On Rape, War Crimes, and Republicans
I know this is a late post, and I know there’s lots going on in the world…but I have kept waking up in the night for the last few with bile rising over the Republican-led effort to valorize rape over women. If you’re worn out on this topic, just walk on by.
Here’s what’s kept me raging:
Rape is a weapon of war. It is used to terrorize a subject population — or sometimes the forced sexual availability of women whether of the wrong class or the wrong ethnic or national identy is simply understood as one of the spoils of war.
In the context of war, sexual coercion is a wholesale business. When the weight of an army stands behind the man unzipping his trousers, there’s rarely need for a fist to the belly or a knife held to the throat. When death or desperate brutality is the understood alternative, it may even be possible to pretend that there is some plausible simulacrum of consent.
The illusion may gratify this client or that, but rape it remains, over and over again.
For just one example: in 2007, a then 84 year old woman recalled her experience as a “comfort woman” for Japanese soldiers. Jan Ruff O’hearne, a Dutch-Indonesian woman interned after the Japanese conquest of the Dutch East Indies, testified that she had been raped “day and night” for three months after being captured. She was then nineteen years old.
All this comes in the context of the Forced-birth/Rapists Rights bill masquerading as a measure to restrict government funding for abortion. I’m coming late to to discussion, to be sure, and it’s all been well covered already by John, Dennis G. and Kay (and Kay,) not to mention all the comment threads.
All I want to add to all that is a reminder of from whence comes that which John accurately termed the objectively pro-rape position of the bill’s supporters.
Which to my way of thinking translates into the argument that those who support this bill have thus announced their willingness to pal around with war criminals: privileging the consequences of rape over the autonomy of the victim of a sexual assault fits the underlying logic that transforms rape into an instrument of war. In that logic women are mere utensils: instruments through which the attacker may inflict damage on the men with whom they are connected — or else they are just one more element in a military supply chain, dragged along in the logistical tail to supply the needs of an army in the field.
That is in the context of rape in war: woman and girls cannot be recognized as ends in themselves, but rather remain means to others’ — other male — goals.
And so too in the Forced-Birth/Rapists Rights Bill of 2011. Stripped to its essence the underlying theory of narrowing the definition of rape as a exception to limits on legal and financial access to abortion is that women are better understood as ambulatory wombs. Seen that way, anyone and anything — a rapist, a foetus, the presumed natalist interest of the state — takes precedence over the body-part inconveniently surrounded by a life-support system that acts under the delusion that it is a person.
Thus the essence of terror: to the terrorist, those people who make the mistake that they are in fact possessed of autonomy and independent value, are actually mere attributes, things.
But you know what?
I’m glad that our Republican friends — and the handful of fellow travelers they’ve recruited from the other side of the aisle — have made their disdain for women so overwhelmingly clear. I’m delighted that Michelle Bachmann has shown us what the radical right of the Republican party really thinks of veterans. I’m very thrilled that Paul Ryan and his friends are doing the best to remind the elderly just how much less important Social Security is than further transfers of wealth from the old and the sick to the betterment of our financial masters. Say it loud, say it proud folks — let no one out there mistake what it is you Republicans are actually trying to do.
I’m not happy about the pain and suffering and lost dreams and betrayed children that could flow from all that folly, of course. But I do think it is extremely valuable to see what it looks like when GOP true believers start to exercise real power. Each time you get a clear statement of intent: rapists outrank rape victims; vets are less valued than Wall St. executives — it becomes that much easier to shrink the Republican coalition as we go forward.
But there is, of course, one great caveat. We need to be doing — now — what our friends across the aisle have so often done so well to us. And that is to play up each opportunity as it arrives, preferably with stealth and cunning (make ’em deny they enjoy the carnal knowledge of their barnyard animals) , to every appropriate slice of the electorate. What I’m saying is that I want the tactics of the Swift Boaters exercised with this difference: that we’re merely accurately (if pointedly) reminding folks of what it really means when the GOPI really, really hope that Democratic tacticians have already got the direct mail/email lists of veterans needed to spread Bachmann’s message of veteran love to the right groups in every state. And I hope that the vectors for that message emphasize the argument that Bachmann is merely saying out loud what few other Republicans are willing to admit: that the logic (sic!) of Republican policy calls for screwing over those who’ve served their country to defend the interests of those who served themselves.
Seriously. If the Republican party wants to abandon the old, the female, the veterans — we need to be as neighborly as possible and help them to that glorious end.
Images: Lucca Giordano, The Rape of Lucretia, 1663
Titian, The Rape of Lucretia, 1571.