Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Reinforcing Social Dominance through Violence

Social Dominance and Rape
I am not sure how many readers hear listen to comedy but a huge issue emerged in the stand-up world when comedian Daniel Tosh. During one of his stand-up performances, Mr. Tosh was discussing about how rape jokes could be funny when a female member of the audience heckling that “rape jokes are never funny.” In response to this heckle, Mr. Tosh replied “wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by like, 5 guys right now?”[1] This poorly constructed retort (and I say poorly since as a fan of some of his work, I know that Mr. Tosh could have made a much better retort) led to a spark of outrage among feminists who found the remark offensive, resulting in a debate on the use of a rape joke to put down a woman who angered him.
I do not want this article to focus on the justification of rape jokes or whether Mr. Tosh was wrong to use a rape joke to get back at a woman who offended him. Unlike other professions, comedians are not properly respected at their place of work since audience members feel they have the right to critique or “heckle” comedians for their jokes if they are not funny or offensive, some people going as far as pouring their drinks on the comedian. Do we interrupt the president when he is giving a speech because we do not agree with his beliefs? Do we interrupt the priest? Do we spit on a chef’s food and send it back if it is unappetizing? I do not purport to know what a comedian’s life is like but understanding the effect and rudeness of heckling must be understood to give Mr. Tosh a fair analysis of why he took the action that he did.
However, the anger that results from being heckled does not justify the social threat of rape as a comeback to the comment. The anger that emerged from the remark results not from the use of rape itself as a joke but because it was used as a threat to reaffirm social hierarchy. Although men are not immune to rape, the vast majority of rape cases often result from men being the aggressor and women as the victim. However, due to the cultural stigma against rape as well as underreporting that under represents the prevalence of the crime, rape is a difficult and touchy crime. Although a single post on rape will not do much, hopefully this post could provoke some thoughts about the concept of rape in society and how society can change to better report and eradicate rape crimes in the future.
Before discussing social perceptions of rape, I would like to outline the legal definition of rape as well as some statistics regarding the crime. According to the Indiana criminal code, rape is defined as a Class B felony where the perpetrator “knowingly or intentionally [had] sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex when: 1) the other person is compelled by force or the imminent threat of force; 2) the other person is unaware that sexual intercourse is occurring; 3) the other person is so mentally disabled or deficient that consent to intercourse cannot be given.”[2] Rape raises to become a Class A felony when deadly force is used or threatened against the victim when the offense is committed. According to website Crisis Connection, in the United States, a person is sexually assaulted every 45 seconds and it is estimated that 1 out of every 7 (~14%) women in college has been raped although 9 out of 10 of these women never report that rape.[3] Men themselves are not immune with 1 in 10 men raped in his lifetime with 1 in 7 of those victims assaulted before the age of 19.[4] It is estimated that more than 61.5% of rapes are never reported to law enforcement, most likely due to the fact that 74% of sexual assaults are caused by assailants who are well-known to the victim.[5] If you think these statistics to be unexpectedly high, you are not the only one. Government officials themselves were surprised by a survey that found “1 in 5 women have been victims of rape or attempted rape,” with only 84,000 or so rapes reported despite researches’ estimates that there are around 1.3 million cases of rape or attempted rape for American women.[6] Unfortunately, Crisis Connections’ statistics are not too outrageous either as organization RAINN asserts that there are 207,754 victims of sexual assault a year with 54% of sexual assaults not reported.[7] Both organizations provide similar statistics, showing that rape is both underreported and remains quite prevalent.
However, the average rapist is not a man hiding within the bushes ready to pounce on unwilling victims but individuals much closer to home, literally. Of these assaults, approximately 67% of these assaults are committed by someone known to the victim with 38% of rapists being friends or acquaintances.[8] As you can see, the statistics given by both organizations are not too different, the average sexual assailant profile being a non-stranger who often assaults the victim within 1 mile of their home or at their home from between 6pm to midnight.[9] The average age is 31 years old, 52% reported to be white with 22% reported to be married and 1 in 3 sexual assaults resulting from the perpetrator being intoxicated.[10] Rape is not a crime committed by strangers but by those close to us, essentially betraying our trust and utterly strips us of control which may be why it is so controversial.
Rape is an unusual crime because of its representation as a crime of hate and control. Sexual assault is not a result of lust and desire but a violent crime of power, control and dominance. Perpetrators rape not because they lust after the victim but because they want to reassert their control and dominance over the individual. Rape reinforces gender inequality through domination and intentionally forces the victim to face her sexuality, essentially an action to “put the woman in her place” in the most cruel means possible. I think the message of rape is expressed most gruesomely depicted in the movie Boys Don’t Cry where the main character, a non-operative trans-male is beaten and raped by ex-convicts for being transgender and having a girlfriend. Although I am no psychologist, it is very likely that the desire to rape the character resulted not from sexual lust for him but to reestablish the dominance of “real” biological men over the trans-male who was attempting to enter their social sphere. Rape is essentially a violent tool to reinforce male dominance and undermines gender equality by inflicting trauma on others.
However, simple lust has also been discussed as a source of sexual frustration and thus, a cause of rape. According to anthropologist Robert LeVine, the two famous mass outbreaks of rape in Gusiiland in 1937 and 1950 occurred in years when “the price of a bride had soared beyond the reach of Gusii young men.”[11] According to surveys on the socioeconomic status of rapists in the U.S, the vast majority of offenders come from a lower socioeconomic class and is often an unemployed or unskilled laborer with only an elementary school education or less. Cross-cultural studies from Denmark and Australia also confirm those unskilled, unemployed, and poorly educated males; the members who often lose in sexual competition; are those who are most likely to rape. Although the article does not mention if the surveys take into account unreported rapes (which could be that the rich commit just as many rapes but are able to get away with their crimes unpunished more), we can see from the data that it is often the disempowered and threatened man whose masculinity and self-esteem is threatened that is most likely to commit this heinous act.
However, Mechelen argues that recent rape attempts are a result of the threat on masculinity, that due to the assault of pop-feminist messages that attack and undermine the entire male gender, “many men feel compelled to create a false and exaggerated masculine identity [that] worships violence and machismo.”[12] The modern man lacks outlets to express his masculinity since they are targets of pop-feminism while cinematic violence in modern media featuring hyper masculinity. Body image has become a growing concern among men, research showing that today’s college men report greater levels of body dissatisfaction with concern about body shape and increasing muscle mass which has resulted in increased eating disorders among men.[13] The male body is increasingly objectified in the mirror and thus men must continue to meet a higher standard of perfection to be “masculine,” a problem I believe many women understand given the horror that is Cosmo. Although not the sole cause of rape, anthropologist Susan Brownmiller argues that disempowerment is a contributing factor. Shere Hite notes that disempowerment causes a person to become terroristic and for a few, the only way they can express their feelings of frustration and purposelessness is through sexual assault and dominance, adopting a hyper-masculine stance to satisfy their self-esteem and reaffirm their masculinity.
Since a cause of rape is male disempowerment, the solution to rape must therefore be male empowerment. Yes, it sounds weird given the fact that in our current social structure, males tend to be favored over females in the gender inequality spectrum. However, gender equality means that men and women must both be treated fairly and with respect, that the person being treated must be treated as a person based on the content of their character rather than their expressed gender. Rape is a social issue that must be addressed by both genders rather than crime that places the blame on either gender.

By Khan Kikkawa

[2] Crisis Connection, “How do you Legally Define Rape and Sexual Assault?,” http://www.crisisconnectioninc.org/sexualassault/how_legally_define_rape.htm
[3] Crisis Connection, “How do you Legally Define Rape and Sexual Assault?,”
[5] Crisis Connection, “Rape statistics,”
[6]Erin Gloria Ryan, “Government Shocked by Depressing Rape Statistics we all learned about in College,” Jezebel http://jezebel.com/5868178/government-shocked-by-depressing-rape-statistics-we-all-learned-about-in-college
[8] RAINN, Statistics,
[9] RAINN, Statistics,
[10] RAINN, Statistics,
[11] Rod Van Mechelen, “Causes of Rape,” http://www.backlash.com/book/rape6.html
[12] Mechelen, “Causes of Rape,” http://www.backlash.com/book/rape6.html

No comments:

Post a Comment