Challenging Entitlement

20 01 2013

Most of the blogs I write come from things that I have heard, seen or read.

This piece is no different in that respect.

Mostly I try to reflect on how an issue may be viewed in a different way in order to reveal new dimensions.

This piece is very different in that respect.

I’m writing after having read of a second gang rape on a bus in India. This second, well second widely reported incident, follows just two weeks after Jyoti Singh Pandey was raped, brutalised and murdered. Her father, contrary to the wishes of the Indian authorities, released her name and in doing so expressed his desire that the increased publicity would prevent another woman having to suffer the fate of his daughter.

That this second incident followed so closely after her death shows not only that the horror of that event has not prevented further gang rapes but might even suggest that it has acted as a template for further attacks.

I cannot find a way to view these incidents with anything other than horror and revulsion. There is no way that these events can be seen in shades of grey that could explain the actions of these men but I am moved to write this piece anyway. From any approach I take to the story there are no mitigating factors; educational, cultural, circumstantial or otherwise that can possibly excuse the premeditated assaults on two young women by two gangs of men.

The rape statistics cannot be tackled by telling women how to avoid being raped. When a similar situation as we find today occurred in India in the 1960’s Indira Ghandi was urged to implement a curfew on women to keep them safe. To her credit she responded by arguing that if any curfew was to be introduced that it should be imposed on men.

In South Africa the rape statistics are even more horrifying than those in India. What is also worrying is the response of young women who were interviewed after a rape on their university campus – it was to shrug and say, “these things happen.” Acceptance of a situation is not, of course, the same as agreement with it, but it’s close. By failing to challenge each case of inequality, abuse, assault and rape the feeling of entitlement of the perpetrators grows. Bad things happen, and will continue to happen, when good people stand back and shrug.  Margaret Hefferenan’s book “Willful Blindness” is full of instances where failure to speak out has had catastrophic consequences. More recently,  the Jimmy Savile  case has demonstrated that doing nothing puts others in danger.

My concern is to address the entitlement that these men seem to have felt in allowing them to behave in this way, as in this they are not either alone or unique. In 2012 we had US politicians touting the idea of “legitimate rape” and in the UK we were asked to consider date rape as just a case of bad form. There are countless people, no doubt many well-meaning, many of whom are women, who wish us to complete this sentence, “Women get raped because……” when we should be addressing the issue of why some men become rapists. It is much more likely, as with murder, that women are abused by someone that they know. Telling women to stay off the streets will not address this issue, it will merely reinforce the current situation where women are encouraged to live in fear of walking the streets at night.

Some men, exemplified by the apologists above, are willing to excuse certain types of behaviour, to shift the blame from perpetrator to victim. They do so from a position of power which entitles them to treat women as the cause of any of their indiscretions.

So while I cannot add to the understanding of how individual human beings can behave in such appalling ways towards other human beings I can urge that we all should challenge every single act of suppression that we see, whether that be of gender, race or class as the only way that things will change is if we all challenge the feeling of entitlement that the strong have over the weak.

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2 responses

20 01 2013
janekenyon

I cannot agree with you more Karen – I am sickened by this and know for sure our pioneering for equality will not be over until the violence stops.

24 03 2013
Abuse against a backdrop of privilege | Thoughts from the Train

[…] short while ago I wrote about entitlement. I did so in the context of the gang rape and murder of an Indian medical student, Jyoti Singh […]

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