Tag Archives: Illusions

What Rape Culture?

slut-walk

The first time I heard the term “rape culture” being used in the mainstream media was following the horrid Delhi bus rape in 2012. Of course, at that time, it was used in a mostly racist way to describe Indian rape culture. The unspoken implications were that this is not the kind of thing that happens in the civilized West, only in foreign cultures where tradition still holds a stranglehold over society.

Back then, I was quick to point out both that rape is not a culturally accepted practice in India (however, as I later realized, maybe there is a rape culture in India), as well as the very real rape problem in the West as well, highlighted by the Steubenville High School rape and subsequent cover-up by the local community.

In 2014 though, following many slut walks, which have by now become mainstream, the debate over rape culture has clearly shifted to our own society. Scores of feminist are denouncing Western society as a “rape culture,” which quite frankly bothers me. It bothers me because it dilutes the term until it can be made to mean anything at all. It bothers me because there are still many societies in which the rape culture is alive and well—Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, just to name a few—societies in which honor killings, honor rapes and female genital mutilation are not only happening, but are ENCOURAGED. It bothers me because in our own society, rape and sexual assault were acceptable until a few hundred years ago. And most of all, it bothers me because the feminists who attack the so-called Western rape culture do not bother with the vast majority of rape victims: men.

To me there is threshold between a rape culture society and a society in which there are rapes. Because let’s not kid ourselves: rape has always been a part of human history. As long as certain men choose to not control their instincts (or, some argue, cannot) there will be rapes. And yes, I will be quick to concede the point that rape perpetrators are by and large men. However, trying to eradicate rape is like trying to eradicate murder: as long as there are psychopaths out there, it ain’t happening.

But to talk of a rape culture, you need to show more than just rapes happening. You need to show society’s acceptance or even encouragement of rapes and other forms of sexual violence. And this is where I part ways with the feminists and others who call our society a rape culture.

Traditional Rape Cultures

In societies traditionally associated with the rape culture, rapes and sexual assaults are much clearer than in Western society.

Let’s take the case of Afghanistan as an example. One of the worst forms of sexual violence against women in that country are “virgin loans.” These are essentially loans taken by farmers secured against one of their virgin daughters. There is no age requirement, so the daughters could be as young as 9 or 10 years old. If the farmer, after having sold his crop, cannot repay the loan back, he has to give his daughter in marriage to his creditor. As soon as she becomes married, she becomes the creditor’s property, which gives him the right to use her in any way he chooses, including sexually.

Or let’s look at Saudi Arabia, where adultery is a crime, and apparently rape is an accepted form of punishment, at least among certain parts of society. I am referring, of course, to the infamous Qatif rape, when a woman who was found in a car with a man not her husband—they may, or may not have been engaging in the act—was raped by 7 strangers. In the subsequent rape trial, the perpetrators were given prison sentences, but the shocking part was that the woman (and her lover) was also sentenced to a public lashing for committing adultery in the first place (she was later pardoned)!

Finally, we have the gruesome situation of Female Genital Mutilation (“FGM”), mostly in Africa and some parts of the Middle East. The statistics are staggering: FGM affects 98% of all women in Somalia, 91% in Egypt, 88% in Sudan… The girls are cut between the ages of 9 and 14, at the onset of puberty in order to maintain their chastity. By and large, their respective societies condone the practice, even when FGM is legally outlawed.

All of the above are examples of sexual assaults against women that are widely supported in the underlying culture. To talk of “rape culture” in these contexts makes eminent sense.

Rape Culture in Western Society?

Now let’s look at what is being defined as “rape culture” in western society. The advocates of the term point out to this absurd statistic:

jailed-rapists

As we know by now, statistics can be made to say anything, so let’s break this one down. Firstly, it is interesting to note that the studies cited range from 1999 to 2012. Considering that the US population has increased by over 40 million (about a 15% increase) in that timespan, it is hard to imagine that statistics that are 13 years apart have much in common. But let’s skip over and keep going with our breakdown.

“40% of rapes get reported to the police… 10% lead to an arrest” How do you know that 60% of “rapes” that are not reported are in fact rapes? How do you know that the 30% of reported rapes that don’t lead to an arrest are rapes? As defined in our laws, rape is a crime. In America everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his/her peers. Before an accused is brought to trial, there is a police investigation. How does RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) suggest handling this issue? Simply take the victim’s word for it and forego the legal process? But then you would be taking away another citizen’s rights and freedom without due process!

Believe it or not, that is one of the cornerstones of the “rape culture in America” argument. That the legal system is slanted against victims, making it hard for them to come out in public because of the antagonism of (male) police officers, judges, attorneys, etc… The fact of the matter is, any kind of accusations are looked upon suspiciously when there is no hard evidence to support them. And when it comes to rape, because of the nature of the crime, it is very hard to collect evidence unless done immediately (that’s why colleges and other high-risk areas have rape kits).

The second main issue with rape statistics has to do with the nature of the crime: most victims were raped by someone they knew, not a stranger. Between the 6% of completely fabricated rape accusations and the 3% conviction rate, there lies a huge gray area.

What if both participants in a sexual encounter were drunk, even blacked out, at the time? Who raped who? If the girl wakes up in the morning and feels like she was raped since they had sex, but can’t remember it and neither can the guy, should he be sent to prison?

What if a girl had only one drink, meets a guy she likes who can really handle his liquor and who happily follows her to her place, 10 shots deep. In the morning he has no idea who she is or where he is. Did she rape him? What if the roles were reversed?

I recently had a conversation with a young female friend in San Francisco. She was describing her experience at a “sketchy” bar/club, notorious for sexual predators who slip drugs into their victims’ drinks and engage in other devious behavior. Long story short: her and her friend were drugged and barely found their way home that night, but luckily no pervert got to them. Things could have been a lot worse.

Based on this, my friend was telling me why she supports slut walks and why she believes the US is a rape culture: because young women cannot dress up however slutty they desire, walk into an unsafe environment, proceed to get intoxicated (alcohol or drugs of their choice) and be allowed to simply “dance” the night away without being groped, drugged or worse. She said that as long as that will not happen, the US will be a rape culture.

Her argument speaks more to millennials’ confused stance on life and their puerile desire to have their cake and eat it too. But it also echoes many other feminists’ comments in support of slut walks and female sexual freedom.

Now don’t get me wrong: I believe women should be just as free as men to be sexually promiscuous, or to dress provocatively. However, both sexes must be aware of what the likely consequences of their actions will be. As recently exemplified by the violent beatings of pranksters who ventured into inner cities and other “hot” areas, provocative actions can have violent, unforeseen consequences.

Sure, a young attractive girl is free to dress as skimpily as she wants. But as soon as she leaves the comfort and security of her home, she needs to be aware that her outfit, and accompanying behavior, will gather male attention. Depending on where (and when) she goes, that sort of attention can manifest itself in violent ways, for example in bars where men are intoxicated, and therefore much less likely to behave in a rational manner.

“Let’s Teach Men Not to Rape”?!?!?

This brings me to the topic of “teaching men not to rape.” But most men in America already know and understand that rape, just like murder, or stealing, is a crime. Most men understand that “No means no.” Rape education has long been a staple of sex/health eduction in high school, and it is doing a good job. By the time a high school male reaches college, he has been taught that no means no, unconscious means no, and incoherent means no.

And the small minority who doesn’t get it, most likely never will. This is the equivalent of saying “we need to teach people not to kill each other.” Well, Jesus and his followers have been preaching that for the last 2,000 years, and yet murder has still not been eradicated! Same with teaching kids abstinence or the use of contraceptives: judging by the rates of teenage pregnancy and teenagers with STDs, education, while important, has its limits.

However, if one even dares to suggest that maybe, just maybe, we should teach women how to protect themselves from rape, all gates of feminist wrath sway open and the harpies spew venom on the poor soul who dared to come up with such an insulting suggestion. Listen carefully to what Stephen A. Smith said the first time around: he didn’t say it was a woman’s fault for getting beat up/abused, what he said was that we need to teach women not to put themselves in those situations.

My stance is very similar to his: I don’t believe that any women, no matter how intoxicated or scantily dressed, deserves to be raped. However, I do believe that people should be held accountable for their actions. If I decide to walk around a bad part of Detroit at night, conspicuously wearing a gold watch, I don’t deserve to be mugged, and maybe even murdered. But most people would agree I am begging for something bad to happen. Why should rape victims be held to a different standard than mugging/murder victims?

As a brother to a sister (and potential father of daughters, who knows?) I truly believe that women should be taught how to defend themselves, both physically and emotionally. I know this is an extremely controversial position to hold in America in the year 2014, but think about it: we teach our children how to protect themselves against pedophiles, teach bus riders how to defend against pick-pockets, homeowners how to protect their homes, why is it taboo to teach the same to our women? It is surely more effective to teach an intelligent person not to put himself/herself in a bad situation than trying to teach a psychopath not to act like a psychopath.

Edited: In the original version I sounded like I believe ALL rape education is useless, when what I mean is that we are already promoting rape education in our high schools, so no male with a HS degree can use the excuse that he “didn’t know better.” If I am wrong, and if there are men out there who are not clear about the concepts of consent, freedom of choice, etc… then by all means educate them.

Dress Like a Slut, Beware the Consequences

Don’t get me wrong: I certainly believe that the perpetrators of assault crimes, sexual and otherwise, should be punished to the full extent of the law. The fact that someone walks around the wrong part of town at the wrong time of day, or that a woman chooses to dress provocatively, should not be a mitigating factor when dishing out the punishment to the perpetrator. However, you cannot paint the victim as “blameless” when the crime she suffered was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of her actions. No, rape victims who dress provocatively are not “asking for it,” nor are they to be blamed equally with the monster(s) who rapes them. But if they put themselves in the wrong situation knowingly and intentionally, then they have to shoulder some of the blame.

While feminists will go to great lengths to emphasize that the way someone dresses should not affect how they will be treated (the aforementioned “slut walks”), empirical evidence suggests the contrary. RAINN, quoting a U.S. Department of Justice study, tells us that sexual assault rates are up to 10% higher in the summer than in winter. Can this have anything to do with the difference in the amount of clothing that is worn in the two seasons?

Men: the Real Victims of Our Rape Culture 

Prison rape, interestingly, is not a topic that feminists cover. Like AT ALL. A quick search on Jezebel (the modern feminist bible and news source) yields exactly 0 results on the topic. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of victims are men?

According to one research group, 200,000 men are raped in prison in the US every year. Some of them are raped—and killed—while awaiting trial, because they cannot afford bail. It is interesting to compare this number with the number RAINN provides for total sexual assaults in the US per year, about 238,000, which excludes prison rape. If you combine the two statistics, it would imply that close to 50% of rape victims in America are men!

The ridiculously high incarceration numbers in the US—don’t forget, we incarcerate more people than China and Russia!—coupled with the general public’s acceptance of what goes on behind bars, comes suspiciously close to a “rape culture.”

While our constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishment” at the hands of the Federal, state or local government, we accept that 12% of our prisoners will be raped. If we cannot agree that getting raped is cruel and unusual punishment, then what is? Especially in the case of sexual crimes perpetrators , who are known to be targeted themselves as soon as they enter the prison system, we either turn the other way, or we agree that them being sexually assaulted is a fair punishment for their crimes. Well, hello: this is exactly what rape culture is all about! It is a culture in which sexual assault as a form of punishment is acceptable. Just because Jezebel won’t talk about it, should we keep quiet about the real victims of the rape culture in the US?

Edit: I did the math wrong on the rape-per-year statistics, initially claiming that 84% of rape victims were male. Thanks to my friend Lily for pointing out that RAINN did NOT include prison rape in its 238,000 sexual assaults-per-year figure.

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The Donald Sterling Affair – Farce and Tragedy

clippers-sterling-basketball

That a known racist should make racist comment is not very surprising, yet there seems to be a rare consensus among the media, NBA players and fans, and the general public over the coordinated outcry over the nasty comments Donald Sterling made to his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.

They are all lashing out at Sterling now, calling for a general banishment for Evil Donald. They seem to believe that because they are no longer comfortable associating with him, nobody else will either.

But let’s take a step back to look at the self-serving hypocrisy behind a lot of the accusers now righteously waging fingers at Sterling. For starters, Al Sharpton and the NAACP have some explaining to do relating to their decision to give a third achievement award to a known racist.

And what about the players and coaching staff? In the immediate aftermath of the release of the tape, a lot of indignation and frustration came out from this group, with reports that during a players meeting with Doc Rivers they even considered boycotting their next playoff games. But Donald was a known racist before anyone of them signed for the Clippers! Doc Rivers, with characteristic diplomacy, was positioning himself in the early days of the scandal as implying that he now found it inadmissible to work for Sterling and will not stay past the end of the season if the owner were allowed to stay. But Doc, Donald settled his lawsuit for discrimination of minorities in housing way back in 2009! His many incidents in which he shows his racist character in the naked light of day have been documented for years. Didn’t that bother you when you signed that big contract this past summer?

And the NBA and their owners, who are now hiding behind the new leadership of David Silver, as if they were not complicit during the last 30 years in which they knew what a vile person Sterling was, yet did not try to dissociate themselves from him.

We are now getting to the crux of the issue: despite the general congratulatory mood over the Sterling virtual “banishment” from public life, the reality of the situation is that Sterling will not be affected at all, beyond the sale of the team.

Do you seriously think that Sterling’s peers will turn against him? I certainly don’t believe it for one second. Listen closely to what he says on the tape: he doesn’t care if his girlfriend sleeps with Magic or other minorities, he just doesn’t want her to take pictures with them and appear with them in public because Donald doesn’t want his friends to know that anyone associated with also associates with minorities.

Donald’s racists directives to his mistress were motivated by a desire to please his friends! While most of the media has tried to paint him as a relic of the past, a dinosaur of the days when racism was overtly accepted in the US, essentially an old man out-of-touch with his time, the reality of the situation is very different.

The very fact that Donald would go to such lengths of ‘racism’ to please his friends illustrates the uncomfortable fact, which to my knowledge has not been brought out in the main stream media, that his views are not only accepted, but encouraged in certain elite circles.

Because let’s not forget who Donald is. He is a billionaire landlord, among other activities. It’s because of him, and other racist landlords like him who decided not to rent to minorities in certain parts of town (see also), as well as colluded with the insurance companies to “redline” entire neighborhoods, that we now have ghettos in the richest country on earth.

In the final analysis, while the over-reaction over the Donald Sterling Affair is laughable, the remarks themselves show how racism is alive and well in America in the year 2014. But then again, we didn’t need Sterling to find that out. A look at our overcrowded prison system (let’s not forget that we incarcerate the hightest percentage of our population of ANY country on Earth, meaning we beat Russia and China) tells a very vivid tale: 60% of inmates are minorities.

While this racism is not overt, like under Jim Crow, it manifests itself in insidious ways that have just as real an impact on the target populations as earlier, more open methods of control. In one of the most striking examples, we have been waging a “War on Drugs” for 40 years against specific segments of the population, overwhelmingly minorities, in an effort to overturn any gains made in the Civil Rights movement.

In the long run, the Donald Sterling Affair could be just another bleep on the radar before we all go back to the same old normal, racist state of affairs, or we could use the momentum that it created to educate each other about racism in America today and to organize each other to fight against it. The choice belongs to you.

Capitalism vs. Democracy

Capitalism vs. Democracy

A book came out in France a few months ago that sent shock waves through economics and political science circles: Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Author Thomas Piketty makes the seemingly outlandish claim that capitalism is inherently incompatible with democracy. Can this be?

Most Westerners have been indoctrinated their entire lives into believing that capitalism and democracy work hand in hand (for me it was only the last 24 years since I was born in a Communist state). Putting the indoctrination aside for now, let’s take a fresh look at the two notions of Democracy and Capitalism from the “think for yourself” perspective.

Democracy literally means “the rule of the people” or “power of the people.” So in a “real” democracy, the people have the power, that’s pretty simple. When looking at historic examples though, it immediately becomes clear that all of the people can never be included. Depending on the socio-economical and historical circumstances of the day, various democratic systems have excluded children, women, slaves, foreigners, mentally challenged individuals, criminals, etc… from having a say.

Athens during the Golden Age, for example, is sometimes presented as a near-utopian democracy. Well, if you consider a state that excludes nearly 80% of its population from the political process as an example of a vibrant democracy, the bar is set pretty low. A historical survey of democracies will show that the main concern of those in charge of setting up the system is who to exclude and who to include. While the concept of democracy as “power to the people” is a useful tool for indoctrinating the population and getting it to rally behind the regime, shrewd politicians have always been careful not to allow too much power to trickle down to too many independent-thinking people.

Since a utopian democracy is not to be found anywhere in History, we need to look at the level of meaningful political participation as the measure for how efficient a particular democracy is. What do I mean by “meaningful” political participation? I don’t mean simply giving a high percentage of the population the right to vote, or even the percentage of those who do vote. For example for U.S. presidential elections, the average turnout over the last century hovers in the high 50s%. On the face of it, this seems much better than the Athenians’ numbers and it would support, on the surface, the argument that the U.S. has a much higher level of political participation and is therefore a better democracy. But is this participation, as seen in presidential elections, really meaningful?

For example, here in California where I live, my vote has absolutely no bearing on the election result. Whether or not I vote, a Democrat will take the state. If I lived in Alabama, it would be the opposite result, regardless of my vote. In addition, I don’t feel represented by neither party. To push it even further, having lived in a number of democratic systems in Europe with much broader political spectrums, both the Democrats and Republicans look very similar. In many European countries they could safely sit in the Center and even merge, no one would find it strange, as their ideological differences are unremarkable. So, sure, I am allowed to vote in Presidential elections for one of two candidates, neither of whom I support, but my vote doesn’t matter anyway because of the electoral college system. Is this “meaningful” participation? I don’t think so.

If I disagree with the policies of the Government, I have to rely on my representatives and senator to carry my views. But most likely my vote in the elections that put them in power had no bearing either, as gerrymandering has made the majority of districts “safe” in the U.S. It is just another method of insulating those in power from popular pressures.

So under the U.S. democratic system, most of the population has the right to vote (let’s not forget that 1/3 of the people living in the US don’t vote: children, undocumented immigrants, and felons are excluded), but it is only a token right, since the political system has insulated itself from the popular vote.

This is exactly why I use the term “meaningful” participation. I define it as the percentage of the population who has an actual say in policy making. Simply being given the right to vote is not enough.

So let’s go back to the Athens example and compare it to the US version of democracy. Certainly the US compares favorably to it when looking at raw participation numbers. But when digging under the surface, we begin to see why Athenian democracy is still held in such high esteem. For starters the Athenian model was based on direct democracy, not a representative one like here in the U.S. Out of the 30,000 to 60,000 of citizens who were actually allowed to vote, every single one of them was allowed to walk into the Assembly (their version of Congress) and participate in decision making. Every one of them was allowed to have his voice heard. Looked at it from this perspective, the 20% figure of citizen participation in direct decision-making is absolutely bewildering. To compare, in the U.S. today this percentage would be 0.002% if we took into account only elected officials, high-level executive officers and life-time appointed judges, who can all influence policy (I tallied all U.S. representatives [435], senators [100], state senators [about 1,000] and representatives [2510], federal judges [3,294], cabinet members including pres [24]=7,363).

The 0.002% figure though does not take into account the people whose interests the politicians cater to: the business community. And this is where democracy and capitalism interact:  under the U.S. representative model of democracy, the officials in power don’t represent the interest of the “people,” they represent the interests of those who control capital flows.

You probably heard before that the wealthiest 1%  of Americans control over 30% of the wealth in this country. But did you know that the top 10% control over 75% of the wealth? The official ideological line in the U.S. is that it doesn’t matter who controls the wealth for two reasons: because everyone’s vote counts the same (US egalitarian myth) and because everyone who works hard enough can make it big (the American Dream myth).

As far as voting, by now you should seriously question whether your individual vote has any weight at all in the political process. And as far as the rags-to-riches myth, it is simply not feasible for the vast majority of people. Sure there are your Mark Cubans and other wildly successful entrepreneurs who were not born in wealth. But the vast majority of the top 10%, and virtually the unanimity of the top 1%, was born into wealth. And this only makes sense: under a capitalist system, the more capital you control, the more capital you can acquire. Regardless of what the feel good/ self-help literature is telling you, it takes money to make REAL money. Of course a hard-working individual with 0 resources can make enough money for him and his family to live at ease, even luxuriously. But that is not the kind of money that matters when it comes to having a say in decision making at the societal level.

The role of ANY political system is to divest resources from the general population towards the elite group. The only difference between various systems is in how the elite group is defined, who is allowed in, and its permeability.

What I am getting at is that the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system is not “natural,” it is not the only alternative possible. However, it is a natural outgrowth of the political organization of this country in the 18th century. Remember the Founding Fathers: they were not ordinary citizens, they were part of the socio-economic elite of their time: “Almost all of them were well-educated men of means who were dominant in their communities and states.”

They were the ones controlling capital in 18th century America. Therefore, it only makes sense that they set up the country in the way that best served their interests. That is what every political elite has always done, throughout History. And one of their main interests was not to allow the general population a say in politics, which could potentially lead to a divestment of important resources allocated to their group.

Of course, because of the huge imbalance in sheer numbers between the elite group and the rest of the population, the average people need to be kept in line, or all hell could break loose. Under authoritarian regimes, this is done mainly by force and somewhat through ideology (while ideological indoctrination is heavily handed in authoritarian states, the level of internalization by the population is never very high; in other words people understand they have to act in certain accepted ways and speak in certain accepted terms, but most of them only pay lip-service to ideology, they don’t actually believe it). In a democracy, this is done mainly through ideology, while the use of force is more covert (by the way, if you don’t think that the U.S. has used force against its own people, I would recommend you read up on the FBI’s Operation COINTELPRO from the FBI’s own website!!!!!). As long as they can lead you to believe that your vote counts, that the U.S. is a beacon of light among the nations of the world who supports Human Rights around the globe and who fights for individual freedoms worldwide, you are way more indoctrinated than any citizen of the former-USSR ever was.

In conclusion, under a capitalist economic system, “real” democracy cannot be achieved. By definition, the economic model favors those who can accumulate vast quantities of capital. Because the supply of capital is not infinite, by concentrating it, fewer and fewer people have access to it. Those who are able to successfully accumulate it over time become the elite. They will then fight tooth and nail in order to create and/or maintain ideal conditions for their continuing accumulation of capital. And the number one condition is to keep power concentrated in their hands, in order to be able to influence all other factors in the equation. Since in the long term “soft” control has proved much more adequate than control by force, democracy is the political system of choice for capitalists. It has nothing to do with the “rule of the people” and everything to do with the rule of money.

In the final analysis I don’t believe that simply because we call our system “democratic” we live in a Democracy in the true sense of the word, just like no one would argue that the Socialist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (also known as North Korea) is a democracy or a people’s republic. Rather we live in a “capitalocracy” and that is a scary thought.