Rape and Victim-Blaming Mentality

Some days back Dure asked me a question 'What is the difference between the man who rapes an 'indecently clad' woman and the man who doesn't, when both are in a position to do so and get away with it?'. I think that the difference consists of the following components:

1) The degree of lust that the two experience

2) Their capacities for aggression and violence

3) Their capacities for impersonal sex, and the ability or desire to have intercourse irrespective of the partner's emotional willingness.

4) Their sense of morality, and how much their morality can affect their conduct.

5) Do they live in a Rape Culture? A culture in which sexual violence is common and prevalent, especially against women.

6) What perception of women do they have in their mind? Do they consider them as equal to men, deserving equal rights? Do they consider them as sex objects?

The question is not about rape in general, but about rape with the specific motivation of sexual gratification. There are other motivations for rape (anger, power, sadism, revenge etc) which are perhaps more common but they are not relevant to the discussion at hand.

The question itself has a specific background. I guess most people people would remember the infamous Australian Muslim cleric who compared women who didn't wear the Islamic hijab to 'uncovered meat' and declared that they were to be blamed if they got raped, because it is they who possess the 'weapon of enticement'. The story provoked furious responses from all over the world, but the truth is that this mentality is extremely wide-spread among Muslims. Just a few days back I heard a Pakistani maulvi say the same thing on TV, and there was no uproar, only sympathetic nods from other guests in that talkshow.

I do not believe that a woman, no matter where and what she is wearing, can ever be "blamed" for getting raped, morally and legally; it is never her own "fault". Period. I cannot make that anymore clear. Sexual arousal in itself is never a sufficient cause for a rape to take place. Even if a woman is dressed provocatively, she is only affecting one factor, the component 1. A woman can make herself vulnerable to sexual assault, but it is always the man's fault, and the woman's vulnerability cannot be held against her.

Furthermore, 'indecently clad' is a vague term. Our Islamic clerics believe that a woman is 'indecently clad' if she is not wearing a hijab, but does that constitute a significant enough trigger for a man's lust? No, it doesn't. So then what does it do if it isn't in itself a sexual trigger? Well, let me tell you. The absence or presence of hijab is used by our man to "classify" the woman. It is the mentality of the man who believes: "If she is not wearing a Hijab, she is a whore, and she deserves to be used as a sex object." It is in the presence of SUCH men, SUCH mentality, that a woman not wearing a hijab risks being raped, because no one sane can declare uncovered hair to be so provocative as to lead to rape.

I have always believed that the prevalence of veil in a society is a reflection of the moral depravity of the men of that society. Now you can see why.


Anonymous said…
I bet, seriously, u either have very less knowledge abt things or really have weird concepts... U talk only abt one side in ur every post... Not at all discuss the other side... Duh!!
Anonymous said…
Im anonymous of 22nd november post...
U shld not mind bt u really discuss only one side ov the issue... U totally omit discussing anything abt the other posibility...
Komal Ali said…
Last line: RIGHT ON!
This is now one of my favorite posts on your blog. :)
You can't deem the entire Islamic ideology wrong if some 'infamous' cleric is of such opinion. The depravity and illiteracy of present day pseudo religious scholars is not a scale to judge. There was simply no need to drag Islam in this. I think every human being with degraded morals regardless to what his beliefs are will treat a woman like that.
I agree that it is a man's fault but Awais do you really think that a woman is so naive that she doesn't know what is vulnerable and what is not. Let's just not talk about our society only but in any society an indecently clad is vulnerable. Pathetic, but it is true! Now we can surely put the blame on men that they should look and move on innocently but can you provide a time frame as to when all men will become like that. Nowhere in Islam should a woman be at risk of being raped for not wearing hijaab.
And the last line simply doesn't make sense to me and I don't know how everything boils down to that conclusion.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

Thank you :)

@ Hamza

Correction: I didn't blame 'Islamic ideology' at any point in the post. Which doesn't mean that I am saying Islam is without blame and it is all clerics' fault, but simply that I am not making any judgement on Islam for now on this matter.

The actual fact is that most of the rapes do not occur because women are 'indecently clad'; most of the women who get raped are pretty decently clad. They happen because of other factors; male factors. A lot of work has been done on the psychology of rape, and you can search online for that. Of course, it goes without saying that I do not consider uncovered hair to be indecent.

A woman can be "vulnerable" even when she is fully clad in a burqa simply by virtue of being a woman, walking alone through some deserted street at night. Would you blame this woman for getting out of her house alone at night now, for making herself 'vulnerable' like this? Yes, it could be said that what she did was unsafe, but in no way does it put the moral and legal blame of rape on her.
Chaos said…
I want to comment. But this is so, so brilliant that I'm left speechless. *bows*
SaJ said…
Very well written mashallah.
But, um...the Last line!

Veil.I think it serves as a kind of admonition that this woman belongs to a respectable household and no way should you have any bad thoughts about her. (not that every other woman doesn't). Its more of a symbolic purpose, don’t you think? Its just when you adopt an extreme attitude about it, that it becomes a problem. But I guess that’s another issue.

From what I’ve seen, a man who's accustomed to a veil-wearing society turns out to be considerably more moral around both burqa-clad and not, than others whose conscience doesn’t even acknowledge what it means. Hence the classification.
SaJ said…
See Also:
Kinda says exactly what I want to.
Awais Aftab said…
@ SaJ

Ok, about the last line. I was talking about a society in which women feel compelled to wear burqa, head-scarf, wear dopatta around head, etc, not because they actually really want to, but because if they wouldn't, then men would treat them without respect, as "free game"... this actually reflects the moral depravity of the men, that women are using veil as a means of "protection" from the sexual brutes, who wouldn't hesitate to abuse a woman the moment she becomes vulnerable.

Of course, this is never the only reason why women wear hijab. Many do so as a purely religious obligation. The proportion between the two varies. The last line was more in a aphoristic tone, and aphorisms tend to over-generalize. Anyhow, I do conjecture based on my observations that in social circles where respectability of women is not judged by the presence of hijab, the proportion of women observing it is also less.

Veil.I think it serves as a kind of admonition that this woman belongs to a respectable household and no way should you have any bad thoughts about her. (not that every other woman doesn't).

But Sajeel, why create the dichotomy in the first place? Why say: "We are not saying women who don't wear hijab aren't respectable, but women who wear hijab definitely are." How can you create this dichotomy and NOT expect it to lead to the judgement of women who don't wear hijab?

It gives the following picture of "respectability status":

Woman with hijab: Positive respectability

Woman without hijab: Uncertain status.

To my mind, it is still discriminatory.

Adopting an "extreme attitude" which you said is 'problematic' is simply an intense and consistent applicability of your own dichotomy that you have created.
The very fact that men are judging women's 'respectability' is problematic. It is misogynistic as well as classist, since these notions are used to reinforce class distinctions.

Who is not a 'respectable woman'? A poor woman who has to travel a lot or remain outdoors to earn a living? A woman who was born into, or otherwise forced into prostitution? In patriarchal societies, there will always be such phenomena as prostitution and unwanted pregnancies, which are precisely those things that traditional conservatives and misogynists use as excuses to control women's bodies further, and use in anti-feminist rhetoric.

We need to move beyond watching women like hawks to make sure they do not twitch their muscles the wrong way, not only for anti-classist reasons, but also for feminist reasons, since this obviously impinges on women's freedoms. Men are not subject to such judgment, and are allowed to walk around freely engaging in often ridiculous behaviour such as urinating in public and scratching their testicles (not to mention harassing women). But that isn't a problem of course, it's ONLY women being unveiled that's a problem.

The emphasis on 'modesty' in Islamic cultures is not only patriarchal, but is a pre-modern emotional hangup that is probably a major reason why all Islamic cultures are backward. All Islamic cultures: there's no such thing as an Islamic civilization, at least not at the moment. All of this just reminds me that without Europe, there is no humanity.
tehzib said…
Also, I think it should be really really obvious that violence against women -- including sexual violence -- is used as a way of controlling them, and is connected to the patriarchal construction of sexuality and gender*. In patriarchal societies, not only must the public space be controlled by men (this is especially so in Islamic patriarchal cultures, for some reason), but women's bodies must also be controlled by men. Almost all men, whether they rape or not, participate in this to some degree or another, and since it reinforces male privilege, in some sense all men benefit from it.

These are ways of chipping away at women's spirits, of undermining their sovereignty so that they cannot carry their bodies freely, and thus so that they cannot exist in any real sense. Unlike other systems of oppression, the patriarchy is the only one that has managed so successfully to get inside (the heads and bodies of) the oppressed class, and oppress and control them from within.

* Patriarchal sexuality is constructed in a way that ensures women's continued subordination to men, partly by the strict enforcement of heterosexuality, but also by the treatment of such things as penetration, e.g. the view that penetration is something men do to women, and the construction of intercourse as penetration-centered.

Patriarchal gender is basically just gender. All gender is patriarchal, even the kind that seems to glorify women (the most insidious of all).
SaJ said…
Okay. One thing that I believe in is the figurative nature of veil in addition to its physical role. You don’t necessarily need to don a full length black burqa to be observing Pardha. Look at Hijaab from a relativistic point of view. Which again does not mean that those who are observing purdah in a rational manner should fling theirs off, but Taqwa is the key, right?
And its not only women that the veil is directed at. Men too are directed to guard their thoughts and their eyes.

So I place purdah-observing women at a higher level of respect. My reasons? Because religiously, they’re abiding by what Allah has laid out for them and trying to play their part in maintaining harmony in the society. That doesn’t that all the responsibility’s on them. But at least they’re making an effort. Second, given the social norm in big cities like Lahore, and the criticism and judgement alone, that a burqa-clad woman’s likely to come across if she’s wearing it on accord of her own intuition and without any parental or peer pressure, deems her worthy of more respect.

If for the above reason a pardah-observing woman is more respectable in my eyes, than I’m guilty indeed. I don’t know if its possible to have the kind of respect for some that doesn’t practically make you differentiate in the way you treat the others, but that’s exactly what I’d like to think of it as.

Thing is that its become so much a matter of feminism and patriarchy and the misconception that Purdah’s set out to limit liberty that the real significance of the hijaab’s been lost in the woods.

All this really comes to light when you see a Pakistani born or foreigner, who comes back to her country and Does use head scarfs or dupattas (and it looks good and modest too) while the Pakistani women strut about like talk show hosts.

Word verification: underher. Is it trying to say something? ;)
SaJ said…
An all time favourite post:
F. said…
Chaos said...

I want to comment. But this is so, so brilliant that I'm left speechless.

My thoughts exactly, which is why I hadn't commented, initially, but seeing the debate this has become, I just have to say: I fully and wholeheartedly agree with Awais, Komal, Buttersisonlymyname, and Tehzib.

SaJ's comments reflect a gentler side of the mentality Awais talked about, so far as I'm concerned, they are just as bad, if not more so--people who convince themselves they are being 'nice' and 'reasonable' while holding these views do more to keep this mentality entrenched in society than those who openly admit their misogyny and hostility.

Hamza Ahmad Qureshi: the last sentence is based on the idea that the more men consider non-veiled women 'rapeable' the more women will feel compelled to observe the veil.

Anonymous 12:39: OMG! You sound like an idiot. Duh. !!
tehzib said…
Btw, Buttersisonlymyname and Tehzib are the same person (i.e. me). For some reason Blogger posted my name differently, even though I filled out the same information.

Butters = Buttersisonlymyname = Tehzib
Sorry for the late reply.
@ Awais "They happen because of other factors; male factors", that is what I was trying to say earlier that if the question asked is 'What is the difference between the man who rapes an 'indecently clad' woman and the man who doesn't, when both are in a position to do so and get away with it?'there is no need to drag Hijaab in this as I think Hijaab is not just a rape-protection armor of some kind. It has far more meaning than this.

"but in no way does it put the moral and legal blame of rape on her", I do agree that some sick minds will shift the emphasis on such a heinous act on the woman's attire and never I believe that Islam as a religion permits women to be treated as a free game on the grounds of her attire. About the last line I think you made yourself clear to me by saying that "I was talking about a society in which women feel compelled to wear burqa, head-scarf, wear dopatta around head, etc, not because they actually really want to, but because if they wouldn't, then men would treat them without respect, as "free game" ". In that sense I do agree with you.

@ Tehzib I think the problem we are facing over here is between what is and what should be. Islam equally emphasizes modesty for both men and women but like I said earlier we need to strive to get out of the hold of the prevalent notions and seek knowledge ourselves. Europe no doubt has come a long way but do you accept everything they have to offer? I am sure we can learn a lot from them but I believe they can't be set as a standard to follow in all matters of life. Of course you have your beliefs and I respect them but personally I found that Quran and Sunnah has to offer much more than just a handful of issues in which we are stuck.
Awais Aftab said…
Interestingly, the comments are focusing more on hijab/veil as such rather than in context of victim-blaming mentality of rape, which was what the post was actually about.

Anyone who has been exposed to both sides of debate can see that the issue of hijab is too multifaceted to be swept away by a single generalization, either in its favor or its opposition. We cannot say that veil is all good, because we know that veil is in an instrument of oppression of women, and many women are suffering because of that. Nor can we say that veil is all evil, because we know that veil is a conscious and free choice of women in many instances.

The problem is not the veil itself. The fundamental problem is, as Butters very rightly pointed out, that men are judging women's 'respectability' in the first place. It is this mentality that I wish to criticize and attack, and which we must all protest against, whether we are religious or secular. A society in which women are not judged by their clothing, in which women are free to wear what they want without a moral tag attached to it, whether it is a bikini or a burqa. It is such a society that we must aim for.

[P.S. I am not discussing the issue of whether veil is compulsory in religion. If you believe it is, it is your own personal problem as to how to reconcile it with the humanistic vision of a free society that I have described above. I don't care.]
AIESH said…
"A woman can be "vulnerable" even when she is fully clad in a burqa simply by virtue of being a woman, walking alone through some deserted street at night."

too good, totally.