Silence is the enemy of suffering. So, too, are ignorance, arrogance, and alienation. Each breeds an ugly facet of entitlement and casual atrocity in which horrors become normalized and accepted. An environment in which those in power abuse those weaker than them with absolute impunity and clear consciences. This is unacceptable and perverted.
I learned of Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times on the extant suffering of women and girls in Liberia through Dr. Isis and Sheril Kirshenbaums' "Silence is the Enemy" initiative. I read the article with bile rising in the back of my throat and a cold rage coiling. Cohesive words fail me. This is so sick, so utterly disgusting and depraved that I lack the frame to coherently express my outrage. Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to just Liberia. Rape continues to be used as a weapon of terror in Sudan and Congo as well. For wider context, here is Eve Ensler explaining the link between rape in Congo and our consumption in the West:
(hat tip to Joel Johnson at Boing Boing Gadgets)
Mr. Kristof, Dr. Isis, and others have suggested that the best way to end this ongoing humanitarian atrocity is to enforce the rule of law. As I see it, this will not be enough. Rape and sexual assault have become so deeply embedded in the male psyche of Liberia that many men apparently think nothing of abusing young girls, stripping them of the joy of childhood and cruelly robbing them of self-determination and sexual autonomy. A few rapists going to jail for their crimes will not dissuade the others entirely. It should still be pursued, but the more powerful weapon in this fight against rape is shame.
Shame trumps the law, every time.
There are milder echoes of this patriarchal entitlement here in the West. My cohort celebrates the gross objectification of women and their wholesale disenfranchisement through the rap music they play at parties, the "funny" T-shirts they wear, and the words they use to describe them. I have heard, far too often, young men refer to young women as "bitches", "hoes", "booty", "poontang", etc., reducing these women to nothing more than orificies for their own use. But at least in the West, deep shame is heaped upon the perpetrators of sexual violence. It doesn't stop it from happening completely, unfortunately. But we know that without stigma and legitimization by inaction, men who have been exposed to sexual violence as a norm will perpetuate that sexual violence as though it is normal. This is what is happening right now in Liberia.
Giving money to Doctors Without Borders is one great step in the right direction, but I submit that action must also be taken to stem the tide at its source rather than just treat its victims. Let us demonize those brazen and depraved enough to assault young girls, or any woman ever at all, and call them out for the beasts they are through education and humanitarian propaganda. The use of rape as a weapon of war and terror in Liberia, Sudan, and Congo has created an environment in which boys are raised to view women as nothing more than objects for their own gratification. This reflects the dark underbelly of our own culture and our previous silence reflects poorly upon our national character. Let us call them both out and cheer as they wither in the light of exposure and make all of humanity freer.
[Silence is the Enemy coalition here.]
I don't get many artwork commissions, but if any of you wish to commission something from me I will donate all of the proceeds to Dr. Isis' fund and you'll get a piece of original Toaster artwork. Her and her allies are donating all of their blogging proceeds for the month of June to Doctors Without Borders.