The Military Rape Problem is Not About Women or Sex

June 17, 2013
By

By Kari O’Driscoll

I may be just one more voice in the wind when it comes to this issue, but I just can’t stay quiet in the face of so much rhetoric about ‘rape culture.’  I want to add my energy and words to the current outcry about the pervasive problem of sexual assault in the military in a way that speaks to the root of the issue.  Our society is a violent one and unless we can be honest about the way in which that violence affects every one of us and the myriad ways in which it manifests itself (gang violence, mass shootings, rape, assault), we can only chip away at the surface in anger and frustration, instead of having an authentic conversation about how to deal with the effects. The military is but a microcosm of American society and its culture of violence and rigid pecking order has a great deal to do with the prevalence of rape within its ranks.

Let me just say this: RAPE IS NOT ABOUT SEX. RAPE IS ABOUT POWER, CONTROL AND VIOLENCE.

In early May, Air Force General Mark Welsh testified in front of the United States Senate with regard to the alarming number of sexual assaults in the military.  He explained it by saying, “Some of it is the hookup mentality of junior high even and high school students now, which my children can tell you about from watching their friends and being frustrated by it…”

His implication that non-consensual sexual activity occurs as a direct result of young people assuming that they can have multiple sexual partners and/or casual sexual encounters without consequences is a dangerous one.  There may indeed be a degree of promiscuity present in the military, but it has nothing to do with rape.

Rape is no more about sex than vacationing in Paris is about the Boeing 767 you took to get there. Sexual trauma is one method, one vehicle used to inflict pain and humiliation on someone. It is the mode of violence in this case, the way that the perpetrator achieves power and control.  Shaming another human being is a great way to keep them quiet.

Among the voices rising in outrage at Gen. Welsh’s remarks was Nancy Parrish of Protect our Defenders. Although I admire her work and her passion, part of her statement rebutting Gen.Welsh’s ‘hookup’ remark struck me as misguided:

“General Welsh should know that the solution lies in reform of the military justice system and culture of misogyny, victim blaming and failure to prosecute perpetrators.”

I disagree that it is the culture of misogyny that is directly responsible for rape culture within the military.  If that were true, men would not be getting raped in the military.  But they are, and all accounts point to the fact that they are getting raped at the same or higher rate as their female counterparts.

This week, Senator Chambliss (R.-Ga.) displayed his lack of understanding of the core issue by saying that “…the hormone level created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things [rape and sexual assault] to occur.”

If rape were about sex, men would not be violating other men sexually with foreign objects like broomstick handles. If the ‘overly hormonal’ perpetrator was simply seeking sexual satisfaction, they would likely (openly or not) self-identify as either homosexual or bisexual. These attacks would not be as violent as they are, nor would they be perpetrated by multiple individuals against one other, if rape were about sex. These attacks are about control, power, and humiliation, plain and simple, not misogyny or testosterone-gone-wild.

If rape were about sex, it would be useless as a war tactic.  Are we to assume that bands of rebel soldiers invading a small African village with intent to rape the women are simply horny? That a group of boys who stalk and gang-rape a young girl are experiencing synchronized arousal?  It is difficult to separate violence from sex in cases of rape, but that doesn’t give us license to disregard it as the root cause.  It is far more difficult to talk about sexual assault than it is to talk about stabbings or beatings, but a victim with a gunshot wound is no more at fault or inherently shameful than a rape victim is. Passing off rape as the result of ‘hookup mentality’ or ‘hormones’ belittles the brutality and misinterprets the intent of such attacks.

Until we as a country, a culture, and a society acknowledge that rape has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with violence, we cannot hope to prevent sexual assault.  Labeling sexual assault more ‘sex’ than ‘assault’ is a perilous way of distancing ourselves from an honest discussion about the violence inherent in military culture, where power and control are fundamental objectives.

____________________________________

Kari OKari O’ Driscoll is a writer with a background in medical ethics and quality assurance. She writes about social justice, women’s issues and parenting for the BlogHer Publishing Network at the-writing-life.blogspot.com. Her work has appeared in Buddha Chick Life magazine and anthologies about women’s issues and she will soon publish a book on reproductive rights. She is active with the Women’s Funding Alliance and committed to helping girls and women use their unique perspectives to make the world a better place.

 

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16 Responses to The Military Rape Problem is Not About Women or Sex

  1. Thereza on June 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Kari, first of all, thank you for putting your opinion out there. Second, thank you for your open mind and sanity, especially in this sentence: “The military is but a microcosm of American society and its culture of violence and rigid pecking order has a great deal to do with the prevalence of rape within its ranks.” I couldn’t agree more; and I can’t wait for the days when power and control will be replaced by an evolutionary, compassionate unity-awareness process. I hold it in my vision.
    Much love,
    Thereza

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you, Thereza. I hope to get people thinking about some of these things that we take for granted so that we can begin to address them more comprehensively. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  2. Thereza on June 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Kari, first of all, thank you for putting your opinion out there. Second, thank you for your open mind and sanity, especially in this sentence: “The military is but a microcosm of American society and its culture of violence and rigid pecking order has a great deal to do with the prevalence of rape within its ranks.” I couldn’t agree more; and I can’t wait for the days when power and control will be replaced by an evolutionary, compassionate unity-awareness process. I hold it in my vision.
    Much love,
    Thereza

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you, Thereza. I hope to get people thinking about some of these things that we take for granted so that we can begin to address them more comprehensively. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  3. Thereza on June 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Kari, first of all, thank you for putting your opinion out there. Second, thank you for your open mind and sanity, especially in this sentence: “The military is but a microcosm of American society and its culture of violence and rigid pecking order has a great deal to do with the prevalence of rape within its ranks.” I couldn’t agree more; and I can’t wait for the days when power and control will be replaced by an evolutionary, compassionate unity-awareness process. I hold it in my vision.
    Much love,
    Thereza

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you, Thereza. I hope to get people thinking about some of these things that we take for granted so that we can begin to address them more comprehensively. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  4. Thereza on June 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Kari, first of all, thank you for putting your opinion out there. Second, thank you for your open mind and sanity, especially in this sentence: “The military is but a microcosm of American society and its culture of violence and rigid pecking order has a great deal to do with the prevalence of rape within its ranks.” I couldn’t agree more; and I can’t wait for the days when power and control will be replaced by an evolutionary, compassionate unity-awareness process. I hold it in my vision.
    Much love,
    Thereza

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 18, 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Thank you, Thereza. I hope to get people thinking about some of these things that we take for granted so that we can begin to address them more comprehensively. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  5. Jason Craige Harris on June 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you for your voice, Kari. I agree with your basic argument that a lust for power is at the core of rape. But there is something curious about the idea that a culture of misogyny–I’d include women-hating and effemiphobia here–is not also responsible. Your point is well taken that both men and women are being raped in the military, but this doesn’t mean that rape isn’t gendered. What of the positionality of the rapist? How might we think of it symbolically and metaphorically? How have gendered scripts shaped the conceptual universe in which these acts of violence take place? It seems to me that more often than not a self-identified man does the raping. Why is that? What do men rapists say they get from rape and how do they talk about it in specifically gendered terms? Is it not the case that most men rapists, socialized into violent gender frameworks, think about power in masculinist ways? Is not the absence of power often imagined to be a womanly or feminine reality? What, then, is the relationship between noxious models of power and dominant construals of masculinity? How often is it that those raped are represented as weaker and thus more feminine than the rapist, as therefore deserving of rape? Is it not the case that penetrators are often imagined to be less vulnerable and in more gender-stable positions than those they penetrate? My point here is that cultures of misogyny shape (and are shaped by) harmful norms of power, such that a man may only (or especially) feel manly when he is sexually dominating another, when he is penetrating that other into submission, into the culturally assigned role of the woman, of the feminine, the actual anatomies or identities of those who find themselves thus positioned notwithstanding. Misogyny says “You are a woman and therefore you are weaker than me, the man. If I can dominate you, you are a woman, or at least closer to womanhood than me. If I can dominate you, you deserve it.” There is no way to undo harmful models of power without also undoing misogyny and status quo masculinity.

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree that misogyny is present in rape culture, which is inextricably tied up with control issues. My discomfort with attributing military rape culture to misogyny lies in a desire to avoid framing rape as a women’s issue. To do so ignores the scores of men who are violated in this particularly humiliating manner. You are absolutely right that our society portrays the feminine as inherently weaker and deserving of being dominated and, in this way, these attacks fall within a larger definition of misogynistic, or feminine-hating, behavior. My larger point lies in the assertion that rape has very little to do with sexual desire or traditional ideas of gender roles and is, at its core, a war for dominance and ultimate power. I appreciate your perspective.

  6. Jason Craige Harris on June 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you for your voice, Kari. I agree with your basic argument that a lust for power is at the core of rape. But there is something curious about the idea that a culture of misogyny–I’d include women-hating and effemiphobia here–is not also responsible. Your point is well taken that both men and women are being raped in the military, but this doesn’t mean that rape isn’t gendered. What of the positionality of the rapist? How might we think of it symbolically and metaphorically? How have gendered scripts shaped the conceptual universe in which these acts of violence take place? It seems to me that more often than not a self-identified man does the raping. Why is that? What do men rapists say they get from rape and how do they talk about it in specifically gendered terms? Is it not the case that most men rapists, socialized into violent gender frameworks, think about power in masculinist ways? Is not the absence of power often imagined to be a womanly or feminine reality? What, then, is the relationship between noxious models of power and dominant construals of masculinity? How often is it that those raped are represented as weaker and thus more feminine than the rapist, as therefore deserving of rape? Is it not the case that penetrators are often imagined to be less vulnerable and in more gender-stable positions than those they penetrate? My point here is that cultures of misogyny shape (and are shaped by) harmful norms of power, such that a man may only (or especially) feel manly when he is sexually dominating another, when he is penetrating that other into submission, into the culturally assigned role of the woman, of the feminine, the actual anatomies or identities of those who find themselves thus positioned notwithstanding. Misogyny says “You are a woman and therefore you are weaker than me, the man. If I can dominate you, you are a woman, or at least closer to womanhood than me. If I can dominate you, you deserve it.” There is no way to undo harmful models of power without also undoing misogyny and status quo masculinity.

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree that misogyny is present in rape culture, which is inextricably tied up with control issues. My discomfort with attributing military rape culture to misogyny lies in a desire to avoid framing rape as a women’s issue. To do so ignores the scores of men who are violated in this particularly humiliating manner. You are absolutely right that our society portrays the feminine as inherently weaker and deserving of being dominated and, in this way, these attacks fall within a larger definition of misogynistic, or feminine-hating, behavior. My larger point lies in the assertion that rape has very little to do with sexual desire or traditional ideas of gender roles and is, at its core, a war for dominance and ultimate power. I appreciate your perspective.

  7. Jason Craige Harris on June 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you for your voice, Kari. I agree with your basic argument that a lust for power is at the core of rape. But there is something curious about the idea that a culture of misogyny–I’d include women-hating and effemiphobia here–is not also responsible. Your point is well taken that both men and women are being raped in the military, but this doesn’t mean that rape isn’t gendered. What of the positionality of the rapist? How might we think of it symbolically and metaphorically? How have gendered scripts shaped the conceptual universe in which these acts of violence take place? It seems to me that more often than not a self-identified man does the raping. Why is that? What do men rapists say they get from rape and how do they talk about it in specifically gendered terms? Is it not the case that most men rapists, socialized into violent gender frameworks, think about power in masculinist ways? Is not the absence of power often imagined to be a womanly or feminine reality? What, then, is the relationship between noxious models of power and dominant construals of masculinity? How often is it that those raped are represented as weaker and thus more feminine than the rapist, as therefore deserving of rape? Is it not the case that penetrators are often imagined to be less vulnerable and in more gender-stable positions than those they penetrate? My point here is that cultures of misogyny shape (and are shaped by) harmful norms of power, such that a man may only (or especially) feel manly when he is sexually dominating another, when he is penetrating that other into submission, into the culturally assigned role of the woman, of the feminine, the actual anatomies or identities of those who find themselves thus positioned notwithstanding. Misogyny says “You are a woman and therefore you are weaker than me, the man. If I can dominate you, you are a woman, or at least closer to womanhood than me. If I can dominate you, you deserve it.” There is no way to undo harmful models of power without also undoing misogyny and status quo masculinity.

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree that misogyny is present in rape culture, which is inextricably tied up with control issues. My discomfort with attributing military rape culture to misogyny lies in a desire to avoid framing rape as a women’s issue. To do so ignores the scores of men who are violated in this particularly humiliating manner. You are absolutely right that our society portrays the feminine as inherently weaker and deserving of being dominated and, in this way, these attacks fall within a larger definition of misogynistic, or feminine-hating, behavior. My larger point lies in the assertion that rape has very little to do with sexual desire or traditional ideas of gender roles and is, at its core, a war for dominance and ultimate power. I appreciate your perspective.

  8. Jason Craige Harris on June 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you for your voice, Kari. I agree with your basic argument that a lust for power is at the core of rape. But there is something curious about the idea that a culture of misogyny–I’d include women-hating and effemiphobia here–is not also responsible. Your point is well taken that both men and women are being raped in the military, but this doesn’t mean that rape isn’t gendered. What of the positionality of the rapist? How might we think of it symbolically and metaphorically? How have gendered scripts shaped the conceptual universe in which these acts of violence take place? It seems to me that more often than not a self-identified man does the raping. Why is that? What do men rapists say they get from rape and how do they talk about it in specifically gendered terms? Is it not the case that most men rapists, socialized into violent gender frameworks, think about power in masculinist ways? Is not the absence of power often imagined to be a womanly or feminine reality? What, then, is the relationship between noxious models of power and dominant construals of masculinity? How often is it that those raped are represented as weaker and thus more feminine than the rapist, as therefore deserving of rape? Is it not the case that penetrators are often imagined to be less vulnerable and in more gender-stable positions than those they penetrate? My point here is that cultures of misogyny shape (and are shaped by) harmful norms of power, such that a man may only (or especially) feel manly when he is sexually dominating another, when he is penetrating that other into submission, into the culturally assigned role of the woman, of the feminine, the actual anatomies or identities of those who find themselves thus positioned notwithstanding. Misogyny says “You are a woman and therefore you are weaker than me, the man. If I can dominate you, you are a woman, or at least closer to womanhood than me. If I can dominate you, you deserve it.” There is no way to undo harmful models of power without also undoing misogyny and status quo masculinity.

    • Kari O'Driscoll on June 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree that misogyny is present in rape culture, which is inextricably tied up with control issues. My discomfort with attributing military rape culture to misogyny lies in a desire to avoid framing rape as a women’s issue. To do so ignores the scores of men who are violated in this particularly humiliating manner. You are absolutely right that our society portrays the feminine as inherently weaker and deserving of being dominated and, in this way, these attacks fall within a larger definition of misogynistic, or feminine-hating, behavior. My larger point lies in the assertion that rape has very little to do with sexual desire or traditional ideas of gender roles and is, at its core, a war for dominance and ultimate power. I appreciate your perspective.

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