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Patriarchy is not the answer to rape culture

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FEBRUARY 08, 2013

Although Mihir Deo makes a well-intentioned point that he indeed should have walked his sister home that night in Belize (“Stop India’s rape culture,” Feb. 5), many of the views expressed in his discussion of rape are grounded in the skewed frameworks that color discussions of rape and sexual violence worldwide.

Human rights scholar Makau Mutua, in his work “Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights,” outlines a paradigm for the — problematic — way we global northerners approach problems in the global south: savages, victims and saviors. In this paradigm, concerned members of developed countries tend to view problems in other parts of the world as being constituted by three types of actors: savages committing misdeeds, victims who are suffering and ourselves in the global north — the saviors-in-waiting for the issue at hand.

When this framework is aligned with Deo’s — and many others’ — treatment of sexual violence in India, we are invited to see male Indian society as the body of savages with Indian women as their helpless victims. In this bleak scene, the American or global northerner is then cast with the role of either “fixing” India’s rape culture or walking lone women home. But when does this paradigm become problematic?

Human rights scholar Alice M. Miller, in an article entitled “Sexuality, Violence Against Women, and Human Rights,” warns readers of the dangers of attempting to ameliorate women’s issues with approaches that deprive them of human agency. In other words, when women are limited to being “victims” and not people, we end up with incomplete solutions that address neither the roots nor the extent of their issues.

With portrayals of women as victims alongside the men of a society who are cast as saviors, the solutions we get to the global phenomena of sexual violence are but bandages for a worldwide sickness. We readily promise ourselves to walk our sisters home at night but continue to pay no attention to the omnipresent patriarchy in government and society that constantly enables these kinds of crimes to occur and encourages these insufficient responses in the first place.

Deo considers the hypothetical situation if his sister had indeed been raped and asks us to consider who would have been to blame. “Would it have been the society that allowed for these types of sex crimes to be OK?” he asks, “or would I be more to blame, not protecting my sister and establishing my presence as a protective male?”

Regardless of Deo’s answer, imbued in the questions themselves are the true obstacles to dealing with sexual violence. With the woman as the victim and the “protective male” as the savior, all we are doing is subverting one patriarch for another. In this dichotomy, women are either doomed to be at the mercy of men who commit sexual violence or, if they are lucky, men who seek to “protect” them from it.

And while as a society we are quick to draw attention to manifestations of other rape cultures when they leak into global news, it’s time we as Americans looked at our own reflections in the mirror: According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey conducted by the National Institute of Justice, nearly one in five women surveyed had been raped or had experienced attempted rape. How can we export an anti-rape culture if we have yet to cultivate it here at home?

Kamyar Jarahzadeh is a UC Berkeley junior.

Contact the opinion desk at [email protected]

FEBRUARY 07, 2013