Rape “Integral” Weapon in Darfur; We Yawn

Bear this in mind, next time you, for example, hear some smugass bozo making a joke about rape: The humanitarian group Refugees International has released a report, “Laws Without Justice: An Assessment of Sudanese Laws Affecting Survivors of Rape,” which describes rape as “an integral part of the pattern of violence that the government of Sudan is inflicting upon the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur.”

“The raping of Darfuri women is not sporadic or random, but is inexorably linked to the systematic destruction of their communities,” the report said. Victims are taunted with racial slurs such as “I will give you a light-skinned baby to take this land from you,” according to one woman interviewed in the Touloum refugee camp in Chad, recalling the words of a Janjaweed militiaman who raped her.

…”This report clarifies the use of rape as a weapon of ethnic violence and points to the international need to end this impunity,” said Jimmie Briggs, who is writing a book about rape as a weapon in Congo.

Justice is elusive.

For a woman to prove rape under Sudanese law, she needs four male witnesses. This requirement puts undue burdens on women in a traditional society where single women having sex can be sentenced to 100 lashes at the discretion of a judge. A married woman proven to have had sex outside of her marriage can be stoned to death, said Adrienne Fricke, an Arabic-speaking lawyer who worked on the report.

…Sudan’s laws grant immunity to members of the military, security services, police and border guard; many Janjaweed members have been integrated into the Popular Defense Forces, which also makes them exempt from prosecution.

Lest we deceive ourselves that things are so much better here in the good old US of A for women who have been raped, though there is no legal requirement for four male witnesses, having three female witnesses doesn’t appear to be enough. And though we don’t extend legal immunity from prosecution to anyone, there’s certainly a cultural immunity presumed if you’re, oh say, an athlete—in which case, if it’s your vomit in someone else’s mouth, everything’s cool, dude.

Which may explain why that “international need to end this impunity” mentioned by Briggs doesn’t exist. We still regard rape as an acceptable pastime for our gods.

53 Comments

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53 responses to “Rape “Integral” Weapon in Darfur; We Yawn

  1. Damn. I hate these reminders of how far we have to go.

  2. Honey, don’t you know that having a vagina, a cunt if you will, makes it automatically impossible for your to corroborate another female’s rape story because that vagina makes you out to get all of the mens and destroy their fragile little futures out of nothing more than PMSing hormonal, hysterical, penis-envying spite.

    *head explodes*

  3. Melissa McEwan

    don’t you know that having a vagina, a cunt if you will, makes it automatically impossible for your to corroborate another female’s rape story

    Uh huh. Especially if you’ve been raped yourself.

    My integrity as a rape witness was once put into question because I was asked whether I had been raped–and answered that I had. “Don’t you consider that a prejudice?” I was asked.

    “Against honesty?” I asked in return.

    “Against the accused,” I was told.

    “I didn’t know someone had to be raped to consider rape bad,” I replied.

  4. Jesus, that’s depressing and infuriating. So, if you’ve been robbed before, does that mean you can’t serve as a witness to a robbery? Or if you’ve been in a car accident you can’t serve as a witness to a wreck?

    OH wait. I forgot the vagina was involved here again. It’s like that insane story from a week or two ago, where the word “rape” couldn’t be used in the trial because it would be unfair to the accused.

    None of the actions that are routinely bandied about in rape cases would be applied with the same straight face and general acceptance in any other crime.

    You can’t be a witness if you’re female and/or if you’ve been raped yourself. You can’t testify on your own behalf if you’re a victim because a) you won’t be believed and b) you’ll just be dragged through hell to prove you’re a lying manipulative bitch. You can’t even claim rape because you probably deserved it, wearing those clothes/drinking/getting high/walking alone/hanging out with a male acquaintance/sitting in your locked apartment alone when someone breaks in through your window.

    And I know I’m preaching to the choir here, so to speak. But dammit, sometimes I need to spout off – even if I know it’s all been heard and said more eloquently than I could 10,000 times before.

  5. Melissa McEwan

    dammit, sometimes I need to spout off

    That’s one of many reasons these threads are here, CF. Spout away.

  6. anangryoldbroad

    When will people get it through their thick little skulls that rape has ALWAYS been a part of war? Genocide and rape seem to go hand in hand. It’s done to terrorize and destroy cultures and families and villages. Because blowing people up and killing them just isn’t enough. Ack.

    Anyone who thinks this never happened on American soil in the early years of this country needs schooled too. All those “indian wars” had some really ugly shit happening beyond”just” shooting people with guns. Sand Creek,Wounded Knee,The Black Hills,read the Indian’s account of things,this is nothing new. We never fucking learn.

    I need to go outside and cry.

  7. Marc

    I should probably warn you that my opinion here will make some more heads explode, judging by what has been written so far, but here goes:

    Alright, I am a guy, I have no idea what rape would do to a woman – physically and emotionally – and I have never experienced the feeling of walking somewhere at night and being afraid of some kind of sexual assault; I hope that’s enough for my obligatory male-insensitivity-disclaimer. Besides, I am not even from the US, so if someone wants to dismiss my comments due to my insufficient familiarity with the subject at hand – go right ahead…

    But, all snark aside, how can you in good conscience use an article about rape as a tool of warfare in Sudan and then follow up with “Lest we deceive ourselves that things are so much better here in the good old US of A for women who have been raped…”?!

    Smart and media-savvy blogger that your are you do of course make all the factually correct disclaimers – so no one can accuse you of “equating” the Sudan and the US – by disingenuously using examples of misguided clemency for sports idols and various unjust decisions that happened in American courts.
    I am not familiar at all with the American justice system, I am not disputing its inadequacies as far as they exist and I am sure there are many cases where women where treated unfairly.

    However, making a segue from an article on systematic, institutionalized rape in a war-torn society where women have practically no rights to tragic and but COMPARATIVELY less egregious failures of the justice system (everyone one of which is one too many, but at least there IS a working system) in a free society the way you did, Melissa, is beyond hyperbole.
    That’s irresponsible demagoguery.

    Sorry, I know that’s ad hominem but that’s the most adequate description I could tink of.
    I really, really don’t get this (I invite all the smartasses to just quote this sentence as a reply, it’ll save you the thinking part):

    If the same article had been written about murder, the killing of little children for shock value etc…, could you envision yourself writing:
    “Lest we deceive ourselves that things are so much better here in the good old US of A for the relatives of murder victims/parents whose children have been murdered…”?!

    I hope not. But, nevertheless, you seem to be suggesting – in a manner that leaves you the option of saying: “but I NEVER imiplied THAT!” – that the justice system of the United States, particularly in its dealings with rape cases, isn’t really THAT much better than what goes for “justice” in Sudan.

    I don’t understand this tendency in the West to take some atrocitity in some backwater-hellhole (no, that’s not an expression of my neo-imperialist mindest, that just a reflection on the the fact that Sudan leads the 2006 Failed States Index in all measurable categories) and then, inevitably, make a claim that our system is in many ways not so much better…
    How can you possibly think that?

  8. Melissa McEwan

    However, making a segue from an article on systematic, institutionalized rape in a war-torn society where women have practically no rights to tragic and but COMPARATIVELY less egregious failures of the justice system (everyone one of which is one too many, but at least there IS a working system) in a free society the way you did, Melissa, is beyond hyperbole. That’s irresponsible demagoguery.

    So…your point is basically that because women in America aren’t raped as part of the prosecution of a war, but just because there are lots of men who like to rape women, and because our “working system” fails only most rape victims, but not all, I’m an irresponsible demagogue to point out that perhaps the reason Darfur isn’t getting the international support it needs from the United States is because we don’t even support our own rape victims? Wow.

    BTW, right now, the number of women who will be raped in their lifetimes in the United States is approximately 1 in 6. How high does that number need to go for you before you’d consider rape a “systematic, institutionalized” problem in this country?

  9. Kate Harding

    Marc, I think you completely misread the post, and what’s more, I think you’re making Melissa’s point.

    As I read it, Liss is saying that people who focus on our comparatively excellent justice system A) lull themselves into a false sense of security (3 witnesses to rape are meaningless? The word “rape” can’t be used at a RAPE TRIAL? IN THE UNITED STATES??)and B) contribute to the apathy in this country about what’s happening in Sudan. “That could never happen here” is a terrific justification for complacency about what’s happening elsewhere in the world. Their problem, not ours!

    If a country like the U.S. can’t get it together to provide real justice for rape victims — and there’s plenty of evidence that we can’t — then it’s much less surprising that we can’t get it together to care about what’s happening to women in Sudan, either. That, as I understand it, was the point.

    Also, “comparatively excellent” ain’t quite enough when what you’re comparing it to is “some backwater hellhole,” but that’s just my two cents.

    Finally, since you’re male and not American, you may not be aware of how incredibly common it isfor people to troll feminist blogs with statements about how silly it is for white American women to whine about their problems when women in other parts of the world have it so much worse. If that’s really not what you’re trying to do here, you might be interested in learning that your argument puts you in the company of such feminist heroes as Christopher Fucking Hitchens.

    As a rule of thumb, telling women they should quit whining about their problems does not advance the cause of global feminism.

  10. (Psst, Kate, you know the provenance of the phrase “rule of thumb” right?)

    I think that the piece that Marc is really missing is that rape is a tool of the patriarchy (currently flourishing in nearly every corner of the Earth) and so it is the system that privileges men over women that leads to rape being used in every patriarchal society to oppress women and keep them submissive.

    Or shorter: I blame the patriarchy.

  11. Kate Harding

    (bluestockingsrs, I can guess at which story of the phrase’s provenance you’re referring to — which is horrid — but my understanding is that there are several possible explanations for where it came from, and that one’s actually not a very good candidate for being the real one. As in, that law actually existed, hideously enough, but it was probably not the origin of “rule of thumb” as we use it.)

  12. Paen

    Marc is just one more tiresome misogenist who think women are
    to stupid to understand rape unless some man explains it to them.
    Personaly I think this person might have done some good if he saved some of his pontificating for the rapists rather than,women who understand the subject far better than him.

  13. Marc

    Paen:
    that’s “tiresome misogynist” for you.
    I should know, since apparently I am one. Well, you learn interesting things about yourself on the internet. A treasure trove of reflexion and introspection, really. Who knew?

    bluestockingsrs:
    In all seriousness – and I don’t care what you think of me or if you dismiss me as a troll, or just some guy who doesn’t know what he is talking about:
    when I read posts like yours I do not know whether they are meant to be sarcastic or ironic or whether you mean it exactly the way you write it here.
    I am afraid you really mean it.

    Melissa:
    If this number (1 in 6 in their lifetimes) is true, then that’s really tragic.
    The United Nations Survey on Crime trends uses a different metric: incidents per 100,000 citizens per year. (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/crime_cicp_survey_eighth.html)
    Here the US is at about 30/100,000 in 2002 – admittedly worse than many other countries. That’s no judgement on the Justice System, but it doesn’t paint a good picture of certain social realities either.

    I am sure you are much more familiar with the numbers in this area than I am – I only know what the intertubes tell me – but what exactly do you mean when you say that the system fails MOST women?
    That’s a heavy claim – and rather open to interpretation, I might add. Do most perpetrators not get convicted, do the rape victims not receive adequate care… what?
    This is probably a controversial topic because you can hardly make a reliable and objective statistical analysis of the number of rape accusations that were not adequately handled by the court without making – in each and every single case – the very same judgement that should properly only be made by the court. Who decides the truth, then?
    I am sure you can tell me about a large number of really atrocious cases of judicial malpractice or whatever the correct term may be. But is it REALLY worse than with any other crimes?

    Now, maybe the US justice system really exceptional inadequacies in this area – if that is the case, then kudos to you for fighting against them, but even so this stupid Sudan comparison is a non-sequitur at best – and I stand by my claim of demagoguery for the worst case.

    Because even if your claim that the US justice system has an extremely misogynous bias were true I would still not see any connection to foreign policy.
    Seriously, what does the incident rate of any crime have to do with American foreign policy?
    True, complaining about something that you yourself have problems with doesn’t really help your crediblity as a nation but
    a) the credibility part has never really been an issue in foreign policy
    b)there is absolutely no way one could see rape in the US as a problem anywhere close to what it is in Sudan

    So for me it comes down to the fact that you obviously, really, seriously believe that in the United States as a whole, or at least in the political and legal elites – take your pick – rape is not seen as a big thing, nothing to worry about, just something the big boys do on a Sunday afternoon and therefore it’s not worth reprimanding those pesky Africans, because, hey – if we do it, why shouldn’t they?

    I apologize if that seems like a caricature – but this is exactly what you seem to be thinking, judging from your own words. If that is incorrect then my powers of comprehension have failed me and I will go and sulk in the corner, but if this is really what you think I can not for the life of me even begin to understand how you can believe in such a caricature of reality.

    “…the reason Darfur isn’t getting the international support it needs from the United States is because we don’t even support our own rape victims”
    This connection is mindboggling. Melissa, do you really believe that?
    That rivals the most elaborate conspiracy theories I have ever heard.

    It IS probably true that international attention for rapes in Darfur is non-existent but that has more to do with the general lack of interest for the genocide there as a whole – which is tragic enough, but has nothing to do with gender-bias – but that doesn’t relate to the specific crime as such – rape, murder, torture – and its relative frequency of occurence in any particlar country.

    BTW, pertaining to your question about using “systematic and institutionalized” for the problem – do you know what “institutionalized” means?
    Do your really, honestly believe that The System, The Society, The Patriarchy, whatever you want to call it – and I believe I can guess your preference – is set up in such a way as to give impunity to those who rape women in order to degrade them and “show them their place” in society?
    Sorry, but that’s conspiracy theory pure and simple, nothing else.(same goes for bluestockingsrs’ comment above).

    You have a really dark and, in my eyes, warped view of the society you live in – did anybody ever tell you that? ( I considered putting a smiley here but that might have been interpreted as condescension-towards-women-while-debating-serious-issues, you can never be too careful nowadays…)

  14. Melissa McEwan

    The United Nations Survey on Crime trends uses a different metric: incidents per 100,000 citizens per year.

    Based on crime data, which, presumably is contingent upon official reports of sexual assaults. When human beings are interviewed in large numbers about whether they have been sexually assaulted, the numbers are very different. Rape of women and men is a hugely underrated crime, in no small part because of issues with our criminal justice system.

    Because even if your claim that the US justice system has an extremely misogynous bias were true I would still not see any connection to foreign policy.

    It can’t possibly be just a misogynist bias, as it affects male victims of sexual assault, as well. But the fact that you immediately read into my piece that I was claiming a misogynist bias tells me everything I need to know.

    That rivals the most elaborate conspiracy theories I have ever heard.

    Really? Like racism is an elaborate conspiracy theory? Or homophobia? Fucking hell, dude. Get a clue.

  15. Seriously, if you are disputing the existence of sexism and the patriarchy, evidenced by the prevalence of rape used as a means of keeping women in line throughout the world – either by the threat or actual use of rape – and that in order for you to consider it a problem you are demanding that statistics be provided, rather than just accepting that ANY amount of rape is unacceptable, then we aren’t even orbiting the same sun on the same planet, so cannot have this conversation.

    Seriously, as Melissa said, get a clue.

  16. Paul the Spud

    Do your really, honestly believe that The System, The Society, The Patriarchy, whatever you want to call it – and I believe I can guess your preference -

    You know something? This snide aside tells me all I need to know. Not to mention your “smiley” comment. Your casual dismissal and mocking of feminism is telling, to say the least. Melissa wasn’t, as she said, saying “Darfur = AmericaZOMG!!” Drawing parallels and making a statement about blasé attitudes and reactions towards rape in this country is not saying “America is just as bad as Darfur.”

    I might think you were actually willing to talk about the matter if it weren’t for your “oh, EXCUSE me, I wouldn’t want to UPSET anyone” tone. As it is, you’re just being condescending. Color me shocked that you’ve received the above responses.

    You seem to think that an American college student that was just raped in her (or his) dorm room sits and thinks to themselves after the fact, “Well, at least I wasn’t raped in Darfur!” Do you think location makes any difference to a rape victim?

    Rape is rape.

  17. Paul the Spud

    By the way, there’s an incredible article on the Western media’s response to Darfur in the new issue of FAIR. Interested parties might want to check it out.

  18. NMRon

    “Do your really, honestly believe that The . . . whatever you want to call it . . . is set up in such a way as to give impunity to those who rape women in order to degrade them and “show them their place” in society?” Uh, Yeah :>|

    That said, anyone (besides me) thinking that the Duke prosecutor’s disbarment was lurking somewhere in the back of the cited CA prosecutor’s mind?

  19. Marc, I was with you for most of your first comment — I disagreed with you, but I thought you were well-intentioned. You lost me, though, when you descended to condescension and needless snark in your later comments.

    Melissa’s point (as I understand it) was simply that we care less about rape in Darfur than we might, even rape used as a tool of war and genocide, because we care relatively little about it even here at home. That’s not equating the two situations one little bit. It’s just an a fortiorari argument: we care relatively little about rapes at “home” of “our own women”, and therefore we care little about rapes of “other” women in far off lands. Yes, even when those rapes are in service of more brutal manifestations of patriarchal violence than “our” standard sports team gang-rape.

    What’s your disagreement? Do you disagree that American society doesn’t care that much about rape? (I mean, unless it is “my” woman or “my family’s” or “my tribe’s” woman, usually as an offense against pride and property more than an offense against the person.)

    If you do disagree, please explain our current problem of rape, disbelief of victims and tendency to believe the rapist. Please also explain why, for example, rape seems to be alone as a crime to which “consent” is a valid defense even in the most improbable situations. For example, plenty of people enjoy fighting, giving and taking punches a la’ Fight Club or MMA. But when was the last time you heard of a dude up on assault charges credibly defend himself by arguing that the victim “asked for it” or “consented” to the beating, that the victim liked “rough handshakes”?

    Now, I don’t think “our” attitudes on rape are the only reason we don’t give a damn about rapes in Darfur, and I don’t get the impression that Melissa does either. But she’s made an interesting, illuminating connection that I think goes a long way toward understanding a lot of our national apathy on the issue. I don’t understand what’s so controversial, especially when we’re talking about a society awash in rape “jokes” and mass-marketed entertainment about raping and abusing women.

  20. Melissa McEwan

    Now, I don’t think “our” attitudes on rape are the only reason we don’t give a damn about rapes in Darfur, and I don’t get the impression that Melissa does either.

    Your impression is correct, Mike. ;)

  21. Marc

    First of all, I apologize if my “snarky” comments were a little too much and got to the point of being condescending, just couldn’t resist – my views really ARE that different.

    I really love to discuss such issues, especially with people I disagree with. I am not a feminist, that’s true. In the American political spectrum I would probably qualify as a centrist or moderate libertarian.

    If you feel that I crashed you party, so to speak, and that people with strongly diverging viewpoints are by definition trolls, well, so be it. Then I will just shut up and leave.

    There are often pieces here that I agree with and often ones I just can’t stomach, like this one.

    And, bluestockingsrs, I totally agree with you. We ABSOLUTELY live in different universes, at least on some issues. That’s the very reason I entered this conversation.
    If I agreed with everyone here, what would be the point in spouting off?

    It’s fascinating, how in such debates, whenever you are perceived as not following the “truth” of one particular group, people start ascribing things to you that you never said.

    Social and religious conservatives put you in the pinko-gay-lesbian-commie-America-hating-terrorist-loving category if you think the Iraq war is a disaster, gay marriag is okay, James Dobson is crazy etc…

    People on the left put you in the selfish-bastard-who-wants-to-opress-women-and-minorities-and-destroy-the -planet-in-doing-so when you timidly voice the opinion that capitalism is not such a bad idea after all, that the societies of what we consider as the “West” are vastly more successful and superior in every imaginable social indicator to the rest of the world (that usually gets interpreted as racism and neo-imperialism…)

    Feminists, apparently, when I disagree with them jump to the conclusion that I consider rape to be a minor problem, or that I believe different standards apply in different countries or some such nonsense – I repeatedly said in my original post that every case is tragic and one too many.

    The specific problems I have in your case is that apparently not being a feminist is the same as being anti-feminist in your eyes. If I don’t see the problem or the system the way you do then I am by definition part of the problem? Is that really how you see it? (That’s an honest and serious question, for what it’s worth)

    I totally understand that you don’t want lengthy and ultimately fruitless discussion about topics that you feel strongly about with guys like me who do this more through a sense of intellectual curiosity than because of strong involvement with the issue at hand.
    (Just in my lack of emotional involvement in the issue of rape should again lead people to conclude I am a misogynist: there are any number of terrible things happening in the world that I am not very emotionally involved in, just like every single one of you with some other issue)

    Anyway, sorry for disturbing you guys. I’ll go back to where people mostly agree with me…

  22. The question I am left with, is why on Earth is it assumed that my (or Melissa’s or any other experience that isn’t white straight and male) is not, well, true.

    As I have said recently to another non-American, Marc, you get to be an expert on YOUR experience only, not with regard to my experience (or anyone else’s experience).

    I think if one ignores or discounts the suffering of others, when that experience is shared first hand, then yes, one is part of the problem.

    When women tell you of their experience of the patriarchy and how it causes harm to them on a daily basis, and you deny the existence of the patriarchy, then you are part of the problem, because you are perpetuating a system that causes harm.

    The response you have gotten here from me is a result of you saying that my experience is untrue, for no other reason, than it does not line up with yours.

  23. Marc

    bluestockingsrs,

    thanks for the reply.
    I am not disputing sexism. I exists in various forms and to various degrees of intensity all over the world, and if rape is not an expression of sexism than what is?

    I just get queasy when the “patriarchy” comes up. Maybe it’s a matter of definition.

    In a countries where women aren’t allowed to drive cars, where they are basically the property of their husbands/fathers etc…, where tribalism rules and women’s virginities are prized “goods” – that is patriarchy.

    In countries where, while having equal rights before the law women are unequally represented in various sectors of the economy and in politics, especially in the higher levels and where there are many individual acts of sexism of various degrees of severity – that is not patriarchy in my eyes.
    That is a free society with its many imperfections that always and continuously need improvement and self-criticism – but that is NOT a patriarchal system.

    There are worlds of difference between the two. I am not disputing your experiences, whatever they are – how could I? But you seem to believe that due to whatever experience you had with sexism in your society you know the true and indisputable fact that you live in a patriarchy.
    No matter how tragic the personal experiences are that you or anyone else has had, they only reflect that sexism in various forms is something that still exists at many levels of society – that is, of course, bad enough but that doesn’t mean that sexism defines the society.

    Patriarchy is where sexism is a feature, not a bug.

    Feminists often argue that sexism is so pervasive in society that it amounts to patriarchy, only to a lesser degree than in the more “backwards” areas of th world.
    Nonsense. Anyone with a basic understading of the world we live in know otherwise. It is not a difference in degree, it is a difference in kind.

    To preclude another angle of arguent here: none of that implies that the situation in the US or many Western countries is perfect or even satisfactory or cannot be vastly improved upon. But it really is the difference between a country that suffers from a famine and a country that suffers from a shortage in organ donors – every death is tragic, but the difference lies in orders of magnitude of civilizational maturity.
    (please, nobody try to imply I am giving rape in this or that place any more weight with this analogy, this argument is getting old)

  24. Melissa McEwan

    That is a free society with its many imperfections that always and continuously need improvement and self-criticism – but that is NOT a patriarchal system.

    You’re wrong, Marc. And that’s not my opinion; that’s just looking at a basic dictionary definition of the word.

    Nonsense. Anyone with a basic understading of the world we live in know otherwise.

    Interesting that you don’t even consider that you and I, as examples, might have completely different “basic understandings of the world we live in.” Perhaps you ought to consider that what is “nonsense” to you is not “nonsense” to me.

  25. Marc

    Melissa,
    Sure, let’s do the my-dictionary-is-better-than-yours dance on “patriarchy”…
    It is nothing BUT your opinion – I am sure you could show me a gazillion of papers and abstracts that agree with you and I could do the same for my view – all of which would be an exchange of OPINIONS.

    “what is “nonsense” to you is not “nonsense” to me.”
    Apparently – see above.

    I actually alluded to the fact that I have very different views, or to be more precise, interpretations of reality as you or some of your commenters do – that was the whole point. That still gives me the freedom to say “nonsense” about someone elses view.
    We might, at some point, agree to disagree, but that does not mean I accept your view – neither will you accept mine, I suspect.

    You, as a feministst, should be sufficiently familiar with the fact that political discourse and social dynamics consists to a large degree of awareness building or promotion of the values and ideas/ideologies that you hold. That’s the whole purpose.

    We probably see the same facts – at least I hope we do – but we evaluate them and react to them very differently.

    You, as a feminist, apparently see a society where the oppression of women is endemic and a defining element – not only in the developing world but also in the West.
    I see a society here with many injustices – amongst others against also women – that is nevertheless better than anything that has ever existed anywhere before.
    A society, furthermore, that is built on the right principles, but where some archaic elements of human nature again and again make their nasty and brutish inroads into our lives – these impulses have to be fought again and again in order to achieve a level of individual freedom that gives people the oportunity to pursue their lives according to their wishes and a also certain measure of equality between various groups in society that prevents undue animosity between genders, ethnicities, religions, etc…

  26. Melissa McEwan

    let’s do the my-dictionary-is-better-than-yours dance on “patriarchy”…

    OMG. You can’t be serious.

    I’m so done here.

  27. Paul the Spud

    You, as a feminist, apparently see a society where the oppression of women is endemic and a defining element – not only in the developing world but also in the West.
    I see a society here with many injustices – amongst others against also women – that is nevertheless better than anything that has ever existed anywhere before.

    You also, as someone that benefits from the patriarchy, refuse to see the existence of the patriarchy. I can understand your queasiness when the word comes up, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in America.

  28. Marc

    Well, that was fun – apparently we all managed to be even more sure of our own positions than before. :)
    Have a nice day.

  29. Marc, as a straight, white male AmCit, I’d like to do the dictionary dance with you. I have two Left feet, but I still know all the steps. Words are all we have, so definitions are critical.

    Surely we are not using the strict anthropological meaning of “patriarchy,” which refers merely to the organizing of family units around the male and doesn’t in the first instance imply too much about sex and gender relations, equality and power differentials.

    You wrote:

    In a countries where women aren’t allowed to drive cars, where they are basically the property of their husbands/fathers etc…, where tribalism rules and women’s virginities are prized “goods” – that is patriarchy.

    In countries where, while having equal rights before the law women are unequally represented in various sectors of the economy and in politics, especially in the higher levels and where there are many individual acts of sexism of various degrees of severity – that is not patriarchy in my eyes.
    That is a free society with its many imperfections that always and continuously need improvement and self-criticism – but that is NOT a patriarchal system.

    … Patriarchy is where sexism is a feature, not a bug.

    Taking your last point first, the feature/bug dichotomy is rather begging the question, as is your distinction between degrees of difference and kinds.

    Your key definitional distinction seems to be between, on the one hand, legal, property-rights-based systems of subjugating women; and, on the other hand, systems in which women are in fact subjugated despite legal prohibitions on some methods of subjugation, especially those based in property rights. The first is “patriarchy” while the second not only is not patriarchal but is, rather “free.”

    But if sexism and other forms of subjugating women (let’s just call them all “sexism” for brevity’s sake) are rampant in a society that formally outlaws them, calling that society a “free society” and leaving it at that is a cruel joke. Just as cruel is the fact that by formally prohibiting sexism a sexist society is able to hide behind its laws, saying “we’re not sexist, It’s just the bad apples in the barrel”… when the barrels run 60% rotten.

    Moreover, even the formal prohibition on sexism do very little, and that slowly, to address institutional sexism. As you pointed out, women are unequally represented, especially in positions of power. And sexist behavior is so widespread that to call it “many individual acts” seems purposely to elide its institutional nature. That is, men beat up women, pay them less, exclude them and try to control their bodies pretty regularly.

    Surely you wouldn’t pronounce Saudi Arabia a “free society… with… many imperfections” the day after it outlawed sexism and allowed women to drive, would you?

    Nor should you be so quick to pronounce the US such a free society. For example, “equal rights before the law” is a pretty phrase that does not bear out in practice. Surely you’ve read about the recent US Supreme Court decision restricting a woman’s right to sue for pay discrimination to such a short period that the “right” is almost eviscerated?

    Yes, the lot of some Saudi women (to take one odious example) is worse than the lot of many US women (although certainly not all). But to base your definition of “patriarchy” on the Saudi model while declaring the US non-patriarchal because the US has laws against sexism strikes me as intellectually sloppy.

    Maybe we should just abandon the word “patriarchy” for purposes of this discussion and refer to Societies and Cultures that Subjugate Women through Various Systematic and Institutional Means Perhaps But Not Necessarily Including Legal Institutions? Or SCSWVSIMPBNNILI. Pronounced “Scuzz-wuv-simp-bun-eelee”. I think it will take off in academia. Can one copyright an acronym?

  30. Mike, I want to kiss you for that, since I am a lesbian that is saying something.

    Thank you for helping with the heavy lifting other people are unwilling to do on their own.

  31. Paul the Spud

    Well, that was fun – apparently we all managed to be even more sure of our own positions than before.

    Yep, I suspected as much.

  32. Marc

    Paul had such a nice link to an “endless-thread-that-just-won’t-stop”-spoof above – would have been a good pointo quit. But I am just as guilty as everyone else here for not stopping, so who am I to complain.

    @Mike:
    I should probably point out that I have lived in the US in the past, only for 2 years, but I hope that qualifies me as not totally clueless about your country, although I am of course clueless on all things feminist in your eyes – you might actually be right aobut that, though…

    See, what you call patriarchy, is what I call barbarism. These are instances where the veneer of civilization falls off and people’s primal nature shows itself. What you see as the institutionalized nature of sexism I see as human nature that has exactly NOT been formed by the values that our civilization is built upon – unininstitutionalized nature, so to speak.

    The fact that women were probably beaten and raped all the time in the stone age doesn’t mean that sexism was institutionalized – sexism was the primeval state of nature. The institutions of what we consider our culture and civilization today largely work against sexism. (stop laughing,I know that’s a new concept to you, but I am being serious here) That wasn’t always the case and in many places unfortunately still isn’t.
    Especially the religous organizations that to a large extent shaped our culture were and in most cases still are strongly patriarchal – but their power in society is a shadow of their former selves: their current resurgence is nothing but the admittedly dangerous lashing out of a wounded beast.

    “Nor should you be so quick to pronounce the US such a free society.”
    Statements like this make me despair. No point in going into this at length, we would just end up slinging mud at each other, let’s just say is probably more free than 99% of human societies that have ever existed.

    Another point about the language you use: it may seem to some that all I am talking about are semantics, but words matter. And saying that in the United States women are subjugated – not that there is a big amount of discrimination or sexual harassment or what have you but that they are SUBJUGATED, dammit … given what’s going on elsewhere in the world that’s just irresponsible, it’s incomprehensible to me.

    How can you expect anyone who is not a feminist to take this seriously? Such a choice of words paints you into an ideological corner so that even people sympathetic to your agenda will find it difficult to, well, sympathize with you.
    Not that anoyne here would want any sympathies from the likes of me, I have no illusions about that.
    But on a purely pragmatic level it might be worth thinking about “accepting” or “tolerating” people that consider sexism a big problem but find the idea that the US is a patriarchy that subjugates women a wee bit… ahem … radical?

  33. Thanks, Marc. A few replies:

    although I am of course clueless on all things feminist in your eyes

    I don’t know where this comes from. I have no idea whatsoever about your understanding of feminism and I don’t think I said anything about that. Nor do I consider this discussion especially to do with feminism, merely a subject about which feminism has some illuminating insights to offer. (I don’t even know that its an “-ism”, actually, that is, a noun. I think of it more as an adjective. For example “feminist analysis” like “Marxist analysis” rather than Marxism.

    See, what you call patriarchy, is what I call barbarism. These are instances where the veneer of civilization falls off and people’s primal nature shows itself. What you see as the institutionalized nature of sexism I see as human nature that has exactly NOT been formed by the values that our civilization is built upon – unininstitutionalized nature, so to speak.

    Which point on my “patriarchy spectrum” are you referring to as barbarism, the Saudi point or the US point?I suspect that you are referring to my characterization of US society as “patriarchal,” because you use the word “institutionalized” and I had used that term in my post.

    Assuming this, I think you vastly overestimate the values upon which US civilization, society and culture were built, both institutionally and formally (including legally). For all the pretty and inspirational language in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the colonies, the Federation of States that preceded the United States and the United States itself were established to serve wealthy white men and their property. What’s more, they were established so as to subjugate (often violently and brutally) the native peoples, imported slaves, poor whites and women of all types. No view of the United States and its laws (up to at least the adoption of the 13th and 14th Amendments), economy and other institutions is complete without reference to these founding facts.

    The point is that US institutions and civilization were far from corrective of “primal nature.” Indeed, for other than wealthy white men, the often-intended effect of the institutions and civilization was to reduce people to the Hobbesian state of nature, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In other words, far from mitigating or lessening the primal nastiness, US societal structures were working hand-in-hand with it to benefit wealthy white men and screw over everyone else.

    I wouldn’t say that any society is different. But I question your idea that “sexism” is “human nature” unformed by values. I seriously doubt this, because gender roles are malleable and inter-gender relations are culturally formed. If what you mean is that on average males are physically capable of forcing females to submit, though, then I agree, but we are then talking about anarchy, quite different from the topic at hand of societies and cultures. A culture or society can either combat or encourage violence against women and other forms of subjugation. But a culture or society is far more than the legal system. (Some might argue the legal system is the least important aspect.) Depending on the way the society or culture goes, and how strongly, sexism and subjugation become more or less institutionalized.

    Going back to US society, I hope I made my point that it was built upon and with sexist institutions. That founding is the starting point for considering whether US society is sexist, NOT whether modern US society in the aggregate is less sexist than a known patriarchal system like Saudi Arabia’s. That comparison is of little value because the two cultures are very different, with different histories.

    On this analysis, US society has changed from extremely patriarchal and sexist to moderately patriarchal and sexist, and taken only about 400 years to do it. Women now have the right to vote and to own property. The US government and state governments have generally gotten pretty good at granting women the rights for which women have long and hard fought.

    Not all rights, mind you, and not even all rights that have been won. For example, women still have only limited control over their bodies, especially their uteruses, and that control has been effectively eliminated in some states while being under attack in all others.

    And the government is good about giving only those rights that it directly controls. Voting rights? Sure, just go down to the government-affiliated voting location and you can cast your ballot. Property rights? Sure, go to the courthouse and they will record your deed.

    But where the rights concern private third-paries, the government is not very aggressive in making sure women get them. Equal pay for equal work? Well, yeah, but discrimination is so hard to prove and companies are entitled to keep employee salary information a secret, while the little ladies have to sue within 180 days of the first smaller paycheck, without any way of knowing they were discriminated against and got lower pay. A right to not be raped? Well, yeah, but you girls are all such mini-skirt wearing sluts and the guy said you consented. A right to a 1st-trimester abortion? Well, yeah, but if you are too poor to afford it you better use a coat-hanger, and it’s just too bad about all the clinics being closed by threats from religious nuts and, oh, well, sorry about those pharmacists who won’t sell you contraceptives because he thinks they were manufactured by Satan.

    What we end up with after our analysis from the roots of US society, is a society that has become somewhat less patriarchal, sexist and abusive, but that started out pretty bad to begin with. It still has a long way to go from its fifteenth-century roots. And whether it gets there eventually is still unknown, given the ascendance of the religious right-wing (are “surrendered wives” patriarchal enough for you) and the new, cool rape culture.

  34. Oh, BTW, Marc, I don’t reject you as an ally, here. In fact, I welcome and support you in “consider[ing] sexism a big problem” even if you “find the idea that the US is a patriarchy that subjugates women a wee bit… radical.” I’m just arguing some points here with you. So long as you rebel against mistreatment of women we are on the same side, whether you say merely “stop, you damned sexist” or shout “halt! you vile patriarch!”

  35. Marc

    Well, you paint a rather bleak picture, but you do it quite convincingly, I must admit.

    I noticed one important point where we seem to disagree – not sure, at least that’s how I read it – which is the degree of malleability that cultural gender roles have.
    I am very much in the camp of evolutionary psychologist who attribute somewhere between 30-70% of human behavior and psychological traits to genetics. I find the Judith Butler types with their “gender is only a construction” argument exceptionally unconvincing. This doesn’t hold up to any scientific scrutiny.
    Of course gender roles are culturally formed – up to a point. Disagreement on this point – on which there can only be one factually true answer which we will know in the decades to come – obviously leads to disagreements in many other areas.

    On short clarification to the strict anthropological definition of “patriarchy” that you used above:
    “…which refers merely to the organizing of family units around the male and doesn’t in the first instance imply too much about sex and gender relations, equality and power differentials.”
    Well, of course that’s not what I meant. But then Melissa and others here can’t have been using this definition either, since it is apparently devoid of implications for gender relations – which is not how 99% of the people who use “patriarchy” as a word understand it.
    I mean, come on, “patriarchy” doesn’t “in the first instance imply too much about sex and gender relations etc…”? Whoever uses this word in such an a abstract and nonsensical way? (except for anthropologist and sociologists)

    But you actually made me reconsider the fact that the strong individiualism that permeates American society – which I often found quite refreshing – might have a rather darker side to it.
    I apparently did not really understand how bleak the current situation looks from women’s perspective. Sorry about that.

  36. Thanks, Marc. I didn’t realize that either until becoming privy to what my women friends had been through and continue to go through, seeing it for myself in some situations, and seeing this replicated societywide in news items and other women’s stories.

    Which is why it’s ironic (perhaps typical?) that you and I as males have dominated this conversation on patriarchy and feminism! ;-)

    I don’t know enough of Butler’s work to comment. In fact, I am woefully under-read in feminist literature. The only bits I’ve read are what the wonderful and brilliant Meg Conkey assigned us in her Feminist Archaeology course.

    I think the danger of relying on biological (i.e., sexual) determinants for gender roles, however, is that the biology is necessarily true only in the aggregate, not the specific. For example, one can ascribe the dominant male gender to the relative physical strength and aggression of the male over the female. But the case of a scrawny male and a robust female casts serious doubt on the argument from biology. The robust female does not assume a submissive gender role because of her biology but in spite of it.

    I think we need to be careful to distinguish individual or even statistical sexual characteristics from the cultural roles assigned by sex that may (or may not) have derived from the sexual characteristics.

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