Tag: rape

Rape-Stoves, Techno-Rationality and Global Humanitarian Policy

Cookstove_1Samer Abdelnour and Akbar Saeed have published a terrific article in International Political Sociology. “Technologizing Humanitarian Space: Darfur Advocacy and the Rape-Stove Panacea” critically traces the emergence of fuel-efficient cook-stoves as a global “solution” to sexual violence in refugee camps.

Here’s the abstract:

We examine how an unassuming domestic technology—the fuel-efficient stove—came to be construed as an effective tool for reducing sexual violence globally. Highlighting the process of problematization, the linking of problems with actionable solutions, we show how US-based humanitarian advocacy organizations drew upon spatial, gender, perpetrator, racial, and interventionist representations to advance the notion that “stoves reduce rape” in Darfur. Though their effectiveness in Darfur remains questionable, efficient stoves were consequently adopted as a universal technical panacea for sexual violence in any conflict or refugee camp context. By examining the emergence and global diffusion of the rape-stove problematization, our study documents an important example of the technologizing of humanitarian space. We postulate fuel-efficient stoves to be a technology of Othering able to simplify, combine, decontextualize, and transform problematizations from their originating contexts elsewhere. When humanitarian advocates construe immensely complex crises as “manageable problems,” the promotion of simple technical panaceas may inadvertently increase the burden of poverty for user-beneficiaries and silence the voices of those they claim to champion and serve.

I remember teaching about the firewood/rape nexus in refugee settings during my days at GSPIA, but I was not aware of how the technology had proliferated since then or of many of the pernicious side effects of this technocratic solution to a multi-dimensional problem (here is an op-ed version by Abdelnour). It was nice to read a detailed critical assessment of such a policy, and to think about how many other globalized practices are doing more harm than good (or maybe some good and some harm) in places where well-meaning agents are struggling to deal with so much nastiness. Fuel-efficient cook-stoves to reduce rape are a band-aid, but so are refugee settings themselves: technocratic efforts to cordon off nastiness from vulnerable populations, and cordon off vulnerable populations from their host societies. The takeaway is that looking below the rug of humanitarian policy leads to some pessimistic conclusions. Continue reading

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Where are the Women? Julian Assange Meets Todd Akin

The left (and even the semi-left) has been legitimately stewed in the past week or so about Todd Akin’s remarks about rape. Akin is apparently under the impression that women can’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” thus simplifying the whole ugly and complicated abortion-as-a-result-of-rape debate. Others have showed what an asshole this guy is – I have no need to repeat that here. What I liked about the responses to the now-hopefully-unelectable Akin was that women and womanhood became front and center. I read narratives about women who had become pregnant from rape, who had babies and who had abortions. It made me think and feel for the people involved, and I saw a lot of solidarity around something that is close to a political consensus in the US: rape is not okay.
Right next to articles about Akin, though, are articles about Julian Assange. Assange is attempting to escape extradition from the UK to Sweden on charges of rape, molestation, and abuse by seeking political asylum in Ecuador (or, currently, the Ecuador embassy in the UK). Where are the women there?

Assange is accused of rape. He is accused of having sex with a woman while she was asleep (which a British politician called “bad sexual etiquette,” not rape, apparently because she had consensual sex with him before she fell asleep. This apparently made his penetrating her without her consent simply ‘rude’ rather than rape). It was also apparently only “really bad manners” if Assange had sex with a woman who consented to having sex with him with a condom, sans condom, not telling her. What’s the difference, after all? Pregnancy, disease ….

But Assange’s cause has become a crusade. Those who would defend Assange claim that Sweden would extradite Assange to the United States, which might him on ‘more serious’ charges like espionage (since rape is not that serious, apparently, especially when it is just ‘rude’). While there is some doubt to that story, even assuming it were true, does that mean it is okay not to explore rape charges?

I have a radical idea for Julian Assange: how about not being ‘rude’ and arousing suspicion of rape? How about, if you decide that you’re going to break a lot of US laws exposing the US government, abstaining from behavior that might leave you wanted for rape in a state allied to the US? How about hurting leftist politics more than you help it because of an egocentric decision that put you at risk when you could have easily avoided the risk?

But more than that – if WikiLeaks is all about showing the invisible – where are the women? Even if we were to assume that their charges are false and a product of US government conspiracy (which seems unlikely to me, given that I hope a machine like the US government could make a better conspiracy), the women (and what might have happened to their bodies) are often invisible in the discussion of Assange, who is characterized as a political prisoner. In a number of accounts, women are getting blamed for Assange being wanted for questioning, and a number of groups of ‘women against rape’ have come out, certain the charges against Assange are false, to identify charges against him as political, and the women who levied the charges as liars.

Not deciding whether Assange ‘did it’ or not – none of us have the evidence to know that – I want to know why we’re so sure (and the women are so vilified) when an impressive, rebellious guy is accused of rape. After all, good leftists would never do that, right? Turns out, I think, wrong – but, either way, the blinders to women (potential) victims of this redefinition of rape seem particularly ironic, especially given the commonalities of ignorance it has with Akin’s recent comments.

(Brief aside/conclusion): I’m about the biggest anti-government leftist there is. I firmly believe that the US should apologize for its imperialism, stop screwing with other people around the world, pay reparations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and actively seek a socialist economy. For me, WikiLeaks is a hard thing. Do I like information-uncovering espionage? Definitely. Its the sort of thing that gets my blood boiling. But leftist anti-government action has never really seemed to be what WikiLeaks is about. In fact, I’ve been following WikiLeaks on twitter since its inception, and the content seems to be more about WikiLeaks generally and Julian Assange specifically than it is about intelligence secrets, government interference, and the sort of stuff WikiLeaks said it was about – information. WikiLeaks has, several times, claimed to be holding its best information in the case of its own demise. REALLY? Because I don’t care whether WikiLeaks exists or not if the politics of it were followed through on – and I would say that even if I were a principal in WikiLeaks. But stardom and self-preservation seem to be more important to WikiLeaks than the politics, and I lose respect. Even were Julian Assange a purely political prisoner, I’ve counted literally thousands of tweets about him and Bradley Manning, and very few if any about the nameless political prisoners held longer and for less reason in Gitmo. REALLY? So if this post came off as a little anti-WikiLeaks, …well, fair enough. Even though I’d think of myself as their most likely audience.

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Legitimate Rape: A Weberian Analysis

On Facebook, someone familiar to readers of this blog wrote: “As readers of Weber know, there are three forms of legitimate rape: forcible, fraternity, and rational-legal.” But enough of that neo-Weberian claptrap. As a good paleo-Weberian knows, the ideal types here remain traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational. And these help us to understand the political backlash over Rep. Aiken’s Aken’s “unfortunate” choice of words.

Aken subscribes to a traditional view of rape. Indeed, his understanding harkens back to late medieval Europe. That’s pretty traditional.

His opponents, on the other hand, adopt legal-rational conceptions of rape. These depend on entirely different warrants, such as consistency, equal application, and other justificatory schema alien to Aken’s wing of the Republican party. Or, as Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association nicely summarized, “What Akin meant by ‘legitimate rape:’ actual forcible rape, not consensual sex that later gets called rape. Come on, people.”

Indeed, since women cannot, for people such as Aken and Fischer, become pregnant from rape, pregnancy provides an excellent basis for distinguishing between traditional rape and faux rape — the latter including mere threats to inflict harm, the exploitation of power differentials, and the droit de segnieur that our great democracy has extended to all men encountering women with short skirts, low-cut tops, or lesbian tendencies.

Ah, traditional justice. So much easier and more accurate than that demanded in legal-rational systems.


Where was I?…. Ah, yes. The problem for Aken is that he failed to translate traditional understandings of legitimate rape into legal-rational ones of the kind demanded by the lamestream media. Many Republicans, however, depend upon making appeals to segments of the electorate whose traditions are more thoroughly laced with legal-rational lifeworlds. They have therefore thrown Aken under the proverbial chariot. But not to worry, for as Weber teaches us a Charismatic figure may create a genuine rupture in existing modes of legitimate rape and build a new order.

And that figure is at hand.

No. Wait. 
Wrong picture.

Sorry. I meant this one:

Credit: TMZ via Salon

I admit none of this was terribly funny. But there’s a serious point here: Weber’s ideal-typical accounts of legitimate domination provide a useful way of parsing contemporary debates in the United States. It isn’t just a matter of content, nor of communities of discourse, but of styles of legitimation.

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Congo Rape Study: Systematic or Simplistic?

I have not yet read the new report on rape in the Congo, but judging from the news coverage of its reported findings, I have three thoughts:

1) I am not as concerned as some critics about the methods used (a population sample of household interviews) or the staggering results: 400,000 women assaulted in a single year. I am concerned about the comparisons to the US (or other countries) since unless the same methods are replicated in the US (or other countries) there is no way to compare rape rates or to accurately call Congo the “rape capital of the world.”

2) Though the emphasis is on the number of rapes committed by soldiers, the report also shows that nearly a quarter of the rapes recorded were perpetrated by the women’s husbands or domestic partners. This is consistent with earlier Oxfam data that demonstrated the majority of rapes in the Congo between 2004 and 2008 were perpetrated by civilians, not soldiers.

3) Since patterns of sexual violence against men in the Congo are better documented than in many other conflicts, it is particularly surprising that this study focuses only on women, and only on women “of reproductive age.” This promotes a troubling stereotype about rape and rape victimization.

Jason Stearns, who has been writing and blogging up a storm about Congo this past week, is the first to point out that the social construction of the rape angle has been as much about selling the Congo story to Western grassroots constituencies as about reporting the conflict accurately.

It’s hard to know from his various op-eds and articles where Stearns actually stands on this. At Foreign Policy, he argues that it was only when John Prendergast‘s Enough Project stopped trying to explain the conflict and started focusing on “rape and conflict minerals” that they were able to get Western publics interested in putting pressure on their elected officials. But at CSM, he points out “Congo is More Than Rape and Minerals” proposes a point by point list of pitfalls journalists should avoid in writing about the Congo, not least is simplistic protrayals of rape:

Some Congolese are unscrupulous and vicious, but they usually have reasons for what they do. If we can understand why officials rape (and it’s not always just as a “weapon of war”) and why they steal money (it’s not just because they are greedy) we might get a bit better at calibrating solutions. Of course, it’s much harder to interview a rapist or a gun-runner than their victims. But don’t just shock us; make us understand. Otherwise we only have ourselves to blame when we react to a rape epidemic by just building hospitals and not trying to get at the root causes.

So it sounds like the most important report on rape in the Congo is one that hasn’t been written yet: in which perpetrators themselves are systematically interviewed. Actually, political scientists have already blazed a trail here: in this study, authors Maria Erikkson Baaz and Maria Stern find among other things that Congolese soldiers see ethical distinctions between different types of rapes.

That kind of insight might not be so useful for advocacy purposes in the West, but it might help aid workers, peace-keepers and protection specialists in the Congo in their prevention efforts – at least vis a vis military perpetrators. (As Laura Seay details, advocacy attention to a problem doesn’t by itself ensure the policy outcome you want – for that, you need to understand the situational context.)

But ultimately Stearns would like to see a wider repertoire of stories about the Congo in the Western press

Who are the Chinese companies working in the Congo and what have their experiences been? Did you know that Congo was one of the first countries to experiment with mobile cash-transfers to pay for demobilized soldiers? Have you checked out the famous artist studios in Kinshasa of Cheri Samba or Roger Botembe? The country’s tax revenues have doubled over the past several years – how does that square with its corrupt reputation? What are Dan Gertler’s financial relations with the Israeli right-wing? The Kivus apparently produce 40 percent of the world supply of quinine – might be a story there.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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Reading Andrea Dworkin to Write Feminist IR?


“I wasn’t raped until I was almost ten which is pretty good it seems when I ask around because many have been touched but are afraid to say …. I couldn’t tell how many hands he had and people from earth only had two … You get asked if anything happened and you say well yes he put his hand here and he rubbed me …and he scared me …you say the almost-ten-year-old version of f*ck you something happened alright the f*ck he put his hands in my legs and rubbed me all over …and they say, just so long as nothing happened” (Andrea Dworkin, Mercy, p.11)

My first feminist mentors were in the legal profession, particularly Catherine MacKinnon, and my first exposures to feminisms were in debate rounds and law schools rather than political science or International Relations departments. My first feminist books were (therefore?) Andrea Dworkin, before Ann Tickner or Spike Peterson or Jindy Pettman. Perhaps that’s why I return to Andrea’s work whenever I start writing a major project, despite the fact that it does not translate to and often is not directly cited in my work.

But I think there also might be more to it.

While I remain, always, committed to feminist politics and combatting the other oppressions that gendered lenses help me to see, there’s a rawness, a plainness, a terror in Andrea’s work that’s not in mine explicitly, but which is a lot of why I am committed to feminism and feminist politics.

I am a feminist because I will never be free when rape culture exists. I don’t even know what free means, or if I will ever be free, but I know I will never be free if rape culture exists. I do not know what it would look like or how it might be achieved. Still, I want to inspire thinking about it through my work, and use my work to agitate for the cause.

I also think, though, that (my exposure to) political science and International Relations does not have the radicalism of words, feelings, or ideas to express that visceral need as well as work in women’s studies, particularly Andrea’s, does. I don’t think that’s trivial, in fact, I think it says something about the narrowness and (sterile) gendered nature of the discourses in political science and IR. I think the importance of recognizing that is why I frequently return to Andrea’s work as fuel for mine.

Catherine MacKinnon once said that Andrea’s work about gender shows that it is impossible to conceptualize gender by just thinking about different things the same way, instead, that Andrea shows it is necessary to think differently. Five years after Andrea died, that still resonates to me. As do some of her words … “the blood of women is implicit; make it explicit,” “it is widely understood, among the raped, who do not exist, except in my mind, because they are not proven do exist, and it is not proven to happen …”

You might see those words and ask, sure, there’s feminism, but what does that have to do with feminist IR? But Andrea’s work helps me think about that stuff as well. For example, it won’t make the book, explicitly, but Andrea’s thinking about flags (from a martial arts training session) is a crucial part of feminist “outside-the-box” thinking about nationalism, symbolism, gender, and honor:

“I never thought I would bow down in front of any f*cking flag, but I do, in perfect silence and symmetry insofar as my awkward self can manage it; my mind’s like a muscle that pulls every time; I feel it jerk and I feel the dislocation and pain and I keep moving, until I am on my knees in front of the f*cking thing. Its interesting to think of the difference between a flag and a dick, because this is not a new position; with a dick how you get there doesn’t count whereas in the dojo all that matters is the elegance, the grace, the movement the strength of the muscles that carry you down; an act of reverence will eventually, says Sensei, teach you self-respect, which isn’t the issue with the dick, as I remember” (Mercy, p.308)

I’ll ultimately write something, not this, about gender symbolism, nation, nationalism, and women’s subjugation. But this, and the other work from the countless books, articles, and excerpts Andrea Dworkin wrote, will always be a crucial part of my thinking about gender and gender subordination, and a part of my thinking for which IR does not have a language, a place, or a home.

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