jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Tag: rape

making normal: the politics of the everyday

by tobybee

“You once said to me, ‘Essex, no one comes from their consciousness fully developed.’ In that statement you summed up, for me, the daily task of being accountable to ourselves and to one another, truthful and honest, and of course open to change. Committed to change.” ‘Letter to Audre Lorde’ by Essex Hemphill

First, some background for our overseas readers: a couple of weeks ago the AFL (or Australian Rules football) Grand Final where my team (St Kilda) was defeated by Collingwood took place (it’s slightly more complicated than that, but that’s sufficient knowledge about what happened, I think). In their ‘celebrations’, two Collingwood players raped a woman at someone’s apartment (or, for those who are that way inclined, they’ve been accused of doing so). Footballers in this country being accused of raping women (and, I assume, actually raping women) is not a rare thing; and so, at least annually, we get a rehearsing of discourses such as, ‘she asked for it by getting drunk in a public place’, and we get a proliferation of media types commenting on what happened, to varying degrees of outcry. (for some crappy responses, see those by Spida Everitt and Kerri- Anne Kennerley; for a great response, see that by Ben Pobjie).

And I think that’s all you need to know at this stage. So here we go…

In the aftermath of the Grand Final, after a couple of hours at the bar where we were drowning our sorrows (not that I drink, Mum!), I launched into what can only be described as an embarrassingly overstated description of how, that afternoon at the game, I had felt oppression. Real oppression. The type of oppression that can only come from having 60,000 people yell at you that who you are is second-rate, while you know that there’s nothing you can do to demonstrate how not true that is. And so you swear, at opposition players and opposition supporters, knowing that it’s useless, but that your voice is all you have. And then the boy in front turns to the opposition supporters who have come to sit behind and loudly abuse our players (and whom I, and others around, have been repeatedly telling to ‘f*** off’), and says quietly, ‘have some humility.’ And your heart breaks, because, truly, that’s sometimes all the oppressed have: their dignity and their ethics. The knowledge that, in victory (and particularly when the victory is so certain, the opposition so crushed), the oppressor shouldn’t boast, shouldn’t make it worse than it is.

So, while it might be overstated (in terms of oppressions going round the world, this doesn’t even come close to being a real oppression), I think there’s an important moment in there. In Melbourne, in the inner-city left, it’s super-cool at the moment (and maybe it always has been) to hate football. And while I know of plenty of people from my peer group who harbour a secret – or not so secret – love for the game, there’s a pervasive discourse which says that football is evil: it’s patriarchal, racist, sexist, heteronormative etc. And while I think, in many ways, it is those things, it’s also importantly, in that way, not different to any other institution in which we all participate (and in which we’re forced to participate) everyday. From our workplaces, to the media we read, to the tv we watch, to our places of learning, to the language we speak (thanks Butler), we need to recognise that our everyday lives are lived in ways which are thoroughly infused with the racist, classist heteropatriarchy. In so many ways it’s inescapable, and in so many ways we consciously and unconsciously repeat it. So yes, while football might be a site for the acting out of inequalities (for want of a better term), it’s definitely not the only institution which reinforces these same discourses and produces these material conditions. As in, I think I do less harm by supporting a football team than I could do by working as a corporate lawyer.

Because, of course, we can always decide to what degree we are going to evade and disrupt the discourses we are faced with. For instance, we can choose to hate the players on our teams who we know have committed rape (hello Stephen Milne!); we can choose to support teams whose presidents haven’t made antisemitic comments (as the president of Collingwood did, as a guest speaker at a Jewish community function a few years back: when asked whether there are any Jews in Collingwood, he replied ‘Depends if it’s rent day.’ Sigh. As my brother said, ‘[the] bitterness [of defeat] never tasted so sweet.’).

In the aftermath of the raping perpetrated by these two Collingwood players there’s been a lot of focus on rape by footballers. On a tv discussion show the other night, the panellists spent a lot of time talking about what this instance of rape meant, and how the AFL should prevent players from raping women. Watching this discussion, and reading the commentary that is proliferating at the moment, it becomes really clear that this rape is being worked to discursively segment off rape within football from all other rape. Whereas in the 1980s and 90s the issue was one of ‘stranger danger’ (which worked to efface the fact that a woman was/is much more likely to be raped by someone she knows, rather than a stranger), now it’s ‘footballer danger’, which works to efface the fact that still, one in three women in this country will be raped or sexually assaulted. Rape is common. But by focusing on footballers raping women, by making the conversation be about how to stop footballers raping women, the fact that it is an everyday occurrence is effaced.

**********************

As I’ve been thinking about all this over the last few days, I’ve also been thinking about the Loyalty Oath which looks like it will become law in Israel. I assume you’ve read about it, but if not, have a read here, here, here, here and here. This Oath requires that all future non-Jewish citizens of Israel pledge their loyalty to a Jewish and democratic state. And it’s been interesting watching the response from people who I would call left-wing Zionists: people who have a deep faith in ideas of liberalism and democracy, and also in the idea of Israel existing as a Jewish State. These people, it seems, have been radically challenged by this Oath, writing that this Oath represents the breakdown of Israeli liberal society; that to pass this Oath would be to threaten Israeli democracy.

But I think that it just makes explicit what we have known to be true for quite some time: Israel excludes non-Jews (and, specifically, Palestinians). One cannot be a full citizen of Israel, and be non-Jewish. The two categories are irreducible. What this new legislation, this new Oath, does is make explicit practices which have been occurring on a daily basis for quite some time. It doesn’t come from nowhere; it’s not, I don’t think, a huge leap. But it instrumentalises the exclusion which the Occupation, and which the displacement of Palestinians since 1948 (and before), inaugurated. It’s not as though Israel has always been a liberal democracy, and now this liberalism and this democratic spirit ends. We must question the extent to which Israel has ever been a democracy for non-Jews (in particular). We must also question the extent to which any country is a democracy, and acknowledge that none truly are, for all their citizens.

So what’s the link between these two ‘events’? It’s this question of the everyday, and the ways in which particular events get segmented off as different, thereby producing the everyday as something which doesn’t contain rape, exclusion from citizenship, sexism, racism, heteronormativity. Knowledge is thereby produced of a society which doesn’t inherently contain these things. Rape in football makes the argument that rape isn’t part of the everyday. The Loyalty Oath makes the argument that discrimination in Israel isn’t part of the everyday. It makes it seem like we can change around the edges and it will all be ok: as if rape could be ended without a revolutionary change in the ways that people engage with one another. As if differences in equality within any democracy could be eradicated without a revolutionary change in how we conceptualise and put into practice any nation-state, any democracy.

Which is why that quote from Essex Hemphill up the top seems to me so poignant: if we have a daily task of needing to be accountable to ourselves, we also have a daily task of recognising the everyday ways in which discourses of oppression, or making particular ideas ‘normal’ and normative, proliferate.

i was wrong.

by tobybee

*a warning – this post contains graphic descriptions of rape that are potentially triggering. (and my deepest apologies to those who read this post before I put up this warning and were triggered)

You might remember that a while ago I wrote a post about the Palestinian man who was convicted of rape by deception. Well, it turns out that I, like many others, completely misunderstood what had happened. As Lisa Goldman explains, following the publication on September 3rd in Ha’Ir (The City), a weekly magazine distributed in Tel Aviv, of an article by Lital Grossman which included excerpts from the testimony of the woman who was raped (her testimony wasn’t published in any other media sources)…

A few weeks ago, a story about a Palestinian man convicted by an Israeli court of raping a Jewish woman made headlines around the world. Sabbar Kashur, a 30 year-old resident of East Jerusalem, was convicted not of rape by physical force, but rather of rape by deception: according to the verdict, he presented himself as a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious relationship, when he was in fact a married Muslim Arab looking for a quickie.
[...]
A very brief summary of the piece [in Ha’Ir] is as follows: the plaintiff, identified in the article as “B*,” was an emotionally traumatized woman in her 20s who had been raped by her father from the age of six. On the day she met Kashur, she was living in a women’s shelter. Before that, she had worked briefly as a prostitute and spent some time living on the streets. Kashur lured her into the building on Hillel Street with the claim that he worked there and wanted to show her his office; he then assaulted her and raped her, leaving her naked and bleeding – which is how the police discovered her.

B. was later hospitalized in a psychiatric institution, where the police questioned her about the rape, which led them to Kashur. During the trial, after it became apparent that B’s past, combined with her emotional state, made her a vulnerable witness, the prosecution came up with a plea bargain of rape by deception.

And she provides these excerpts from the testimony…

“At first he told me his name was Daniel (and not Dudu, the nickname his friends use, as Kashur claimed in interviews; LG)… he didn’t want to tell me his last name… after a few minutes he like said ‘Cohen.’” B. also said that “he asked me if I have a boyfriend and I said no, and then he asked me if I want to be his girlfriend. I asked him if he’s married, and he said no, and then I asked him if he has children and he told me he doesn’t have children.” Later in that conversation, according to the testimony, Kashur asked B. for a kiss. “He wanted me to give him a kiss on the cheek and then he gave one back.” According to B., they also exchanged phone numbers.

At this point, according to the testimony, Kashur invited B. to see where he works, supposedly in the building at 13 Hillel Street, outside of which they were standing. “He said he wanted to invite me for coffee and show me his workplace there,”said B. The reason she gave for agreeing to leave with an almost complete stranger was “I looked for someone to put my trust in… I know that strangers, you even don’t contact them… but because I was, like, as you know, when I told you that I came from a place where there’s no, I lived on the streets for a while too… I thought that if I am with him, I’ll feel safe, and I’ll have, I’ll be financially secure. I really, like, trusted him.”

Right after they entered the building, B. claims, Kashur began forcing himself on her. “We were in the staircase, like in the first stairs of the building, where we entered and then he asked for a hug… so I hugged him because he said that he wants a hug for warmth and love because he didn’t have a relationship in a while, like, a girlfriend… and when I felt that he was too clingy, I tried pushing him away, so he used force a little, like, got a little aggressive.”

According to B., Kashur wouldn’t let go. “He lifted my shirt and the bra and kissed my chest,” she said. But then, a blond woman entered the stairwell, and Kashur stopped. He decided to move from the stairs to the elevator. “When I was with him in the elevator he also touched me and started acting like some psychopath. I was so scared of him… I started sensing that something strange was happening, because I noticed that I wasn’t going to any workplace and I don’t see any coffee cups, and I don’t, then I began to panic and started like, I also screamed when it started happening.”

When they left the elevator on the top floor of the building, according to B., Kashur took her to the stairwell that led to the attic. There, according to her, he raped her. “He took off my pants and underwear,” described B., “and all of this was done with force, I didn’t agree to anything… I was left in just my shirt. Then he took off his clothes… then he put saliva on his penis and then, it was like full penetration, like, it wasn’t with consent as he claims. He laid me on the floor… and asked to kiss my chest too and then like when I asked him to stop and tried to push him away, he started pressuring me with his arms forcefully on me… when I tried to push him with my hand in his stomach, this happened in a more advanced stage, when he was already inside of me, then he said that if I stay silent and I don’t resist, then it would like end faster and it wouldn’t be, like, he wouldn’t use force. I still resisted him and it was forced.”

Quite clearly, this was rape. Not “rape by deception”, but rape. So why was he convicted of “rape by deception”?

So the point made in Lital Grossman’s article is that Kashur was not unjustly punished because he was an Arab, but the opposite: that he managed to avoid the punishment he deserved because his ethnicity made it possible to plead guilty to the lesser charge of rape by deception, thus avoiding jail time. Everyone knew there was no way of convicting Kashur of violent rape based on B’s testimony, but the judges and the prosecution were sympathetic to the plaintiff and wanted Kashur to pay at least a little, so they cooked up a deal.

Which brings me to the question of: why did I respond in the way that I did? Why, for all my feminist politics and anti-rape activism, my experiences of being with women who have been raped, did it not ever occur to me that he might have been convicted of this lesser charge because of a plea bargain? why was my gut instinct, and my thought out response, that this man was persecuted? what image do I have of Israeli justice, and particularly Israeli justice towards both Palestinian men and Jewish women, that I was so quick to believe this was a case of racial/ethnic/religious/national persecution? And what can we now learn about the Israeli justice system, and the fact that this man was convicted of rape by deception, rather than rape as rape (whatever that means), in relation to the ways in which the raping of Jewish women is thought of? It seems surprising, I suppose, that it was thought that a conviction would be more easily secured for rape by deception. Why was a traumatised woman considered an unreliable witness, but the idea of a Palestinian deceiving a Jew into having sex would be a reliable story? What messiness of gender and nationality is exposed in this new story?

I don’t think I have answers to these questions. All I can say, I think, is that I’m disturbed by my response, and the response of many many others.

the politics of de-gendered innocence

by tobybee

If you haven’t heard about it, you must be living under a rock – a few days ago the ever-ridiculous and purposeless Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O harassed a 14 year old young woman on live radio, forcing her to tell them that she had been raped. There are a million descriptions out there on various newspaper sites and blogs of what happened.

Over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about the politics of the way what happened is being talked about. The metanarrative, it seems to me, is one of child abuse: the mother abused the child by not listening to her when she said she’d been raped two years ago, and continued that by taking her onto a radio show, allowing her to be attached to a lie-detector, and encouraging the radio hosts to question her about her sexual experiences; the radio hosts are abusive for strapping a child into a lie detector and asking her those questions; Kyle S. is abusive for framing the child’s rape as just another ‘sexual experience’. All of these aspects of the story frame the story as about childhood innocence, which is something we’re meant to all be able to agree upon: that children are innocent and vulnerable. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with that, but what’s grabbed me is what that story obscures.

A young woman was raped. But the mainstream media isn’t talking about that. In an op-ed in The Age today, Caroline Taylor explains that if children report that they have been sexually abused and no one listens and responds, then they learn not to tell. And that knowledge circulates, so that other children learn not to tell. But that’s not unique to child sexual abuse: it’s true of all sexual abuse. Taylor talks in a manner which is degendered: there’s no young woman in her story; no politics of gender, where women are much more likely to be raped than men; no history of men treating rape as just another sexual experience; no sense of the lack of language and understanding in society about how to respond to and work to eradicate sexual assault and rape. And no sense of the gender dynamics and politics which completely produced the situation.

One in three women in Australia has been sexually abused or raped. One in three. If that doesn’t ring true in your experience of talking to family and friends, then ask yourself why. Is it because the statistic is inaccurate, or because women generally are told over and over, in so many different ways, that they should not speak publicly about being raped? I think the latter is true.

For me, it’s not (just) that a desexualised, ungendered, innocent child was raped. It’s that a young woman was raped. And it requires much more of us to deal with that. It’s a problem much larger than the idiocy and harm caused by one mother and two radio hosts.

If you want to think more about the politics of discourses of child sexual assault, abuse and rape framed in terms of childhood innocence, read an article by Steven Angelides, “Feminism, Child Sexual Abuse, and the Erasure of Child Sexuality,” GLQ 10, no. 2, (2004): 141-177. It’s challenging and thought-provoking.

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