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Earlier this week prominent atheist Richard Dawkins said some pretty insensitive comments about sexual assault on Twitter. “Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”
This was a follow-up line to an earlier assessment on the social media platform that “Mild pedophilia is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.”
Linor Abargil, of Netanya, Israel, was 18 years old when an Israeli travel agent raped her in the car on the ride to the train station in Milan, where she had been for a modeling event. Seven weeks later, she won the 1998 Miss World beauty pageant in the Seychelles. She reported the crime to the authorities in Rome and Israel, and the rape trial in Israel ended with her rapist Uri Shlomo receiving a 16-year prison sentence in October 1999.
A new documentary called “Brave Miss World,” directed by Cecilia Peck (the daughter of Gregory Peck), follows Abargil’s story from about 2008, when she began a website asking rape victims to submit their stories. She was swamped with emails, and journeyed to various parts of the United States and South Africa to meet with other victims and attend fundraising and outreach events.
These interviews with rape survivors make up a substantial part of the film. The stories are powerful, moving and sometimes hard to watch; there’s the 12-year-old girl in the Teddy Bear Clinic in Soweto who tells Abargil that some people rape virgins because they believe it will cure them from AIDS. There’s the college student at Princeton University who never reported her rape, there’s actress Joan Collins, who later married her rapist (Irish actor Maxwell Reed), there’s Fran Drescher, who, when recounting how two men broke into her home and raped her and a girlfriend while their husbands were present, began to cry and said, “There goes your makeup.”
I didn’t learn the story of the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter, until college, in a Bible as Literature class at Barnard. This might not have been so odd except that, one, I have 12 years of day school and yeshiva under my belt, and, two, she’s my namesake, so you would think I would know the one story in which she plays a starring role.
There are a lot of reasons, though, why this week’s Torah portion is not on the standard Torah class syllabus. Foremost: rape. The Torah offers plenty of other, cleaner tales to choose from that don’t involve sex and violence and that are more palatable for teaching to children and adolescents.
But it’s not just the rape, which is over by the end of the chapter’s second sentence, that keeps this story from being told. It’s also the aftermath, which is seriously troubling and challenging to translate into a morality lesson.
The story begins with Dinah’s one decisive action – venturing outside of her father’s home to the land of Canaan:
“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.”
(You may remember Leah as Jacob’s first, but less-beloved, wife. Her father, Laban, substituted her in when Jacob thought he was marrying her sister, the reproductively-challenged Rachel.)
Everything else in the account is done to her, including, of course, the rape itself.
“And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her.”
Contrary to recent retellings, like Anita Diamond’s “The Red Tent,” which casts the tale as a love story between Dinah and Shechem, we know nothing at all about how she felt about it or reacted afterwards.
No self-serious feminist strain of thinking posits that it’s an act of resistance to binge drink. Philosophically speaking, getting inebriated beyond rational capacity is hardly an empowering or equalizing behavior — in fact by its very definition it is the opposite. Yet the mythical booze-pushing feminist is a straw woman who continually gets cited when writers make the “contrarian” argument, (which is actually the conventional one) that women could prevent their own rapes if they only stopped binge drinking. These writers claim that (again, mythical) feminists who want women to drink on par with men are encouraging dangerous behavior.
This spurious argument resurfaced in a link-bait article by Emily Yoffe at Slate last week tied to a horrible rape case in Maryland. Putting aside the fact that the young victims in Maryland were underage and say they were coerced into drinking more than they could handle, Yoffe’s thesis can be debunked by the fact that rape was just as prevalent (if not more so) during eras when “binge drinking” was not even part of our vocabulary. Rather than promoting binge drinking, feminists are simply stating that stopping binge drinking will not stop rape. As Amanda Hess, in a response also at Slate, notes: “Parents can tell their own daughters not to get drunk, but even if those women follow instructions, it won’t keep other people’s daughters safe.”
Yoffe’s strain of thinking replicates an unfortunate focus on women’s drinking as a risk factor, rather than men’s view of women, or even men’s drinking. Thus Ann Friedman created a reverse-gender rewrite of the Slate article using much of Yoffe’s language and rhetoric. Her version’s unusual-sounding advice demonstrated how rare it is to read articles that call out men — not just women — to stop the problem of assault. Friedman writes:
The real masculine message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will become the kind of person who, shall we say, doesn’t have others’ best interests at heart. That’s not saying all men are rapists; that’s trying to prevent more rapes.
There are other, deeper, questions we can ask that Yoffe doesn’t touch on. Why, for instance, does binge drinking occur so much? Much of it arises from pure adolescent impulse to obliterate the painful present, consequences be damned. But there are also other factors: the achievement-oriented culture we live in results in harder partying to “cut loose.” And then there’s another form of internalized misogyny: young women, are so discouraged from frankly articulating and acknowledging their desires in our sexually screwed-up cultural environment that many feel they cannot possibly “hook up” when sober. That’s not a drinking problem, it’s a problem with our sexist culture — one addressed by proponents of “enthusiastic consent” like Jaclyn Friedman, whom I spoke to for the Forward last year.
In the last few weeks, I’ve written about military sexual assault and high-profile gendered kidnapping and rape cases, discussing how they fit into a broader pattern of rape culture in which women are treated as commodities and sex a transaction.
But last week’s shocking stories show how rape culture has seeped into tech and online culture, adding a gross violation of privacy to the inherent violation of sexual assault.
Sexual assault cases don’t occur in a vacuum, even when they are so egregious that they defy the imagination. For example: the recent Cleveland story involving the long-term imprisonment and rape of three local women by an alleged perpetrator who comes across as a complete sadist. Coverage of this story has been rife with speculation, yet there are few answers available — partly due to the survivors’ understandable desire for privacy.
We can’t examine the details yet, obsessing as we so often do. But we can examine ourselves.
As I noted when I wrote about sexual assault in the military (a scandal which continues to evolve), these kinds of crimes occur in a rape culture. Rape culture doesn’t mean only that there’s a high incidence of sexual assault, but also that sex is treated as a commodity, one for women to withhold and men to take, a commodity that also comes to represent women’s entire value and worth. Pure or defiled. Virginal or slutty — so slutty that consent is implied, not sought.
This past week, the true extent of the problem of rape and sexual assault in the military came to light, and the numbers were stark and ugly. A new Pentagon report found that nearly 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted last year — a 35% increase from 2010. The numbers sent shock waves everywhere, prompting furious editorials from major papers and a particularly angry-sounding President Obama at a press conference saying, “I have zero tolerance for this,” and vowing a top-down culture change.
Easier said than done, of course. The Los Angeles Times editorial board notes the deepest irony in the case, which is that a major point person in the military was caught, so to speak, with his pants down.
It is estimated that a woman born in my country, South Africa, has a greater chance of being raped than of learning how to read. Here, 144 women report rape to the police every day — that’s six cases reported every hour. These cold statistics from the Medical Research Council (MRC) tell us that a brutal war against women rages on.
While India rose up in protest after the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old in December, the recent sadistic rape and mutilation of 17-year-old South African Anene Booysen has seen a nation simply shrug its shoulders. Two women on different continents both endured vicious abuse, and their deaths elicited two very different national responses. The tragic deaths of both young women demand that their communities face the horror of sexual violence. Yet the response to in my country has been a state of helplessness, apathy and paralysis to implement change.
Anene Booysen, from a small town in the Southern Cape, was not only gang raped on the evening of February 1st, but had her stomach cut open, her throat slit and her intestines physically pulled out by her attackers. Left for dead with broken arms and legs, this brave woman managed to identify one of her attackers, reportedly her ex-boyfriend, before she passed.
During the High Holidays, I wrote about the escalating number of politicians saying insulting things to women and then offering false apologies.
But in the two months or so since then, the phenomenon hasn’t faded — in fact, it’s worsened. First, State Rep. Roger Rivard said some girls “rape so easy.” Then, Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh denied the reality of life-saving abortions.
This week was the mother of them all. Meet Illinois Senate Candidate Richard Mourdock:
Mourdock, who’s been locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Rep. Joe Donnelly, was asked during the final minutes of a debate whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.
“I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happened,” Mourdock said.
His comments shocked the punditry, and the Obama campaign was quick to point out Romney’s endorsement of the candidate and tie them to each other. Numerous progressive sites sent out petitions and messages urging the GOP to drop its endorsement of Mourdock. Everyone was in a tizzy, which made sense except for the fact that they really shouldn’t have been, because this heinous thinking isn’t new. The “children conceived in rape are a gift from God” idea is a point of view that has been expressed by Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and other outspoken voices of today’s social conservative movement.
Everybody’s talking about rape. From Daniel Tosh to Todd Akin, it’s all the rhetorical rage. While rape jokes may be more pervasive than ever these days, I think it’s fair to say that we’ve grown weary of arguments about rape humor — especially since the current political rhetoric regarding women’s bodies gives us something deeper at which to be offended. The suggestion that women’s bodies possess magical powers allowing them to suppress the fertilization of their eggs by rapists’ semen — in the event of “legitimate rape,” that is — and the proposal that fetal “personhood” begins weeks before a woman can even know that she is pregnant must cause even the most conservative women to shudder. At least in secret.
But as the arguments dwindle and the fallout of badly timed jokes runs its course, we’re left with something more sinister. What does this increasing cultural and political impulse to legislate women’s bodies and lash out at them in hateful ways say about our society?
Let’s start with humor. Yes, good humor breaches boundaries and challenges prevailing attitudes in ways that produce dialogue. But only the smart jokes do this. Defending every rape joke on the basis of free speech or an attempt to question a dominant mindset often amounts to intellectual laziness. The nature of our jokes, and why we laugh at them, reveals the darker realities of who we are. So why so much rape humor, and why now?
Winking headlines about “pole taxes” followed June’s enactment of a Houston ordinance that taxes strip club patrons $5 apiece. But the intent behind the law couldn’t be more serious; proceeds will fund the processing of more than 6,000 rape kits backlogged in police refrigerators.
For the legislator behind the law, Houston City Council member Ellen Cohen, its passage was just the latest in a long list of achievements around women’s issues. Before joining the Texas House of Representatives in 2006, Cohen ran the Houston Area Women’s Center — which dedicates itself to eradicating domestic and sexual violence — for 18 years. As a state legislator, she wrote and passed the pole tax predecessor, a statewide adult entertainment fee aimed at raising funds to support survivors of sexual assault. In 2011, Cohen joined the Houston City Council.
Michael Kaminer caught up with Cohen by e-mail from her Houston office.
It never ceases to amaze me how some so-called leaders will use women’s issues to advance their own agendas that have nothing to do with women. The overtly racist statements coming from the Shas government minister Eli Yishai last week in light of a Tel Aviv rape case were particularly troubling.
When the police arrested four Sudanese and Eritrean men last week on suspicion of raping a woman in Tel Aviv, some Israelis took this as an opportunity to indict the entire community of refugees that is concentrated in South Tel Aviv. I listened in horror to radio interviews with Tel Aviv residents talking about “those people” who have “taken over” the otherwise “normal” Tel Aviv — using language that is painfully reminiscent of my Orthodox Brooklyn upbringing, when we were expressly taught to cross to the other side of the street if we saw black men walking in our direction. For these sentiments to be reinforced in the year 2012 by a government official is particularly troubling.
Yishai said, in response to the rape, “Most African migrants in Israel are involved in criminal activity and should be imprisoned and deported.” As if to say, all the black folks in Tel Aviv are really just rapists, thieves, murderers, whatever. These statements give legitimacy to racism and may lead to criminal acts, like those that took place recently against asylum seekers,” said Michal Pinchuk, director of the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF). Indeed.
I would like to remind Mr. Yishai that an estimated 40,000 Israeli women a year are victims of sexual assault in Israel, according to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel — including, by the way, the victims of former president Moshe Katsav. (Meanwhile, Katsav’s protégé, Kiryat Malachi Mayor Motti Malka, was also recently arrested on rape charges.) According to Yishai’s logic, perhaps all Kiryat Malachi politicians should be rounded up and deported.
I don’t understand how Yishai, a man who supposedly cares so much about discrimination against Sephardim in Israel, can make such outrageously racist statements against Africans.
When the woman at the center of a very public and highly publicized Tel Aviv orgy, which The Sisterhood’s Allison Kaplan Sommer wrote about here, confirmed to police that she had not been coerced or raped, I was relieved. Why had we assumed she was a victim in the first place?
According to reports, the incident involved a group of young men, most of them teenagers, and a woman who was decades older. The woman was laughing as she led the men into the water, and rejected the efforts of a stranger who tried to come to her aid.
Then why, if nothing about her demeanor screamed “victim,” did so many people read this as a gang rape? It occurred to me that society has adopted a victim mentality when it comes to women in unorthodox situations.
Years back, during law school, I interned for an organization that represents children in abuse and custody proceedings. Throughout the internship, and for months after, I was suspect of every seedy-looking man holding a child’s hand. If a little girl on the subway platform so much as sniffled, I was immediately sizing up her guardian and trying to determine what horrible things he might be capable of. I couldn’t help but read into every situation.
When I first came to Israel as an American college student in the 1980s, I was frequently drawn into long discussions comparing Americans and Israelis. Back in the old days, before cable television and the Internet, many Israelis were exceptionally defensive about being viewed as a member of a primitive Third-World culture, and eager to point out ways in which they were superior to Americans.
If, during the course of these inevitably pointless conversations, I dared to describe Israelis unfavorably — as rude or intrusive, say — I received a lecture that went something like this: “Well, we may be in each other’s faces, but at least we care about each other in Israel. You know that if you are hurt or in trouble, someone will step in to help you. In America, everyone is focused on themselves. You can be lying on the sidewalk bleeding, and no one will do anything because they won’t want to interfere and will just mind their own business.”
To a large extent, this remains the image Israelis have of themselves. That is why reports of bystanders cheering while a group of young men had sex with a woman who appeared to be mentally ill on a public beach in the heart of Tel Aviv has grabbed national headlines. It is one in a series of incidents in recent years in which people have refrained from interfering in criminal behavior — making it difficult to argue that Israeli society is more caring than any other.
Katie Roiphe’s call in the New York Times for more tolerance for risqué behavior and dirty jokes at work inspired a pretty unanimous dismissal in the feminist blogosphere. (DoubleX, Jezebel, Pandagon, Feminisiting, and here on the Sisterhood.)
In her piece, Roiphe declares that our limited tolerance for the capacious concept of sexual harassment, which could refer to anything from demanding sex for a job to commenting on someone’s dress, might turn our workplaces to drab, cautious environments.
I agree that Roiphe went too far. That said, I am still going to go against the tide here and admit not only that her piece made me think, but also that she made a few good points.
It is fair to say that I became a distance runner during the very long four minutes I was being chased by a man determined to rape me. It was then that my sense of invincibility disappeared. I swore that if I got out of the situation unscathed, I would never again exercise alone in isolated locations.
I am happy to report that I did get away. Realizing that this man was closing the gap between us and would soon be able to push me to the ground, I stopped short and hit him with all my might. Even in his drug-heightened rage, my 24-year old attacker was so shocked that I would slug him in the head that he stopped chasing me and instead put his energy into cursing me as I continued running as fast as I could.
This happened one day last year, when I was about half way through my usual morning trek – a combination of hiking up desert hills while sprinting the distances between them. I was out near my home in Meitar, a small town outside Beersheva. The section closest to my house is part of a forest originally planted in 1963 by the Jewish National Fund to help mark the demarcation line between Israel and what was then Jordan, and is now the Palestinian Authority.
As a loud defender of Slutwalks, I’ve been disturbed by the recent turn the critique of the new grassroots movement has taken, from within the feminist movement and here on our own Sisterhood blog.
I was actually pleasantly surprised, during the first wave of Slutwalks earlier this year, by how much the mainstream media seemed to be getting the message of the walks, which is, in essence, that “she was asking for it” is never an appropriate response to rape.
No, the message is not “we’re sluts and we’re proud!” No, not “it’s great to be a slut!” No, the message is not exclusively “we’re reclaiming sluthood.”
Four men accused of raping a young Jewish woman from Crown Heights over a period of eight years have been indicted according to news reports. The reports say that the Jewish woman was just 13 years old when the attacks began, and that the alleged perpetrators in the case had also sold her to other men for sex. Three of the four men have criminal records.
The New York Times story details how the teacher of a class the young woman was taking at John Jay College of Criminal Justice helped convince her to turn to the authorities and report her story.
The saga began when the girl was allegedly raped by two of the defendants in a public park. But what none of the stories I’ve read so far have addressed is how this could happen for eight years to a young girl who lived in the midst of the relatively tight-knit Lubavitch Jewish community of Crown Heights without anybody knowing. It’s difficult to understand how the girl’s mother, at least, could have not known that something was terribly, terribly wrong. I hope the case prompts the men and women of the Crown Heights Jewish community to ask themselves the same questions.
More than two years ago, a young woman came forward about a pair of police offers who had been called to escort her from a taxi to her home because she was too drunk to make it alone. She said the officers came back to her apartment and that she came to consciousness to find one of the men raping her.
We still don’t know her name, but we know a lot more about how she feels after the ordeal of pressing charges against the two officers in a rape case that was watched around the country. The idea that law enforcement officials would take advantage of the person they were charged to protect caught the attention of many, as did the video footage showing the cops returning several times to the woman’s apartment, and recordings of a bogus 911 call they allegedly placed in order to put themselves at the scene.
The offers were fired and convicted of lesser charges; but the jury’s “not guilty” verdict on the rape charges prompted widespread shock, difficult conversations about how society views rape and even an impromptu rally.
Last night, the alleged victim, 29 and now living in California, released a statement that was utterly compelling and shed light on her ordeal.
The sexual assault and attempted rape charges against I.M.F. chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn — he’s pleaded not guilty — got me thinking: What propels men who most certainly know better to engage in the type of morally repugnant behavior, such as that which the French politician stands accused?
How much is it a matter of class or race? His alleged victim, an immigrant from North Africa, is a chambermaid at a Manhattan hotel. And maids have long been vulnerable to sexual assault and intimidation due to the solitary nature of their work and the little respect the profession is given — due in part to it being “women’s work.” Though while race and class are no doubt part of the power hierarchy that propels one human to try to have his way with another, they don’t alone tell the whole story.
You see, Tristane Banon, a young journalist, novelist and daughter of a Socialist Party official, is also alleging that DSK attempted to rape her, back in 2002.
In a culture in which predatory sexual encounters and sexual assaults are so prevalent, what’s to blame?