“Pitrasatta = पित्रसत्ता.
That’s Hindi for patriarchy.
Then smash it to pieces.”
Sexual abuse is as old as history itself. If you look back over the millennia, you will find that rape was mostly used as a weapon to publicly humiliate, punish, or extract revenge. Warfare in particular triggered heinous acts of uncontrollable sexual abuse against those who were believed to be the weakest units of the social order: women and children.
Some of the world’s oldest civilisations, including Ancient Greece and Rome, were notorious for pigeonholing rape as ‘the desecration of the patriarch’ instead of the victim or survivor. In such instances, the [male] householder was shamed by the rapist when his most ‘precious object’, almost always a virgin daughter, was targeted. The victim in this case was considered to be the equivalent of a mere object which was to be violated. The penalties for such perpetrators were equally complacent and often included ‘forcing’ the abuser to marry the victim.
For example, you have St. Augustine likening Lucretia’s suicide as ‘guilt due her possible abetting of her own rapist’. You also have Aquinas idiotically conjecturing that rape was less dreadful an act than masturbation and even consensual, ‘abnormal sex’, because it relegated the head of a household to a lifetime of corrupted shame. Never mind the well-being of those who were the targets of such horror. It was always ‘esteem’ and ‘privilege’ that mattered.
Not much has changed since. Not in India. Not in any country or region where women are largely blamed for ‘encouraging rape’. And most definitely not in occupied and/or war-torn areas. Patriarchal societies still cling to their chauvinistic, archaic approach and perceive rape more as an ‘aftermath’ rather than a premeditated act of violation against a chosen ‘prey’.
Violence against women permeates all forms of culture and civilisation and must not be written off as something that is synonymous with a particular religion, society, or belief system. For in doing so, we negate the monstrosity of patriarchy- even if unconsciously, even if to a small degree. The sexist mentality of deeming women as spoils is a slant that is still entrenched in mass perspective. All you need to do is look up statistics in conflict regions, including those occupied by the likes of NATO. Rape is, and will always be, a crime of extreme sadism that continues to survive like a venomous hydra with multiple heads.
Some of the most disturbing outcomes of patriarchal social conditioning are the myopic definitions of rape, including the one which propagates the belief that the act can only be deemed such if penetration is involved. Definitions like this are shrouded in stigma and mischaracterisation.
People need to remember that rape is not always a penile act. Foreign objects, forced oral sex, and what we call ‘molestation’ and ‘eve teasing’ are other forms of rape that are all too frequent enough to be overlooked since they are labelled as ‘lesser acts’. This is one of the reasons why I have some reservations about chemical castration as a measure to discourage future sex offenders.
As long as people callously limit the definition of rape, we will be unable to create an effective system of trial and punishment for the offender. More importantly, we will be unable to minimise the existence of ‘rape culture’.
I have nothing but disregard for those who believe that a majority of people who indulge in sexual abuse are ignorant, either consciously or sub-consciously, about the psychological damage it causes. One can argue that juvenile rapists are unaware of the same, and that may hold true to a certain extent. Even then, such beliefs are grossly limited to viewing sexual abuse as a mere physical act, to the point where even judicial reprimand mostly hinges on the ‘evidence of physical torture’ in order to reprimand the culprit. This is one of the reasons why conviction rates in India and places like Saudi Arabia are pathetic. This is one of the reasons why cops who still harbour the patriarchal leanings I spoke of earlier choose to view the tortured under the lens of morality, rather than the one who has committed the crime.
As a side note, I think this headline in today’s Sunday Times (Bombay edition) reflects our judiciary’s lack of uniformity in doling out severe punishments to rapists:
What disturbed me was not the commuting of the death penalty, but the reason given by the SC bench: that the rapist was ‘young and under the influence of alcohol’ and thereby unaware of the brutality of his crime. Never mind the fact that this man, who, it must be said, was neither a juvenile nor mentally imbalanced, had planned everything beforehand to the point of pretending to be a mechanic hired by the man of the house. Never mind that he, in his so-called ‘drunken stupor’ was cognisant enough to wash himself and his weapon post the crime of raping two women- one elderly, one pregnant.
Given that there’s been a shitstorm over what constitutes ‘the rarest of rare rape cases’, I ask:
- Would the SC have withheld the death penalty if the criminal in question had sodomised two men and killed one in cold blood, since sodomy is considered to be ‘the rarest of rare form of sexual abuse’ as per legislature?
- Would the SC have withheld the death penalty if the man had raped two children and brutally murdered one, since paedophilia, like sodomy, is considered to be ‘the rarest of rare form of sexual abuse’?
- Is it justice when one decides the severity of punishment in the case of a woman being raped is directly proportional to the degree of brutality of the crime?
Fanatical patriarchy doesn’t just harm women; it harms men too. The patterns of thought that highlight women as inferior in any way and uphold male machismo are the very same patterns of thought that subjugate sexually abused males into silence. A silence due to the fear of being shamed and looked at as less of a man. A silence due to the stigma that comes along with being a male victim of sexual abuse. A silence which only further fuels the endless loop of criminal dominance vs. subservience. There are multitudes of males out there who have been abused in some way or the other. Sadly, not many can bring themselves to talk about it, because patriarchy demands that men ‘stay strong’ and withstand hardships of all forms, at the cost of their essence, their peace of mind, their happiness.
And lest it ever be forgotten or not even considered: women can be patriarchal too.
The Delhi gangrape case has made me realise I have so much to say about sexual abuse. Although I have made a conscious decision to not watch the news and read the papers from end to end owing to my feeling sapped with the constant exposure and anger over selective coverage, there’s a lot we need to discuss if we want to minimise the frequency of sex crimes. That includes the psychology of rape and the various sub-forms of the act: marital and domestic rape, date rape, custodial rape, and incest, to name a few.
Unfortunately, these sub-forms are hardly ever discussed in the public space. I wholly intend to drone on about all this as and when I can, whenever time and leisure permits me.
(Featured image: ‘Against_rape’ by MYRKSHAKE on DeviantArt)