February 21, 2010

These "Soldiers", They Force us to Rape Them

At its core, a culture that breeds hatred against women, not only believes that every rape victim “had it coming,” but it indoctrinates its citizens, and socializes them to accept that sexual violence against women is somehow a “necessary evil.”  

The title of this post is quite literally based on a 2006 article in the Journal of South African Studies.  This article exposed post-apartheid sexual assault against women in South Africa.  I thought of it when I was listening to my favorite morning radio show The Takeaway.  One of this week’s “takeaways” was the prevalence and persistence of sexual assault against women in the military.  As I was listening, the old, yet familiar tropes of patriarchy kept playing again and again. 

Representative Loretta Sanchez, the highest ranking woman in the House Armed Services Committee, provided information about the testimonies brought forth to congress this week.  I was awestruck by the following:

Not only are they commanded [to go to the bathroom with a buddy at night], the commanders know. They know that these women are being raped. And by the way, once you’re identified as someone [that has] been raped, word gets around and then you’re raped more often…We need to prosecute these people and put them behind bars.  

Apparently, 30% of women serving in the military have “reported” sexual assault.  However, added to that percentage is the failure to report rate, as it has become an a priori fact that the crime of rape is the most under-reported crime in America.  And the military is simply a microcosm of American society.  Therefore, sexual assault in the military, and the military's ambivalence to it, shouldn't surprise me or any other American citizen, since a woman is raped every six minutes in the U.S., and a woman is battered every fifteen seconds.  Just as female soldiers are required to travel in pairs to go to the bathroom, so are civilian women in America encouraged to travel in pairs or groups at night for fear of dangerous “predators”; those predators are always male, and the implication is that they are sexual predators.  There is an acceptance in our society that men are sexually violent and are bound to rape women.  As such, it is the responsibility of women to protect themselves against the inevitable.  Consequently, if a woman is raped, she was careless and failed to protect herself.  

Furthermore, patriarchal societies condone, and at times, encourage violence against women as a means of controlling and subordinating them.  I argue that men are of the opinion that the presence of women in combat is a violation of a patriarchal boundary.  Rape and other forms of sexual assault are a means of socially controlling and disciplining women who have transgressed that boundary.  

Sadly, whenever human rights organizations confront the military with these harsh realities, military officials divert attention away from the sexual assault itself and focus on the overall question of whether or not women should serve in combat at all.  By doing so, aren't they really affirming that men are using sexual violence against women as a means of social control?  And doesn't American culture reinforce or even engender such attitudes?  


February 14, 2010

What is Love?

image vanessapikerussell.com
On this day that we set aside to celebrate love, I wonder if we really think about love and what it means, or do we all get caught up in gifting and the politics therein...

We feel, see, and show love in so many ways, yet the one day we set aside to celebrate this omnipresent, universal concept, we transform it into a kind of homage to diamonds, roses, and chocolate.  Although we all appreciate those things, and they are beautiful signifiers of romantic love, is romantic love the truest and ultimate expression of love? The love between lovers is powerful and breathtaking, yet it is only Act One of a Five-Act play.  Unfortunately, many of us never stick around for the rest of the show.  If not ephemeral in the first place, the burn of romance endures.  What drives the burn is something which surpasses a lover's kiss.

Love is that aching, beautiful, extraordinary effusiveness that God/Allah/Jehovah/Yahweh (and the other hundred names we have) has given to us all.  Although I'm not a huge fan of C.S. Lewis, I found a morsel of truth in his work Four Loves.  He defined love in four categories:  Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity.  Many writers and philosophers have theorized similarly for centuries.  However, we tend to celebrate only one category on Valentine's Day.  Yet, most of humanity experiences charity and friendship all the time.  We experience it when we weep for those who have endured great sorrow, those who have felt the wrath of oppression, and the depths of despair.  We experience love when we hold a newborn child in our arms or hold the hand of a friend in need.  I think we are all capable of showing higher orders of love, but of course, we don't always do so.  We all fall victim to cynicism and downright meanness.  The more we allow the meanness to reign, the more it will consume us.  In these terrible times, we need to find reasons to laugh more and find the flowers among the weeds.

In the immortal words of Lenny Kravitz, we need to "Let Love Rule," because love is God and God is love.

February 08, 2010

Do We Still Need Black History Month?

Unfortunately, we do still need Black History Month.  I say "unfortunately" because many African Americans find it unfortunate that an entire corpus of literary excellence and a long history of scientific contributions, dating back to the turn of the late nineteenth century, have been reduced to a 28-day public service announcement.

I say "still" because the intent of the original "Black History Week" was to generate discourse about and compensate for the larger society's neglect of African American contributions.  Since American History and Social Studies texts had omitted African American stories from school curricula, "Black History Week" would pay tribute to those neglected Americans.  That was 1926.  Now, 84 years later, aside from a sprinkling of color, relegated to the margins of texts, African American history is "still" largely trivialized and marginalized.  Just as the Civil Rights movement has been reduced to The March on Washington and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, African American history has been reduced to a sort of "who's who" in black popular culture.

The problem here is that we still see African American history as somehow separate from American History.  We still need the qualifier - "African."  If there is doubt, one need only open any public school Literature or Social Studies text.  Undoubtedly, there will be a chapter (probably near the back), entitled, "Harlem Renaissance", in which all Black writers, regardless of whether or not they really were Harlem Renaissance writers, will be included.  In the Social Studies texts, African Americans are mentioned a bit more generously, but only to the extent that they reify their white counterparts.  History texts fail to depict African Americans in a subjective inclusive way.

As reductive as Black History month may be, what would happen if we scrapped it altogether?  African American stories would never get told. Africans in America would just become invisible.  The racial purging that slavery, jim crowism, and crack cocaine could not do would be accomplished by simply writing the African out of American history.  Africans in America would become the ahistorical people that many have claimed them to be for centuries.  Therefore, if we disapprove of the mockery that Black History month has become, we should transform it.  Better yet, we should challenge the American system of education to tell all of the histories, not simply the version of history that serves white hegemony.