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Rape Epidemic in South Africa. Why?

More than one in three South African men admits committing rape, one in seven has joined a gang rape, and more than three quarters admit committing violence against women.

More than half of South African women have experienced violence at the hands of men, and one-quarter will be raped by age sixteen.

Why? Two thirds of rapists felt sexually entitled. Some wanted to punish women who had angered or rejected them. Others wanted to turn lesbians straight. And some were just bored.

These “reasons” may only get at surface issues. What else is going on?

Rachel Jewkes, a lead researcher on the study of violence in South Africa, feels that racism lies behind the abuse.

Rape holds a sexual component, but it is essentially about power. When a large population is oppressed, say through racism – even as manhood is defined as “dominant and powerful” – men may use rape as a weapon to gain a sense of personal empowerment. Rapists are often trying to bridge a gap between their impotent selves and the dominant men they seek to be. Imagine the control they feel when they restrain, take over, and invade another person’s body. Imagine how high and mighty they feel in creating humiliation.

Gay bashing is another weapon whereby some men try to create a sense of male superiority. If women act like men (sexually/stereotypically) how can men keep their sense of dominance? Hence, the need for “corrective rape” in South Africa that seeks to turn lesbians straight.

In one attack Millicent Gaika was beaten and raped for five hours as her assailant screamed, “I know you are a lesbian. You are not a man, you think you are, but I am going to show you, you are a woman. I am going to make you pregnant.” Since the women are often murdered “correction” sounds less likely than gay-bashing as motive.

Others were simply bored. So the eroticized violence of patriarchy comes in handy: Oh, let’s have some fun!

This is helped when women are seen as sex objects, and not people who have their own lives, goals, thoughts and emotions. When women become nothing but objects for sexual pleasure, it’s no wonder that one third of the rapists said they did not feel guilty.

So here we have powerless men beaten down by racism who are trying to feel powerful, who live in a world where violence against women is eroticized, and where women are seen as mere objects. A recipe for epidemic rape.

Originally posted on January 14, 2011 by

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Women, Objects of Desire (Even for Women?)

As women have become increasingly sexually objectified, even straight women were more aroused by a nude woman than by a nude man in one study, when measuring blood flow to the vagina, researchers found.

Is this true? A student of mine wondered. And do the rules of religion collide with sexuality? My student, named Laurelle, garnered a peek at both matters with a simple focus on threesomes.

Laurelle surveyed her friends, family, and coworkers, and had a friend post questions on his forum. Twenty-five women and twenty-five men of varying ages, races, and religious perspectives responded to these questions:

Would you like to do a threesome with two women? With two men? What religion do you belong to? What’s your sexual orientation?

It’s not a scientific study, but I found the results interesting, and with permission I’m sharing her findings.

Eight percent of the men and sixteen percent of the women were bisexual. The rest were straight. No gays or lesbians, which surprised her. (When I survey my students I sometimes receive far more “bi” responses than gay or lesbian, as well. Also surprises me.)

Now, on to the first survey question. Let’s start with men. Not because they are numero uno, but because the women’s answers are perhaps more surprising.

Does belonging to an anti-gay religion make men less inclined toward threesomes? No. While 72% of the men said they’d enjoy a ménage à trois with two women, the number rose to 78% of men belonging to a religion that disapproves of homosexuality. Are they ignoring their religious tenants? Or do they think lesbians don’t count? None of the men – even those who were bi – were interested in sex with two men. Interesting.

Laurelle found it refreshing that twenty eight percent of the guys just wanted one partner. (Better than the 90-plus percent she’d expected would crave threesomes.)

How about women? Those who belonged to an anti-gay religion were less likely than men to want threesomes. But then, women were less likely to want them, overall. Forty percent of the women were interested in trying a threesome involving two women, while only sixteen percent were interested in two men. Yet forty-eight percent of those belonging to a religion that disapproves homosexuality were up for such trysts.

Laurelle’s sample showed a higher interest in threesomes than a survey that I have yet to
post. Her sample comes from family, friends and coworkers, while mine comes from women’s psych and women’s studies students. Maybe she runs with a more experimental crowd.

Still, interesting that these straight women were more interested in sex with two women than two men. And that bi men felt the same way.

The results lend support to the notion that women are seen more sexually than men even among straight women and bi men (at least when they’re in the role of a sex-object casual hookup). Biology? More likely culture.

From the time girls are small they are bombarded with sexualized images of women, but encounter relatively few such images of men. Any wonder, then, that even hetero women can end up seeing women as sexier than men? Some call if female sexual alienation. When we live in a world that is more controlled by men than by women, on some level we all end up seeing the world through male eyes.

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