Last August, a high school girl in Steubenville, Ohio was gang raped by her classmates. No one did anything. Ever since, the woman has been shamed for “letting it happen” or “asking for it” (or some similar bullshit) while the classmates, who are supposedly supposed to go on and do great things (like get away with one of the most heinous crimes ever and play football), have an entire community rallying behind them. Have you even heard about this? If you have, good. If you have, I’m pleased that this news made it to you through the patriarchal grapevines of American media. If you haven’t heard, that sounds about right. Most people I’ve talked to haven’t.
Next story. A couple months ago, a woman in India was gang raped in a public bus in New Delhi. The law enforcement said it was her fault. Did you hear about this? Of course you did! Everyone did. And you know what happened immediately after? The whole country, in one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, protested against the legal system and Indian government. It was college students – men, women, and otherwise – fighting against arrays of policemen who make a living using their baton. It was newspapers starting to publish articles about respecting women. People stood up for this woman and all the women that are constantly abused and mistreated in India. India’s civil society stood up, literally, against violence, and protested against the institutionalized patriarchy and lack of action regarding rape survivors. It was inspiring, empowering, and gorgeous. It was India’s civil society and it was mesmerizing.
Let’s compare these two cases. A gang rape happened in Ohio and no one heard about it. A gang rape happened in India and everyone heard about it (as we should). The American media has represented India as a misogynistic country where women need to be constantly wary of the men that surround them. And after that gang rape, large-scale protests blocked the streets and clogged the media. Now, I am in no way saying that rape and domestic violence are not problems in India. As an Indian-American woman who has been to India many times and is incredibly familiar with the culture, I am in no way denying that. Rape, in India, is a serious problem. Rape, especially in lower class areas in India, is an extremely prevalent problem that needs to stop being ignored and taken seriously. Violence against women in India is a serious issue.
But violence against women in America is also a serious problem. Violence against women in South Africa, and Sweden, and Chile, and Thailand, is a serious problem. Violence against women is a serious problem. Period. Full stop. While our media went out representing India as a typical place for these deplorable events to happen, another woman’s similar story went ignored and without subsequent societal action. This country outright refuses to admit that it is a rape culture.
Our media and our country are so obsessed with presenting foreign countries as worse than us or uncivilized or, most importantly, undemocratic, they will blast our radios and timelines and homepages with news of rapes in India, but refuse to acknowledge that the same thing happens here and is happening here.
Women in India are unsafe, but so are women in America. I feel unsafe walking home from the library on a Wednesday night. I feel unsafe wearing certain clothes, drinking certain drinks, or generally trying to enjoy myself. I feel unsafe because any threat to my body turns into my fault, lack of action, exhausting procedure embodied with shaming, or constant triggers that our world cannot really get a grasp on. This isn’t an America problem or an India problem. This is a global patriarchy problem. This is a global slut-shaming, victim-blaming, anti-female empowerment, “it’s just a joke” problem. And we have to do something about it.
One out of three American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. Our male politicians consistently try to redefine rape as one out of every three of our entire female population is facing rape and a judicial system that favors rapists. Unfortunately, I live in a country that values maintaining orientalist media over our own active civil society. Whatever your view may be on India, after that gang raped happened, India’s citizens’ voices that condemned those who take part in sexual violence were heard around the world. When that same thing happened here, we were still talking about that gang rape in India that shows how “uncivilized” that other country is.
We have to stop presenting rape cases in foreign countries as within their relative norms and out of ours. We have to stop discussing rape in the context of community or location and we have to start discussing rape in the context of men trying to assert dominance over women – no matter where she is or what she is doing or asking or saying or wearing or drinking.
There is a lot wrong with the way we spread and internalize information. Rape exists everywhere. Rape plagues people’s lives everywhere and that doesn’t let America off the hook. So, can we stop presenting other countries as “third world” and “uncivilized,” especially when we refuse to acknowledge similar atrocities affecting people right here? Until we can deeply ratify the embedded victimizing views of women, this rape culture that is a constant threat to women, the queer community, and people of color, especially. Rape is not something we should be discussing in the context of countries with specific GDP levels or political systems. Rape is something we, as America and as a culture, have consistently ignored and helped augment through our unwillingness to shed light on the realities that affect the greater female population. Both of these gang rapes happened and many more have happened and will continue to happen. As America, let’s take inspiration from the protests that followed this crime in New Delhi and as a collective society transforming into a rape culture, let’s stand with survivors and stop letting their stories be overshadowed by blind nationalism exerted through our society, politics and news media.
Written by Anisha Ahuja