all the links and read everyone else’s posts on this topic. What I am going to do is quibble with just one thing that Sheril has said, for a particular reason.
Sheril begins her post speaking very bravely about her own experience of sexual assault. She then refers to her assailant with the phrase “monsters like this man”.
I want to make the provocative suggestion that it is not helpful in some ways to label perpetrators of sexual assault – even those who rape very, very young girls – as “monsters”. I say this as someone who was sexually assaulted at an extremely young age.
I was assaulted by someone I know. I would not call him a monster, though what he did is monstrous. Calling perpetrators of sexual assault monsters makes it seem like somehow we can cut them out of a crowd, easily identify them somehow, know them as in some way different from the more general group of average men. Yet this is not the case. The next time you are in a crowd, look around you. Can you tell who, in that crowd, are the men who have molested their daughters or sisters or cousins or nieces? Of course you can’t. They look like every other man. They come from every walk of life, every social class, every type of occupation.
Allan Johnson writes in The Gender Knot:
Rather than devalue or degrade patriarchal manhood, warfare celebrates and affirms it…In stark contrast to massive graveyards of honored dead, the memorials, the annual speeches and parades, there are no monuments to the millions of women and children caught in the slaughter and bombed, burned, starved, raped, and left homeless. An estimated nine out of ten wartime casualties are civilians, not soldiers, and these include a huge proportion of children and women, but there are no great national cemeteries devoted to them. War, after all, is a man’s thing.
It is important to work to end the suffering of women and children who daily live in fear of rape in Liberia, the Congo, Darfur, and elsewhere. It is equally important to remember that rape has been a weapon of war since war began, and that war has been used to “celebrate and affirm” patriarchal manhood often through that very use of rape as a weapon, by every nation under the sun. One of the ways in which rape functions as a weapon is to show the enemy – the other man – how weak he is. He cannot even protect his “own women”. Rape of the enemy’s women is a display to the enemy male of powerful masculine power, as well as a “perk” of successful aggression.
Sheril Kirshenbaum wrote, quoting Nicholas Kristof, “The war has shattered norms, training some men to think that ‘when they want sex, they need simply to overpower a girl.’ ” Has it really shattered norms? Or just enshrined, entrenched, enhanced, and elevated a central norm of patriarchal manhood that women exist for men’s pleasure, that a woman, any woman, even a three-year-old “woman” should be available at a man’s whim to service his needs? Women’s bodies are that upon which men enact their struggles to display their masculinity to each other. The rapes being carried out in Liberia and elsewhere are not being carried out by monsters; they are being perpetrated by men, average men, men who are in many cases known to their young victims. The rapes are acts done by men to assert their masculinity and a sense of control in a world in which very little is actually under their control.
Allan Johnson says we deny the reality of women’s oppression because it’s too difficult to admit that there is a real basis for conflict between men and women. There is just no nice way to dance around saying that sexual abuse, assault, and rape of young girls and women are perpetrated by men – men we know, men we trusted, men we live and work with, normal men not monsters. That the understanding of a right to women’s bodies is built right into notions of patriarchal masculinity. Those of you who come on this blog and argue that you can’t help ogling tits in the workplace because evolution and your manly man nature makes you do it are on one end of a continuum that ends with the mass rape of young Liberian girls. It’s all of a piece, and it all makes me want to puke. I’m sure that makes you uncomfortable, and you want to say “no, no, tit ogling is COMPLETELY different and totally innocuous!” Let me assure you: you are wrong.
Now go back and read Sheril’s or Isis’s or Jessica’s or Scicurious’s or Tara’s or Janet’s posts and take some of the positive actions they suggest. I’m just tired and steaming mad and I have to get up early and take mom to the doctor.