Carry A Gun The Time You Visit Grandma's
An Opinion Piece
National Women's Rights Officer
New Zealand University Students' Association.
Like most of you, I have grown up with the fairy tale of 'Little red Riding Hood'. No matter what version you read the story is still the same; girl goes to see grandma, girl takes 'short cut' through woods, girl is stalked by wolf, girl and grandma are threatened by wolf, girl and grandma are saved by passing woodcutter, woodcutter kills wolf. Reading between the lines this story can be interpreted as a parable of rape. The wolf represents the bad male figures lurking in the woods so you'd better stick to the path and if you are lucky the friendly male may come and save you. Look at the other fairy tale characters that have been pursued by wolves. Peter and the Wolf and the Three Little Pigs. All male characters, all put up a fight and all outsmart the wolf without the aid of any authorities like the woodcutter.
I recently finished reading "Against our Will. Men, Women and Rape" by Susan Brownmiller. No prizes for guessing the topic of the book. For anyone who can stomach the subject I suggest you read it, or at least attempt to read it. The topic of rape is not to be taken lightly, however by our mere avoidance or unwillingness to mention rape we obscure that it does exist and we banish the survivors of rape to silence. Brownmiller walks us through a history of rape spanning religion, culture and time. Rape is not a recent phenomenon. Women through their childbearing capabilities have been traditionally regarded as property. You married a man to gain protection and legal status as his wife. Men took a wife to gain a heir and valuable unpaid economic aid. Hence dowries were exchanged for women as a symbol of their worth. A crime against a woman's body was instated in law as a crime against the man's property. Our laws in New Zealand are based on the principals of the Ten Commandments; 'Thou shalt not rape' is absent, but there are commandments governing adultery, coveting thy neighbour's wife, house, field, servant, ox and ass. Jump forward in time to English law where the 'rule of thumb' existed stating that a man may beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb. Feudal class law permitted the jus primae noctis, right of first night or droit du seigneur, the custom of giving the newlywed bride to the landlord to have her virginity in exchange for produce as way of compensation for the husband. The law protected the property interests of the males in her life. If she were raped and married all the property damages went to her husband, if she was single then the damages paid went to her father. Hence the males for a woman's life were either wolf or woodcutter.
Fast forward to this century.
There is a recognition that rape is illegal - no matter what
the justification may be; 'she was asking for it', and 'I
was drunk', are some of the justifications that I have heard
in my life. All these civil recognitions seem to fly out the
window where war is concerned. Amid the backdrop of all-male
training grounds, all-male battlegrounds and all-male
recreation time, rape in war was hardly prosecuted for.
According to Brownmiller, for the forces in World War I and
II, the Indian army in Bangladesh, and the Americans in
Vietnam, many of the cases involving rape were dropped to
other minor charges such as violence, disorderly conduct and
trespass. Rape was an organised tactic in the American
Revolution, the Pogroms, the Mormon Persecutions, mob
violence against blacks by the KKK and mob
against whites in the Congo. All involved the use of women's bodies to prove a political point. Evidence of rape by Russian forces in Chechnya is the most recent example of rape in war that I can trace a paper trail to. After centuries of rape of women in war the long standing Geneva Conventions define rape as a war crime, and only this year on the 23rd of February 2001 do we now hear of the first verdict of guilty for rape after a year long trial. One must ask why.
Our culture is saturated with rape myths and abuse against women. The whole pornography trade is built on the objectification of women's bodies for men's gratification. Whole tracts of justification of why the woman was to blame for rape exist. I've heard heaps of them and I'm sure you have too ('cock-teasers', 'slutty behaviour' etc). There is the myth of an unknown rapist, the one most reported in the newspapers. The common scenario is unknown man rapes woman in parking lot. The media leave it up to you to ask the 'common sense' question 'what was she doing in the parking lot alone at that time of night?' The myth of one man alone. Brownmiller's findings tell a different tale. Many rapes are done by a group of men in the case of war, or by a pair in the case of in civilised times. How is a woman supposed to fight back after the rape has taken place, when she is questioned on her motives for being in the situation, then suffers the humiliation of others not believing her and the indignity of society labelling her as used goods.
Many Students Associations run the Thursdays in Black campaign. The campaign started from the recognition of the rape in war of women. The campaign now focuses on raising awareness of rape and violence in our communities and tries to promote a zero tolerance of abuse - kinda like "think global act local". One of the ways that Thursdays in Black achieves this is by raising $5 from every tee-shirt sold to go to community groups that help survivors of rape and violence. I wish that there were no need to run a Thursdays in Black campaign. I wish that people would wake up to the fact that pornography is not harmless but carries the acceptance of violence and humiliation against women. I wish that women's legal status were built on the realisation of her rights as an individual, not as property to be protected. And I wish that Little Red Riding Hood didn't have to carry a gun the next time she went on an adventure to Grandma's.