Sunday, November 1, 2009

Violence Against Women and Failure of Intersubjectivity

To recognize (ala Benjamin, 1988: affirm, validate, empathize, know, identify with, ) an Other and see an Other as her/his own center of subjectivity and as a separate agent with her/his own desires, denotes a capacity for intersubjectivity. When intersubjectivity breaks down, complementarity more easily ensues. Without recognition and reciprocity, one more easily falls into polarities and into the complementarity of ‘doer-done to.’

It was with horror that I listened on Friday (October 30, 2009) to National Public Radio’s story on the brutal gang rape of a fifteen year-old girl after a homecoming dance in Richmond, CA. Also horrific was the report that as many as two dozen students watched, photographed with cell phones, and even invited friends down to see the assault that lasted more than two hours.

Only ten days earlier (October 20, and 21, 2009) NPR had aired another horrific story: On September 28, 2009, at a pro-democracy rally in the west African capital of Conakry, held to speak out against Guinea’s military leader Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, “rogue” soldiers perpetrated human rights violations, killing, by some estimates, more than a hundred demonstrators. In broad daylight the soldiers committed sexual violence against women. In a predominantly Muslim society like Guinea’s, fathers, husbands, and families may reject a woman who has been raped, making rape all the more effective as a tool of political repression. Some of the women were dragged away and held captive for days, raped repeatedly, and reportedly taunted with ‘a woman’s place is in the home, not at a political rally.’

And it was not so long ago that the decades-old crime of Roman Polanski's rape of a teen girl again occupied the media.

There may be lots of theories about why men perpetrate violence against women. In Richmond, CA a classmate of the 15 year-old victim said of the perpetrators, "They weren't raised to respect girls." One of the few universals in human experience is that we were all once helpless and dependent; the non-egalitarian distribution of childcare responsibilities makes women a likely target for the resentment of children who grew up uncomfortably dependent on, and under the thumb of, the powerful maternal figure. Children who were without the opportunity for agentic mastery as compensation for preceding helplessness, who grew up without the recognition of their own subjectivity, who did not witness the subjectivity of their mothers, are handicapped in their capacity to develop intersubjectivity.

These young men, soldiers, pedophile insist on the privilege of their own subjectivity over that of the Other. Without the capacity for intersubjectivity and to see an Other as part of the plurality of the human race, one can deny the need, or justify no need, for obligation to behave justly and ethically toward others. No where do we have a more acute failure of recognition than when the violence of rapists obliterates the humanity of women. Complicit on-lookers further aggravate and humiliate by their seemingly publically sanctioned violence against women, the unrecognized sex.

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