Patriarchy and racism give birth to rape culture, not a drunk woman or her miniskirt

The 16-year old Steubenville rape victim went through a horrifying rape ordeal – she was raped, tossed around like a sex toy, photographed and mocked at. It just didn’t happen once and stopped, but it happened again and again, countless times, when people posted messages, photos and videos of the assault online, and shockingly blamed her for her situation. Her “fault”: she was intoxicated and had passed out.

To me, every person who photographed her, posted the photos and videos online or even viewed it for fun, took part in her horrifying sexual assault.

The disgusting patriarchal mindset around a woman’s body made my head dizzy. The whole stance to the case, especially the unethical media coverage had me nearly throw-up in disgust.

No woman calls to be raped. Just because she is passed out, she is incoherent, or she is skimpily dressed – does not mean she should be raped. What kind of a demented argument is that?

Even for argument sake, if a woman has committed the most atrocious crimes on humanity, it does not qualify her to be raped. For that, there is the court of law, justice system, but rape?

No woman should be raped. Period.

The shifting framework of rape culture:

We keep shifting our framework of understanding rape culture – first to women for being drunk, or skimpily dressed or being out at night, then to a specific culture and if all else fails, to the security system of a nation. I am not saying nations are not responsible for the safety of their women (and men). They need to make tough legislation and more importantly, find ways to stringently implement the law. But we need to expand and correct the framework as well, as there is an inherent danger in understanding rape in the framework of culture and nationality rather than the actual reasons of maintaining a patriarchal order and plain discrimination resulting from racism.

Patriarchy and rape culture:

We need tougher laws, tougher legislation, but what we need the most is: change in mindsets. We need to start focusing on the evil of patriarchy and bring attention to the following:

–       to the rapists

–       to men and their choices,

–       to constructed male superiority,

–       to inherent power imbalance between a man and a woman,

–       to economic inequalities between a man and a woman

–       to media depiction of women as objects of lust for men

–       to lawmakers – majority of who are men, instead of focusing on a woman and her choices.

No culture, no nation, no religion, no scripture allow and sanction such disrespect to women, or for that matter to any fellow human being. So bring the argument to the framework it belongs to – the constructed social concept of patriarchal order where men think they own and control women and their bodies. This mindset is especially dangerous to women who are in vulnerable positions.

Racism and rape culture:

The other important framework in which we need to understand rape culture is – racism. A TrustLaw expert poll identifies India as one of the World’s five most dangerous countries for women; the other: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, and Somalia.

But Save Wiyabi Project, an advocacy group has called this “problematic”.

The group, according to its Facebook page was created in response to “the overwhelming and frightening statistics of violence towards Native American Women”. This is what the group posted on their Facebook page on February 04 this year:

Recently there have been criticisms of the way westernized countries/media discuss rape. There is a lot of finger pointing at “other” countries and a lot of moral superiority when judging the global status of women.
TrustLaw took a poll and announced “Canada Best G20 country to be a woman, India worst.” This is highly problematic. As we use the recent gang rapes in India to reinforce this poll and idea, Canada’s Indigenous population is currently experiencing femicide – we don’t think that’s grounds to deem Canada the best place to be a woman.

The above posting shared the link titled, Canada best G20 country to be a woman, India worst – TrustLaw poll.

In a recent Facebook posting on March 12, the group said:

Yesterday on Native America Calling one of the things we discussed was that the U.S. and Canada have an affinity to condemning the treatment of women in other countries, and refuse to look in the mirror and acknowledge what’s happening at home. This photo sums up that point. While previously working with Women Under Siege, we determined our rates of sexualized violence rival anything documented in Sudan or the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The statement of the advocacy group is not unfounded. The disturbing truth is: one out of every three Native American women report that they have been raped and three out of four physically assaulted. Even more shocking is: more than 85 per cent perpetrators are non-Native men and as this piece in The Guardian cites, arrests are made in a mere 13 per cent of the reported cases.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has documented that young, Aboriginal women are five times more likely than other Canadian women to die as a result of violence. On its website, the Commission says:

Although each woman’s story is unique, many struggled with poverty, addiction and domestic abuse, or were victims of the residential school system. In several cases, families who went to authorities to report their loved ones missing were met with indifference.

The Commission admits that the United Nations Human Rights Council’s recommendations have called for a “concerted effort to better protect Aboriginal women against violence, with particular emphasis on addressing their low socio-economic status and the impacts of discrimination”.

Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nation has called violence against indigenous women “unacceptable”. In his video pledge, to end violence against and among indigenous people, he says there are currently 600 unresolved cases of violence involving indigenous women who have either been murdered or remain missing.

The reasons are admittedly complex, but it has been clearly acknowledged that racism in the form of discrimination plays a big role in the suffering of Aboriginal women.

The case of poor safety for women in India:

I am not disagreeing with the shameful low standard of safety for women in India. I was born in India and spent the first 25 years of my life there. I loved living there but I also went through the mental agony of walking the streets with cat calls and being leered at. Some men would do obscene gestures and some even flashed.

I was not the only one. Women my age, younger, older, we all just learned to live with it and ignore it. When it became a little out of control, we would create an occasional scene by yelling, and asking passers-by to intervene and help.

Normally, we all ignored it. We all knew if we made a bigger case, we’d blamed that we instigated it. We knew we’d be asked what we were doing there, or why we were wearing a skirt or in the case we were covered head to toe, we must have looked in a man’s direction and somehow “invited” him towards ourselves.

So we all kept quiet. But a brutal gang rape broke the silence. India rose in protest when a young medical student was brutally gang-raped on a moving bus and left to die on a street in Delhi in December last year. People, especially students came out on the streets demanding justice, tougher legislation, and better security for women. The government was forced to have discussions, debate and draft new legislation. But the whole process didn’t happen smoothly. It ironically put women in the examination box, cross-examined them and victimized them over and over again.

All debates centered on what women wear, why they roam around at night, why they drink, what they drink, why they date, everything and anything about a woman’s morality, character, her choices. Not a word about a man’s choices. Not a word about a man’s morality. Not a word about his constructed superiority. Not a single word about patriarchy trying to stifle women.

Just like the Steubenville rape case, where the victim and her choices were the centre of the debate. She was victimized over and over, instead of the high school football players who were later found guilty of raping the girl. But sadly, even after the verdict, her victimization continues.

Curb the rape culture:

India marched to demand justice for its rape victim, who the media dubbed ‘Braveheart’. Countless candle light vigils were held in her memory, but we Canadians tend to gloss over what is happening to women in our own backyards, because we, like rest of the world, are entangled in a totally irrelevant framework of rape culture.

It is ironic that we have shunned the women of the very land we live on and conveniently call our own. We have forgotten that before immigration brought us here, before the settlers came, before the Europeans colonized and constructed a Canadian national identity, this sacred land belonged to the Aboriginals: we didn’t inherit it, we just came to live on it.

We, as a nation, have never marched for our countless Aboriginal Bravehearts just because their sexual assault and suffering doesn’t fit into our understanding of rape culture that happens only in third-world, poor countries like Congo or India. It is always the Aboriginal women themselves or a few other supporters who march to demand justice for their forgotten women.

We, as a nation, never debate the unethical choices men make when they decide to use women as sex toys, and rape a woman just because she had a drink too many. Rather we question the woman and her choices.

To curb the rape culture, we need to start a dialogue around the patriarchal order and how to uproot it, racism and how to curb it, post-colonial and residential school legacy, and how to overcome these, power imbalance and economic inequalities between a man and a woman, and how to balance these, instead of debating the hemline of a woman’s skirt.

Categories: Gender Equality, Racism

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

24 replies

  1. Congratulations on putting facts and arguments on this topic- that seems to be more sensationalinzed than critically examined in the recent times.

    Your point regarding us, the ” all ” immigrants not standing up with our Native sisters is well made.

    The fact that men who rape First Nations women are high percentage of non native men also is ” well known ” in our society- the gov- the justice system …

    Continue the good job.. and congrats on your award nomination- you deserve it

  2. Great piece, Sandhu, very powerful. The interplay of power and victimization just can’t be put in neat little column, can they? Racism, patriarchy, nationalism, 1st world snobbery; so much enters into the analysis.

    Thanks for helping us understand it better today.


    P.S. Tweeting this post!

  3. Thanks for letting me know that this was up. I really loved it!

  4. Thank you for this outstanding piece. The rape cases you mentioned made me so angry when I followed them in the media! I think it hurts the most when I see other women engage in victim-blaming, it just makes me want to break down and cry. The debate (God, why do we even call it a debate, as if the right not to be raped should be debatable) has to go on until EVERYBODY is safe.

  5. Good write up….another one on the subject. But I was looking for some suggestions for changing the mindsets ( of both men and women)
    The amount of energy Feminists groups spend in Men Bashing and seeking more tough laws( some said the new laws are not tough enough!. I wonder what can be more tough than Death penalty?)., I suggest , even if a fraction of that energy is spent in educating Mothers , to teach Gender equality to their children,I believe most of the battle is won.

    Because,MOST MEN ARE MAMA’S Boys.They do listen to their MOMs.

    • So the blame for rape can once again be placed at the feet of women, this time for not raising their children correctly? Hadn’t heard that one before.


    • Who are these “Feminists” you speak of? And why should it be women’s burden to teach men not to rape? What about the men who grew up with no mother? Would that give them a pass to rape?

    • Dear Ramachandra, I like the point you raise – about suggestions. These suggestions don’t have to come from any academic scholar but they are basic rules of humanity. Teach young boys and girls to be respectful of their own bodies and to the bodies of others: own gender and those of the opposite gender. Just granting a death penalty is not the only solution. Harsher punishment is necessary but as I say in the article, change in mind sets. Train young boys to be respectful of women and tell them not to think they “own” a woman or her body.
      And I disagree with the concept of mothers being solely responsible. If the father beats the mother every night, what is the young boy going to learn about respect towards women? We all are responsible to create a safe society for our girls and boys. Since girls and women are especially vulnerable to domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual assault, it becomes imperative that we collectively take responsibility to curb this evil and make this world a safer place for women.

  6. Anu, hard hitting and true to the core! I strongly feel we need to teach our boys that woman are not an object, and this is something which starts at home.

  7. In addition to some of the points you make, I’ll add this:

    Getting drunk impairs judgment and makes an individual more vulnerable to predators. I would definitely teach my daughters to avoid getting drunk to begin with, whether they’re getting behind the wheel of the car or going to hang out with friends. If they HAVE to go through a risky time & place, pack heat and know how to use it, too.

    As for dress, Sikh parents should teach their kids – sons and daughters – to dress modestly in accordance with Gurbani (p. 16 of SGGS).

    The world is a risky place, and will remain so regardless of how much legislation is passed or education campaigns are carried out. It is within every individual’s power to do SOME risk mitigation. Not recognizing or using this power is irresponsible.

    • You make a point but how about extending the teachings to your boys as well? Gurbani teaches us to treat men and women equally and with respect, so if you are using the religious context, use it completely.


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