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Some women are presumed to give "consent" to sex because of their behaviour or history
Twenty five year old Mitali (name changed) hung around with the boys of her neighborhood quite often. She had grown up with them, went to school with them…even primary school with most of them, played galli-cricket with them all through her childhood, got into fights with them…and cried and made up with them after being soothed by each other’s respective mothers. She was teased by them and loved by them and did all sorts of different activities with them, since she was considered one of the gang…till one day. One day four of the galli boys rang Mitali’s door bell. Coming into the house, they bound her hands, gagged her mouth, gang raped her and broke the mandible bone on the right side of her jaw with crushing blows. Her mother returning from school, where she worked as a teacher, found Mitali unconscious on the floor. It was a long journey thereafter. And, yes, according to all the people around, it was a complex situation.
Mitali could identify the boys of course. And of course there was no police complaint made since all the families were known and loved neighbours…not that this little piece of reality had deterred any of the boys. Predictably the onus of the rape came to Mitali. She had interacted too much with the boys; she was used to wearing unseemly clothes; she was wearing unseemly clothes on that day; she must have asked for it and initiated it. When asked for an explanation about the broken jaw, the boys were defended with ridiculous statements. The boys must have felt angry when Mitali initiated sex…and must have hit out on her as a mode for punishing her for her immodesty. They felt they needed to uphold morality. But why did they rape her then? Silence.
The boys were asked the reasons for their act. They looked uncomfortable, ashamed, ambivalent, extremely afraid and shifty-eyed. They said she was too much of a tom boy…and she was there with them all the time. They said that they had grown attracted to Mitali and found no way of saying this to her, since she had been a neighborhood figure. They said they felt angry because they could not ‘propose’ Mitali because they knew she would not just not reciprocate but probably laugh and even report to their parents. The conclusion of the whole situation was that Mitali had grown emotionally unstable after the event, which proved (mysteriously) that she had always been mentally ill somehow and acted provocative all along. Her family was blamed for not keeping an eye on Mitali…and her mother was blamed for being too much of a career and working woman…who had left Mitali to play in the galli since her childhood and allowed her to go to everyone’s house only so that she would not have to worry about her upbringing.
Her consent was presumed as given. It must have been a result of a fight between them, some said…Mitali must have done something.
Consent and Mitali’s age also became an issue for discussion. The fact that she was an ‘adult’ made the idea of gang rape by close family and childhood friends an impossibility even in reckoning. Her consent was presumed as given. It must have been a result of a fight between them, some said…Mitali must have done something. Mitali and her family faced unspeakable violence even after the crime was committed and even after the physical wounds healed. They left the locality that had once been an extended family and home…the onus of this separation being obviously on Mitali. The fact that she was a female body that the boys had physical access to but no social access to, being reason enough for the rape simply went unnoticed and unarticulated. It was no wonder Mitali’s mother thought that language was so full of mother-sister abuses that could keep men off the accessible bodies of even their family women…since in the absence of these social taboos and stigma attached to sexual violence with one’s kinswomen, the desire to access all available female bodies would otherwise have run rampant among men. Not that incest was a lesser fantasy even in pornography. These abuse words were therefore producing the social body of women, that regulated sexual access to them and prohibited and stigmatized violence…while at the same time, obliterating women’s personal and individual bodies…and their right to exist as free and safe persons outside relationships and outside home-spaces.
Accessible bodies of trusting women within families or extended families, orgy fantasies where the person-hood of individual women is obliterated, sexual exchanges that even if briefly, obliterate the pressure of a social relationship between partners, child sexual abuse wherein innocence becomes idolized since it is unable to put forth recognizable social challenge being debilitated through an addiction to adult love in return for sex, pornography and prostitution that assumes consent and pleasure even at the expense of remaining in denial of consumerist prerogatives within the context of economic inequality, inter-racial sex that de-politicizes and de-historicizes systemic inequality and violence of a deeper nature and finally the question of ‘loose morals’ and mental illness among women, that somehow questions the very basis of whether such women can be raped at all…all actually constitutes rape; beyond erotics and age…period.
…the question of ‘loose morals’ and mental illness among women, that somehow questions the very basis of whether such women can be raped at all…all actually constitutes rape….
We enter the violent world of those rapists, who insist on an infantile sexual fantasy about ‘natural’ and homely women (against the made-out, empowered and public types) who can be better controlled to love the male narcissistic ‘item’…and love penetrative sex…in whatever context…the more anti-regulatory, the better the pleasure…as real. We enter the world of those abusers who believe that women feel pleasure, or at least should feel intrinsically pleasured by pleasuring men. We enter the world of those men, who do not see the body of a woman as a ‘different’ entity, ‘dissimilar’ from their own as valid. We enter the world of those men who ‘dehumanize’ women and children, since they not only don’t understand women’s pleasure as different from theirs…but feel threatened by this difference, since having a relationship with different persons requires hard work…the hard work of empathy that goes beyond the personal sexual experience. We enter the world of men who are trapped by their own attraction to these ‘different’ women and resort to violence in order to gain control on them. Even if not sexual, we enter the world of men who control the bodies of women in one way or the other…in order to understand and mould their sexuality as comprehensible and socially so positioned, that a ‘no’ in any context, simply becomes an impossibility…that if happens, can then be punished with violence.
Dehumanization is a powerful tool that counterbalances man’s innate nature to love another, make deep, lasting and enduring friendships that foster cooperation. Within contexts of excessive and rigid social hierarchy, wherein only competition exists among equals, there is no alternative to gaining and consolidating prerogative (through whatever means) except by seeking to obliterate equality and the possibility of threat. Equality would have to be derived and enforced externally, since each person would want to hierarchialize all relationships in order to survive a fine balance of experiencing libidinous freedom within the parameters of non-challenge and safety. The law of the jungle…where an external force mechanism enforces equality through the articulation of inequality and produces penalty…like a game.
Yes, apes, dogs and monkeys are known to ‘rape’. However, it would be veering too much towards biological determinism to applying this logic to rapists by calling them animals. That would be return-dehumanization…or in terms of legal frameworks…’criminalization’. So two worlds exist hand-in-glove: the underbelly of jungle grows increasingly violent as the external enforcement against it that counterbalances it, develops greater nuances. But this is a trap again. Should we live in a state-less world free of regulation to reduce its violence? This question cannot be answered in language, or in cultural terms of measuring both violence and its punishment in order to reach that perfect balance. Each culture strives differently towards it and the world remains a changing place…where ownership gets defined with increasing violence every day.
Yes, apes, dogs and monkeys are known to ‘rape’. However, it would be veering too much towards biological determinism to applying this logic to rapists by calling them animals.
Conversely, what could be the meeting ground for regulating sex and love between men and women, as a mechanism for revealing violence and rape as an open issue? Is this regulation and balance possible only when reproduction comes into question? Are women who cannot reproduce therefore either intrinsically ‘rapeable’ or understood as non-sexed? For most men, reproduction regulations also introduce discipline and responsibility within relationships, wherein systemic privileges enjoyed by them are counterbalanced by a relational pressure exerted by women wherein they may withhold pleasure, while negotiating their position. This is the only power most women have and it is indeed their deepest tragedy…that they need to keep the battle going even against those whom they love and fear to lose…constantly, simply because those whom they love and fear to lose remain violent.
The demand for reciprocity from women castrates most rapists who are unable to ‘perform’ in adult relationships and need to exert physical and systemic violence as retaliation for this. Rape within systems goes unreported and unacknowledged simply since it is a part of the system, wherein the abuser can simply deny his partner an adult role, laying charges of onus and consent or the lack thereof on her within the framework of mental illness or emotional instability. Relationships therefore may form the fora for equality within systemic violence wherein the relational pressure exerted by women often becomes a joke among men and performed by men for the benefits of others.
Returning to Mitali’s story, my mind becomes fogged with questions. Are social and biological relationships the only medium of gaining respect, pleasure and dignity? Is friendship between women and men possible in deeply hierarchical societies? Is dehumanization an inherent bi-product of both stratification and humanization? Are women safe from rape within relationships and marriage?
In the meanwhile, I cannot simply sympathize with Mitali. I feel her body and mind from inside like my own…. The circle of pain, humiliation, confusion, shame, betrayal, fear, anxiety, hatred, vulnerability, devastation…pain. It does not even matter who Mitali really is…she lives in each one of us…who live as ‘rape-able’ and dis-empowered ‘others’ within patriarchy.
Deepra Dandekar is a feminist historian working on narratives of religion, community and violence in India, currently living with her husband in Germany.
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