Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Some links (and scattered thoughts on the darker side of sexuality)

In light of the Delhi gang-rape and its aftermath, here’s a round-up of some of the more interesting pieces I’ve been reading. But first, anyone who hasn’t yet watched this video of a superb, rousing talk by Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, please do (English translation here).

- Peter Griffin’s “The Problem is Us”. An excellent but far from comforting post, a reminder that some attitudes are so deeply embedded in the social fabric that significant change can happen – if it does – only at a painfully slow rate.

- Amulya Gopalakrishnan makes a similar point: “We can try to change the assumptions of a rape culture, by making sure girls and boys grow up with healthier gender roles, by making sexuality less repressed and dark than it is. These are all long-haul projects, the patient task of families and schools, and less emotionally satisfying than attacking Manmohan Singh.”

Prayaag Akbar’s “Why you shouldn’t call Delhi our rape capital” – a reminder of the dangers of journalistic shorthand, and how it can constrict our understanding of important issues.

Deepanjana Pal’s “The Great Young Hopeless”, about the nature and implications of the rage being expressed. (“Gathering in a public place, shouting slogans, feeling that sense of fraternity and shared passion–it feels so much better than sitting at home as though trussed by invisible ropes.”)

Shuddhabrata Sengupta’s “To the young women and men of Delhi”, an impassioned call to action for the country’s youth, with a reminder of some of the cultural contexts surrounding rape in our society.

Nilanjana S Roy’s reporting of – and thoughts on – the protests at Raisina Hill: notes from day 1; photos from day 2; at the heart of Delhi, no space for you.


And a personal note about something that might not seem too central to the larger issues being currently discussed. One thing that has puzzled me about many of the columns/online discussions I have read recently is the perfunctory repetition of the idea that rape only has to do with power or control; that it has nothing to do with sex. Now of course, there’s no denying that power/control/subjugation are key factors, especially in a feudal society deeply divided across caste and class lines, where rape is often used as “punishment” or to put someone “in their right place”. And there is no question that for the victim, rape is emphatically not a sexual act or anything close to it. (It’s a pity this even has to be said, but it does. Just read a few randomly picked lines from Tehelka’s exposé of police attitudes, in which cops confidently state that the woman was a willing participant in many case of sexual harassment.) But why this need to convince ourselves that this is also, always, the case for the rapist?

For example, the Sengupta piece I linked to above summarily states that “the rapist’s intention is not sexual pleasure”, and then goes on to frame “sexual pleasure” in the warmest, most idealistic terms (“the ONLY way in which pleasure can be had is through the reciprocity of desire, through love, through erotic engagement, not through taking away someone’s agency by force and without consent”). One understands his imperative: to define sex only in terms of consensual sex that brings happiness to both (or however many) participants – as something beautiful and life-affirming. But might this be a little misleading, and not fully cognisant of the different ways in which men (or some men) and women might experience sex? Personally I think this particular aspect of the issue is more pragmatically expressed by Samrat in his piece “The Urge to Rape”:

The male sexual urge does seem to operate in a different way than the female [...] The rapes are not necessarily done to demonstrate power [...] They are probably done because, take away the restraining hands of law, faith and social decorum, and the beasts that reside deep in men assert themselves in those whose internal checks are flawed. Such men then do what they feel the urge to do. It is a physical and psychological thing. And this is not to say “men will be men”, but to say “men can be animals”.
That last sentence is a very important one. Perhaps a good reason why so many well-meaning people over-stress the rape-is-not-about-sex theory is to avoid worsening a situation where blame is so often placed on women for dressing provocatively. (In India, this attitude is widespread among even educated, apparently cosmopolitan people.) Or to avoid implying that the “uncontrollable urges” of men make rape inevitable. But I don’t see why such conclusions have to follow from an upfront, unblinking look at the complexities and variances in human nature.

In this context, an excerpt from the “Gender” chapter of a favourite book, Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate:

I believe that the rape-is-not-about-sex doctrine [...] is preposterous on the face of it, does not deserve its sanctity, is contradicted by a mass of evidence, and is getting in the way of the only morally relevant goal surrounding rape, the effort to stamp it out.
Think about it. First obvious fact: Men often want to have sex with women who don’t want to have sex with them. They use every tactic that one human being uses to affect the behaviour of another: wooing, seducing, flattering, deceiving, sulking, and paying. Second obvious fact: Some men use violence to get what they want, indifferent to the suffering they cause [...] It would be an extraordinary fact, contradicting everything else we know about people, if some men didn’t use violence to get sex.
Pinker touches on Susan Brownmiller’s vital 1975 book Against our Will, which helped change (mostly for the better) many attitudes towards rape, but which also spread the idea that rape is “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear”. Essentially, Brownmiller said that patriarchial structures and the resultant social conditioning were the cause of rape – that it had nothing to do with anything inherent in human nature. It is this notion that Pinker sets out to question, while also stressing that this does not in any way mean giving a criminal a green chit:
As for the morality of believing the not-sex theory, there is none. If we have to acknowledge that sexuality can be a source of conflict and not just wholesome mutual pleasure, we will have rediscovered a truth that observers of the human condition have noted throughout history. And if a man rapes for sex, that does not mean that he “just can’t help it” or that we have to excuse him, any more than we have to excuse the man who shoots the owner of a liquor store to raid the cash register...
For a much fuller understanding of Pinker's position and the positions he is arguing against, do read the whole chapter – and the book, if you can. (Note: there is also a Camille Paglia quote in there, which might raise the hackles of many people debating the issues around sexual violence. Paglia does stir pots quite vigorously, and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by her without feeling a tinge of discomfort, even when I’ve agreed with her basic thesis. Some of her not-always-politically-correct views on rape are similarly discomforting.)

[Also see: this post by “a retired call girl” who, I imagine, knows a thing or three about the darker manifestations of sexuality]

Update: two more links that may be relevant: Rapists Explain Themselves and Live Through This.


P.S. This is of course a very complex subject and I’m not trying to disentangle the issue of power/control from the issue of sexual gratification – just to suggest that the two things usually operate together, with one or the other being more dominant depending on the context. For instance, soldiers clinically using mass-rape as a “weapon” in wartime is a very different situation from a horny boy date-raping a girl after a certain amount of heavy-petting; but I'm inclined to think that the male sexual urge (however warped it might be, and however much it discomfits us to think of it as sexual) does play a – proportionally very small – part in the former case too.

Anyway, I'll be patronisingly chauvinistic now and give a woman the last word. After writing this post, I had an email exchange with Nilanjana about the subject, and here is some of what she said:
You only need to talk to rapists to recognise that both parts of the act of rape--the domination, and the sexual act itself--bring them great satisfaction. Bluntly, in that brutal gangrape, only the woman was raped. Her friend was beaten up, and under different circumstances, men have also raped men to assert their dominance--prison, police stations and war zones are often theatres for male rape--but that didn't happen here. Their focus in terms of sexual assault was the woman; their focus in terms of violent, non-sexual assault is the man. Brownmiller wrote her book in the late 1970s, after Serbia and Bosnia, and she had a key moment of recognition: rape was not an individual act, but far more often a collective assertion of power by groups of men. At that time, it was particularly important to recognise that women raped in war, for instance, were not being raped out of lust: they were being raped as an act of extreme violence, in line with other acts of violence.


Perhaps you have to contend with the idea that there are two kinds of what we call "rape". One, which Brownmiller and more recently Hudson and Den Boer speaks about, is rape used as a tool of power, as a way to assert caste, community, tribe or clan dominance. It is, in that sense, impersonal: any Dalit woman will do, any woman who steps out of line and "dishonours" the family can be used, any woman who is seen as property to be annexed will do as the object of rape. Often, in these cases, the rapists also have the tacit or open approval of the community, and will face no social censure or punitive action at all. Any lust the men feel is incidental to their role in these assaults, which is the role of the punisher, his authority sanctioned by the clan.

The other, and this has to be acknowledged, is an act of extreme sexual violence. It may have domination at its roots, but it also has pleasure, however ugly, as its goal.


Another thought: don't underestimate the rage and the deep anger that accompanies rape, often as powerful and as important as sexual pleasure. In many cases of "close friends and family" rape, the act is intended as a punishment in exactly the same way as it is in caste rapes and some war rapes. The punishment is meted out to the woman who's out of line, or who has strayed away from her (male) protector. I think we do talk far too much about sexual urges, and not enough about how a sense of righteous anger--or sometimes absolute open rage, how dare this woman be free?--is the driver. 


  1. I have been thinking on similar lines. That it's not just about power and punishment, though those might be the more predominant reasons. The men who try to molest and assault women in buses, those who try to slyly invade women's private space, I think, thy are operating out of a frustrated sexual urge.

    And in the horrific event in Delhi too, the paramedic student and her friend were invited into the bus almost as part of a premeditated ruse.

  2. Will try to read the links again- but just thinking aloud- Is it even possible to decouple power and sex, at least in an Indian context? Sex is the most basic manifestation of the relationship between man and woman and that relationship is fraught with power issues. For example,ever since the tribal days when racial purity was so important, there has been more emphasis on monogamy of women than of men. So having sex was something like an act of taking ownership (by the man of the woman).Looking at it from another angle, power plays an important role in sexual subcultures like BDSM etc.
    I would think that even sex is not just about sex. Even if a girl is willing, the Indian male will probably feel uncomfortable if the girl initiates and takes an aggressive role.
    I think I would restate rape-is-not-about-sex as rape-is-about-power.

  3. I'd like to believe most such incidents are a result of cultural maladjustments more than anything else.

    And cultural maladjustments galore in an urbanizing heterogenous society like ours.

    The India of our generation is witnessing something unprecedented in human history. Over the next 50-70 years, India will transform itself from a predominantly rural society to a predominantly urban society.

    This means migration of millions of people across the country from the rural hinterland to cosmopolitan cities like Gurgaon and Noida. When that happens, sparks will fly! Because these migrants are confronted with an alien "Western" civilization which they simply don't understand.

    Most "urbanizing" societies in history have witnessed similar violence. Even Victorian London was not a very peaceful place, as evidenced by the "Jack the Ripper" legends.

    Clashes of civilizations are never peaceful, though these clashes are beneficial in the long run. Even the 1857 Mutiny which we fondly remember in our textbooks was not based on high ideals but a distrust of the "other" and cultural insecurity. The "War of Independence" also witnessed brown sepoys raping white memsaabs :)

    All this has happened before. And will continue to happen for another 100 years. A society like ours cannot transform itself into Scandinavia in a matter of 1-2 decades.

  4. http://daddysan.wordpress.com/2012/12/24/the-subjugation-capital/

    also see comments - only women can be the solution...never take shit...retaliate...probably should start a slapping movement across india

  5. Samrat has obviously never heard of intersectionality (also, strange that he thinks that right wingers are "statists". maybe during the pre-neoliberal cold war era?).

    I'm disappointed in the direction your article went in.

    Since there is no platonic Truth, I will submit humbly that I believe gender is largely performative (cf. Judith Butler).

    Being a man, I obviously have a vested interest in believing that men do not have a greater propensity than women towards satisfying their animal urges, but here's also why:

    1. it rationalizes the idea that women are somehow less animal (less corporeal?) than men and ergo drive the narrative which dehumanizes them by putting them on the goddess pedestal pedestal (which you so eloquently rail against so frequently).

    2. the biological urge which you perhaps believe is instrumental for perpetrators of rape, I would argue is learned behavior and is far from inherent male tendency. Despite your caveats to the contrary, I have a hard time believing that this line of thought does not circumscribe "the boys will be boys" credo.

    Do I lean more towards nurture than nature? Perhaps. And this is why disclosing subjectivities are important. Something Samrat did not have to invoke Anais Nin for.

    Also, Steven Pinker is extremely suspect as a scholar. Here is why:

    He is an evolutionary biologist who has a vested interest in believing that we do what we do because BIOLOGY!

    Classic positivist dickbag, in other words who cherry picks evidence to prove that innate gendered behavior is an incontrovertible FACTUAL thing.

    The world (science historians, journalists, academia at large)is institutionally racist, patriarchal and valorizes scientism.

    Ergo, Pinker has more currency than Butler because he is a straight white male scientist instead of some hippie dippie pot smoking floozy queer sociologist from Berkley (i.e. Judith Butler).

  6. Sapera: very quickly, this wasn't an "article" (as should be obvious) but a scattered and tentative collection of thoughts on a complex subject. That said, of course you're entitled to disagree with anything here.

  7. it rationalizes the idea that women are somehow less animal (less corporeal?) than men and ergo drive the narrative which dehumanizes them by putting them on the goddess pedestal pedestal

    Well, the realities of this world may not please the highly idealized liberal impulses we may have. But it's futile to deny nature.

    Men have always been more violent, aggressive and susceptible to a wider range of emotional behavior than women, throughout human history in all cultures. There are biological reasons for this (higher testosterone levels for instance)

    Traditionally civilizations the world over have attempted to rein in the libidinous inherently uncivilized male by burdening him with responsibilities and associating a social stigma with male idleness.

    Modern societies rein in the male in other subtle ways too. Organized sport is one way. To my mind Organized spectator sport is Great Britain's single greatest contribution to civilization and it has definitely contributed to world peace.

    The Internet is another outlet for the harmless dissipation of male aggression. Eg - internet chat rooms, rediff comments page, pornography etc.

  8. I think we do talk far too much about sexual urges, and not enough about how a sense of righteous anger--or sometimes absolute open rage, how dare this woman be free?--is the driver

    That is absolutely spot on.
    And this rage is a result of the cultural maladjustment I talked about. You have this UP upper-caste kid who has grown up all his life in a village bossing over his mom and sisters. He lands in Gurgaon and takes up some petty job. Here he sees mini-skirt sporting ladies bossing him, giving him orders. This is something he cannot digest.

    There is no easy solution to this problem. It takes several generations for men in hitherto rural societies to reconcile to a more feminized role for their gender. Even if they do reconcile to it eventually (as in Scandinavia for instance) that is not an utopia either. Feminization of men can also imply less risk-taking, less entrepreneurship, lower pain thresholds, lower birth rates and an enlarged welfare state. That's precisely what you see in Europe today.

  9. Also, Steven Pinker is extremely suspect as a scholar. Here is why

    Sapera: I have no problem with reading any cogent, well-expressed argument against Pinker. A basic Google search shows that there are many such - there must be plenty of intelligent people out there who strongly disagree with him (just as there are plenty of intelligent people out there who strongly disagree with anyone else). But I don't see how the link you provide indicates that he is "extremely suspect as a scholar". The first thing the blogger says is that he agrees with much of what Pinker says in The Blank Slate. The second thing he says is "The reason he comes across as a dick is because he is one." Not a particularly eloquent or convincing way to begin a takedown, I'd say. And the rest of the (fairly short and sketchy) post is as speculative and as driven by "lack of humility" as anything Pinker might write in his most casual moments.

  10. The Internet is another outlet for the harmless dissipation of male aggression. Eg - internet chat rooms, rediff comments page, pornography etc

    Shrikanth: and now I'm wondering if I should ban you from this comments space for a few days again.

  11. Shrikanth: and now I'm wondering if I should ban you from this comments space for a few days again

    Was I ever banned?
    And are my comments a "dissipation of male aggression" as you hinted?

    Maybe. From my own experience, men do rant more often than women on all kinds of issues.

    But again maybe I am "stereotyping" genders - another male tendency to find patterns and generalize.

  12. You're right. Yours wasn't quite a cohesive article, and I shouldn't regard it as such. However your thought dump, if I may, had a thesis and drew upon a referent, and it stuck in my craw. I am, of course, glad that you proffer space for disagreement.

    Pinker like many in his positivist evolutionary biology cohort (Jared Diamond, Joseph Tainter, et al. ~thinly veiled darwinists) are deemed quite suspect by many theorists and are considered deeply controversial in the humanities.

    Especially critical theorists in the humanities who look at things as social construction mediated by deliberate human intervention by the rich and powerful to reach certain specific ends. Or more broadly, as social relations under late capitalism/neoliberalism or via engagement with libidinal economies.

    All of these things challenge Pinker's rather simplistic positions on the evolution of human behavior.

    I think it's unfortunate you didn't find at least some of the things in the blog post I linked to convincing. If you'd read past the "he's a dick" line there were many things that I think would be worth your time to peruse and pursue further, if you really wish to have a more complete picture of Pinker's standing in the larger academic landscape.

    For example, the author of the blog post fairly convincingly argues about how Pinker uses the word "innate" rather problematically:

    [Overall, I would have to say that the thing that bothered me the most was his use of the word "innate." He uses this word constantly to describe genes that affect (again, not necessarily determine) our actions. But to me innate, in the sense that he is talking about should apply to all of humanity, not to us presently or as individuals. Sure, to us as individuals presently living, tendencies toward pattern recognition or overprotection toward our children, or any other characteristic could be innate, presently and personally. But to the species as a whole, its entire history and evolutional development, the word innate is troublesome.]

    This point has been argued by many who challenge evopsych/evobio/neurobiology's positivist streak. Simply put, this notion about inherent tendency is HUGELY problematic, primarily because subjective biases are so built into it (and so often leads to racist/sexist conclusions).

    And this notion is problematic because of its conservative tendency to defend the status quo as the blog post points out.

    Just to put a fine point on how it isn't merely a body of bloggy opinionated work that exists on the internetz which is opposed to Pinker, there is a huge amount of legit peer reviewed scholarship (mostly in the humanities, alas) which critiques Pinker's position.

    (cf. John Dupré - http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/bookshelf.aspx?name=making-hay-with-straw-men&page=1&y=2003&no=1)

    And sure, there's academic opposition to a lot of different things, but the implications of Pinker's scholarship are so likely to saturate our pop culture with bigoted takeaways about the human condition, that it's critical to engage with the opposition.

    In another era of early 20th century racist anthropology, someone like Pinker would have been using "science" to demonstrate why blacks are prone to stupidity and violence or poor people are prone to stealing.

    Pinker and other evolutionary biologists of his ilk are vestiges of anthropologists who would make racist and sexist generalizations based on filling up skulls methodically and systematically (SCIENCE!) with grains of rice and positing extrapolations based on skull sizes.

    The normalization of this approach via the currency off the scientific method is super ubiquitous in pop culture. SFF, for example is saturated with this kind of problematic so-called science to propound some really awful retrograde bigotry.

  13. Forums of a critical bent lampoon these things as "biotruths" quite regularly - http://requireshate.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/alpha-males-paranormal-biotruths-and-rape-culture/

    And most people are receptive towards conservative arguments because it doesn't challenge them at all and they are already full of biases anyway. Even in this comment section, it's amazing how people rattle off, what are at best nuggets of received wisdom as FACT, about how "boys are like this and girls are like that" or essentialize the nature of gendered power across geographic and cultural contexts as whatever their opinions on the subject might lead them to believe.

    Distortionist received wisdom or phenomenological truth (it's this in MY experience, how could it possibly be anything else?!) aside, if you do choose to write this piece up more formally and explicitly, specifically about the manifestation of rape as a darker side of sexuality (which is extremely interesting and merits extensive discussion to be sure), it would be nice if you made reference to how "dark" itself is a social construction.

    Or engage with Nilanjana's email more directly. It really seems like you're speaking past each other right now.

  14. Sapera: thanks for the further thoughts, but I'm not going to prolong this conversation in this space: given that you've used a phrase like "thought dump" to describe my post, and given your overall tone, I feel like your stance is more hard-edged than just "disclosing subjectivities". Which is okay, but the discussion is likely to get pointless after a while.

    Btw, I did read that blog post fully, and said what I had to say after reading it.

    Also, I respect Nilanajana a lot, but that doesn't make it a given that I would agree with everything she says on this subject. Or that there hasn't been engagement with each other's thoughts outside of this particular post.

  15. And Sapera, just one final point (since I realise my comment seems like I'm not addressing your actual arguments): in my view, based on a reading of exactly two Pinker books, his assessment of this and related subjects is more open-ended and probing than you seem to think it is. Certainly more open-ended than is suggested by the critique ...believing that we do what we do because BIOLOGY! Classic positivist dickbag, in other words who cherry picks evidence to prove that innate gendered behavior is an incontrovertible FACTUAL thing. And if we disagree in our interpretations of his tone/intentions in the first place, then any conversation is likely to become pointless very fast.

  16. Jared Diamond, Joseph Tainter, et al. ~thinly veiled darwinists

    Jared Diamond a thinly veiled Darwinist...

    You make "Darwinism" sound like a radical sect intellectuals should shirk from! While in reality, it is a widely accepted theory.

    I've read a fair bit of Diamond. He may be a Darwinist, but definitely not a conservative ideologue.

    He is a serious intellectual who has greatly improved our understanding of hunter-gatherer societies and explained with great empathy why Eurasian cultures forged ahead of African/American cultures.

    Btw, why this vilification of "conservative" arguments. No conservative here is trying to rationalize rape, which is a despicable and unpardonable crime.

    In fact one of the basic conservative arguments is - Stop empathising with the criminal. Dispense justice. Stop blaming "society" for all ills

  17. I probably should have not used "brain dump" and I apologize. It was honestly not meant pejoratively. It was merely colloquial usage and I was too lazy to think of a substitute. Sorry if you took it any other way, Jai. It wasn't meant as a put down.

    But I do think all those things about Pinker, more's the pity. Science v. Humanities makes me froth at the mouth. Especially when I see people using their science capital (hey! just coined that, TM that shit, word to Bordieu) to legitimate class bias, misogyny and racism.

    I wish you and I could engage more on the subject, should you choose to look past my ranty position on Pinker. You should read the American Scientist review though. He might leave things open ended but a wise, compassionate, open minded scientist a la Stephen Jay Gould he is not, IMO.

    Re Nilanjana, I'm sure you do. I wasn't sure what her email extract was supposed to do in your piece because it was just tacked on at the end, and it was confusing why you didn't engage with it. I wasn't sure what your thoughts are on the things she said. But then I suppose, that wasn't what her extract or your piece was supposed to do anyway, i.e. tie up loose ends.

  18. He might leave things open ended but a wise, compassionate, open minded scientist a la Stephen Jay Gould he is not, IMO

    Scientists don't need to be compassionate. Their concern must lie with the dispassionate drawing of inferences from testable hypotheses.

    Scientists don't need to be "open-minded" either. They should go wherever their work leads them without bothering if their inferences "hurt" anybody's sensibilities (be it conservative or liberal sensibilities).

    Am sure you agree with this.

  19. Agree with this - Scientists don't need to be compassionate, but disagree with this - Scientists don't need to be "open-minded". (Good science is all about being open-minded to the idea that all the assumptions you have worked with your entire career might be overturned by new discoveries.) But it depends on how exactly you're defining those two words. (While "compassion" shouldn't direct a scientist's working methods, I would be just as wary of a scientist whose worldview was inherently nihilistic or cynical to the extent that it affected his interpretations/analyses.)

    And now I've taken to commenting on individual sentences. Taking a break from this thread for a bit.

  20. Good science is all about being open-minded to the idea that all the assumptions you have worked with your entire career might be overturned by new discoveries

    I was defining "open-minded" differently.

    One mustn't be "open-minded" to the extent that your brains fall out in the process!!

    At the end of the day, science is also a religion in the sense that its practitioners should have a strong belief in the "Scientific method" and "First principles".

    Once you lose that belief and start listening to every fad that goes around (most of which are politically motivated), you cease to be a scientist.

  21. One final clarification on sapera's point :

    .believing that we do what we do because BIOLOGY! Classic positivist dickbag, in other words who cherry picks evidence to prove that innate gendered behavior is an incontrovertible FACTUAL thing

    Firstly not even the most conservative of intellectuals believe that gender differences and gender roles are purely driven by biology!

    Biology plays a small role, but so does history! 10,000 years of human civilization to be precise.
    So much historical baggage cannot simply be wished away or dismissed just like that, purely because the late 20th/early 21st century mind has some issues with the way that history has panned out.

    So when we comment on the behavior of men and women, you cannot simply rely on what science says.

    Science has nothing to say when it comes to comparing the behavior of Indian men and Norwegian men. But simple observation would tell you they do behave differently!

    Ofcourse there is no attempt here to rationalize or even empathise with criminal behavior! All I'm saying is that "All men are NOT created equal". When you are born you inherit the history of the culture into which you're born. And this baggage makes a huge difference to the way you behave.

    Things will change but it will take several centuries. And even that much desired "change" may be for better or worse.

  22. Sapera: not sure if you're still reading this, but just thought I'd share these two links: Rapists Explain Themselves and Live Through This - the latter mentions some of Wendy McElroy's and Paglia's thoughts too.

  23. As an aside, here's a chilling link -


    90,000 reported rapes per year in United States. Arrest rate of around 25%!

    sapera : Needless to say 99% of these rapes involve male offenders.

    Just goes to show this malaise is a universal phenomenon. I was under the mistaken impression that rape rates would be very low in Scandinavia. But I just discovered that rape rates in Sweden are 30 times higher than the rates in India (ofcourse this may be exaggerated because a lot of rapes don't get reported in India, but still)

    I am not sure if these numbers (per-capita) have worsened or improved over the past 60-70 years. Wouldn't be surprised at all if they've worsened.

    Key lessons for me

    - The Human condition is fundamentally tragic and deeply flawed.

    - There doesn't seem to be much of a correlation between the wealth of a given society and its levels of sex crime.

    - The Sexual Revolution of the 60s/70s in Europe/US does not appear to have reduced the levels of crimes against women too significantly. Though I need more historical data to comment on whether it had any impact at all in either direction.

  24. I had been having the same discomfort with all intelligentsia branding Rape as problem rooted in patriarchy. Although there is no denying that patriarchy seeks to control and dominate its women in various ways including rape, the issue of sexual repression seemed to have been brushed aside. It led me to write something http://www.thecasualchronicle.com/2012/12/rape-and-sexual-repression-in-india.html

    Thanks again for all the links, I loved the post by Maggie mcneil. Although I do see where Nilanjana and Sapera are coming from.

  25. Hi,

    This is a very interesting post. I wondered why is it that suppressed sexual urge is not considered as a good enough reason for rape in general discussions. I have studied in a stereotypical good engineering college which had 90% males and 10% females. Most guys were sexually frustrated since most were virgins and porn was a very common pastime. It kind of released the sexual energies. These were some of the best intellectual brains and had good education. However, The sexual repression never manifested into rape - Maybe because the same folks were tuned to behave legally and in a way society looks favorably at them. I just wonder how the same guys would have behaved if they did not have the pressure of 'conforming to societal pressures'. Or how would folks who did not have the same 'societal pressure' behave. I hence totally do not agree to the 'power or domination of men' being 100% of the reason why rapes occur. I would be curious to know the extent to which is rape is committed by those who have access to easy pornography vs. those who don't (like probably the bus drivers). This led me to a line of thinking that having prostitution legalized in India would reduce rapes since there would be a way of releasing the pent up sexual energy legally. Maybe the thoughts I have expressed have no place in a decent society, but hey, our society is not decent anyway. It is better to find the real reasons rather than speculating on imaginary ones.

  26. Anon: nothing wrong at all with speculating on motives - however discomfiting it might be - if it's done intelligently and in good faith. Do see the link I provided in my previous comment - the "Rapists Explain Themselves" one. Much of it makes immediate nonsense of the idea that "rape is never about sex".

  27. I wondered why is it that suppressed sexual urge is not considered as a good enough reason for rape in general discussions

    I am not sure if there are studies out there that support the idea that the more liberal a society's attitudes towards sex, the more responsible the behavior of its youngsters.

    The US for instance has much higher rates of unmarried teenage pregnancies than a lot of supposedly hidebound and conservative Asian countries. A lot of these teenagers end up on welfare - not an ideal situation for anybody. So it is fair to infer that most of these pregnancies are unplanned - a result of instinctive, irresponsible behavior.

    Also, the number of cases of gender assaults in US on an annual basis is by no means insignificant.

    So the idea that we have these horrific incidents in India because we as a nation are "repressed" is highly debatable to say the least.

  28. Thanks for the links Jai. I read them pretty carefully, and I do believe the terrain of rape being discussed pertains mostly to the collegiate variety. A middle class, white girl problem as Camille Paglia so memorably put it (she said many, many problematic things but this isn't the time or the place).

    Of course rape isn't monolithic. It seems amazing that it needs pointing out, but I guess it does, eh?

    But for the overwhelmingly non-date rape scenarios, the arguments made in these articles don't really work.

    I've been thinking pretty hard about all this, but the sexual urge argument seems more and more specious.

    For simplicity, I will speak here only about the statistically most dominant occurence of heterosexual rape committed by males.

    For the heterosexual cis-male, like most of humanity, there will always be a sexual urge. There will always be girls for said cis-males to lust after, enough to trigger their "rape impulse" (ugh!), let's say. I guess that can't be stopped. But I suppose a culture of patriarchy coupled with weak administration that makes female bodies available to the nearest pair of grabbing hands can be changed, however slowly. This is clearly an issue of shifting state power in favor of those who have little of it.

    This is why academics/policy makers don't talk about sexual urge as a variable when they talk about rape. Human sexuality, morality, libidinal economies and such that contribute to patriarchy and rape culture (among other political variables more easily quantified) are fundamentally unknowable by their nature.

    Since most people get their information from a lethal combination of hearsay, innuendo and gossip, focusing on sexual urge mostly leads to a public discourse that is inelegant, salacious, bigoted and muddled.

    Case in point is the guy who posted above you saying Indian engineering colleges are filled with sexually deprived men who it is implied will given a chance, rape the nearest available woman. Of all the ways we talk about rape, this is probably the most common in India, where the sexual urge is already regarded as a pathology. Do we really need more of this for young Indian men and women painfully working out their sexualities?

  29. From the same "Engineering college Anon" above
    @Shrikanth: That is very interesting actually. I would be very curious to know case studies of countries/places with very low rape/molestation levels (unfortunately we need to work with what is declared officially - But guess that in developed countries one can reasonably assume that a high ratio of cases would get filed) or countries which were able to bring it down well over a period of time. It would also be amazing to understand how much is sexual repression linked to rape. But separating out that cause would be difficult though. Saudi Arabia might be a good case study had the law enforcement been poor. But they almost kill the rapists that even if they are sexually repressed, they don't think of acting on it.

  30. It would also be amazing to understand how much is sexual repression linked to rape. But separating out that cause would be difficult though.

    My concern is that we invariably overanalyze the causes of deviant sexual behavior.

    No matter how liberal you are as a society, you will always have perverts in profusion, as evidenced by all the cases of sexual violence that come to light even in the most civilized parts of our world (like Northern Europe).

    There can be no civilization without "taboos" of any kind. You may stretch boundaries yes. But the perverts amongst us will always try to go past those boundaries no matter how far you stretch them.

    Ofcourse things are even more complicated in heterogenous societies like India where there are serious cultural conflicts in the cities that aggravate the inherent deviant tendencies in many males.

    Regarding your comment on "repression" in engg colleges :

    Having studied in an engineering college, the so-called "repressed" kids you talk about are generally too shy to even talk to girls. Not even in my wildest dreams can I imagine any of them engaging in violence!

  31. Sapera: points taken, thanks. Though just to clarify again (in case it needs clarifying): nowhere am I saying that the patriarchy isn't a huge factor in all this. And I would hope there can be a middle ground between unnecessarily salacious, inelegant discourse and the delusion that rape has nothing to do with sex. (Can't count how many times I've read this in online discussions - just a few minutes ago, there was this reasonably intelligent person on my FB feed sending a discussion thread awry by proclaiming, in all-caps, "ALL OF YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND THAT RAPE HAS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH LIBIDO.")

  32. A very revealing link

    Rape rates per 100K population :
    US - 27.3
    UK - 28.8
    South Africa - 120.0
    Kenya - 2.1
    India - 1.8
    Aus - 91.9

    There is the issue of undeer-reporting in countries like India. But I don't think the under-reporting can be massive enough to directionally change all these numbers.

    I just don't see any factor that explains rape rates across countries.

    One tentative explanation could be that heterogenous, urban countries have higher rates than countries that are predominantly rural.

  33. I'm not sure how the angle between the sciences and the humanities emerged here, or is even germane to the discussion. I think the argument for 'obtaining sexual gratification through violence' works in general. It is especially pertinent when you consider the fact that a large number of Indian males do not even understand what rape might be, conceptually. ( I'll direct you towards a large number of threads on desi forums, should you feel so inclined ). I do not believe we can give it short shrift in our context. Trying to get our men to understand gender ( power ) dynamics vis-a-vis sexual etiquette, I'd say the latter is more target-able. The idea being that situating this problem as 'either-or' seems like a false dilemma.