Understanding the violence of rape and subjugation
In the Jim Crow South, a black “boy” would be lynched for speaking to or looking at a white woman. He would be lynched if she so much as whispered that he starred in her direction.
This thinking prompted the destruction of black communities and has led to the current criminalization of black men. Black men, because of their inability to reason, control and manage their instincts are criminals. This point is well argued in “The New Jim Crow” (2010).
The Christian Council has opted to use such language to demonize all women who choose to wear a carnival costume. The ultimate impact of this language is to justify the social isolation of people by disempowering both men and women. Their position seems to be that men, young men in particular, going back to the language and representation commonly used in the Post-Reconstruction U.S.A., have no control over their minds or bodies. They thrust all blame on women, who in their line of thinking carry demons somewhere hidden in them, that lead to the downfall of all men. Men will succumb to their wiles.
This kind of reasoning only further justifies the exploitation of women and the deep dehumanizing of sex. Sexuality is not inherently evil, nor is sex inherently bad. To argue thus, there would be no reproduction, unless we return to only using a hole in a cloth covering to facilitate copulation.
Perhaps we should also refuse to speak about bodily functions, body parts, and how to keep them clean. We are breeding a bunch of ignorant, women-hating men who seek justification in their unbridled sexual desire that is provoked by a woman in a sackcloth covered from head to toe. Even in a sackcloth, she encourages fornication. The logic behind this condemnation and medieval thinking, is deeply flawed and resonates with Taliban-like structures of oppression that respond to the West’s laxness with harsh subjugation of women. Yet, we do not see these parallels.
The Bahamas has become a deeply mixed and diverse country, yet we choose to ignore the existence of anyone who does not practice the same type of Christianity as that espoused by a group of men who seem happy to subjugate women, blame them for poverty, victimization and objectification, sexual exploitation, and the fall of men.
Having taught in this system for a number of years, I am still dumbfounded and horrified by the ignorance and plain lack of understanding many young people have about their bodies because no one has ever spoken to them about biology or hygiene. Ignorance is inexcusable in a society that tries so hard to justify why people need to be pure of mind and body, yet will not explain how to be pure of body. The horrible miscommunication of reproductive and genital health should be criminal, but a certain brand of Christianity deems biological and sexual awareness unchristian.
Christianity has been used to justify the subjugation of women, blacks, Muslims, Jews. Catholics were killed by Protestants; Protestants were killed by Catholics; Jews were crucified and exiled, stripped of all their wealth by Christian states; Africans were summarily sold as chattels based on the representation that they could not understand Christ as they had no souls. In many war-torn countries, rape is used as a weapon of war to destroy entire populations through sullying women’s bodies.
This recent misogynist, subjugational language from the Christian Council is no different from the language that justified slavery, the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust. It is argued that it is okay to rape, because of the way a woman dresses; that simply means that all women, no matter where they are, can be sexually assaulted and the violator’s defense would be she looked for it.
Sadly, the very people they claim to be saving from exposure are the ones who are being made weak and further subjugated. Their claim is that men cannot manage their minds and bodies and that women are incapable of reason and sense. These tools are used to demonize any “minorities”.
Why should we subjugate one group to empower another? In colonial times, the colonizers did this and it has damaged millions of people by stripping them of their pride and identity. The aftermath is that they believe when told by a “superior” group that they are worthless.
Then came the post-emancipation exploitation of blacks that was successful at denying them access to anything as important as the vote or even a voice in their own lives. Then came the argument that a man is owner of a woman. Now we are being told that any man who sees a scantily-clad woman can rape her and be justified in his usurping of her agency and humanity. Much like the discourse of slavery: black women led their masters to rape them; they were the reason for their own sexual exploitation.
It is unfortunate but in keeping with a shift to the extremist view of a world that once again is openly opting to see Jews, blacks, women and any non-majority groups in a country like Syria, Iraq, Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, as exploitable, not deserving of rights and easily thrown into prison, raped, or removed from their homes and dispossessed. Look at the case in Cyprus of the migrant workers who were raped and killed and the investigation of their disappearances not considered important because of their “lack of worth”. What has been the fallout from that?
It is a travesty that black men argue that black women are subject to male exploitation because they are less human than men and that young, black men are incapable of controlling their animal instincts, much like the language of old racists justifying why Negroes needed to be treated differently, and why “boys” deserved to be lynched. Why use such language to incite violence against women and demean them because of how they choose to enjoy themselves and by so doing criminalize and animalize black men?
The Bahamas seems to be aligning itself with a set of countries that allow, and indeed encourage, the reasoned and justified exploitation, removal of rights, and legal subjugation of people based on sex, race, class and how they choose to dress. This is a dangerous precedent and will be supported by a group who sees no problem with killing people to ensure their own prosperity.
Rape is not about sex, clothes or desire; rape is about power. Subjugation is not about Christianity and saving the sanctified; subjugation is about power and feeling inferior and so insisting on one’s superiority. Power is a dangerous tool especially when it is used to knowingly justify the subjugation of one group by another and thereby uncivilize that subjugating group.
Should the Christian Council wish to be productive, they might start to teach a little more about temperance and humanity, love and kindness, and work to build a better, healthier more cohesive, empathetic and united nation.
• Ian Bethell-Bennett is a professor at the University of The Bahamas.