20 April 2012

Sexual Violence against Women in South Africa

Regular readers would know by now that feminism is somewhat of a whipping boy for me. This is part of why my knee-jerk reaction to the sophistry that rape in South Africa is perpetuated by the usual suspects of patriarchy, men's sexist attitudes and the terrible Protestant capitalist upbringing forced upon us - not to mention that age old scapegoat The Media and its photoshopped princesses - is one of disbelief.

How sexist am I? Apparently somewhere between male and female hostile sexists, but less benevolently sexist than most people who participated in the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory questionnaire.

In the nature-versus-nurture debate, I put more stock in sociobiology than in the products of society theory. Putting the knee-jerk behind me, I decided to suspend judgement and look at the data before I chop off my genitals and become a nun (or a none?). As before, regardless of what most people would have you believe about feminists and their hysteria, and regardless of what most of them rationalise lies behind the serious issues, we do have a serious problem on our hands in South Africa. We need to do something about the fear that women in South Africa live with - a realistic fear of violence and particularly rape.

How do we know that our culture produces rapists?

This statement - widely believed by feminists (their labelling, not mine) - assumes several initial points:
  1. South African cultures condone or promote rape.
  2. Rapists are mostly socially constructed. That is, a rapist is someone whose actions are instigated and controlled to such an extent by his cultural milieu that committing rape is somewhat of an inevitability.
  3. The prevalent attitude of South African men is sexist
  4. There is a link between this generally sexist attitude of men and our high incidence of rape.
Unlike what one would expect from a cultural milieu that socially constructs beasts of sexual violence, most men in South Africa are not rapists. This presents a problem to the analysis that we're merely suffering from a patriarchy hangover. Paradoxically, this fact does not fill me with joy because it means solving the problem is far more difficult than handing baby boys Barbie dolls and Cosmopolitan magazines to play with in their formative years.


If not for sexism, why do South African women live in fear?

I don't believe that sexism is appreciated or condoned by our culture. Of course, there are so many cultures in South Africa that such a statement - and the statement that our culture produces rapists - is essentially meaningless. I only have anecdotal evidence to go by, but believe me telling a girl to knit you a sweater and make you a sandwich will not win you many friends of either gender in my circles.

However, the high incidence of rape in South Africa is somewhat worsened by culture. In particular, there are some superstitious beliefs that hold having sex with a virgin will cure you from AIDS. There are also cases of corrective rape, designed to cure unfortunate lesbians of their preference for women. Most rapists are likely to be male and between the ages of 20 and 40. Furthermore, alcohol and spousal abuse are factors that make your chances of getting raped more.


Is rape a gender issue?

Of course such a statement is anathema to me. There is a difference between sex (broadly male, female and other) and gender. Gender is tied with particular social and cultural roles. Suffice to say I am not familiar with a cultural practice in South Africa that condones rape - bar the mentioned voodoo sangoma witchdoctor cures for AIDS and lesbianism. Also bar the lip service that some establishments like the church pay to condemning rape while their servants get caught in the act of child abuse a little too often to lend much weight to their official dogma.

Culturally, the official dogma is still that rape is something that is frowned upon - to say the least. Plus, many men are raped in prison too. However, for the most part, rape victims are female (of any gender) and rape perpetrators are men (who don't deserve their gender bits). I do not believe that we live in a culture whereby men's attitudes are mostly sexist. Of course such attitudes exist, but not disproportionately to the rest of the world. The rest of the world doesn't have a rape problem of our proportions, which again contrasts to the expected situation if rape were merely a result of anachronistic gender attitudes and bias. Furthermore, I couldn't find a study that measured the gender attitudes of South African men. The only stats I could find refer to rape victims and their terrible ordeals.

Whether you put stock in the whole patriarch equals rapist conjecture or not, the harsh reality is getting raped is not a realistic fear most men have to live with - not even in Cape Town's Pink Triangle. Even worse, most women in South Africa are living with a realistic fear that they could be raped. And yes, it does get worse: When women are raped, they are mostly too afraid and ashamed to report the crime to the authorities.

As ridiculous as most humanities subjects are to those of my Vulcan ilk, the concerns raised do not strike me as being ridiculous or based on hysteria. This judging by the testimony of those working in the field of sexual violence, dealing with rape victims on a daily basis, whether you buy into their ideology or not. 


What can we do to remedy the situation?

Even if rape in South Africa did result from our cultural milieu, fixing that requires a generation or two and it's impractical to construct a measure of the change or a measure of the results of such change. We would never know if we're socially constructing the right kinds of rape-free genders. We need something that we can do right now to make women feel safer in our society. While most men are not rapists, statistically, most of us should be familiar with a rapist. We cannot afford that rape is something other men do and we can do nothing about. Furthermore, most rape victims know their rapist fairly well. I think a good place to start is with ensuring that women who were raped are not afraid of reporting the crime and have some faith that they can talk to someone who will be able to help.

Another good place to start is to have a Designated Dave kind of character to help prevent rape. Just like Designated Dave takes care of the driving while you take care of the drinking, this character takes care of your drink when you go to the bathroom and generally ensures that whatever you get up to by means of sharing DNA samples is consensual.

What do you think?

Please feel free to leave me a comment so we can find a working solution. As someone who does not associate with feminism or any ideology except Incertitude, I would like to become familiar with working solutions. For the time being, the only such solution I have found is chemical castration.


I have linked to sources throughout the text. I did my best to sidestep the ideological landmines, but the best sources on rape I could find deserve another mention:
  • Understanding Prejudice, a site dedicated to the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory. This is a questionnaire (survey to you Merkins) designed to determine how much you hate sex. I mean, gender.
  • Violence against women, a World Health Organisation study of 2011. Yes, not something from the Middle Ages I'm afraid.

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