In an article in Harpers Bazaar controversially called ‘Sometimes you make your rapist breakfast’, Korbel attempts to re-story her experience, as she likes to call it a “form of reverse logic” “No woman would make her rapist breakfast. If she makes him breakfast, he’s not a rapist. If he’s not a rapist, she’s not a victim. She hasn’t been raped. She’s okay. She’s fine.” As an extension to the same logic, I often ask if the rapist gets you flowers the next day, is he not a rapist anymore. The rapist asks to marry the woman, is he not a rapist anymore. I didn’t scream when he raped me, is he not a rapist ?
What Constitutes Rape in a Patriarchal Society and In a Culture of Silencing Women?
Rape is something that women have been afraid to mention for centuries. It was only through the process of feminist consciousness-raising, feminists could speak of sexual assault by locating their lived experiences. Brownmiller in her classic work inferred the female definition of rape in a single sentence; if a woman chooses not to have intercourse with a specific man and he chooses to proceed against her will, that is a criminal act of rape. The definition of rape especially with the Justice Verma committee’s recommendation brought changes in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 in India. It encapsulated all definition of rape: rape under intoxication, rape moving beyond penetration, rape under promise to marry, rape by gaslighting, rape by an object other than the penis. When rape especially in the context of India was widened with respect to the definition, I further ask as a radical thought.
If then rape were to be discussed in our Indian techno capitalist upper-class household, and we were not calling it the taboo rape as rape but let’s say something more acceptable a word as nonsensical like ‘orange’? If we then were to explain the definition of it but not call it by the taboo word rape. Would women be comfortable in using the taboo word rape for their bodily violation? For example, The woman visits a party and gets intoxicated, She is attracted to a guy across the room, sexual petting occurs, They make out and by then she is extremely intoxicated and passes out. When she gets up she notices him trying to finger her. What does she think? Can we call this rape? Would she call it rape.? She asks herself if, “ did I give him the “hint”, we were making out before I passed out, I was interested in him pre-passing out drunk”. All these questions make her uncomfortable. Did she give consent? Is consent static? If consent is given can she take it back? Would she, if ever attends a consciousness-raising meeting, ever personalize the act of rape and move away from it’s taboo? Would she on a comfortable afternoon with her friend ever say it out loud, I think I was raped.
I think what I am trying to bring to notice is the idea of confusion. Confusion for women, within whatever social location, country, class, race, ethnic background they come from. How do we as women translate our lived experiences with bodily violation when it gets coloured by our patriarchal upbringing, patriarchal society and culture of silence. Are we aware of what constitutes rape?
The cultural notion of what constitutes a rape lies heavily in a country like India. In a patriarchal society such as India, women are conditioned to not talk about their body and hence have less awareness of bodily autonomy. The conversation related to sex and sexuality is considered taboo and the cultural notion of purity is encouraged. Hence the awareness of gender and sex is met with shame. Discussion on the female body is limited to menstrual hygiene and any other information is learnt through informal means. One is not aware of bodily autonomy due to lack of knowledge and any discussion on the female body and sexuality is met with shame. Therefore there is a lack of knowledge and misguided information learnt through whisper networks.
In such a culture, when the body is violated (while the body is aware/feels the discomfort of violation) we as women lack the language to articulate this violation. Since puberty the language to articulate menstruation, correct nomenclature of sexual and reproductive organs, expressing sexual and reproductive disease or discomfort, is absent. Hence when the violation occurs, we lack the language to articulate the sexual violence. Hence while women might feel the discomfort and be aware of the bodily violation they question themselves and get gaslighted when they express the discomfort. The shame attached to sexuality, now coupled with violation of the very body is met with a culture of silence. This very confusion is reiterated in a culture where only peno-vaginal penetration, met with cries of help, is the hegemonic definition of rape/sexual violence. Anything other than that, although defined in the language of legislation as rape, is met with confusion. Confusion regarding the grey areas.
Women tend to internalise the shame and guilt related to sexuality, with the very body now violated, the double shame makes women further silent. If and when the woman even tries to talk about this experience and report it, police, court, doctors and all extension of the institutes of patriarchy act as barriers to her road to justice. For example, two-finger test is now banned in India. The idea of the two-finger test was to test the elasticity of the vagina, if the woman has had previous sexual intercourse. I ask, what was the need of knowing her past sexual history while deciding rape. In the courts, a controversial case’s conviction overturned stating a feeble ‘no’ may mean ‘yes’ in case of rape, another judgement discussed how it was unbecoming of an Indian woman to sleep after the rape and hence doubted the credibility of rape. This judgement faced anger from feminists in India. Who was the mould of an Indian woman that the hon’ble court felt did not fit perfectly? Somewhere shamelessly doubting women’s narrative and an absurd logic of Indian women – scream after peno vaginal rape- if not scream, surely leaves the place- does not sleep next to her rapist. This brings me back to my introductory remark. Does the sleeping of the Indian woman after the rape, makes the rapist, not a rapist anymore.
How does justice of a raped body looks like in a heteronormative patriarchal world?
In the recent Hathras gangrape case, where a Dalit woman (lower caste) was murdered and gang-raped by upper caste men in a village in Uttar Pradesh,India, sparked protests across the country. The absence of semen was seen as a ground to deny the occurrence of gang rape. I for the purpose of this logic, comment on how patriarchy can shame a dead victim of gangrape to questions of no semen hence no rape? The police continuously, especially in India, question the credibility of the survivor’s narrative; what were you wearing? Why were you out in the night? Why were you drinking with your rapist? How can a boyfriend rape? In the gaze of the police lies questions superimposed on the survivor, guessing her sexual history, judging her by her social location her caste, class, her verbose or confident nature. Anything and everything that constitutes the classic definition of a good girl. The notion of goodness, can then bad girls be raped? The mould of the “right” victim is constantly reiterated in the language, the gaze, the judgements. Where does then the raped body get justice?
The confusion now coupled with barriers in the system is stronger in cases of acquaintance and date rape. The doubting of their experiences along with a lack of language to articulate this violation depersonalizes the gaze of the raped body. This raped body that exists in a predominantly heteronormative world. To end my argument, I take comfort in feminist ideas. I ask us to locate all heterosexual sex in the purview of power. Coitus, as Kate Millet stated, cannot take place in a vacuum, the theory of sexual politics defines politics in the ambit of hierarchy and thus heterosexual coitus occurs in a hierarchy. If all heterosexual coitus is an extension of sexual politics, then is all heterosexual sex in patriarchy coercive? I ask, is all heterosexual coitus consensual?
Does one give consent out of choice or out of the absence of choice? A heterosexual relationship that involves power dynamic, the woman often at the mercy of the man?
For many, the act of penetration becomes violent imagery in itself, and degrading to women, and then can all heterosexual coitus be somewhere violent? Are then our bedroom habits democratic? Who is then the raped body or Do we all carry some part of the raped body within us?