"A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," he said.
That was the heading I woke up to on Monday morning. A blatant statement from one of the convicted Delhi bus rapists in the brutal attack of Jyoti Singh in 2012. Jyoti, after watching Life of Pi with a friend at night, was brutally raped by 6 men in a moving bus, tortured with an iron rod, eviscerated and thrown into the street, naked and bleeding.
One of her attackers was interviewed by British filmmaker, Leslee Udwin, who spent two years making a documentary, called India’s Daughter, about Jyoti’s rape and murder and its ensuing effect on the Indian community. What came to light was “men's brutal attitudes” about women:
“A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal” – Mukesh Singh (Delhi case rapist)
Never so flagrantly has a rapist put the phenomenon into words. It’s shocking isn’t it? But is it far from the global truth? Not quite.
Globally, women are indeed held far more responsible for rape than men. Women are questioned, shamed, scrutinised, disbelieved, and in some cases, even punished for being sexually assaulted. Even so-called "first world countries", who tout the word “progressive”, seem to have a knack for believing that girls are to blame. In fact, take a look just a few studies done in these developed countries to gauge what the population feels about accountability of rape:
- One in 12 people believe sexual assault and rape victims are to blame if they are either drunk, under the influence of drugs or flirtatious with the offender
- 40% subscribed to the view that women could be considered culpable to some degree if they “put themselves in risky situations”
- 8% of people think victims are responsible when they are under the influence of drugs
- 20% of people in a Rape Crisis study believed that women contribute to rape by wearing revealing clothing
- 40% of men thought that if a woman wears provocative clothing, she’s putting herself at risk for rape
- 54% of women surveyed said victims were partially responsible for their rapes
It appears that the Delhi rapist simply summarised what the world quietly believes, and sometimes, not so quietly. Progressive countries, like South Africa, have had our own share of misogynists and ignorants who haven’t even attempted to stop victim blaming. Unlike the Delhi rapist, they’ve just found new ways of saying it:
What were you wearing? =
Where were you walking? = “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy”
What were you drinking? =
That’s pretty straight forward, succinct summary of everything every country asks its rape survivors.
It Takes Two Hands to Clap
You can't clap with one hand – it takes two hands," Mukesh Singh continues in the interview. "… Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20 per cent of girls are good."
It’s a horrifying statement. But is it an original one? Not at all. Many before him have eluded to precisely the same sentiment:
- “She has the sort of fashion sense on stage that surely invites rape.” – Daily Mail columnist about Rihanna.
- “She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember?” – Serena Williams’ comment about the Steubenville rape victim who was unconscious, raped and urinated on by two high school football players.
- “Child rape is okay when the victim seems ‘older than her chronological age.’ – A judge in the United States of America.
- “To avoid getting raped, ‘…young ladies should not drink too much.’” - Lai Tung-kwok, Hong Kong’s secretary for security, talking about curbing the increase in rapes.
- “If you don’t want to be sexually violated online, don’t take nude pics” –Half the internet (including Ricky Gervais) when Jennifer Lawrence’s nude pictures were leaked.
It looks like a lot of people believe that it does indeed take “two hands to clap”. Of course, when clapping is a metaphor for rape, the one hand would be the rapist and the other hand would be the act of owning a vagina.
The Global Community
Mukesh Singh is a monster and a rapist. He’s the worst kind I’ve read about. But he is also a man. He is not exceptional. His words are not, in and of themselves, exceptional. What is exceptional is India’s tolerance and denial of it. What’s truly astounding is seeing someone embody the very thing that the global community implicitly supports.
We stand around saying that “real men don’t rape”. Well. Real men do rape. He is a real man. And these ‘real men’ were boys who were raised in a society that taught them, in varying degrees, that their needs and their lives and their human value is greater than that of a woman. And we all act shocked when these ‘real men’ go out and spike a drink, threaten women with rape and death on social media, sexually assault an unconscious girl, shoot and kill women because they felt insecure, violently attack women who rejected them, gang rape and disembowel a girl.
We act shocked when we hear that in South Africa, 46,253 rapes were reported in the last year with only 669 life sentences - when only 1 in 9 victims actually report. We act surprised when we read that 38% of all women who were murdered were murdered by their intimate partners or ex partners, and 42% of women who have experienced physical or sexual violence do so at the hands of a partner. Mukesh Singh is not the exception. He is the rule; he is a by-product of the belief system that allows this kind of violent gender discrimination to happen.
And yet, people will still take to the comment section to tell us all about reverse-sexism while the Men’s Rights Activists giddily splatter their literary excrement all over the internet. Refusing to understand that feminism is evidently necessary. That women who ask for rights really aren’t asking for much. That when they read the heading of the Delhi rape, they’re simply seeing the darker effects of gender inequality.
They’re simply seeing the darker effects of the prejudice they already hold on to.
Those dangerous sentiments are what the world believes and lives by, both legally and emotionally. And perhaps that’s why it shocked you as much as it did. In a world where everyone frosts their discrimination in politically correct terms and “ethics in media”, it’s incredibly jarring to see a rapist, a man raised on a steady diet of patriarchal societal beliefs, regurgitate those beliefs verbatim. He is a direct product of what that culture has taught him. So hang him. Jail him. We don’t care.
Except we’re cutting the head off a headless snake. There are more of him. Hundreds of thousands of boys raised to believe that it’s ok to drug a woman, and rape a woman, and urinate on her, and rip out her intestines, and, and, and.
It’s her fault, after all.
If you’re a somewhat socially aware human being, you’ll have seen Mukesh’s sentiments mirrored in rape apologists, Men’s Rights Activists and garden variety misogynists on Twitter. In fact, the only difference between his comments and that of Gamergate Bros is that he said it without using an avatar.
There are countless more of these if you have the patience and the stomach.
Education and privilege has never yet inoculated anyone from ignorance or sexism. In India, boys and girls are explicitly taught that they are valued differently by society. Schools, elders and even politicians have been known to directly teach children that girls are inferior and are second rate citizens. In the West, and in South Africa, we manage to teach all of this toxic discrimination implicitly. It’s almost impressive. We camouflage our sexism in layers of denial and fake profile accounts, and act shocked when the stats show the effects of it. Perhaps we need our own documentary.
International Woman’s Day
‘India’s Daughter’ is scheduled to be released across the world by BBC on Wednesday next week in celebration of International Women’s Day. India has currently banned the movie, apparently stating that it will cause “fear and tension”. Interestingly, parliamentary affairs minister, M Venkaiah Naidu, declared: “This is an international conspiracy to defame India. We will see how the film can be stopped abroad too”. Which sounds less like concern for citizens and more like a desperate attempt to save face and unwillingness to collectively introspect.
However, BBC is going ahead with the film. Actresses Freida Pinto and Meryl Streep will attend the launch New York, for a worldwide campaign against gender inequality and sexual violence against women and girls. It begins by 20 million pupils viewing the film and taking part in workshops in Maharashtra (which includes Mumbai).
I believe that this is something South Africa needs to see. I believe that this is something we should have done for Anene Booysen. And in honour of every rape victim. Perhaps, just maybe, it might be time to teach our own boys and girls that women aren’t just somebody’s “mother, sister, wife, or daughter”. That women do not “make” men rape. That they’re not “virgins or whores”. Perhaps we should teach them the simple fact that women are human beings, and that is why you respect their rights. Just maybe, that could change the lives of 50% of the population.