[Content note: Rape, rape culture, institutionalized sexual assault, rape denialism, colonialism, racism]
If you've been following Doug Saunder's concern-trolling claims about the superiority of "English-speaking countries" in the handling of rape, and his appalling behaviour on Twitter wherein he mansplained and gaslighted survivors ...
...then you may very much appreciate this column from Kate Heartfield at the Ottawa Citizen, where she lays out, in very clear language, exactly why a Westerner might have trouble seeing the rape culture in North America. (Spoiler: it's not because it doesn't exist.)
If a court in India ruled that the law of rape is different for married and unmarried women, editorials in North American newspapers would adduce that as evidence of India’s “rape culture.” If a lawyer for one of the men accused in the Delhi bus rape said the victim was “clearly engaged in at-risk behaviour,” it would be outrage fodder on Twitter.
These two things did happen recently — in the United States.
That doesn’t mean those editorials are wrong about India. The situation for women in India and the United States are not equivalent — and neither is equivalent with, say, Congo.
And it’s perfectly valid for outsiders to critique the cultural and legal structures that support Indian misogyny.
In fact, a little observational distance can be very useful. That’s why we North Americans should also try to take a step back now and then when we look at our own culture.
Many of our cultural touchstones, in the West, are still based on an understanding of romantic relationships that makes no distinction between feminine coyness and feminine refusal. Ever listen to the creepy lyrics of Baby It’s Cold Outside? The woman: “Say what’s in this drink?”, “The answer is no,” “At least I’m going to say that I tried.” The man: “No cabs to be had out there,” “How can you do this thing to me?” “What’s the sense of hurting my pride?”
If this were a Bollywood song, how would it strike us?
Read the whole thing if you can. It's very good.
It's crucial to support Indian survivors, advocates, and allies in the struggle to change the way rape and sexual violence are addressed in India. It is NOT supportive of their efforts to claim that "Western" (or "English speaking"--sorry, Quebec!) countries are in a position of superiority regarding rape.
It's deeply colonialist to assume one's own culture is superior merely because one is insulated by privilege from its toxicity, and inured by socialization to its misogyny. Kavita Krishnan and other activists have already pointed out how poorly the remnants of colonialism serve Indian survivors. Let us hear no more about the superiority of English-speaking countries. Colonialist arrogance is not the answer. Listening is.
Around the world, survivors have been telling their stories, testifying about their experiences with rape culture in their own societies. When we listen to them, we hear horrifying similarities, as well as nation- and culture- specific differences. Survivors are talking: in print, online, and in person. That Doug Saunders and his fellow rape culture defenders refuse to listen doesn't mean the problems are imaginary. It does mean that continued willful ignorance is all the more contemptible.