Monday, August 20, 2012

Rape, "Mansplaining," and Violence: Three Statements on Gender, Violence, and Religion

So much energy expended in imagining the lives of gay folks, classifying and ordering the lives of gay folks--especially the lives of other men who happen to be gay.  What might happen to the world and to the churches--which are bleeding members in droves as heterosexual men twiddle their thumbs about these impossible-to-imagine eventualities of full inclusion of gay folks in the world--if those same heterosexual men who are so fixated on their blessed rage to order the lives of gay men and women began to turn that obsessive moral focus on themselves
And began to ask who died and made them gods?  And who has anointed them to create the blessed order of the universe?

And today, I find it interesting to read the following provocative, insightful commentary that might almost have been written as part of a dialogue responding to my preceding comments: 

At The Nation, Ilyse Hogue takes on the ludicrous observation that Missouri senatorial candidate Todd Akin made yesterday.  Akin stated that "doctors" have informed him that, when a woman is "legitimately" raped (i.e., when she is "forcibly" raped as opposed to inviting her rape--a distinction social and religious conservatives love to push forward), something in the female body "shuts down" the possibility of her becoming pregnant.  

Hogue responds:

In his world view, the rape victim's body will be the ultimate judge of whether a crime has taken place. If she gets pregnant, by Akin's standard, her reproductive organs consented to the pregnancy, so she must have consented to the sex. This bizarre standard of innocence is reminiscent of medieval Europe, where the men in authority held the similarly scientific view that women guilty of witchcraft floated in water while innocent women would drown. Being cleared of witchcraft was of course not much consolation to the drowned women, though they at least got to skip being burned at the stake.

And at the Alternet site, Rebecca Solnit reissues her statement about "mansplaining" from April 2008 with new, expanded prefatory commentary.  She doesn't say so, but the article reads today almost as if it had been written to counter the absurd (and patently dangerous) "mansplaining" of Akin and a legion of men who think just as he does that 1) good girls don't get raped, and so 2) if a woman is raped, she asks for it, or 3) in the rare circumstances in which a good girl does get raped, a divine ordering will manifest itself in which she doesn't become pregnant.  To demonstrate to the world that she is a good girl who was "legitimately" raped.

Solnit argues that one of the high prices we all pay for the pretensions of powerful men who need to 'splain it all to us is that the voices of women are silenced, disregarded, treated as if they count for nothing, even in conversations in which the lives of women are at stake.  Men's pretensions to 'splain it all to everyone, even when they have nary clue what they're talking about, have created an "archipelago of ignorance" which assumes that the truth can never be the property of women: it's to be handed down to them by their male superiors and dutifully and thankfully received.

Solnit writes,

Most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down [i.e., after certain men tried to bully her following the publication of her book Wanderlust in 2000]. Having public standing as a writer of history helped me stand my ground, but few women get that boost, and billions of women must be out there on this six-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever. This goes way beyond Men Explaining Things, but it's part of the same archipelago of arrogance. 
Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don't. Not yet, but according to the actuarial tables, I may have another forty-something years to live, more or less, so it could happen. Though I'm not holding my breath. 

And, finally, in Religion Dispatches, Elizabeth Drescher notes that Americans have been living through a "summer epidemic of mass gun violence" this year, and she wonders about the causes.  What explanatory factors seem common to the diverse incidents when someone takes a gun and sprays a group of other human beings with bullets?

At least one of these, Drescher points out, is gender: women almost never engage in acts of mass violence like the shooting in Colorado earlier this summer, or the Chicago park shootings in July, or the Sikh temple shootings at Oak Creek, Wisconsin, or the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, bar shooting spree in July.  Men and God; men and religion: Drescher also suggests that, lying behind the clearly demonstrable penchant of men for violence are male-dominant religious groups that deify males and make them imagine themselves as godlike.

As she notes, the renegade Catholic theologian who played a significant role in grounding feminist theory in the latter part of the 20th century, Mary Daly, puts the point succinctly: "If God is male, then men are God."  And so the sins that issue in acts of mass gun violence perpetrated by males who assume that they act with divine authority to punish others are, quite specifically, "the sins of our religious fathers."  There is a direct link between religion that places (heterosexual) men at the top of the ladder of divine creation and the kind of male-engendered, male-perpetrated violence endemic in many parts of the world.

If we want to address the root causes of that violence, we cannot avoid addressing the gender presuppositions that give rise to it, and their roots in religious ideology and religious structures: 

And, we need to revisit with open hearts the ways in which the sins of our religious fathers—which remain too often echoed in churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples today—make the resources of our faith traditions available for violent cooptation. 
However, if we do all of these things and refuse to look at the role of culturally, politically, socially, and religiously sanctioned and normalized masculinities in racism, misogyny, sexism, and violence, we will do no more than teach the “intimate enemy” better manners to cast aside when frustrations mount, when his mental wiring frays, when the world reveals itself as far less under his control than his guns and his church and his hate broadcast idols have led him to believe.

And then Drescher adds,

Yet we cannot begin to address the culture of violence that is literally exploding all around us without acknowledging that “manning up” in American culture too often involves actions aimed at the subordination of others—women, children, nature—to the will of a man who, it is assumed, embodies the will of God. These often religiously informed, institutionalized, and naturalized versions of masculinity play no small part in the continuum of violence that moves from the domestic sphere to the public arena.  

Drescher will, no doubt, be resoundingly criticized for having written this article.  But for my money, she's right on target with her analysis.   There is no way that we in the U.S. can begin effectively to address the deep roots of violence in our culture without addressing the religious warrants that lie implicitly or explicitly behind the violence, and the gender assumptions that prop up those warrants.  Assumptions about gender of which the denigration of people on grounds of sexual orientation is a corollary . . . .

(And if you imagine that Death's-Head Akin isn't deeply entangled in the politics of the religious right with his USCCB-cloned crusade to defend "religious liberty," you need to inform yourself about who Akin is and with whom he stands.)

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