Sexual violence cannot be attributed simply to some men behaving in ‘anti-social’ or ‘inhuman’ ways: it has everything to do with the way society is structured: i.e., the way in which our society organizes production and accordingly structures social relationships. Once we understand this, we can also recognize that society can be structured differently, in ways that do not require – or benefit from – the subordination of women or of any section of society.
What are the material structures that underpin sexual violence? As I address this question I will also engage with some of the arguments made in two recent articles which offer a professedly Marxist analysis of sexual violence and women’s subordination in India; one is ‘On the Empowerment of Women’ by Prabhat Patnaik, People’s Democracy, January 27, 2013, and the other is ‘Class Societies and Sexual Violence: Towards a Marxist Understanding of Rape’, by Maya John, Radical Notes, May 8, 2013.
Prabhat Patnaik analyses the differences between gender oppression in advanced capitalist countries and countries like India. He notes, rightly, that the development of capitalism in the advanced capitalist countries was accompanied by a destruction of their pre-capitalist structures, facilitated by colonialism and the resulting large-scale emigration into the so-called ‘new world’. Whereas in India, “the “old community” associated with our pre-capitalist structure…continues to remain with us.” The persistence of pre-capitalist structures and extremely stubborn feudal survivals in India is undoubtedly significant in producing the specifically Indian variant of patriarchal oppression. A glaring instance of this is the phenomenon of khap panchayats that pass diktats and death sentences on couples who marry by choice, especially those that do so in defiance of caste norms.
However, some of Prabhat Patnaik’s arguments and conclusions are questionable. Among them is his assumption that it is only pre-capitalist structures that provide a base for patriarchy; and consequently that in the advanced capitalist countries, gender oppression remained only in the form of “patriarchal attitudes”, “essentially as a part of the superstructure.” This goes against the grain of Marxist analysis, and an entire body of work which has painstakingly mapped out the structural basis of gender oppression in capitalism. Central to this understanding is the role of the gendered division of labour, whereby the burden of reproductive labour has been privatized and assigned to women.
Production (involving wage labour that produces surplus value) and reproduction (of life in a literal sense as well as of the necessities of life, involving women’s unpaid household labour) are both equally central to capitalism. The gendering and privatization of reproductive labour, whereby the socially necessary labour of child-care, cooking, cleaning, etc became ‘women’s work’ to be done inside the household, took place in class societies pre-dating capitalism. Capitalism itself displays contradictory impulses. On the one hand it seeks to draw everyone – men, women, children – into production. On the other, it has an interest in retaining reproductive labour as ‘women’s work’ so as to ensure that the cost of such labour is minimized – both for the wage-paying capitalist as well as for the capitalist State.
Patriarchy is therefore one of the axes of the capitalist system; part and parcel of the structural edifice of capitalism. Patriarchal ideology does not hang unsupported in the air; it is not a matter of ‘mindset’ or ‘attitude’ alone: notions of feminine ‘nature’, ‘duties’, ‘good and bad women’, and sexual propriety for women, are produced, nourished, and deployed to mask, mystify, and justify women’s unpaid reproductive labour and the patriarchal family where such labour takes place.
The tension between women entering the workforce and continuing to bear the burden of ‘housework’, has been a factor in forcing the State, in some countries, to concede State-funded child-care, healthcare, education, and so on. But in neoliberal times, with the State adopting ‘austerity measures’ to bail out capitalism in crisis, we are witnessing a global cut-back in such social spending. Any State that pursues such policies, needs to persuade women to accept the burden of housework as ‘women’s work’, and to dissuade women from rejecting traditional roles. It is notable that some of the worst rape culture remarks by US Republican Senators (who could compete with India’s patriarchal lawmakers in misogyny) have been made recently to promote arguments against the right to abortion.
The enormous resistance to, and organized reaction against conceding the right to abortion or same-sex marriage in the US is an instance of how much the capitalist class still invests in the family institution and the control of women’s sexuality and reproduction within it.
One should also be wary of locating the structural basis for gender oppression in India, solely in pre-capitalist structures. Capitalism in India, and the Indian State also have a stake in the gender division of labour and the patriarchal ideology that supports it. The character of capitalist development in India, too, is such that it promotes caste and gender oppression, including several of the regressive elements associated with the pre-capitalist structures.
Moreover, global capital too is implicated in the project of Indian patriarchy. International media coverage of the Indian anti-rape protests tended to discuss the issue as unique to ‘Indian/Asian culture.’ They chose to overlook the fact that gender violence, sexism and rape culture are thriving in the West, and moreover that neoliberal policies pursued by global capital are complicit in perpetuating women’s oppression and redeploying patriarchal structures and attitudes in order to exploit women’s labour in, say, Bangladesh or India! The case of Bangladeshi women producing for Walmart in exploitative and unsafe sweatshops, that prey on and promote their insecurity and subordination, has come to light time and again, especially in the recent tragedies of factory fire and building collapse that killed hundreds of young working women. The Indian reality is equally grim. In Tirupur and Coimbatore districts of Tamil Nadu, under the ‘Sumangali’ scheme (Sumangali means auspicious married woman in Tamil), MNC garments manufacturers including those who produce for prominent European and US garment companies like C&A, GAP, Diesel, Marks & Spencer, Tommy Hilfiger and others, would get young minor girls, many of them Dalits, to work in virtual bondage and highly exploitative conditions, to be paid a ‘lump-sum amount’ that, as the Scheme’s name indicates, is meant to be a thinly veiled dowry!
Caste oppression and patriarchal anxieties about marriage and dowry are thus mediating the entry of women into the global labour market. Their insecure working conditions create greater hurdles and challenges for these women in their struggle against patriarchy. And, of course, primitive accumulation by multi-national corporations that grab land, minerals and other resources in India, is not only, as Prabhat Patnaik correctly notes, a source of corruption, it also unleashes state repression and sexual violence against women who are the forefronts of movements against corporate land grab.
The global upswing in gender violence (including sexual violence and domestic violence) and misogynistic rape culture, ought then to be traced at least in part to the imperatives of global capitalism and imperialism and their local agents, to justify an increased burden of social reproduction for women, the availability of women from the former colonies as pliant labour, and rape as a weapon against people’s movements resisting primitive accumulation. The fear of violence contributes to disciplining women into suitable labourers, both for global production as well as reproduction. That is why the abusive husband and the rapist cannot be understood as isolated perpetrators who are ‘anti-social’ aberrations that pose a threat to the system. It is no coincidence that perpetrators of gender violence find powerful advocates (not just in India but across the world) in the misogynistic and rape culture statements by the custodians of the political, religious, and law-and-order institutions.
Locating the problem (and solution) of gender violence in moral values is more suited to a liberal analysis than a Marxist one. The struggle for women’s emancipation, as understood by Marxists, has to be for a revolutionary transformation of the structure of production and reproduction. Socializing reproduction and getting rid of the gender division of labour must be key to such a transformation. As Ellen Meiksins Wood notes, socialism “may not by itself guarantee the destruction of historical and cultural patterns of women’s oppression and racism”, but “Socialism will be the first social form since the advent of class society whose reproduction as a social system is endangered rather than enhanced by relations and ideologies of domination and oppression.” (‘Capitalism and Human Emancipation: Race, Gender, and Democracy’, The Socialist Feminist Project, Monthly Review Press 2002, ed. Nancy Holmstrom) And if, as Engels showed in The Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State, the origin of women’s subordination and oppression coincided with the advent of private property and class divisions, then surely their complete emancipation, too, lies even beyond socialism in a post-class society.
Prabhat Patnaik’s other contention is that neoliberal capitalist development in India, “instead of creating conditions for the coming into being of a new “community” through the process of “combination” of workers, engenders a substantial lumpen-proletariat, incapable of “combining” together for united actions, and hence incapable of developing an alternative morality in the place of that which characterised the old “community” which it has left behind.” He concludes that “the development of a vast lumpen-proletariat that breeds criminal behaviour generally in society and especially towards women,” and the “assault in the urban spaces by elements of this lumpen-proletariat on the rights and dignity of those women who have broken out of the straitjacket of patriarchy and chosen independent careers of their own, is used to decry their breaking out of the patriarchal mould, to force them back into patriarchy, to curb their freedom and choices.”
Based on the Delhi gang-rape case, followed by the case of brutal rape of a little girl, (in both cases the perpetrators were migrants from rural Bihar/UP), the ruling class, police, and corporate media has made a deliberate attempt to profile the poor and migrant labour as the fountainhead of crime. Must the Left accept and amplify this contention? Is there really any evidence to support the assertion that sexual violence (and other crimes) in urban spaces is being perpetrated mainly by the working class, especially the class of migrant workers? The Delhi CM and former Home Minister P Chidambaram have voiced such ideas often, blaming rape and crime on ‘rootless’ and ‘backward’ migrant workers. Have there not been a large number of cases of rapes of women abducted in private cars by relatively affluent men? And rapes of domestic workers in affluent colonies where they work? In the specific case of Delhi, the dominant and politically powerful rentier class, erstwhile landowners in the villages which have given way to ‘Delhi’ as we know it, and therefore a bastion of the ‘khap panchayat’ culture, is certainly more prone to aggressive reaction against women’s freedom and assertion than migrant workers.
It is also a mistake to assume that the classical 19th century working class and its trade union “combinations” automatically embraced anti-patriarchal struggles and ideology.
Johanna Brenner writes, “The passionate feelings that leak through the minutes of both nineteenth and twentieth century union meetings where the employment of women was discussed demonstrate that craftsmen experienced lower-waged women’s entry into their workplaces as an attack on their masculinity, their sexual and social selves. The economic threat that lower-paid women workers represented was certainly real. But much more than wage levels was at stake. Women’s presence also threatened the practices, feelings, and relationships through which men had constructed a culture of solidarity within their organizations.” (‘On Gender and Class in U.S. Labor History’, Monthly Review, 1998, Vol 50, Issue 6) Unions of the time often espoused the ‘male breadwinner/female caregiver’ model. Henry Broadhurst, secretary of the TUC in Britain, gave a speech in 1875 describing the aim of trade unionism: “…to bring about a condition…where wives and daughters would be in their proper sphere at home, instead of being dragged into competition for livelihood against the great and strong men of the world.”
Undeniably, the unorganized character of the vast majority of India’s working class, employed in precarious and casualised work, poses challenges for revolutionary organizing and trade unionising. But can we term this entire class as ‘lumpen’ and devoid of significant revolutionary potential? Granted, large masses of workers are no longer commonly available on the factory floor, organized by capital. This is not just on account of the decline of the public sector and manufacturing sector. Even manufacturing has a changed character in neoliberal times, where workers are being dispersed and decentralized, and manufacturing and public sector alike display a massive increase in contractualised, casualised labour. But can the revolutionary party afford to assume the vast majority of India’s working class, unorganized by capital, cannot be organized in trade unions and by revolutionary politics, and can only be a vehicle for reactionary political and social ideas, never revolutionary ones? If these workers are not found on the factory floor, must we not take up the challenge of organizing them in the areas where they live?
Even when it comes to the class that can, conceivably, be termed the ‘lumpen proletariat,’ can the revolutionary party abandon them as a lost cause, and condemn them to be footsoldiers of organized crime and fascist brigades? Mao spoke of “the fairly large lumpen-proletariat, made up of peasants who have lost their land and handicraftsmen who cannot get work”, noting that they “lead the most precarious existence of all. Brave fighters but apt to be destructive, they can become a revolutionary force if given proper guidance.” (Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society) Marx, too, noted this dual potential of the lumpen proletariat, describing it as “thoroughly malleable, as capable of the most heroic deeds and the most exalted sacrifices as of the basest banditry and the foulest corruption.” (The Class Struggles in France) Similarly, Frantz Fanon wrote of the lumpen proletariat, “If this available reserve of human effort is not immediately organized by the forces of rebellion, it will find itself fighting as hired soldiers side by side with the colonial troops.” (Wretched of the Earth)
Prabhat Patnaik seems to see the movement against rape in Delhi also as predominantly lumpen in character, based on the slogan of death penalty for rape raised within it. This is a superficial and inaccurate assessment. The ‘death penalty for rape’ demand has a history of being a popular demand in India, and even many Left and progressive women’s organisations including AIPWA have adopted positions against it fairly late. As late as July 2004, the AIDWA for instance opposed the move for clemency for Dhananjoy Chatterjee, sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a schoolgirl in Kolkata. So the support for the death penalty for rape is not in itself proof positive of lumpenised ideology.
The demand for death penalty – in cases of rape as well as for political murders – is a fairly commonplace one. What was most significant in this particular movement against rape was the presence of a large number of men, and the fact that even in its initial, most spontaneous expression, quite apart from the intervention of JNU students or Left organizations, it did not stop at demands for death penalty and ‘protection’ for women – it articulated a ringing, spirited challenge to rape culture. This was apparent in women’s placards saying ‘teri nazar buri to parda main karun?’ (If your gaze is evil why should I cover my face?), ‘meri skirt se oonchi meri awaaz’ (My voice is higher than my skirt), and ‘Don’t tell us how to dress, tell men not to rape’, and men’s placards saying ‘When we expose our bodies women don’t rape us.’ Eventually, a very large section of the movement enthusiastically embraced the slogan of women’s ‘azaadi’ (freedom), and took a stand against the demand for death penalty. What was the material basis for these ideas, and for the fact that not only women, but men too were mobilizing around these ideas and slogans? Who, in fact, were the men and women who joined these protests?
It must be noted that the protestors were not only JNU or DU students. They included men and women who worked in BPOs and similar exploitative jobs; who studied in coaching institutes; who empathized with ‘Nirbhaya’ because she, like many of them, came from a migrant worker family and was headed for a job as a paramedic that would almost inevitably have been insecure, ill-paid, and contractualised. For the men, insecure education and jobs do lead to cracks in the secure foundations of masculinity. One response to this crisis of masculinity is of course in the display of masculine protectionism, aggression, the ‘Save Family’ type of patriarchal backlash, and outright sexual violence. But, as was so evident in this movement, those cracks in masculinity can have a positive and radical outcome as well. Many (though of course not all) men and women who started out with ‘protectionist’ and death penalty type slogans alongside ones that challenged rape culture, responded with empathy and introspection to the critique of misogyny and of the death penalty demands, discussed marital rape and supported the demand for it to be recognized in the rape law, and supported the ‘azaadi’ of LGBT people and even marched on Republic Day alongside Kashmiri and Manipuri students, raising slogans against rape by the Army in those regions. Male protestors introspected about their own discomfort with their sisters’ freedom and sexuality and with weakening of caste hierarchies, and overcame that ambivalence at least temporarily to raise their voice in support of women’s enthusiastic slogans of ‘baap se bhi, bhai se bhi, khap se bhi azaadi’ (freedom from fathers, brothers and the khaps).
Anti-patriarchal struggles are not waged in circumstances of our own making – and in India, they must inevitably confront the many challenges and contradictions of Indian society today, many of which Prabhat Patnaik correctly identifies. The fact remains, however, that one of the largest and most significant of such struggles in recent times has taken place in India; one that struggles in the advanced capitalist countries of the world are inspired by and learning lessons from.
Maya John’s article is, as she herself puts it, an attempted ‘rescue’ by the Left of right-wing rape culture arguments, in which she sees more than a grain of truth. Maya John repeats an argument that one first heard in the EPW editorial dates 29 December 2012, that the Delhi gang-rape was not a ‘power’ rape but a rape by powerless men. According to Maya John, power rapes happen in rural India, while rape by the ‘powerless’ is a phenomenon peculiar to urban India. This awkward formula is partly an attempt to ‘rescue’ the argument made by the RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat, that rapes happen in (urban) India not rural Bharat, by acknowledging the rapes that are happening in rural India, which Bhagwat had not done, and by rephrasing Bhagwat’s contention in ‘class-based’ terms. She does not attempt to acknowledge or explain why, even in rural India, all rapes are not committed by feudal upper castes against women from dalit or other oppressed castes; many rapes are committed by poor and disempowered men. And in urban India, as stated earlier in this article, there is simply no evidence that it is workers who are more prone to rape. What conclusions would Maya John draw about the large number of instances in Delhi, where rapists (some of them fairly well-off) have abducted a woman and raped her in a moving car? So the distinction she draws between ‘rural/power-ful’ and ‘urban/power-less’ rapes is not sustainable, even setting aside for a moment her dismissal of the very idea of gender power.
Maya John’s contention is that when the ‘powerless’ (the working class, urban poor) rape, they are ‘stealing sex,’ because they are exposed to a market culture that sells commodified sexuality, but starves them of access to sex. Such men, she claims, are not raping women because of patriarchal misogyny: they are just desperate for any ‘orifice’ to gratify frustrated desire. Child rape proves this, she claims: children are raped because they are easily available orifices. Why then, are there so many instances of upper class men raping kids: Jimmy Savile in Britain, accused of being a paedophile, for instance, or the French embassy employee in Bangalore accused of raping his own 3-year-old daughter? Capitalism routinely treats children’s bodies as available for brutal exploitation as labour: is it a big leap from there to their exploitation as sexual objects?
If rapes are all about the slaking of desire, devoid of misogyny, then one wonders why so many of the rapes are wantonly brutal? If male sexual desire is all that is at play, then why insert rods and bottles and maim the objects of desire?
Maya John elaborately contends that working class men do not have access to romantic sex, that only upper class women would be able to exercise a choice of sex partners, that sexual contact in slums or fields cannot be based on love and mutuality, since the latter is available exclusively to people who meet in pub circles/date pools/social networking sites. Such a contention is breathtakingly elitist and patronizing; in the name of a Marxist analysis sympathetic to the working class, it deems the working class to be less capable of humanity. That’s a far cry from Engels, who, in spite of his painstaking documentation of the squalor of working class life, could contend that the relationship between working men and women was more likely to be based on mutual equality and love than those among the bourgeoisie!
Maya John seems to entirely ignore the fact that in middle class and upper class, or upper caste households, the surveillance and discipline imposed on young women’s sexual freedom, even in urban India, is very oppressive. So the claim that such women are able to freely exercise choice of partners is inaccurate. And though women are subjected to far greater sexual repression than men, that does not cause them to rape men. Maya John seems to have internalized the notion of masculine sexuality and desire as a force of nature, a ‘hunger’ that if tantalized and then ‘starved’, will inevitably lead to rape.
This is not to claim that masculine violence is unmediated by class and caste; that working class masculinities may contend with insecurities specific to its class. V Geetha, for instance, writes with great empathy about the ways in which masculine insecurities manifest themselves in domestic violence, and how class and caste shape those insecurities (‘On Bodily Love and Hurt’, V Geetha, A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, ed. Janaki Nair, Mary E. John.)
But Maya John evacuates gender entirely from her understanding of rapes by working class men. Denying even that such rapists recognize a woman as a ‘woman’, she strips the victim of gender, describing her as an ‘orifice’. However, if the gender of the ‘orifice’ is irrelevant, its class is not: if the victim happens to be upper class, Maya John says, the working class rapists vent class hatred. In other words, working class rapists, according to Maya John, can feel class hatred but, inexplicably, not misogyny! One wonders why class hatred has to play itself on the bodies of women; if indeed it’s all about class and not gender, why should it be upper class women rather than men who are the recipients of masculine aggression?
Maya John assumes that ‘slutwalks’ and slogans of ‘azaadi (freedom)’ are all about celebrating patriarchal feminine hyper-sexuality. In doing so, she misses the point entirely. ‘Slutwalks’ are simply not a ‘celebration’ of sexuality: they are an angry protest against rape culture that brands rape survivors as ‘sluts’ who ‘asked for it.’ By adopting the term ‘slutwalk’, the protestors have defied and challenged the age-old patriarchal division of women into ‘Madonnas and whores’, ‘satis and sluts’. In the Delhi protests as well, women held placards saying ‘Main karun to slut, woh kare to stud?’ (If I do it I’m a slut, if he does it he’s a stud?), challenging moral and sexual double standards. To claim that the ‘azaadi’ slogans have no relevance for working class women is strange. Do working class women not seek the freedom to move freely in the public space without fearing rape; the freedom to marry in defiance of caste and community norms; the freedom from domestic violence?
Maya John argues that “women in skirts and revealing tops are somewhere responsible for the rape of women in burkhas and ghunghats”, and the same goes for actresses who “display their semi-nude bodies on billboards or on the screen.” The assumption is that men slake the desire generated by such images by raping poor, vulnerable women. The blame for rape is then, displaced on to women’s sexuality, rather than acknowledged as a problem of masculinity. This is not to deny the sexism in most representations of women in popular culture and the capitalist market. But sexism is not restricted to displays of female nudity, nor is every instance of female nudity necessarily sexist.
Maya John’s is not really a critique of sexism at all, it is a replication of the tradition of blaming male violence on female sexuality. One wonders why she does not subject male actors or models whose semi-nude bodies are also displayed on billboards and screens, to the same moralistic finger-wagging she metes out to women? Maya John, in her ‘orifice’ argument, recounts that the 16 December rapists had earlier cruised around in the bus looking for a prostitute. Would Maya John, following on her arguments about rape being provoked by women in skirts, actresses and slutwalks, blame rape on prostitutes, who by making themselves available for commercial sex, invite men to ‘excusably’ view all women in the public space as prostitutes who are available?
It is a most welcome trend that, within the broad democratic discourse on violence against women and the movement for women’s freedom and empowerment, there are attempts to develop and sharpen a Marxist analysis. But we must be on our guard lest ‘Marxism’ and ‘class’ become sleights of hand to rehabilitate and make respectable the sexist excuses for rape. Such arguments are a disservice to the working class, and to Marxism. What we really need to do is to assimilate and analyse the valuable lessons emerging from the post-December 16 movement, and enrich our understanding of the intersections of class, caste, and patriarchy, globally, as well as specifically in the Indian context.
35 thoughts on “Capitalism, Sexual Violence, and Sexism: Kavita Krishnan”
Thanks, Kavita for this timely and important post. In taking the bull by the horns, you have brought out an issue into public debate that had for long found articulation in various kinds of ‘radical gossip’ circles – especially since the time of the anti-gang rape protests. It is important for a Marxist to make the point, as you so effectively do, that Marxism is not just about crude ‘class-analysis’ and reductionism. If Marxism in India has got a bad name it is largely because of what all has gone on in its name. Prabhat’s mode-of-production reductionism sounds strangely out of date by at least half a century, since he can only see capital as the (only?) saviour and thus as a historical necessity – not just on economic but also now on ethical grounds! Serial killing of women, the cases of characters like Fritzl in Austria (hope he remembers) are not pre-capitalist excesses visited upon women – such kinds of crime happens very rarely in pre-capitalist societies. As for the other piece, the argument seems positively shocking in its reactionary edge – where anything can apparently be justified by invoking ‘class’. From the parts that you cite, it seems that the author is not concerned at all about the historical veracity of the statements that she is making. It is as though a mere invocation of class absolves you of the need to make statements with any degree of substantiation – like she does. If any ‘orifice’ is enough, rape must be seen as a completely depoliticized act. Perhaps the question of the violation of another body – female or male – does not matter in the author’s opinion as long as the class position of the aggressor is “correct”.
If Marxism is not to be ‘pseudo’,then according to the likes of Aditya Nigam and Shuddhabrato sengupta,class-analysis should be abandoned as doing so would absolve it from the criticism of ‘reductionism’.As kavita krishnan puts it who escapes from getting the adage of a ‘pseudo’ and recognised as a Marxist from the camp of ‘critical thinkers’,”intersections of class,caste and patriarchy,globally as well as specifically in the Indian context’ would enrich our understanding on the phenomenon of rape. However,it needs to be stated that such an understanding would be only a methodological fiction until it is understood that social life is in its fundamental reality indivisible.The realm of separation-of caste,patriarchy and class as separate and fragmented entities which is to be reunified methodologically and momentarily as intersection,only at particular points–is merely the reality of the appearance:as hegel would put it,it exists not so much in itself,as rather for us.It was against such a method that Maya John’s article endeavours as it looks at patriarchy and class in a capitalist society as co-constitutive in its form rather than pre-supposing it as ‘separate’ or ‘dual systems’ which ‘intersects’.
Also,it is appalling to note the misinterpretation of maya john’s arguments where a critical understanding is read as apologia.To understand is not to apologise or to justify rape as Aditya nigam or kavita krishnan puts it.
To understand how patriarchy and class intersect is not to understand them as dual systems.
When Maya John interprets slutwalks and reclaim the night marches and azaadi slogans as elite celebrations of sexuality rather than protests against rape culture, it is, to my mind, an ‘appalling misinterpretation’. And saying that women in skirts are ‘somewhere responsible’ for the rapes of women in burqas is unvarnished rape culture.
i would repeat that to understand how patriarchy and class intersect is to understand them as dual systems.The presupposition for the argument of intersection is duality.Also,liberty-azzadi which does not take as an axiom equality in every sphere and not just men-women equality in a class-divided society is empty sloganeering.And about individuated responses without a fraternity to be able to give the moment of rebellion a duration in an organized form is to reproduce conditions of exploitation and oppression.it is not a question of fixing responsibility but to understand individuals as always-already subjects– when even dissent becomes ‘saleable’ which can be purchased as a ‘choice'[not available to all women] like a short-skirt.
Kavita’s points are wonderful and so appropriate. And Proabhat ji shows his own position that he had inculcated from his typcial CPM past. With the death sentence justification of Dhananjay, the shrill sound of his hanging by Mira & Budhdha bhatacharya, the case of Bantala, the case of Anandamargi gang rape and female body mutilation, the rapes of women in NAndigram and Singur does not corroborate Prabhat’s statement and does corroborate the CPM standpoint of simply forgetting their own deeds in the name of high sounding anti-feudalism. Rape is political and social. But rape is not a historical process. Those who are raping did not take any leaf out of the history. Interestingly the alienation of individuals from their societal bindings and the realization of caste/creed appropriation and a sense of realization of the predatory prowess on soft targets cropped from the sense of envy, hatred and alienation of other kinds incite some to rape. This when finds not-so-strong social-resistance takes this form. Rape is political and can only be eradicated through relentless social mobilizations and yes of course a bit of social intimidation to stray elements who have become lumpen as a factor of crass individualism.
Too often the focus is on the ‘powerlessness’ of the men who rape ‘elite women.’ Forgetting that majority of the rapes happen within one’s class/ race/ caste structures.
That is not to deny that class is the one of the basis of women’s oppression.
how to bring class back into an analysis of rape and activism around it, is a question that is pressing only because of certain strands of women’s activism to whom class has become irrelevant, like one billion rising or blank noise or perhaps even slutwalk. but other than that, it would be obvious to any feminist or those invested in addressing structural inequality that there is no political way of addressing gender and class separately – gender is a mode of extraction of free labour within the structure of class. and as one can see, neoliberalism soon finds ways of converting any grouping whether on basis of gender or sexuality into markets or for extraction of labour.
i’m not sure i agree with all of maya john’s points but this is a far-too-easy reading of it. what can be taken from that piece is that the heuristic that ‘rape is about power and not about sex’, is just not sufficient or not explanatory any more, that it cannot serve to understand when rape is by those with less power of women with seemingly more class privilege. another piece in tehelka magazine, says what if rape is the sex that most indians have. how do we then understand rape – as uncomfortable as it makes us, what if it is sometimes about sex? as maya john also points out, we seem to not realize the extent of rape and violence of lower class women – as coverage of rape has dramatically increased since the delhi gang rape, this definitely seems to become more apparent.
‘Rape is the sex that most Indians have’ – sorry, but on what is this assumption based?! Is it a justification of marital rape? Or an assumption that the poor and working class can never have meaningful, consensual, loving sexual relationships?
I would argue that in fact, in working class communities, women enjoy somewhat greater autonomy than in the more ‘bhadra’ families where sexual controls are harsher. Opting out of a marriage or living with a man who is not one’s husband carries lighter social consequences, for instance.
just to clarify, that line is not one i make but one that i quote. unfortunately i can’t find that article, but from what i remember it was not being said about a particular class, but across classes, but reading what has been said here about certain assumptions embedded in ideas about desire, i tend to agree that the statement is presumptuous. (does the lack of a certain kind discourse about women’s desire necessarily mean that most women are getting raped rather than consenting – how can one say that for instance when indian films are mostly about love?)
again to clarify, my concern was not so much about this throwaway line as much as the fact that certain kinds of activism post the delhi incident, have entrenched class barriers rather than broken them down. this inspite of extraordinary efforts to somehow nuance the discourse – to shift it away from hampering the mobility of women to talking about systemic oppression of women. even then the posters and efforts of the neighbourhood groups led to more suspicions of people of a different class, and further high-wall-ing gated communities with posters and rhetoric about how ‘we’ will protect ‘our’ women.
i will say this – that the impact of the first video with kavita krishnan was somewhat electric – it changed radically how delhi previously reacted to rape, with a pall of fear that increasingly menaced the city. and at least that seems to have shifted.
as a woman with access to the internet and english as maya john obviously has too, we are both from a specific class. but i am not like maya john suggesting something like ‘come rape me for the revolution to happen’ *laughs* (she can correct me for this assumption that i make from her text). if anything upper class women, even by what kavita krishnan says about sexual controls over bhadra women, have to figure a radical sexual politics that disrupts this control. maya john in a saas-bahu paradigm pits upper class women against lower class women. she points out that upper class women are trapped by a capitalist logic of desire for security, marriage, car, comes close to pointing out the obvious class erotics of upper class women and lower class men. But then refuses to say the obvious that such women should learn to throw out the upper class man from their logic of desire, and seek out sex across class barriers, in an almost ambedkaresque fashion of doing inter-caste marriages. maya john’s suggestion is repression, mine is a rethinking by women of whom with and how they have sex – their sexual praxis and how it furthers rather than dismantles the logic of rape, and to have sex more flagrantly and shamelessly.
what is also upsetting is the division of labour about rape – women can speak and write about rape only from a space of being violated, or they could be violated, but men are the ones who are writing about rape as a systemic problem. only kavita krishnan and maya john broke out of that, and both have been differently attacked. women need to talk about rape at different registers, including one that seriously considers the class and power dynamics of it.
Thank you for this extremely insightful and well-written commentary!
I just had a question regarding one of the minor points you made, where you mention “organized reaction against conceding the right to abortion or same-sex marriage in the US is an instance of how much the capitalist class still invests in the family institution and the control of women’s sexuality and reproduction within it.” With specific reference to the debate on same-sex marriage in the US, I was wondering whether your statement implies that pro same-sex marriage groups in the US are less neoliberal or more socialist than their opponents? In fact, to the contrary the mainstream discourse on same-sex marriage in widely read journals or channels, was presented in typically neoliberal terms as a “business case” (see: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/02/the-economic-closet-the-business-case-for-gay-marriage.html), whose benefits were measured in terms of the billions of dollars to be earned by the marriage industry (http://money.cnn.com/2012/07/24/pf/gay-marriage-economic-impact/index.htm). Also, logically, same-sex marriage also reproduces a neoliberal logic of self-managed family units, so why would the capitalist class be opposed to it?
(I realise this isn’t the main argument in your piece, but it was the only unconvincing bit in your otherwise excellent article.)
I don’t think my argument was about the politics of pro- same sex marriage groups. After all, we have plenty of pro-capitalist or pro-corporate Dalit ideologues or feminists, that does not rule out caste or gender oppression being beneficial to capitalism. Same sex marriage per se might not threaten capitalism, many countries have eventually come around to accepting it, and you are right, it does fit into the capitalist idea of a family unit, and does not challenge the privatisation of reproductive labour.
My own reading is that capitalism, in order to redeem and defend the patriarchal family, has to ideologically establish the notions of heteronormativity as common sense. And the oppression of same-sex lovers is also related to capitalism’s need to demonise all but heterosexual monogamous marriage. It’s possible that capitalism may in time modify its common sense to accommodate same-sex marriage, but even that is not happening without a huge struggle.
An excellent post, that takes on the two pseudo-Marxist positions of Patnaik and John seriously and demonstrates with care and precision how hollow they are. If we follow Patnaik’s argument then the only way of dealing with Indian misgogyny is to have India occupy colonies and fight world wars – because that is how (as per his argument) the so called advanced Industrialised capitalist societies got rid of rape culture. First of all this is not true, the colonization and the world wars both involved a lot of rape, (read Joanna Burke’s excellent History of Rape – for a comprehensive account of the role rape plays as an instrument of governance in the Industrial west in the last hundred and fifty years, particularly in times of war) and secondly, even today, rape remains a serious problem in countries like the UK and the US.
In Maya John’s position, what I found particularly egregious was the implied absence of agency in the purported sexuality of working class individuals. In her analysis, working class women have no desire, and working class men have no ability to harness their desires.
Both seem to be ‘victims’ (how perverse it is to imagine the rapist and the raped to be both ‘victims’) of impulses and powers beyond their control. If Capitalism destroyed the last vestiges of humanity in all proletarian persons, with what hope or temerity would one imagine the possibility of other ways of life. Not even Capitalism can rob every man or every woman of the capacity to desire and be desired in a way that is ethically responsible. If that were the case, there would be a very good reason for mass suicide.
The increasing instances of reportage of rape are not necessarily an index of a rising incidence of rape, they are also an index of the willingness of women and those close to them to talk about rape without succumbing to shame and silence. Working class women and all kinds of women are reporting rape and sexual harrassment, and are willing to talk about it, and this shows that there is a growing sympathy and support for their stances, some of this sympathy and support must also be coming from at least a lot of the women some of the men who happen to be a part of their lives, as members of the family, as lovers, as husbands, as brothers, as friends, colleagues and comrades.
The fact is, the majority of working class men do not rape women, not even the women who are in close proximity to them. Rape within the household, by fathers, uncles, brothers has no class specificity, as Kavita points out, and in the workplace, rape and sexual harrassment is always an index of a power dynamic. A lot of non-working class men are raping a lot of working class and non-working class women and men, girls and boys, and a a lot of working class men are not raping anyone at all.
And if they are not, then, how do we explain the ability of this large number to ‘withstand’ the onslaught that Maya John describes as occurring on their desiring selves (through the proliferation of erotic provocation) which inevitably turns some of them into rapists. If the exposure to available erotic provocation, including, as John says, the presence of desirable (because of dress or behaviour) but inaccessible women in the public domain, is enough to turn some working class men into rapists of the women available to them (without their agency coming into the picture – otherwise they would not be the helpless ‘victims’ of their own twisted urges in the sense that John makes them out to be) then, how can we account for the majority of working class men who happen to be non-rapist husbands, lovers, colleagues, comrades, brothers, comrades, friends and neighbours. Is their unwillingness (John might even say, ‘inability’) to rape also a result of their lack of agency?
How can we also account for the fact that countries like Iran, where the opportunities to wear what for John would be ‘provocative’ attire, are somewhat minimal, rape, remains a real social issue.
If, it John concedes that it is not a question of the non-rapists ‘lack of agency’, (that is they do not rape because they have agency) then, how do we explain the agency of the men who do rape? Either both have to have agency, or both must not have agency. We cannot have agency considered for the non-rapist, and non-agency offered as an explanation for the rapist.
But John does not see things this way. Both rapists and non-rapists in the working class survive within the same bleak environment, and if in some cases their circumstances deprive them of their ethical and humane senses entirely, turning them into rapists, then given that the circumstances do not change, we have to assume that those others who do not rape are either about to do so, or simply afraid of being caught, or devoid of sexuality. In other words, if you are a man, you had better not be a working class man, or if you are not a man, you had better avoid encountering a working class man.
Either way, John condemns the working class man to a kind of poverty of the spirit and an unthinking zombie-hood that even the worst kind of anti-working class or anti-subaltern prejudiced individual would find difficult to express in public.
But John’s self-confessed “Marxism’ allows her to air her paranoia, and her thinly disguised class hared under the garb of concern and sympathy.
So thank you Kavita Krishnan, for enabling this debate to take place.
Any sort of reductionist analysis of rape is problematic. This post very rightly, and brilliantly, highlights the pitfalls of such reductionist arguments – be it the Marxist invocation of class, or a depoliticized reading of bodies.
Any analysis of rape, it appears to me, must engage with a complex network of problems, or an intersection of them: for, it’s not only the act of rape that we must discuss, but also how rape is configured in discourse. One of the problems in the said network is masculinity and its relation to patriarchy and rape. It is my argument that in patriarchal societies, masculinity (or at least the dominant definition of masculinity) is a repository of power. That is, it is by access to the factors which define the hegemonic masculinity, is the status-quo of patriarchy maintained (my analysis, though indebted to R.W. Connell, is not limited by it). Of course, when it comes to the issue of urban/power-less rapes, i.e., lower class/caste men raping middle/upper class/caste women, this configuration is problematic. But this is precisely why we must focus on the issue of representation/discourse of rape. Because in this domain, we can more clearly elucidate why rape is configured in the way it is.
For instance, let’s take three examples:
1) The class/caste of the perpetrators of the Delhi gangrape-murder was very clearly highlighted, drawing comments even from the PM.
2) Asaram Bapu’s comment that “rapes happen in India, not Bharat” is in the same vein. And,
3) Anti-rape campaigns which seek to redefine the parameters of masculinity and manhood.
In the first, there is an attempt to create a social (and alongside, biological) etiology of rape. That it is base, brutal desires that cause men to rape women, and that a certain type of men are more prone to raping, than other. This legitimates the state’s intervention in policing these uncouth and (as Shilpa Phadke et. al., argue in their book, ‘Why Loiter?’) undesirable bodies.
The second is far more insidious because it pushes the definition of rape into the domain of the culture – thereby creating another sort of legitimation: that in so-called Bharat women’s bodies are bound in sexual servitude to their husbands. But this is not rape; this is, for them, culture.
As for the third, as many contrary opinions have pointed out, are the men who commit rape not “real men”? The larger and more pertinent question thus, keeping with the idea that if masculinity is indeed a repository of power in patriarchy, is this: the idea of “power” is more important than the categories that encapsulate it, viz., masculinity and patriarchy.
In all three cases, there is a definite power-game: by defining rape, sexual identities, bodies etc. in particular ways, they are arranged in systems of power. And here is where I do see a merit in R.W. Connell’s idea of hegemonic masculinity being operational by policing of lesser, non-hegemonic masculinities, which is then based on the repression/subjugation of women.
This dynamic of power-subjugation is inscribed in rape – which, in turn, is configured in other discourses of surveillance, policing and so forth. It is, also, a political tool against dissent: it is an articulation of violence, of intolerance, of the severest insensitivity; of patriarchal governmentality’s recourse to extrajudicial means to crush any and all levels of transgression, political, social, or otherwise (rape as a war crime contextualizes this assertion).
Rape needs to be seen as a problem situated in the intersections of these issues. all other attempts to define it, reduce it are inadequate at best, or a vilification of it, at worst.
Great response that flags of significant issues at stake in the crosscutting mesh of power relations. Such faulty analysis as in Patnaik’s and Jhon’s is likely to be the result of the intellectual’s remoteness from the lives of ordinary people.
Let me clarify one point. There are lot of concrete evidences to show Patriarchal oppression pre dates private property and even Homo sapiens. It’s time we stopped quoting that statement of Engels.
Engels was not entirely correct in his assessment, that is absolutely true. That’s especially true of non-Western cultures, of which he had little or no knowledge. However, there is evidence that the move from from matrilineal inheritance and/or matrilocal residency to patrilineal and/or patrilocal arrangements in Western cultures was tied to an increased control of female sexuality and reproduction. This often accompanied the move to agricultural-based economies. It’s not as definitive as Engels claimed it was (especially in regards to private property), nor is it universal, but it’s also not entirely to be dismissed. I really don’t think there’s a single theory that has universal applicability, to be honest.
As for “patriarchal oppression”, it depends on how you’re defining it. Labor was often divided based upon sex in ancient societies, that’s absolutely true. Is that inherently oppressive? Not necessarily. There were other divisions based upon sex, as well. Again, I don’t see these divisions as inherently oppressive. It depends entirely upon the esteem granted the roles assigned to men versus the roles assigned to women. If the status or esteem given to male-associated roles was greater than that given to female-associated roles, and women were denied status and value within the group because of it, that is oppressive. If that is not the case, it is not necessarily so.
We have had this conversation elsewhere, but I am repeating it here for the benefit of other readers.
I am willing to debate whether subordination of women coincided universally with private property. Possibly not. But there is no denying that private property and class society have contributed hugely to institutionalising gender oppression.
Now, if women’s subordination didnt start with private property, is it possible it would continue even if private property and class society didnt exist? We really can’t know, and it’s unlikely gender oppression in a post-class society would be in the forms we know it, at any rate. But I think there’s little doubt that getting rid of private property and class society would be an absolute must for ridding gender oppression of its strongest foundation.
Thank you so much for this wonderful article. I was just curious to know how would you react to the following:
On the aftermath of this rape, an interview of Ashish Nandy(taken by Anup Dhar) was published in a significant Bengali magazine called Charcha, where Nandy tried to explicate his analysis of the kind of violence that was witnessed in Delhi, delineated by Dhar as something which is “beyond the known and comprehensible” periphery of our cultural circumscription. Here he contended that “possibilities of such ‘inhuman’ violence is comparatively less within settled, closely-knitted, sedentary communities and social collectives, since such relations are punctuated by a kind of conscious or unconscious cultural history.” Nandy denotes our present times, in the language of George Orwell as a situation of “the decline of English Murder”, giving way to the “American murder”, where no specific reason working behind such heinous violence can be deciphered, a society premised on the tenets of individualism and self-seekingness. He relates it to the kind of violence we witnessed in concentration camps during the 2nd world war where human beings were slaughtered like entities of an industrial belt, resonating the notion of a ‘factory of death’. He deems this as a situation when genocide becomes possible since human lives are “abstracted” and “quantified”, and he reads this rape as a continuation of such kinds of abstracted violence, informed by capital’s logic of abstraction and quantification.
The second instance is from the Justice Verma Committee Report itself, inspite of its impeccable suggestions, also falls into the trap of this very warped cause and effect chain as far as violence against urban women is concerned. In an endorsing manner, it quotes an article from The Hindu which says, “For a second context to hyper-violent masculinity, we must look at culture. Increasingly, cities have no recreational spaces for young men. Films, long one of the few cultural activities that a working-class audience could participate in, now target élites; movie theatre prices exclude large parts of the youth population. There is diminishing access to theatre, art, music and sport. In its place, the street becomes the stage for acting out adulthood, through substance abuse and violence. It further goes onto quote from the same article, “There is a crisis of sexuality. Few men, working class or rich, have access to a sexual culture which allows them sexual freedoms or choices. The crisis is exacerbated by the fact that sections of urban élites participate in a sexual culture which is relatively liberal — a culture that young men can watch on television and in public spaces, but never hope to participate in. For some, the sexually independent woman is thus enemy to be annihilated…. Economic policies, he argued, had not just impoverished the poor; they also tore apart community networks, diminished public spaces and closed the door to political participation. In India, women’s bodies appear to have become the principal terrain on which male rage is venting itself.” However, it does at the same time hasten to add the disclaimer that, “Lacking agency isn’t, obviously, the cause of sexual violence: women aren’t responding to their disenfranchisement by attacking men; men with power can, and do, rape.”
Now, although the larger point that the report was certainly trying to make here was that rape is not a ‘crime of passion’ but rather an “expression of power” and also how different subcultures use rape against women as a weapon to assert their identity; and moreover, it also hastens to add that “Lacking agency isn’t, obviously, the cause of sexual violence: women aren’t responding to their disenfranchisement by attacking men; men with power
can, and do, rape.”, I was wondering how would you respond to such texts (like the ones I stated above) which are nuanced, comes off as mere ‘analysis’, and yet, make the same point?
You are right, the Justice Verma report did quote that Praveen Swami article which made that very problematic point about the ‘crisis of sexuality’. Nandy’s argument that rapes today as ‘incomprehensible’ is not unexpected.
I would respond to them much the same way I have done to Maya John’s piece. We need to discuss the politics of such ‘analysis’, and what the consequences of such analysis are for anti-patriarchal movements.
yes , you are right that the phenomenon of rape should not be explained only with the class analysis as there are various types of victim and accused . Rape should be explained with the various social, psychological , political ,economic and gender dimensions . But class analysis definitely is the master standpoint to understand this question .
It is sad to see even somebody of the acumen of Shuddhabrata Sengupta dismissing Prabhat Patnaik’s arguments as “pseudo-Marxist”, and reading him in polemical perversity- “If we follow Patnaik’s argument then the only way of dealing with Indian misogyny is to have India occupy colonies and fight world wars”, while Patnaik is explicit about the “undesirability” of exporting population. The central point of his argument is that the breakdown of pre-modern patriarchy is a precondition for the advancement, and not conclusion (as all his critics suppose), of the feminist-socialist movement. He does not mean to fight world wars for that- we have better candidates like Aditya Nigam for that. Patnaik’s argument is not entirely sufficient, I agree, but a reference to the good old notion of “economic base” is the terrain of interpretation here- if you like it, you can say that whole of capitalism is deeply patriarchal, as Kavita Krishnan says, and I would be tempted to agree- what better argument against capitalism within the ideologically hegemonic post-modern, post-socialist feminist world we live in! This is the ideological shift that post-68 capitalism has managed to produce that even Marxists, as Terry Eagleton writes, “for whom sexuality was as embarrassing a subject as sanctifying grace were reminded that labour meant producing babies as well as chocolate bars.” But that would be as reductionist a point as the one Patnaik is accused of. In this regard, Patnaik is setting up the terms of the debate here- good spirited critics can only manage to radicalize his notion of the “base” of patriarchy. On many occasions, he himself superbly underlines the dialectic of underdevelopment in Third World and development in the First World. He could have said that same thing apropos the “production of patriarchy” in different world, and that’s where the Leftists should not be ashamed of accepting the fact of the patriarchy of the lumpenproletariat. It does no harm to our radical leftist potentials to recognize the difference in the patriarchal praxis of the advanced and ex-colonial world, it does not make us “subalternists”.
Regarding the whole of Krishnan’s essay, I think it is simply pointless to divide patriarchal ideology in “ours” vs “their” – in the final analysis, patriarchy is simply unacceptable. I would like to live in a world, as Zizek puts it, where one has to argue FOR patriarchy and rape, and be isolated, instead of arguing AGAINST patriarchy- because the difference in the two situations is unexceptionable. One does not have to apologetic about, or “understand” the patriarchy of the oppressed. Perhaps, one might do a Hegelian “reflexive determination” here- we, the leftists, accept the fact of sexist brutality in “our” basic classes, do you, the communal-bourgeoisie of the likes of RSS and Congress, accept “your” patriarchy? Regarding sexual violence, a reference to culture does not have to be coming from the right, it can also be a “cultural materialist” point, coming from the left.
Finally, even if all the charges against CPI (M) are true- of supporting death sentences, of rapes in Nandigram and elsewhere (and I personally believe them to be true), the anti-CPI (M) mindset of some of the people writing on this page is breathtaking- it is, pathological jealousy, manifest in Nazism (even if some of the Jews were exploiters, the Nazi critic of them was racist and pathologically motivated). As is the case with most of the reports about rape coming from lower strata (the media’s fanasizing of the lower strata doing all the crime), the same is the case with an anti-CPIM leftists- for them it is “a subject supposed to loot and rape”. Unfortunately, even the “polemic” against Patnaik seems to be coming out of this mindset.
I would like to make it quite clear that when I wrote this particular article, I did not see it as a polemic with CPI(M); had that been the case, I would have said so. So my observations, I would request, should not be conflated with comments about CPI(M) being made by any others here.
I think Prabhat Patnaik’s piece was a attempt in the right direction, of understanding the material base of sexual violence, and in conversation with his article, I have only tried to clarify and enrich my own understanding of the problem. There are other Marxist friends from other Left streams, too, who do not altogether agree with everything I have written in this article, and I welcome the chance to talk it out with them and perhaps change or modify my own concepts.
As for death penalty, please note that my article acknowledges that my own organisation, AIPWA, also supported death penalty for rape till not long ago. So did AIDWA. I am not singling out AIDWA in any way here. There are other occasions for polemic with the CPIM or discussions over Nandigram and Birati, As far as I am concerned, I do not see it useful or relevant to ridicule or caricature Prabhat Patnaik’s arguments, and it was in no way my intention to do so.
Pavel, what makes you think I am justifying the patriarchy of ‘our’ basic classes? Far from it: the whole point of my debate with Maya John, after all, is to acknowledge patriarchy in rapes committed by working class men, rather than legitimise it as the consequence of ‘sex-starvation’ or ‘class hatred’!
I have read both Maya John and Kavita Krishnan’s articles. I feel that answers to most of the issues raised by Kavita are already present in Maya’s piece. It is unfortunate that so many people above have commented, (so it seems) without reading Maya’s article. I request all to read Maya’s article which is quite nuanced and hence not so easily dismissed.
Chinglen, Ankit and Tarun,
I have not attempted to reply to every argument made by Maya. But I was struck by the fact that blatant rape-culture logic was being rehabilitated her as ‘class analysis’ – and while we can argue about the rest, that is simply unacceptable. There is no ‘nuance’ involved in saying women in skirts cause women in burqas to be raped! Moreover, she has simply shown the factual basis for her assumptions: about most rural rapes being casteist rapes; about most urban rapes; about poor rapists seeing women as ‘orifices’ rather than as women, and feeling class hatred but not misogyny.
One point she has raised is that desire needs to be factored in, in our analysis of rape. Desire is of course a factor; it isnt my argument that rapists never feel desire. But desire is not a ‘force of nature’, a hunger that must be fed, and rape is not a demand and supply problem. The very idea that it is ok to fulfil desire by raping someone is something shaped by social power. Also, I think that even if one factors in pleasure and desire, Maya is not able to see that in the case of rape and sexual harassment/violence, the feeling of having power to cause discomfort, humiliation, pain, is part of the ‘pleasure’ felt by the perpetrator.
In Maya John’s article, a very pertinent question is being raised, that there is particular section of women who become agents for exploitation of the rest. How hyper femininity expressed in certain ways of dressing up, behaviour etc becomes an act of outbidding other women. This becomes the constitutive logic behind the hypergamous code around which love/choice is structured.So in a sense class remains a structuring principle behind the expression that can be called a “woman”. A non holistic analysis will definitely fail to see the issues at stake.
I think Maya John’s essay (which I reached via Kavita’s piece here) ask too many uncomfortable questions without providing cliched textual answers as Kavita seems to do. We need to open the question of sex and rape and the working class experience – old certainities won’t do – and a popular song I heard recently in Kapasehra
Reblogged this on Thorrdóttir's thoughts on her spritiual Bloodline.
It is not surprising that the voice of some male-identified women within a certain kind of Left (such as Maya John) would be welcomed as “nuanced” and “fresh” by those – particularly men – among the Left and Right alike, whose anxiety about Left feminism is long-standing.
Left feminism involves a recognition that class cannot be the “master narrative” and that class, caste, race/ethnicity and gender/sexuality complicate one another in unpredictable and complex ways. Their intersections must be negotiated and engaged with in a manner that at different spatial-temporal moments, destabilizes the “master narrative” claim of each. On the other hand, Maya’s argument is essentially a re-articulation of misogynist and patriarchal victim-blaming arguments around sexual violence, such that through a series of logical progressions, all sexual violence in society can eventually be directly traced to the presence of scantily-clad elite women.
Moreover, it’s a strange kind of leftism that attributes no agency at all to working-class men, who, alienated by capitalist exploitation and surrounded by images of (and actual) women in revealing clothes, are completely at the mercy of their d***s, led to search for any “orifice” (Maya’s exact word) to bury them in. It also leaves us with the assumption that all poor and powerless men are almost doomed to be violent towards women – an impeccable middle-class canard, purveyed as class analysis by a supposed Marxist! Every act of rape can be condoned by this logic, whether by upper castes against Dalits (the self-alienation produced by centuries of caste hierarchies), by the army (the brutalization of young men by army training), maternal neglect during childhood, men destabilized by changing gender roles…we have heard all of this, just not so much from self-defined Marxist or socialist quarters.
Meanwhile, working-class women deal with their alienation by nurturing and self sacrifice and at most, violence towards themselves or other women – and this has nothing to do with gendered productions of selfhood?
And where is the space in Maya’s ‘analysis’ (for want of a better word) for men raping men? Usually those rapes are by powerful men of powerless men. If rape is an act of class war, as she suggests, then shouldn’t we be seeing large-scale male rape of middle class men by working class men?
Maya John’s is a simple – not nuanced, nor fresh, nor non-cliched – a simple-minded middle class reassertion of misogynist rape culture with a superficial use of some Marxist terms.
That it has any purchase at all today in Left circles in India in the second decade of the 21st century, is a tribute to the challenge posed by Left, queer feminisms to masculinist Old Left splinter groups sulking in their sectarian corners.
The discussion about rape keeps swinging like a pendulum between absolutely heinous to being a bad habit, an aberration among men. Heinous, beastly like animal. But animals don’t rape for fun or as collateral. And if it is only understood as a bad habit then we are not able to make our distance from what we call as rape culture to analyse it. What is it about the culture that makes it a rape culture? Instead of going to class, caste, gender as pre-given categories separately or intersecting ones, maybe we can start with the combination of fun and violence. (I am not saying that these are not powerful influential categories). These rapists joked about the bodies of the girl and the boy. It is in the realm of humour that the rape was committed. Like teasing is part of the culture, of courtship, of understanding love. Again when these things are mentioned then movies or songs get banned or even books.
But I think it is what men and women both desire which can give a clue to this idea of the acceptance of such rapes. By acceptance, I don’t mean in any way that women accept rape. But there are modalities of intimacy which are translated into another kind of violent intimacy in rape. How is it that women who participate in protests and movements may accept the patriarchal structures in their own homes or like being desired in the way in which they are either subdued or dominant? Does it not play into stereotypes? The Nineties movies rapes were so aesthetically shown that it is as much part of a desiring frame of reference.
That which is called part of capitalist production of desire is the obtaining of an object. Be it woman, a house, a car or a laptop, a pet. Any body fits in this scheme of being an object of desire and desiring to appropriate. It is not just about private property otherwise it would not be gang-rape. It is about rape being a conversation between men. A man raping a woman in front of another and bonding over it as if reaffirming some relation.
The stereotypes are the ways in which men relate to women.Maybe even women relate to men in stereotypes. Men as a fraternising group. In the first article Kavitha ma’am writes how trade unions fraternised as men and felt threatened with the entry of women in the workforce. It may also be because women are seen as chaos to this fraternising. Rape may be about asserting power, but this power is asserted to restore order. Somehow women have come to be seen as disorder especially as threatening sexualities.
What time is she out? Where is she going? Who does she meet? What is she wearing? Get her married early. These are all reflecting this kind of fear of threat. How do we move forward from here?