Today, liberal feminist activist Gloria Steinem co-writes for CNN that the use of sexualized violence against women by men during wartime is because gender.
In an article that is very difficult to criticize, because it addresses wartime rapes of women by men and this is hardly ever addressed by anyone, and it’s almost unprecedented to have anyone self-identifying as an actual feminist address sexualized violence (or anything) in the popular media, Steinem reports that she and another woman have started a project at the Women’s Media Center called “Women Under Siege”, an initiative on sexualized violence in conflict. They don’t say by whom these women are taken under siege, it’s just implied.
And because everyone knows that the only ones committing sexualized violence in conflict are men, the authors let everyone come to the correct conclusion on their own, but without ever having to actually say it. Now that’s good liberal-feminist politicking.
From the article:
We ran through a dozen [stories of raped women], and finally realized that it would be too difficult to find the right one — the tale that would express exactly how and in what ways sexualized violence is being used as a weapon of war to devastate women and tear apart communities around the world, conflict by conflict, from Libya to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Used as a weapon of war by whom? Again, they don’t say.
It is because of this complexity that we must understand how sexualized violence is being used. We must understand in order to stop it — just as, when seeking to defuse a bomb, it is crucial to know its components. Both the World Health Organization and the U.N. Security Council have recognized that there is a lack of research on the nature and extent of sexualized violence in conflict, even as there is increasing demand from U.N. bodies, donors, and others for better analysis to work toward prevention and healing.
All of this is why we have begun a new project at the Women’s Media Center that breaks down the specifics of sexualized violence into areas such as its motives and patterns, its fallout, and the gender and cultural attitudes that may have led to it. We’re calling our project Women Under Siege, because with four women being raped every five minutes in Congo alone, we can say it is nothing less than that — an ongoing siege. And it’s time we began to put an end to it.
And that’s commendable, it really is, and I know I’m going to hell for addressing the problems with this article. I know it! And if my criticism costs this project one penny of financial support, or one ounce of political support I will probably kill myself.
But they still haven’t named men as the agent of harm here, not one single time. In fact, this article uses the word “women” 17 times, and uses the word “men” 3 times. And check out the context of it, where the word “men” is used:
Sexualized violence may be the only form of violence in which the victim is blamed or is even said to have invited it. In war, rape shames women, men, children, entire societies. The stigma imposed on all who are touched by this violence makes this weapon incredibly effective as a means of destroying the enemy.
It’s okay to say “men” in the context of wartime rape if it’s necessary to convey how rape hurts men too.
Here’s another one:
But it is crucial to remember that it wasn’t always like this, nor does it have to be. Sexualized violence isn’t a “natural” part of conflict. For the first 90% or more of human history, females and males had roles that were balanced and porous. Our societal positions weren’t based on the domination of females by males. Humans and nature, women and men, were linked rather than ranked. The circle, not the hierarchy, was the organizing principle of our thinking.
It’s okay to say “men” in the context of wartime rape if it’s romanticising an unsourced account of pre-history where women and men were equals, and men didn’t rape women. And a footnote or two would be nice!
Here’s the third and last time the word “men” is used in this article:
Naming sexualized violence as a weapon of war makes it visible — and once visible, prosecutable. What happened to men in the past was political, but what happened to women was cultural. The political was public and could be changed; the other was private — even sacred — and could not or even should not be changed.
It’s okay to use the word “men” in the context of wartime rape if it’s calling attention to the problem of separate spheres, and where men are hurt too, but what happens to men is visible, whereas what happens to women is not. Again, who is causing all this harm to both women and men, and who ultimately benefits from separate spheres whereby men can damage women behind closed doors with impunity and they have been doing this for a long time, is never explicitly stated. And again, we can all get there on our own, and we are right, but Steinem never has to actually say it, and so never draws the ire of the men and male-identifed women she has pledged allegiance to, and depends on for support.
Steinem finishes the piece by stating unequivocally that wartime rapes happen because gender, and still doesn’t say it’s because sex, or because men, or because men rape women, and conspicuously ignores that men rape women in peacetime too, even though in the beginning of the article she describes the story of one woman who was repeatedly raped, shot, and left for dead, only to survive and return home 5 months pregnant. And even though the article specifically calls attention to the use of rape as a tool of genocide, where men use it to intentionally cause pregnancy in their victims.
Making clear that sexualized violence is political and public breaks down that wall. It acknowledges that sexualized violence does not need to happen. When masculinity is no longer defined by the possession and domination of women, when femininity is no longer about the absence of sexual experience or being owned, then we will have begun.
What the fuck is she talking about? “Femininity” isn’t what’s implicated here, when we are talking about women being owned by men. No, that’s what it means to be a woman under male supremacy. A Woman. A female-bodied person, not a feminine-gendered person. The way you can tell is that un-feminine women are owned and raped by men too. Jeebus.
A bit of liberal-feminist politicking, brought to you by liberal feminism’s Queen. She has started a worthy project here that deserves support, but the way she panders to men and men’s feelings, and toes the line of male-supremacist politicking and journalism is really pretty gross. And ultimately, and this is really the point, it’s very difficult to support male-supremacy and to effectively undermine it, at the same time. The laws of physics, among other things, prevent that from happening.