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June 28, 2005

Mukthar Mai paradox

The Supreme Court of Pakistan has re-opened the case of Mukthar Mai, the woman who brought criminal charges against the men who gang-raped her on the orders of her village council.

When Mai was invited to New York to address human rights activists, General Pervez Musharraf issued a travel ban and placed her under house arrest.

Musharraf told journalists in Auckland that he personally imposed the travel ban in order to preserve Pakistan's public image.

"I don't want to project the bad image of Pakistan," he told the journalists' club.

"I am a realist. Public relations is the most important thing in the world," he said, adding that media misperceptions would discourage tourists from traveling to Pakistan.

"Pakistan is the victim of poor perceptions. The reality is very different," Musharraf said.

He defended his regime's treatment of women, saying it was working for their emancipation. Rape was not "a rampant malaise Pakistan suffers from every day," he said.

Musharraf's reaction baffled observers. Many commentators wondered if the General had gone nuts. After all, Musharraf desperately wants to "sell" Pakistan to the West as a free and enlightened society. Mukthar Mai's legal triumph would appear to be a propaganda coup. After all, the nation of Pakistan upheld her rights in court after she was brutalized by tribal authorities. She became living proof that a Pakistani woman can have her day in court. (The travel ban has been revoked, but reports suggest that the authorities continue to restrict Mai's freedom, allegedly for her own safety.)

Ejaz Haider attempts to make sense of Musharraf's reaction in an editorial called Mukhtar Mai and bounded rationality. He sees Musharraf's apparently crazy decision as an example of irrational behavior within the bounded rationality of a military leader:

Musharraf is an army officer. He shares the worldview of his organisation through army’s acculturation process. He suspects everyone and everything outside of the exclusive club, believes the army is tasked with securing Pakistan’s interest and that it knows how best to go about it.

One can do a broader structural analysis of the factors that could have led to this decision but space does not allow that. However, a larger point that emerges from this episode, given the implications of decision-making at the national level, relates to the issue of military’s political role in Pakistan. If bureaucratic organisations depict bounded rationality as well as systematic stupidity, it is not only dangerous to entrust them completely with nuclear weapons sans civilian control (as Sagan tries to show) but it is even more hazardous to have them in the driver’s seat politically and take decisions that impinge on national life.

I would take Haider's analysis one step further. Male privilege can be its own form of bounded rationality. Most of the misguided reactions to rape seem "rational" if you accept the fundamental precepts of male privilege.

Rape stigma is a direct result of male privilege. As long as women are assumed to be the property of men, a woman's rape is a defeat to whoever "owns" her. According to this warped worldview, a rape victim who speaks out about her ordeal shames not only herself, but everyone who was supposed to have been controlling her (her husband, her male relatives, her community, and even her nation).
Male privilege isn't unconditional--you don't get to be a "real man" unless you can control "your" women. So, every acknowledged rape unmans the victim's rightful owners. As Echidne notes, Mai's rape sentence was the ultimate extension of that twisted logic: punishing a man's sexual misconduct by raping his sister.

Male privilege literally can literally create bounded rationality about rape, despite a conscious repudiation of the practice and a desire to curtail it. If you presuppose male hegemony, it makes sense to address rape by silencing victims and to protecting future victims by restricting their freedom, especially their access to other men. The framework itself is often invisible to those who operate within it, making it impossible for them to realize the presuppositions that circumscribe reactions to the problem of sexual assault.

The bounded logic of male privilege pervades attitudes towards rape in every society, including our own. It asserts itself every time a guy is incapable of condemning rape without admonishing women for doing "stupid things."

Gen. Musharraf can't see Mai as source of good PR, even though her accomplishments objectively support the image is is trying to promote. Maybe, as Haider contends, this is a product of his military mindset. I would argue that his blindness can also be explained in terms of an even more widely-shared ideology of male privilege.

Update: Looks like The Heretik and I made it into Bidisha Banerjee's Slate blog roundup. Scroll down.

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Comments

Yeah, it does, but unfortunately I really don't have any idea what Japan's real rape rate is, and neither do the authors of the articles Modus Potus linked to. I probably have this reaction because of my feeling that rape is worse than all other crimes but murder, which is more or less universally reported, at least in the first world - though granted, it's harder to pretend a crime didn't happen when you find a body with a bullet hole in the head.

Alon, if there is an even stronger culture of victim-blaming in Japan than there is here, I imagine that almost no victims come forth. Frankly, it's not worth it--even here where people claim that they get that rape is really wrong, the urge to blame the victim is overwhelming. Imagine if there isn't even the cultural pressure to state that you think rape is really wrong.

"This information just isn't picked up as often in discussions of male-on-male violence."

That's probably true. There is some of that, but perhaps not as much. Last August I was beat to a pulp by two black guys when I was walking over to see my ex-girlfriend. I was going from one nice neighborhood to another, but to get there one has to walk through 3 blocks of a bad neighborhood (though it is a neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying). My friends, including my female friends, were amazed that I'd been attacked there, since they walked that street almost every day and had never felt especially nervous on that street. I was often asked what I might have done to bring on the attack, and the conclusion of nearly all of my friends is that I looked nervous. I get nervous on streets that don't make any of my friends nervous. It's just a phobia of mine. And my friends feel strongly that that is why I got attacked.

Maybe Phillip (who commented above) can chime in on this. He's a friend of mine and he saw me a day after that attack, when I was still all bandaged up. I think Phillip, more than most of my friends, did a good job of not asking "What did you do to cause this" type questions.

"In our society, adult women just aren't free to say "I'm going to live on the edge and take my chances." Anyone who openly admitted to that kind of gambling would be shamed"

Wow. That is one of the best insights I've read in a long time.

"In the West, however, we have developed a contract-model for all interpersonal relationships. I believe this model is worth defending; it brings freedom and happiness to the majority of people; it is apparently infinitely sustainable in the political register, and it harbors no contradictions in the theoretical register. It is from this perspective, I believe, that the anti-rape position can be defended with the most authentic justification."

The positive thing about the contract model for relationships is its tendency to remove family and tribe from the equation, and thus take us toward a world where men and women are dealing with each other on equal terms. In the recent past, even in America, not all rapes were illegal (husband versus wife, for instance) or even thought immoral. But the steady extension of the contract model of relationships has brought us to the point where we can now clearly see and say that all rape is immoral and must be illegal.

The problem, however, with stating things this way, is it robs rape of some of the moral outrage that it should have. Rape becomes a mere violation of contract, rather than a violation of human sovereignty.

"I cannot walk certain places. I cannot live in many neighborhoods. I am always, always watching my back, looking around in fear when I hear footsteps."

I do that too. I don't know why I'm so nervous, I just am. Perhaps it is a phobia. But it was this behavior of mine that my friends harped on when I got mugged. They pointed out that I always look nervous in situations that don't make them nervous. They all felt that was why I got beat up. I looked nervous, and that brought the attention of the two guys who wanted to beat me up.

The police, in the end, decided to classify the attack as "assault" as opposed to "robbery". The two dudes didn't take anything, not even my laptop. One black cop said to me that he thought maybe their only motivation was "to mess with whitey."

"I am wondering if Phillip is actually Aegis from Alas under another name. He certainly speaks the same way."

No, Phillip Honenberger is an old friend of mind, from when I lived in Charlottesville, VA.

By the way, he and I are about to start a group weblog at www.whatIsLiberalism.com

"MrMe, I have no idea about sexual abuse in general, but rape doesn't even approach affecting 25% of American women. The reported rate is 34.2/100,000/year, so multiplying by 30, a fairly good number considering that the American crime rate soared between 1960 and 1990, yields 1-2%, depending on whether it's 34.2 per 100,000 women or 34.2 per 100,000 people, which my source isn't clear about."

That doesn't come close to estimating the number of women who are raped by their husbands. Older women now in the 50s, 60s, 70, and 80s would have lived during the time it was still legal for men to rape their wives. How many of the wives reported the rapes, especially when the law was on the side of the husband?

Also, within my immediate circle for friends I know of 3 rapes that never got reported because the female was good friends with the rapist and decided that she wanted to continue being good friends with the rapist.

Also, within my immediate circle for friends I know of 3 rapes that never got reported because the female was good friends with the rapist and decided that she wanted to continue being good friends with the rapist.

This is pretty common--it's the "don't upset the applecart" thing, I think. Knowing damn well that most people side with the rapist and claim the victim asked for it, many victims are unwilling to force everyone in their social circle to take sides. That was certainly the case for me, and it took a lot of courage to call the cops--it's sad how women are often taught to think so very, very little of ourselves.

"That was certainly the case for me, and it took a lot of courage to call the cops--it's sad how women are often taught to think so very, very little of ourselves."

That's true, especially when young. Of the cases I was thinking of, one of the women was 14 when it happened, and another was 15.

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