Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why does no one seem to remember or care that President Zuma of South Africa is a rapist?

I'm not AVAAZ's biggest fan at the best of times. I'm wary of activities that make people feel like they're doing something, without encouraging any sort of collective action that could actually create change.

But AVAAZ's latest campaign is particularly free of analysis and I disagree with it in more ways than I'll be able to articulate in this post. Their petition is directed at President Zuma and says:

We call on you to publicly condemn 'corrective rape', criminalise hate crimes, and ensure immediate enforcement, public education and protection to victims. This terrible practice can only be stopped with leadership from your office and throughout government.

I disagree with the general principle, that the only way misogynistic violence can be stopped is through leadership from the President's office, or that leadership from a President's office can stop misogynistic violence.

I disagree with focusing on 'corrective rape' for many reasons (for those of you who don't know this is a term invented by aid agencies to describe women who are raped by men for being lesbian). It is grotesque to focus on one group of rape survivors and say "Hey this is super duper bad, and different from the other ways people are raped, we need to do something about just this".* (I think I was making a related argument the last time I was writing about President Zuma)

But to me the worst thing about this petition, is that each person who signs this petition, asking President Zuma to do something about one single category of rape, is devaluing the experience of and rendering invisible one woman in particular: the woman he raped.

He raped her in 2005 in his home; they knew each other, it is the . He was found not guilty. But I followed the case and read the misogyny soaked judgement, and I'm as sure that he raped this woman as I am that Clint Rickards is a rapist. Here's what I wrote about the case at the time:
The trial sounds hideous, and familiar. She was put on trial and her sexual history, including other times she had been raped, was put into evidence. When Zuma took the stand he argued that she consented by wearing a knee-length skirt and complaining that she didn't have a boyfriend:

She had never in the past come to my house dressed in a skirt. Including times when I was living in Pretoria. When she came to me in a skirt after those talks I referred to earlier on, well, it told me something.

The judge, well the judge is a misogynist asshole, who said that she didn't act as rape victims should.
To write to a rapist and to ask him to do something about a particular category of rape victims, while excluding the woman he raped is disgusting. It's also pretty foolish. Even if everyone had access to a computer signed AVAAZ's petition Zuma's not going to suddenly become an opponent of sexual violence and an ally in the fight to create a new world.


I think there is another element of this - an element that is particularly important right now, and that was explained really well over at Not Afraid of Ruins (a new blog written by a super smart and cool friend of mine so you should all go and follow it right now):
Okay, there’s another reason I don’t like the term ‘corrective rape’. It’s a bit like ‘honour killing’. It’s one of those terms that mean ‘a specific type of misogynist homophobic violence that only happens in non-Western societies’. Having special names for kinds of misogynist homophobic violence that only happen in non-Western societies is super handy because it allows us to pretend that the kind of violence that happens There is different from the kind of violence that happens Here. Because That kind of violence is an intrinsic part of Their culture. But violence that happens Here is always an isolated incident committed by individuals. It is something extrinsic to Western culture, which is a culture of respect and equality.

* I think this is related to the effort by the US republicans to restrict federal funding for abortion to those who have been 'forcibly' raped. I'd write more on that but I can't write about the Hyde Amendment without seething with rage at practically everyone. But I think it's more evidence that dividing up rape into categories is not done to support those who have been raped, but to attack them.

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