Having a Vagina does not mean always mean you have a conscience: Female perpetrators of rape in conflict- group socialisation and patriarchy.

Having a Vagina does not mean always mean you have a conscience.[1]Female perpetrators of rape in conflict- group socialisation and patriarchy.

Much of the scholarship, law, institutions and media surrounding sexual violence and gender often assume that men are the main perpetrators of rape in conflict and women are merely passive victims. Although there is some focus on male victims, you are hard pushed to find much on female perpetrators … however, we should not assume that they therefore do not exist. A new report conducted by the Journal of American medical Association, reveals that in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) 41% of rapes reported by women and 10% reported by men were committed by women. [2]  I was shocked by these figures, but why should this be so surprising?  It could be argued that society’s  patriarchal structure’s in both, social relations and administered bureaucracy, accustom us to associate acts of aggressiveness and violence with masculinity, and passivity and victimhood with femininity; these assumptions are further reinforced by gendered scholarship and policy making. Sperling suggests however, “it is probably the case that women’s peacefulness is as mythical as men’s violence.”[3] In Sierra Leone, women are argued to be more violent fighters than their male counterparts.[4] When I really thought about it, there are numerous women who throughout history have equalled if not surpassed their  male equivalents in cruelty and willingness to plan, participate and organise mass atrocity; lady Macbeth, Queen Mary I and Maria Mandel to name but a few. So then why are these new found figures on female perpetrators so surprising? Is it because female acts of sexual violence are less common or because of social stereotyping and gendered assumptions of violent women just make it harder to believe or accept? It is hard to imagine the roles of mother and soldier together.[5] One is caring and nurturing and therefore ‘feminine’ and the other violent and aggressive and therefore ‘masculine’.

However, women do make up a considerable amount of the armed forces around the world, suggesting they must have some capacity for violence. For example, 48% of Congolese combatants are female, and in Liberia many women have been implicated for rape with guns and cutting off genitals. Women are also accused of committing acts of sexual violence in criminal gangs in Haiti; and let us not forget the US soldiers who sexually tortured and photographed prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. Does this suggest that violence is inherent in women too? Are the reasons for committing acts of sexual violence the same for men and women? It seems in a conflict situation the answer could be yes. In the army context women are argued to undergo ‘masculine socialisation’ making gender differences in the army much smaller.[6] In any army, soldiers are trained not to question authority. Both men and women are therefore desensitised to ensure that they carry out their functions efficiently. This suggests that these things are not exclusive to men as in an army situation women seem to respond in the same way.

We could conclude that violent crimes in war can be explained to an extent by social pressures placed upon individuals to behave a certain way and exert power in a group situation. This is not however just exclusive to war and examples can be seen in Golding’s Lord of the Flies, or the Stanford Prison experiment and other social groups such as University sports teams and college fraternities. In the instance of the Congo it is argued that gang rape is used as a way to bond members. This is especially important in this instance as many of the soldiers are abducted and kidnapped. This is given as a reason for such a high number of female soldiers.  Therefore rape is important in integrating members, creating a social order and cutting off ties to a previous life to prevent desertion. Does this suggest that rape in conflict in not about gender but about power and protection?

It could be argued that these acts are committed out of fear or force especially in abducted army forces.[7] However this doesn’t explain acts of sexual violence for volunteer armies such as the US. It is argued that participation in violence is preferable to estrangement suggesting that the cause of rape in conflict is not gender but the power of an internal group dynamic.[8] However, although the role of gender does not necessarily determine who perpetrates crimes of sexual violence, the expectations placed on men and boys by society can also be described as a key cause of sexual violence in conflict as men fight to prove their dominance and compete for status power and recognition over one another. Women in these situations have to do the same. Is this why many women in powerful positions, such as Margret Thatcher are considered to take on a masculine role? The act of rape or sexual violence is so effective, as it ‘feminises’ its victims, which is probably why we think of most perpetrators being male. The acts at Abu Ghraib provide a perfect example of this; the victims were directly and indirectly feminised through being forced to wear female underwear or implied through forced sexual acts such as sodomy and oral sex. This is described by Osborne as the ‘logic of emasculisation’.[9] By partaking and perpetrating these acts women are consolidating their status with the patriarchal structures which they are assimilated.[10] The way femininity is used for humiliation and degradation of others can be seen in most group situations. The torture at Abu Ghraib can be considered to draw parallels to the hazing that takes place in the military and also University and college sports team initiation ceremonies. Of course in these instances the ‘victims’ or newcomers have a choice as to whether to partake or not. However as can be seen by the above examples of military groups, many do so for fear of being estranged. These humiliating practices replicate a heterosexual sexual relationship suggesting that men play a dominant and therefore active role and women are submissive and passive. This suggests that patriarchy is a global phenomenon as even in cultures that don’t hold ‘traditional patriarchal’ structures such as the US and UK view ‘feminisation’ as the most effective way of dehumanising and humiliating another. These acts can only be considered humiliating in both the perpetrator and the victim share the same cultural beliefs and framework that denigrate women as the enemy becomes associated with all things feminine.[11] The fact that women also partake in these events and often strive to prove their ‘masculinity’ in group situations shows that they to believe this.

Therefore to suggest that violence is masculine is perhaps incorrect. It is suggested that power is associated with masculinity and therefore within a patriarchal context to be powerful is prove ones aggression and ‘masculinity’. Therefore connotations of masculinity need to be removed from power in order to remove patriarchy that is ultimately the cause of sexual violence. Hopefully this post has questioned the myth that women are incapable of acts of sexual violence in the hope that patriarchal preconceptions of the female victim and mother are what actually leave us as vulnerable to sexual violence.

Bibliography.

Kerry Carrington, “Girls and Violence: The Case for a Feminist Theory of Female Violence” Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

Dara Kay Cohen- “Female Combatants and the perpetration of violence: Wartime rape in Sierra Leone Civil War.” Wold Politics, Vol 65, Number 3, july 2013

Ehrenreich Arts and Opinion 2005.

Nicole Hogg “Womens participation in the Rwandan genocide: mothers of monsters?” International review of the Red Cross March 2010.

T Kaufman-Osborn  “Gender Trouble at Abu Ghraib?” Politics & Gender, 2005 – Cambridge University Press

Carrie Sperling “Mother of atrocities: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko’s role in Rwandan genocide.” Fordham Urban law Journal, 2005

Eileen L. ZURBRIGGEN Sexualized Torture and Abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison:Feminist Psychological Analyses

http://www.irinnews.org/report/90081/analysis-rethinking-sexual-violence-in-drc

http://www.irinnews.org/report/90081/analysis-rethinking-sexual-violence-in-drc

http://mattcornell.org/blog/2013/03/the-torturer-as-feminist-from-abu-ghraib-to-zero-dark-thirty/

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/20/international-violence-against-women-act-congress?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/apr/10/william-hague-sexual-violence-conflict

http://adampbright.wordpress.com/

http://www.stylist.co.uk/life/rape-in-conflict

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/apr/11/congo-rapes-g8-soldier

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2013/jul/02/violence-against-women-armed-conflict

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p017ktgn

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/may/12/48-women-raped-hour-congo

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/oct/31/third-congolese-men-admit-sexual-violence

http://world.time.com/2013/12/03/congos-forgotten-curse-epidemic-of-female-on-female-rape/

http://world.time.com/2012/04/30/history-of-violence-struggling-with-the-legacy-of-rape-in-liberia/

http://www.womenundersiegeproject.org/blog/entry/a-competition-of-suffering-male-vs.-female-rape

http://www.irinnews.org/report/90081/analysis-rethinking-sexual-violence-in-drc

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/jul/17/the-rape-of-men

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-13907693

http://eprints.qut.edu.au/62478/1/10_Carrington_5_Sep_13.pdf

http://mattcornell.org/blog/2013/03/the-torturer-as-feminist-from-abu-ghraib-to-zero-dark-thirty/

Congo.://www.irinnews.org/report/90081/analysis-rethinking-sexual-violence-in-drc

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/gender-based-violence-the-democratic-republic-the-congo-drc-research-findings-and-programmatic


[1] Ehrenreich Arts and Opinion 2005.

[3] Carrie Sperling “Mother of atrocities: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko’s role in Rwandan genocide.” Fordham Urban law Journal, 2005

[4] Kerry Carrington,Girls and Violence: The Case for a Feminist Theory of Female Violence” Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

[6]T Kaufman-Osborn  “Gender Trouble at Abu Ghraib?” Politics & Gender, 2005 – Cambridge University Press

[7] Kerry Carrington “Girls and Violence: The Case for a Feminist Theory of Female Violence” Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane

[8] Carrington.

[9] Osborne 2005

[11] Cornell.

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About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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One Response to Having a Vagina does not mean always mean you have a conscience: Female perpetrators of rape in conflict- group socialisation and patriarchy.

  1. Carlota says:

    I think that your blog post is successful in challenging the assumption that perpetrators of sexual violence is limited to men and shows how women are often colluding or main agents of violence too. In particular I liked that you mention the fact that sexual violence is not limited to physical representations of power as in hazing or initiations of groups. I am thinking that there is a lot of literature on this in terms of ritual; to me the most interesting is the work of Maurice Bloch that looks at processes of rites of passage (which is relevant to your discussion on group dynamics), and how even if actual violence is not the product of the ritual, there is a notion of moral conquest. The symbols of moral conquest can be through consumption of food (natural), or women. This is the key problem that comes when society’s representations of women are seen as naturalized and as being closer to nature. I strongly think that literature on rituals and the politics of the body can bring value to studies of violence in international relations and security studies and is something that can be further researched.

    Nonetheless, I am cautious of your claim of the United Kingdom not having a ‘traditional patriarchal’ structure. I would have to challenge this understanding of patriarchy. Maybe it is that I don’t fully understand what is meant by this term ‘traditional patriarchy’. But patriarchy, to me as male being the authority figure in social organisations, appears to still be prominent in British political system and judiciary, to say the least.

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