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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 (The travel ban has been revoked, but reports suggest that the authorities continue to restrict Mai's freedom, allegedly for her own safety.)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

While misogyny is hatred of women, male privelege is more like thinking of women as prized livestock.

The campus alcohol thing was the main situation I was thinking about. I'll definitely agree that Paula Zahn isn't necessarily the person to be giving that message. But I'll also say that I don't really buy that young people don't need more guidance on how to deal with the risks associated with alcohol, rape-related or otherwise.

I still disagree with Amanda and TomK that talking about behaviors one could theoretically avoid to decrease their risk isn't preventive. Of course women ought to be able to engage in all of these behaviors without worrying. But the reality is that they can't. It might be the right choice for one person to just behave as if it were safe in order to send a message or something of the sort - but other people might not want to take that risk for what seems like a symbolic victory...at the very least, they should be aware of the full range of options. TomK at least seems to concede that it would prevent some rapes but thinks it would cause more because of the message it would send to men considering committing rape. That seems like a pretty confident empirical statement for which I've seen little or no support anywhere.

I found this particularly interesting:
I don't think personal safety awareness major obstacle to rape prevention. Women have sexual self-preservation drilled into us from birth. We're constantly lectured about what's prudent, what's decent, and what's appropriate for "nice girls."

I'd never really thought of any of that as effective training in rape prevention before, and that may be my blind spot. I imagine that some of it is. It seems like a lot of it would be rape-conducive, though - I'm thinking specifically of the idea that when women do choose to have or consider nonprocreative or nonmarital sex, it should be kept as secret and private as possible, which would create a prosecution-hostile environment of secrecy around all sex, consensual or non-. The "nice girls" paradigm seems to largely mirror other paradigms that privilege the pride of male family members over female safety in that regard. But I have no firsthand experience in this, so I'd love to hear from people who do.

Philip,

Why would getting Mukthar out of Pakistan help her to effect change within Pakistan?

The problem is that when women give in and allow our freedom to be restricted because well-meaning men instruct us to do that, we are encouraging the rape culture, Eli. It means that rapists feel validated in their misogyny.

The "nice girls" paradigm is grade-A male privilege--looked at from that angle, it's clear that being nice is defined as never challenging or criticizing men, even if they abuse you.

I'm not advocating anyone instruct anyone to do anything. And honestly, I don't know how prevention talk makes rapists feel, or, more importantly, how many people it will make willing to commit rape who wouldn't otherwise. I know that we generally don't worry too terribly much that telling people that it is preventive to not walk alone at night creates new muggers, or that it is preventive not to be on the road past midnight on New Year's even if you're sober creates more drunk drivers. If there's a strong reason to think that targeted discussion of prevention creates more rapes than it would prevent, then we shouldn't have those discussions. But it seems like a leap based on some tenuous assumptions about the psychology of rapists, whereas thinking that prevention talk would help is only contingent on the assumptions that many people are not fully aware of the gravity of the risk or the extent of preventive strategies - both of which seem pretty likely.

I'm not saying anyone here should change their behavior at all based on what I'm saying - my guess is that most women here are well-informed about prevention and risk. And I'm not trying out to be the person to tell anyone else - it makes sense that other women would be most effective at that.

Can someone explain to me what the hell male privilege is?

Main Entry: male
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French masle, male, adjective & noun, from Latin masculus -- more at MASCULINE
1 a : a male person : a man or a boy b : an individual that produces small usually motile gametes (as spermatozoa or spermatozoids) which fertilize the eggs of a female

Main Entry: priv·i·lege
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Old French, from Latin privilegium law for or against a private person, from privus private + leg-, lex law
: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor

I've followed this post with a great degree of interest. I'm disappointed, however, that the conversation has focused on the psychology of the victim rather than the persecutor. Given that rapes are immediately caused by rapists rather than rapees, it seems silly to focus so much on the psychology of the latter. Even if we try to taylor our discussion of rape to what would alleviate the pain of the rapee, we still do virtually nothing about the causes of the rape-event itself.

I would like very much to get some clarity on the issue of the social and psychological causes of the rapist's choices. Obviously these might differ widely from case to case.

The best I've been able to come up with on this question is as follows. From an evolutionary perspective, male-female rape is merely another way of inseminating a female and perpectuating the human race. Other forms of sexual conduct that we call "unjust" or "evil" are the same way, including statutory rape. Obviously this analysis breaks down in the case of male-male rape, but the evolutionary-biological explanation works as follows: "sexual desire and sexual pleasure are possibilities of the human organism because they drive human beings to reproduce." From a "passing on of the genes" perspective, a rape that results in the birth of a child is a success.

There are a thousand forms of sexual intercourse, however, and rapes represent only a fraction of these. The varieties in these forms can be explained as more-or-less culturally-sanctioned and more-or-less individually-forged habits of behavior. The courtship rituals leading to "acceptable" intercourse are therefore comparable to rape insofar as both sex-after-courtship-rituals and sex-through-rape increase the likelihood that the species will be reproduced. The benefit of this analysis is that it raises the questions: "Which modes of intercourse should be preferred to the others, and why? What relations of power and what forms of culture are inclined to sustain one or another habit of intercourse?" The analysis also explains why rape is a recurring factor in nearly all human societies. The urge to inseminate is very strong, but males will act on this urge in various ways, depending on the habits they've formed and the culture in which they've formed them.

From one perspective (albeit a rather cynical one), it seems that men who rape do so because it is, for them, a relatively effective way to enhance their chances of procreation. And men who *do not rape* (including the men on this post, perhaps!) do not do so because it is, for them, a relatively poor way to enhance their chances of procreation. Thus, violent sexual-actors tend to have no (or at least very few) other options for procreation, so they use the power of their bodies to get what they want, while the more subtle sexual-actors (say, manipulators in suits-and-ties, pimps, and so on) tend to use their money or their influence to get what they want.

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. But, when we attack rape for this reason, we are not (or at least, we would not be justified if we thought that we were) punishing sexual desire or sexual activity in any way. Quite frankly, the sexual motivations are irrelevant to the criminality of the act itself. We are (or at least should be) punishing violence, and the breach of an assumed contract (namely, the contract which states that each person has a right to their own body).

I am surprised that this interpretation is not put forward more regularly. Perhaps rape should be reclassified simply as "assault" or "assault and battery." From this perspective, what the woman is wearing OBVIOUSLY has no bearing on the crime, and the male's motivations are important only because it is sometimes necessary to establish sufficient motivation within a court of law.

Historically speaking, the development of the contract model is a relatively recent development, and it inclines us Westerners to wave the naughty stick at all forms of physical force. Thus, we do not even ask whether or not rape is wrong-- it obviously is wrong, we think, because it involves the use of force against a person's will. But if we are not thorough in our analysis, we will miss the fact that putting a rapist in jail is just as much an act of force as the rapist's acts upon the rapee's body. What we need, therefore, is a justification of this act of force as a response to that act of force. This justification is available through appeal to the idea of the contract.

There are still deep contradictions, however, within the contract-model idea. This is true in America, in Europe, and world-wide. For instance: we are unsure of how to treat children-- are they the property of their parents, or are they free agents? We are unsure of how to treat fetuses. We are unsure of how to treat suicides, gay marriages, prostitution, drug use, and violent religious rituals (such as genital mutilations). If I had to guess, I would say that the solution to all of these problems will come at once, as a kind of paradigm shift which supercedes the contract-model. But I can't yet envision what this would be.

All in all, I am somewhat more confused about this issue than the rest of you seem to be. I feel that rape is wrong, but I also feel that the psychology of the rapist is not an entirely foreign or mysterious issue. Rape would, for at least some "rational actors," appear to be a viable option for getting what they want. Our responsibility, then, seems to be at least this: to make it a less viable option, which might involve both (a) being vigilant about prosecuting every rape we possibly can, and (b) expanding the sexual options of the potential rapist so that rape does not on any account appear to be the best bet. Thus-- an argument for the legalization of prostitution, a relaxing of anti-gay laws, and so on.

I really think there is some truth to the thesis that rape is partly a male response to socio-sexual repression. The dominant religious morality plays a part in this repression, as do the various forms of class-stratification and media-induced desire (i.e. a network which insures that only a male of class A will have sex with desirable female of class A).

I want women to be desirable. I want women to be free. It makes me angry to think that a friend of mine cannot walk across the city at night by herself, or that she might have to consider the effects of wearing a skirt on her own personal safety. But perhaps it only makes me angry because *I* have a chance of being sexual with her through socially-acceptable means, whereas other males will never have that chance (because of socio-cultural factors, or whatever). In other words, maybe the anti-rape stance is itself a form of power, a stronghold maintained by the desirable against the desires of the otherwise undesirable.

Is this really male privilege, or just privilege? So long as we understand privilege as synonymous with power (i.e. the ability to be able to), then the ability to with-hold sex from those who desire sex has to be construed as a form of privilege as well, and not necessarily as a justified one. Or rather, the justification of this form of power must be applied consistently if it is to be sustainable.

Again, the only way I see out of this Nietzschean-Foucaultian dilemma (the one that posits even the anti-rape stance as one among many ethically-neutral "wills to power") is to defend the contract model because of its political sustainability. (By "political sustainability" I mean only that the contract-model concept tends to fair well in discussions between rational actors [because it is inherently tailored to each individual's interests, regardless of their individual station. Cf. John Rawls].)

All in all, I am still quite uneasy about these reflections, but put them forward in the spirit of dialogue. They seem to me to be as-yet unsaid in this discussion, but they are certainly conceivable possibilities, and are therefore worth saying if only for that reason.

One more thing-- think of rape as analogous to stealing. It is awful that so many people are mugged, but we know immediately what is sought after in these situations. It is no perversion to want money, but it is morally wrong to acquire it through stealing. Is it not a parallel case with rape? It is no perversion to want sex, but it is morally wrong to acquire it through rape. But, at the same time, there are those who have a habit of stealing to get money, or a habit of raping to get sex, and these means-to-the-end can sometimes be confused with the end itself. So, some people may prefer stealing to earning money the normal way, or may prefer rape to more "normal" kinds of sex.

I know that we generally don't worry too terribly much that telling people that it is preventive to not walk alone at night creates new muggers, or that it is preventive not to be on the road past midnight on New Year's

Women are raped because they are women, not because of anything they do. The difference between these situtations and rape is that these things are conscious decisions whereas being a woman, for a woman, is not. "Prevention talk" inevitably blames a woman for, very simply, being a woman.

The "nice girls" paradigm is grade-A male privilege--looked at from that angle, it's clear that being nice is defined as never challenging or criticizing men, even if they abuse you.

To me, this gets at the heart of the issue of shame. The only way shame can exist is in the presence of standards that may be unmet. Women are conditioned to be nice, to project purity and virtue in terms of their sexuality - the only trouble there is that, to even further deny them power I suppose, women are not even allowed to be custodian over this virtue. Through no agency of the woman whatsoever, her virtue can be "ruined" by a rapist. Witness honor killings the world over. Of course, because the woman is not in control of her living up to the imposed standard, she lives in a permanent state of imposed shame.

Yeah, well, Horatio, "don't be a woman" wasn't exactly one of the strategies I was referring to. I was thinking more about, say, screening of individuals with whom you are in certain situations, keeping trustworthy individuals around, developing mechanisms for monitoring one's alcohol consumption, not accepting drinks from strangers, that kind of thing. And I don't know how many times I have to say that I am not endorsing a paradigm of "blaming" individuals who do not maximize safety. Blame statements are just a way to make value statements that piggyback on causal statements, and I've made 100% clear where my value judgment lies on this, and where I think society's should. Every rape, like every event, is multicausal. The morally blameworthy cause is that an individual decided to rape someone. But that doesn't magically make the causal nature of any other factor disappear.

I've said over and over that which safety measure to take is an individual choice. I've said over and over that it is not morally mitigating that the victim did not take certain safety measures. These are not hard concepts to grasp. To act like everyone should just shut their mouths about prevention indefinitely to protect some imagined fragile female population seems to suggest that women are incapable of grasping them. I don't think women are stupid. I think people, especially young people, especially young drunk people, systematically underestimate risk and overestimate the inconvenience of prevention. I'm receptive to the argument about unintended consequences on potential rapists, and I wish there was more reliable evidence on that. But I'm not receptive to any argument that treats women as inherently fragile or incapable of grasping abstract distinctions between blame and physical multicausality.

The morally blameworthy cause is that an individual decided to rape someone. But...

All a woman hears is the "but"

Seriously, I think your intentions are good. But I think we men tend to move the line on what constitutes dangerous behavior according to our own needs rather than the needs of the woman. So talking about it with women often leads to a butting of heads because our ideas on high-risk behaviors are different. I don't think any rational being would say that prostitution is not a high-risk lifestyle. But wearing a low cut shirt and dancing on a table while doing shots is hardly prostitution.

All a woman hears is the "but"

So, I guess that while you're sophisticated enough to discern my point, you don't think women are? Funny how that works.

One of my friends at college was a street-wise young woman from Brooklyn. She moved to D.C. after college. One day a man who she recognized as living in her building knocked on her door. She opened it. He raped her and stabbed her to death in her own bed.

I love running. A mother of two was raped and killed three years ago running along the same trail that I use. I pass the shrine to her every time I'm there. It was midafternoon on a cold January day.

My taxes pay for this park but I cannot enjoy it as a man would because I am female. 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.

Once a man from the gas company came to my door to ask me to move my car. He had no badge. I reamed him and phoned the gas company to ream them too. Turned out he was legit.

Is that any way to live? If blacks lived as fearfully with respect to whites, would we accept that? So why do we accept it when the fearful are women?

Also: prostitution is probably an inherently high-risk lifestyle re: HPV or herpes. I don't buy that it's inherently high-risk re: rape.

Lisa, you might be too fearful here. In the United States there's much less crime than people think. American society's fear of crime is disproporionate to the actual crime rate.

Horatio, your brushing off of the analogy of rape to mugging is based on false logic. Women, you say, are raped because they are women. But people are mugged because they're people; according to American folklore it's further because they're white people walking in bad neighborhoods, but I don't know whether that has any basis in reality. For someone who lives in GirlScientist's neighborhood, being outdoors at night is dangerous regardless of gender. Telling women to avoid troublesome areas to avoid being raped is as practical as telling people to avoid the same areas to avoid being mugged or murdered.

Chris, I know what male and privilege are; but your definition is meaningless, because it suggests that male privilege is a legal concept, whereas as used in this thread it appears to be an entirely social one. Njorl's definition seems to work well with usage here, though.

Chris, I know what male and privilege are; but your definition is meaningless, because it suggests that male privilege is a legal concept

No, Alon, I am not. You're confusing the etymology with the current meaning of the word.

Male privilege is the benefit one enjoys in society - if any - from having been born male. The aspect of male privilege in this society that is germane to this discussion is a relative freedom from lifelong worry over the possibility of being raped.

While I agree with your argument, Lindsay, I wouldn't underestimate the military mindset factor. Militaries around the world are notorious for their perverse PR obsession. They'd much rather get accused of trying to cover a crime up than to admit to the crime. Witness the IDF's transparent attempts to cover up the murder of Westerners in Palestine (they don't have to bother covering up Palestinian deaths), Abu Ghraib, Bloody Sunday, and countless other incidents. To an outsider like me it seems absolutely pathological.

One more thing-- think of rape as analogous to stealing. It is awful that so many people are mugged, but we know immediately what is sought after in these situations. It is no perversion to want money, but it is morally wrong to acquire it through stealing. Is it not a parallel case with rape?

This comment here is a perfect example of the male privilege to regard women as objects to be purchased or stolen.

I think you have made many good points, Lindsay--my only question would be whether by pinning the problems on "male privilege" in both the US and Pakistani contexts, you might be slighting important cultural differences. I think in the US, some of the stigmatization of rape comes from the right's reproduction fetish; it is not so much a matter of managing society's scarce pussy resources as its scarce uterine resources. Whereas in Pakistan the tribal response may be more a raw power game. Sure, it both adds up to male privilege, but combatting the phenomenon may require different vastly rhetoric in the different contexts.

Amanda: I don't know if that's a fair reading of what Phillip said. He never seemed to suggest that rape was about taking possession of women by force, but about taking vaginal access by force. And vaginal access is something that people take, as well as something that people buy.

I still don't think his analogy really holds up, because mugging is using violence to obtain money, but the money is just money - whereas the vaginal access obtained in rape is itself violent because unwanted penetration is an inherently violent act. But I don't think the statement necessarily entails what you say it does.

This comment here is a perfect example of the male privilege to regard women as objects to be purchased or stolen.

What? There's no difference between talking about avoiding murder and avoiding robbery and avoiding aggravated assault. Why do you think that using one over the others implies anything about male privilege?

Amanda: I don't know if that's a fair reading of what Phillip said. He never seemed to suggest that rape was about taking possession of women by force, but about taking vaginal access by force. And vaginal access is something that people take, as well as something that people buy.

Which supports Amanda's point.

What Amanda said was:
This comment here is a perfect example of the male privilege to regard women as objects to be purchased or stolen.

I think there's a difference between "women" and "vaginal access."

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