How wonderful it has been to see a public attack on rape as lead by Angelina Jolie and Foreign Secretary William Hague. The context was rape and its use as a weapon of war. The 10th June 2014 saw the first of its kind, a world summit to highlight the utter abuse of women in war situations. Significantly, a call was made to reverse the misplaced sense of shame felt by women and ultimately, the summit launched a new international protocol setting-out new standards of behaviour. In essence, the 140 nations present were encouraged to re-train their armies and to introduce appropriate laws to end rape with impunity.
Whilst such publicity cannot possibly harm this just cause, I am left with some confusion as to the logic and qualification in its moral position. On the question of rape, whether in war or elsewhere, it is obviously abhorrent so what are the real distinctions between rape in war and rape in non-war environments? Why did a summit on rape feel it necessary to confine its focus upon war alone when rape in civilised society is so prevalent? Not only was distance placed between ‘domestic rape’ and ‘war rape’, publicity for this summit also focused heavily upon African wars as if rape was less problematic in European wars? We know that in all wars across the world, women, children and babies are raped – treated as ‘the spoils of victory’ no matter who they have been.
An emphasis upon African wars and its victims risks reigniting or reaffirming in our imagination, the so called, ‘aggressive over-sexualised, animalistic nature’ of the black man who simply cannot control himself without ‘training’. As a consequence, the gentility of white Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary Mr Hague, conveys through neoliberal discourse, the common colonial mission – we still have to civilise the natives. To be clear, black men as aggressive sexual predators is a stereotype without any historical legitimacy, constructed by white men for the convenience of white men. There has been an endless obsession with the black phallic over the centuries that white men just do not seem to be able to free themselves from? That is to say, rape is unequivocally, not African, European or Asian, but largely the assertion of masculine power as expressed through violence and male sexual anxieties.
So, given rape is primarily symptomatic of masculine violence, how can any summit ask nations of male soldiers not to stop war but to war without rape? The position suggests one form of violence can continue as easily as switching on a tap of cold water whilst the red hot rape tap can simultaneously be switched off? Is this not oxymoronic? If we can train men out of rape, why would we not train men out of war? Indeed, out of heteronormativity? War by definition, engenders intolerance and a conditioning to brutal violence or else, what is it? The mind has to change, to de-sensitize in order to cope with war. Notably, nations are gendered, as ‘she’ indeed, we already know war is the very raping of one country by another. Justice for all such victims of rape requires something more than producing a protocol and believing this will somehow change things as opposed to causing more ‘discretion’ or ‘cover-ups’ to protect out-of-control soldiers. To say the least, this is highly optimistic if not, more fluff than substance. In any event, will it not make sense to kill a rape victim now, so as to guarantee her silence in war?
Thus, the summits position seems to undermine the real causes of rape and ignores the primary issue that of men rape. I agree of course that most men choose not to rape however, all men nevertheless benefit from the silent fear and oppression it invokes in girls growing up and indeed, in grown-up women. Boys and men grow up with a sense of entitlement without ever having to be associated to the immorality of rape. That is what seems to have happened right here in this summit. A focus on men/masculinity has been silenced or ignored with distractions on war and Africa whilst paradoxically, the subject of rape was being discussed?
Like any other woman in London (and despite being an ex-police sergeant), I have spent my whole life having to make sure I did not place myself in vulnerable positions. Indeed, I think every time a woman considers how she is going to get home, the avoidance of rape is probably lingering in the vicissitudes of her mind. So normalised is that conditioning, it is just a part of getting dressed to go out in 21st century Britain. We simply get used to that oppression and ignore it until we have our daughters, which then alerts us to a new level of worry for her vulnerability. However, encouraging her to be a ‘good girl’ is to have her undergo a strict, and disciplined compliance of her body – to ‘behave appropriately’ and in doing so, she embodies subconscious fears of being raped that we pass onto her in order to protect her?
So, the elephant in the summit room seems to have been the unspeakable fragility of masculinity. No matter how well intentioned Angelina Jolie is and I certainly do not mean to judge or misplace her commitment to such a cause, without challenging the artificial notion of masculinity and males as the symbolic of power and strength, it is illogical to believe we can overcome the violence of rape upon women and men – especially through the rather impotent document of a protocol.