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Rebecca Solnit: The Longest War

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

The Republican "war on women" helped define 2012.  Its main offensives are well known, including the assertion that you can't get pregnant from rape; the obstruction of the Violence Against Women Act because it would have given Native American courts more jurisdiction over domestic violence; the demonizing of a woman who dared to assert that all women, rich and poor, deserve access to contraception; and the 43 new state laws passed last year restricting access to abortion.

And in case you thought it ended with election 2012, in just the past few weeks yet more absurdly egregious, albeit less publicized, assaults on women have been piling up.

Toward the end of December, the all-male Iowa Supreme Court ruled that a dentist who fired his assistant for being too attractive had acted legally. The dentist's attorney hailed the decision, the first of its kind, as a victory for family values because the woman was axed in order to save his marriage, not because she was a woman. This is short-skirt-rape apologist territory. God forbid that the dentist bear responsibility for his inability to control himself.

As the new year broke, the House GOP took another stealthy swipe at women. The House and the Senate had come to an agreement on a bipartisan, Republican-sponsored bill that would have helped reduce the massive national backlog of "rape kits," which contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults that can help identify perpetrators. On the very last day of the last Congress, however, House Judiciary Committee Chair Lamar Smith, who had been trotting out various excuses to stall the bill for weeks, forced in amendments to kill it.

And early in January (yes, 2013!), a California court ruled that a woman who was raped was not in fact raped -- because she was unmarried. A young woman went to sleep with her boyfriend and woke up being raped by someone else who, she initially thought, was her partner. The judges strictly interpreted California's nineteenth century rape laws (based on 13th-century Saxon law), which say that it's only a crime to trick someone into having sex if she believes it's with her husband, not her boyfriend.

It's this seemingly antiquated but all-too-twenty-first-century world into which TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit plunges today, that extreme, remarkably fundamentalist land of Manistan whose violence, once put in one place, boggles the mind. Erika Eichelberger

A Rape a Minute, a Thousand Corpses a Year 
Hate Crimes in America (and Elsewhere) 
By Rebecca Solnit

Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren't that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they're everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that's broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a&bbsp;celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.

If you'd rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there's the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California -- she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter -- and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too.  While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it's almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn't have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn't mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.  But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.  

What We Don't Talk About When We Don't Talk About Gender

There's so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan's Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn't personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).

Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S.  It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of (more...)
 
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