There are a couple of articles getting a lot of play around the internet in the last few days, from two University of Chicago students who participated in a study-abroad trip to India. One young woman had a very bad, very difficult experience: she was assaulted – visually, verbally, and in all sorts of disgusting ways – “stalked, groped, masturbated at” as she says, over the several weeks of her trip, by all kinds of South Asian men; she also came close twice to being raped. As a result she suffered, and still suffers, PTSD.
The second young woman, also on the same trip, posted something of a rebuttal, trying to make clear that not all men in India behave in the ways the first woman experienced. Her post struck me as being quite well-reasoned and balanced, although some find it to be somewhat overly apologetic on behalf of Indian men. I thought this part of the second post particularly resonant, however: “But Stewart, who is black, cautioned that ‘when we do not make the distinction that only some men of a population commit a crime, we develop a stereotype for an entire population. And when we develop a negative stereotype for a population, what arises? Racism.’” (Quote from this CNN article.)
Here’s the thing I started thinking about, which comes up for me a lot around the subject of men’s attitudes about rape and towards women in general. Why is it, as one Facebook friend said, that there’s a mindset “which thinks its ‘natural’ for men to not be able to control themselves and for women to be viewed as sexual objects first and foremost”? Where does that mindset come from? Are those men, from the time they are babies and little boys, given the idea and impression that girls and women are on this earth simply for them to ogle, gape at, stalk, assault verbally and physically, brush up against, leer at, and on and on? Where do those attitudes come from?
And yes, I think it’s true that it’s not specific to India, or to any other country, region, or continent. It’s not specific at all; it’s global. Men in all countries and all cultures to some degree or another have been allowed or even brought up to believe this. Men have been taught and shown by their fathers and even by their mothers that women are of less value and exist primarily or even only as objects of their desire or use. Many many men are not taught in their upbringing to respect and revere the women in their lives and environments; and they are especially taught by the media to view women as sexual objects only. And, as if that’s not bad enough, many many women are brought up to feel that their sexual self is the only value they have to offer to the world. These intertwined truths result in the kinds of attitudes and behaviors we see.
In some cultures and religions, men are made to believe that they have no control over their own impulses toward women, and that it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep men from ogling them and much worse, often by covering their bodies with all sorts of prescribed clothing (burkas et al.) and by behaving in certain ways and not in other ways. Men think it’s not up to them to behave maturely and consciously, but rather up to women to keep them (the men) from behaving badly. There is a global culture of other-blaming as opposed to taking responsibility and being accountable for one’s own actions.
I do want to clarify that of course, it’s not ALL men EVERYWHERE. But, a significantly large percentage of all men do act in these ways and believe these attitudes .
Here is the thing I don’t understand though: how is it that women, mothers, in this day and age, are not raising their sons to be respectful, to honor the girls and women in their lives, to question and strike out against what they hear and see in the media, in music (rap and hip-hop!), and online? I certainly, myself, don’t claim to be perfect in this regard, but I know I have tried very hard to get my son to do exactly that. And I have been blessed that those efforts are supported by people around him and around me, and by his father as well, and also by the schooling he’s been exposed to.
This is not only the responsibility of mothers; it’s also very importantly the responsibility of fathers – they need to model better behavior and they need to specifically teach better values – that women are not men’s toys – they are equal and valuable human beings. And, each child has to know to listen to their own inner voice, to know, for boys, they don’t have to “go along with the crowd” when the crowd is denigrating girls and women, and for girls, they don’t have to accept lewd or any behavior that scares them or makes them feel bad, or just “go along to get along” with anyone else’s actions. It’s the only way, ultimately, that these terrible events will change.
We, all people in all cultures, must teach men and boys that the way to stop rape and sexual assaults of all kinds it to NOT DO IT. And they learn that by being taught that every girl and every woman has the same value and rights as they themselves do. It’s the golden rule, folks!