Continuing with today’s theme, Brian has shared with me a fantastic article about the abduction, rape and subjugation of women in Ethiopia.
Nurame was in her bed when she was woken by an angry mêlée. In her family’s hut there were grown men – an incredible number, 10 or more, all in their 30s, all standing over her father, shouting. They reached for her. At night here, where there is no electricity, perfect darkness falls, and everything becomes a shadow-play of barely visible flickers. But even though she was eight years old, she suspected at once what was happening. She had heard whispers that, when a girl is considered ready for marriage, a man will seize her, and rape her, and then she must serve him for the rest of her life.
This practice has apparently (it is news to me) become endemic in Ethiopia. I spoke at length in a previous post about my feelings on female genital mutilation, and the systematic brutalization of women that happens all around the world. This article puts these atrocities into perspective, and profiles the exploits of a particularly impressive woman who has become the face of the rebellion against this practice:
When [Boge] was told this was her culture and she had to accept it, she found the argument ridiculous. “I thought – how can this be my culture, if it kills me?” she says, leaning forward. “What is culture? It is something that is constantly changing. In Europe, you burned witches. That culture changed. Every woman has a sense of her own dignity. I knew I was not a cow, a chattel, and I did not want to be treated like one. No woman wants to be abducted or cut up. This is true whatever your culture. Culture is not stagnant – it is transient.”
It makes me incredibly happy to see people reject the arch-liberal excuse of “that’s just how they do things in their culture.” It’s a pernicious lie that permits the continuation of horrible and terrifying practices all over the world.
Interestingly, the article also spends a good deal of time talking to the men, and getting their perspective:
When Boge first arrived in this area, he was sceptical. Why are these women trying to change the way things have worked here for as long as anyone can remember? What good can come of it? “I went to see the video of the circumcision taking place, and I was shocked. I didn’t know it was so violent, so bloody. That was the first time I began to think,” he says, lighting a cigarette. His wife – who was only 16 when she was seized – began to attend the KMG meetings and talk about the feelings she had long interred.
These are not bad people, these are regular people seized by a bad idea. Like pseudoscience, or religion, or any other number of bad ideas, they can be challenged and people can be convinced to abandon them. Will everyone abandon the bad ideas? Certainly not. But if enough people do, it can affect a sea change that reaches out and affects the entire society. That’s the way we have to do things in any culture I want to be a part of.
Do yourself a favour, read the whole thing.
Aye, it’s a fantastic article. 🙂
I just really have to wonder about sharing a seat at the table of brotherhood (such as the UN) with representatives from Ethiopia, where the practice of raping a woman to then make her your wife is seemingly unpunished by society or the courts.
I share your despair, Brett but I think (or at least I like to) that people are, at their core, fundamentally good. I think people want to do what’s best, but unwilling to challenge and redefine what their definition of ‘best’ is. I don’t know how anyone could do that to another human being, but I don’t live in a society where that’s what you do to human beings.
None of this is to excuse the evil, but it means that we can, and we should, and we must do something to change those societal norms, and not write them off as the actions of evil people – merely normal people in an evil system.
I think you are absolutely right when you say that these are not evil people, but instead this kind of rape is the act of normal people in an evil system (though I’d say it would be more accurate to say that is was an excessively selfish society.)
The key words in what you say above are that you “like to” think that people are, at their core fundamentally good. I love to see truth, even when I don’t “like” it and the reality is that ordinary people from any system or society (including ours) can and will do evil things when given the power to and the knowledge that they will escape responsibility for their acts. 20th century history alone is so full of examples that I don’t even need to give instances of this.
I also agree with you that generally speaking “people want to do what’s best” but the problem is that too often they/we do what’s best for ourself and fuck everyone else, especially in this current era.
But yes, let’s all try and change societal norms.
Oh absolutely, and when I say that “I like to see…”, what I mean is that, whenever possible, that’s the default position from which I operate. I try to see the situational influences before I start attributing traits to individual people. I have no problem calling it like I see it, but so often we put the blame on the person rather than the situation. Some people, we have seen, are simply evil people who refuse to be self-critical and operate as though they are infallible. We should combat that at every turn.
I immediately resist characterizing “this era” as being worse than others. I think for every example of an evil thing, I can provide a counter-example of when people came together and made positive change. I don’t see the world being a worse place, on the whole, than it has been in the past. In fact, there are a lot of things that are a damn sight better than they’ve ever been in places all over the world.