Thursday, February 17, 2011

Using Rape to Justify Oppression of Women

Reader el just brought to my attention the following comment left at a feminist site, of all places, regarding the rape of journalist Lara Logan. The comment is so deeply offensive, ignorant, and ridiculous that I'm sure it was written by some crazed Christian fundamentalist who is trying to use this story to promote their hatred of women:
I am an American woman who has lived in various countries, including Pakistan (2 years). The fact is that fundamentalist Muslim societies are very, very different from the Americas and Western Europe, and no one without firsthand experience can really comprehend just how great the difference is. Women ARE at risk in those societies. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it is true, and until those societies have evolved, women should not be sent into crowded situations there. Not at all, not ever. Not because women are weak or unprofessional, but because the environment is hostile and dangerous and especially so for women.
First of all, what does it mean that "women should not be sent"? Sent by whom? Who is this benevolent, all-powerful authority that decides whether women get or do not get sent anywhere? The idea that somebody should decide for women where they should and shouldn't go based on some perceived danger is deeply patriarchal.

The insistence that the world is too dangerous for women to be in it has been used for millennia to confine women to their kitchens. "Don't leave the house because you'll be raped" is part of patriarchal propaganda. It has always been employed and is still employed by people who cannot deal with the idea that women do not wish to limit their presence to the private sphere of the home. In reality, the majority of rape victims get raped at home by people they know. The patriarchal propaganda that keeps telling women, "Don't go to a bar, or you will be raped," "Don't travel to other countries to do your job, or you'll be raped" conveniently forgets to mention that the most dangerous places for women in terms of the probability of being raped are their own homes or the homes of people they know intimately.

Women should not be blamed for being raped. Lara Logan wasn't raped because she made a bad decision and decided to pursue her profession. She was raped because there were crazed criminals in the square on that day. However, once again, staying home would not have diminished her chances of getting raped. Just the opposite. (If anybody needs statistics on this I address you to Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape that has a bibliography a mile long supporting this well-known fact.)

People get raped not because they are women who should have stayed at home under the protection of all-powerful males. People get raped because other people are criminals. Anybody can get raped. It's not like rape and gang rape have never happened to men. Still, only women are terrorized by the threat of rape to prevent them from leading complete lives.

I knew that people still mostly had completely medieval attitudes to rape but the profoundly barbaric nature of many people's responses to the rape of Lara Logan is even scarier than I could have ever imagined.


Rimi said...

Might I suggest you may have misunderstood the woman? When she says "women should not be sent in", I think she means the local network head who makes these decisions, who might be male or female.

Second, as someone who grew up in close proximity to this sort of thing, I must concede she is largely right. There really is no point pushing oneself into an adrenalin-steeped environment populated with men who have been taught to see western/modern women either as "loose" and exclusively sexual, or as threats to masculine structures of power. To walk right in -- which Ms. Logan did NOT do, by the way, she was separated from her crew by the crowd -- and demand to be respected as a full person is futile, because the chances that the surrounding people will recognise a woman as a whole person is rather slim.

There is a big difference, I think, between asking Ms. Logan to stay in her kitchen and asking her network heads to analyse the risk of sending a woman to a particular field. Barkha Dutt, once one of our top political reporters and now a complete corporate sell-out, did a series of excellent reports from the war-torn Himalayas between the India and Pakistan border (with the Chinese border close by). Even in India, no one questioned her gender because the risk there was that of injury or death, sufferable equally by all genders. There is something, after all, to be said for contexts.

In fact, one might play the devil's advocate and say that the her network wanted to exploit the juxtaposition of Ms. Logan's feminine appeal against a backdrop of raucous men on an adrenalin high, and hence risked her safety like they didn't the safety of her male crew. So it is their gender-exploitative intentions that is to be blamed. This is not what I am saying personally, but should one wish, a case can certainly be made out of it.

Clarissa said...

Rimi: once again, the absolute majority of rape victims get raped in their homes by people they knew very well.

Journalists of Logan's stature usually get to choose their assignments. When such prominent events are covered, journalists often fight hard to get the assignment.

Rimi said...

I'm afraid I don't see the point of repeating your point about unsafe homes, Clarissa. I've not debated or dimissed it, in fact I agree completely with it. But that doesn't mean the streets are any safer for women, especially in cultures that have for years espoused firm repressive policies on men and women both, but especially on women.

You would agree, wouldn't you, that covering Bosnia would present slightly slimmer (but not completely non-existant) chances of sexual harassment than covering one in, say, Sudan?

And to point this cultural attitude towards women is not condoning it. It's merely underlining the problem, and trying to provide an alternative explanation for what the woman might have meant. Too often on blogs, I notice, a commentary on someone else's opinions are mistaken for one's own. To just in case I haven't made myself clear: if Logan did indeed choose to do this project, then going into this particular field was a risky and somewhat uninformed choice. She probably didn't realise the extent of anti womens-lib and anti-USA feelings in Egypt. But it was still her choice to make, and she made it, and because this viscerally appalling thing happened to her shouldn't dictate similar choices by other men or women.

And there's a big difference in acknowledging that she made a very risky and uninformed choice, and saying, "Oh she had it coming". I wish people wouldn't conflate culture-informed common sense with extremist gender bashing.

Patrick said...

I find myself in the strange place of agreeing with Rimi. There is an obligation of the management of the news agency to consider the well-being and safety of their correspondents and crew. Neither Lara or her crew should have been in that square. No self-respecting journalist would want to miss it - but the pursuit of a 'great story' cannot be more important than the safety of the people involved, and that's where management authourity takes over.
And it doesn't extend 'just to women'. It extends to anyone in the employ of the news network. Human lives are more important than a 'great story'.

Clarissa said...

Patrick: being a field journalist is a risky profession, that's true. There are many other professions that are also risky. Unless we start discussing whether such professions should be abolished altogether, I don't see the point of criticizing people for their choice to practice their profession. We don't criticize soldiers who get killed, beheaded, raped, and maimed in the field of action, do we? Or firefighters? Or the police officers? Some people choose to write editorials (and good for them(, but others choose to be field reporters. Are we to deny fully functional adults the freedom of choice here? I'm sure that news networks don't send reporters anywhere against their will. Are we to expect the networks to act paternalistically towards their reporters and prevent them from practicing their profession as they see fit?

Not that it would change anything. There are reporters who went to Egypt independently because that's where the news are right now.

Clarissa said...

Rimi: to my shame I know very little about Sudan, so I won't be able to make an intelligent comparison of Sudan and Bosnia. I know that in Bosnia rape was ubiquitous, massive, and horrifying in its scope and violence.

Anonymous said...

From the information I've gathered on Logan she is very well respected in her industry, so she was probably able to pick and choose what stories she wanted to cover. I honestly don't get this notion that she didn't know what she was getting herself into or that she should have known what was going to happen. She knew exactly what she was covering it was meant to be a celebration not a violent demonstration. So to say she should have been ready to expect the worst to me seems stupid. There was absolutely no reason for her to expect that something this horrific was going to happen to her, in a crowd where people are supposed to be happily celebrating their liberation from oppression. To suggest the treatment she suffered is somehow her own fault and that she bought it on herself is just baffling to me.


cringe-all said...

While I agree that sitting at home is not a solution for women, it is certainly true that Western/" liberated" women are at greater risk in a culture which they do not understand, and where men are raised in a very patriarchal culture and unaccustomed to dealing with women in the public place. I wonder if you would consider it deeply unfeminist or some sort of unfortunate compromise with patriarchy, for a Western woman to "cover up" or even use a hijab to minimize unwanted attention when traveling in the Middle East or South Asia?

Rimi said...

To assume you know exactly what Logan thought she was covering is perhaps stupider, 2020. You (and the imagined Logan in your head) might think you know very well what to expect, but if you don't know that public celebrations are also a platform for sexual licence, then your assumed knowledge is misplaced arrogance. And it indicates a tendency to impose your own cultural parameters of "celebration" onto a people you clearly don't know much about -- more cultural arrogance.

Finally, you should ashamed of the malicious accusation that people who think Logan's decision *might* have been uninformed are *also* people who think her rape was her own fault. Or are you one of those special people who only see what they want to see?

Patrick, our supposed feud is a figment of your imagination :-) We disagree completely on some issues, agree on some others. A perfectly natural situation, I think.

Clarissa said...

" if you don't know that public celebrations are also a platform for sexual licence"

-What happened to Lara Logan wasn't sex. It was rape.

cringe-all: we keep hearing on a daily basis that going to bars, parties, getting drunk, wearing revealing clothes, etc. puts us at risk for rape. It seems like the mere act of breathing puts us at risk.

When the reality is that what really puts ALL of us (including men) at risk is the existence of criminals. Let's divert our attention to them rather than analyze the actions of victims all the time.

cringe-all said...

There's a not-so-subtle difference between blaming a victim and believing that it's good sense to take certain precautions against the possibility of crime (which holds true for both men and women) such as knowing which the unsafe neighborhoods in a city you are visiting are, or keeping your valuables to yourself and well-concealed etc. It may not be very "feminist" to discuss this but it certainly has a gender dimension to it I do not see why this does not merit any discussion. Of course I recognize that crimes can happen despite all precautions and that should not deter any of us from traveling, and once it happens the victim needs our sympathy and support, not sermonizing. But it gets my goat when feminist ideologues rise up in arms against any suggestion about precautions. Such people are probably armchair academics who never travel outside their own ivory tower.

Patrick said...

Clarissa wrote, "Are we to deny fully functional adults the freedom of choice here"

Sometimes, yes. Good sense needs to over ride good intentions.

Even within the inherently dangerous professions (and I don't count journalists among them), they will exercise the judgment to not act. Firefighters will prevent the spread of a fire, but let the object itself burn. Prison guards will allow a cell block riot to wind down naturally,(as it must, from injury and fatigue) rather than trying to intervene. The military will delay a mission or objective if the risk is too high.

There are times and places that journalists should not go. I thought it was an abysmal decision to put 'embedded' reporters with military troops. To me, it was an unjustifiable risk in an effort to get a 'scoop'. I just don't think it's that important. Probably why I'm not a media executive.

Clarissa said...

cringe-all: you surprise me. You do know where I was born, right? I lived in Ukraine in the 90ies. It was the time of the war of the gangs for power. Shoot-outs in the streets, in the public spaces were the order of the day. regular people responded with violence at a slightest provocation. A day didn't go by when I didn't see people fight, beat each other up or react with extreme aggression right in the middle of the street.

However, the only time I was assaulted was when I went to Yale. I hardly knew anybody there who wasn't a victim of violence or sexual harassment at one time or another. And it wasn't because people did anything wrong. It was because criminals decided to assault them, mug them , rob them or beat them up.

All these precautions about "unsafe" areas of the city, etc. are rationalizations. People desperately want to believe that they will avoid being victimized if they do everything "right." But that's not how it works unfortunately.

Clarissa said...

Patrick: so who should exercise this authority of preventing people from travelling wherever they want and reporting news there? Recently this blogger became world famous after he went to Egypt and posted photos and reports from there. Who can prevent anybody from doing that? The government? By closing the borders? That was tried in the Soviet Union, but I wouldn't call this a successful example.

Patrick said...

Free lancers obviously have responsibility over their own actions, and responsibility for their own safety. If they really want to dance in a minefield, that's their choice (insane as it may be). The point here is that Lana is under the employ of CBS. They have the authority to assign her (and her crew) where they want. They could have sent the crew to the Hague. She (and her crew) don't have the authourity to dictate their assignments. They can lobby, beg, plead. But the ultimate responsibility lies with those in positions of authority. When I managed a manufacturing facility, I wouldn't permit workers to operate equipment without safety guards. It didn't matter how much they didn't want to use the safety gear. It didn't matter how much more they thought they could do without the safety gear. They weren't allowed to work without it. Because I had the obligation to protect them from themselves. So they could go home to their families intact each evening. Because people are more important than product.

D said...

I find it hard to believe - considering all the turmoil involved with this particular place and time - that CBS didn't assign a security detail to her. CBS reporters embedded in a war zone are surrounded by armed soldiers. In this instance the network could have easily hired security to protect their reporters, cameramen and equipment. Keep in mind, this wasn't a pep rally - it was an overthrow of a government in an area that's not particularly friendly to westerners.

Clarissa said...

Exactly, D. The problem is that the irresponsible media and gushing pseudo-liberals sold us all the idea that it is, in fact, a pep rally of peaceful lovers of democracy.

Tom Carter said...

I haven't seen any reports to the effect that Logan was actually raped. The term being used is "sexually assaulted." I read this report today:

New details have emerged about Lara Logan’s brutal attack in Egypt, including that she was stripped, repeatedly punched and slapped and pinched so hard that sensitive parts of her body were covered in red marks, according to a new report.

Wounds on her body were consistent with being hit by the poles that demonstrators were using to fly flags, London's Sunday Times reported.

Nevertheless, that's a terrible thing to happen to anyone.

The point is not whether Logan was "sent" into that mob of Muslim men or whether she did it on her own. A blond, blue-eyed young woman in the middle of a mob of Muslim men is a predictable scenario for trouble.