In the last few days, Congolese thugs raped 60 women, men, and children. Sexual violence in the Congo has escalated at a terrifying rate. Over 15,000 cases of sexual were reported there in 2009. And in the first six months of 2010, there were 7,685 cases. More than half of the victims were younger than 18 years old. The catastrophic transformation of the region has become so severe that Nene Rukunghu, a local doctor was moved to say, “This is no longer a crisis, it’s becoming a culture.”
What does it mean to say that a crisis has become a culture? What is a culture of rape? What could possibly sustain such a culture, and what happens to people who live in a rape culture?
Let us begin with some definitions:
Culture, -noun: the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.
Rape, -noun: an act of sexual intercourse that is forced upon a person.
In a rape culture, dominant human beings sexually force themselves onto others and transmit this “way of living” from one generation to another. In a rape culture, sexual violation becomes a way of life.
It has long been established that most rapists are men and that rape is an act of extreme violence and aggression, as opposed to an act of sexual desire. The aggressor inflicts himself on another to get power over another person by humiliating, degrading, and injuring that person.
Rape is a uniquely human act, barbaric but not like other animals’ aggression. Only human beings rape because rape involves the complex, cultural understanding of “self” and “other” which the act itself reinforces.
Rape is a weapon of war that is used to shatter and erode the morale and dignity of an entire village, community, or people. The act itself registers differently in different cultures. It is most effective, or destructive, in cultures in which women are considered to be valuable only insofar as they remain sexually inexperienced and chaste.
This attitude is pervasive in cultures in which women are regarded as the property of their fathers or husbands, as chattel or goods that have a symbolic value that accrues to the owner of that property. According to this way of thinking, the personal honor of the possessor suffers grievous injury when his chattel, his woman, wife, or daughter, loses her value through unauthorized sexual contact. This way of thinking dominated Europe throughout the first millennium B.C.E. and is still vigorous in fundamentalist Christian pockets of the United States.
Rape, or any outlawed sexual experience, not only depletes the putative value of the woman, it also allegedly pollutes the honor of her father or husband. In many cultures the rape of a woman is thought to pollute the honor of that woman’s entire family or tribe. If you don’t already know about this, you should. Introduce yourself to the topic with this video:
In order to recover their lost dignity and standing in the patriarchal community, the family or tribe will shame and ostracize the victim. This practice was widespread in Bosnia and Serbia during and after the wars in that region, where rape was routinely used as a weapon of mass humiliation. In aggressively patriarchal cultures, it is felt that male/tribal honor can only be restored through the murder of the victim.
In other words, patriarchal cultures are barbaric. They are founded on the mythical belief that women are inherently inferior to men, and that therefore men have the right to own and control women. Women do not have the right to own themselves or to make their own choices about their sexuality in these barbaric cultures.
Rape is an ancient means by which men have destroyed the mental and physical health of women to dominate and control them, but it is more fundamentally the crude method by which men seek to elevate themselves above other men. By damaging the goods, and more importantly, the honor of another man or another group of men through rape, a man crudely proves that he is more powerful, more masculine. Men in patriarchal culture are caught up in a mass illusionary game of quien es mas macho.
When men rape other men, they “feminize” their victims, treat them to the ultimate indignity to gain weaken their enemies and gain power over them. But the rape of a man’s wife or child, especially if it is performed in front of him, also effectively emasculates that man. He is forced to experience his own puny effeminacy in the face of other, allegedly more masculine men who have the power to take, degrade, and supposedly destroy, his woman or children before his eyes.
The rapist pathetically and barbarically “proves” his masculinity–his strength, his power, his honor–to himself and to his fellows, who also must engage in the same barbaric acts to sustain the fiction of their collective superiority over the people, the women, the men, and the children whom they are terrorizing. For this reason, the rapist is completely unable to tolerate or even imagine how he might feel if someone were to rape his sister, or his mother, or his daughter.
Consider the frightening self-delusion of the rapists in this video:
In the culture of rape that has grown up, tragically, in the Congo, men pass on to the next generation the perverted understanding that a man is only a man if he can out-man other men by raping their women. But this culture is itself the natural expression of a culture in which men believe that men are superior to women, and that they have the right to possess, control, and govern their inferiors.
It is common to blame the crisis that has developed in the Congo on the Belgians, who brutally colonized the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Certainly it is true that the whites committed many terrible crimes as a result of their own racist and sexist assumptions. But the culture in the Congo had gone wrong long before the whites came. It went bad when masculinism–the arbitrary belief that masculinity is superior to femininity–began to infect African culture, probably about 6,000 years before the current era.
One could certainly say–as Andrea Dworkin did say–that all masculinist culture is rape culture. One in four women in the United States has been raped. In any society in which men and women have internalized the arbitrary myth that masculinity is superior to femininity, a rape culture develops. It does not always exhibit itself in the brutally overt violence that we are seeing in the Congo. As explained very well in one of my favorite blogs, Ben Roethlisberger, the degenerate quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is a product and producer of rape culture.
At home as well as in the Congo, human beings–mostly men–appear to be degenerating utterly into something that we shudder to call human. When gangs of children who themselves were kidnapped, raped, and tortured commit these very same crimes against other children, and against women and men who fall into their paths, the myth of masculinity has taken then down a very dark and deadly road.
The good news is it is simply a myth, a perversion of human culture. We have the power to imagine and built a better world.