"Blessed are you (…) for not having made me a slave;
Blessed are you (…) for not having made me a woman."
The recent tragedy in Cleveland has shocked the world, and rightly so. The cruelty of one man, his dehumanization of three women, reducing them to the state of total submission, of absolute slavery, cannot be ignored. His crime is the most extreme and perverse mutation of an attitude toward women that remains ingrained in men’s minds: women are born to serve men. Sex-slave, house-servant, domestic animal, reproductive organ, each has its moment in the public discourse of a repressive society.
As shocking as the events of Cleveland are their impact is heightened by the individualization of the criminal; his face and name are familiar to all, as are those of his victims. Such is not the case for the effects of certain laws or large scale crimes whose intrinsic message or effects on women’s self-image can be just as devastating.
The mayor of Osaka unintentionally reminded the world of a large-scale crime perpetrated by Japan’s occupying forces, by claiming that the Korean women forced into prostitution, were a necessity to help the Japanese military relax. He sees these sex slaves euphemistically called “comfort women” as a way of avoiding sex crimes by soldiers. How is it that certain men do not see that the sex crimes they condone are no better than those they condemn?
How is it that so many men do not see that power over a woman’s body is the first of men’s crimes against women, and that it begins with belief systems that relegate women to a secondary role and a subservient position? What is most shocking in the Osaka mayor’s comments is that he was well-intentioned, and thus blinded by his own logic: chaotic crimes are avoided in the streets by crimes organized directly by the state.
It is hard to know just yet what went through Ariel Castro’s mind as he created his own personal brothel in a residential neighborhood of Cleveland. We do know what was intended by the Japanese military when they enslaved thousands of women to help their troops relax.
Though rarely mentioned, we also know of the brothels maintained throughout the concentration camp system by the SS. Women were “saved” because of their beauty or submissiveness. They “earned” better living conditions and served camp guards, kapos, and “elite” prisoners who had access to these “happy few.” The choice they were never given, sex-slave or death, can only be conceived by us, because no concentration camp prisoner was ever given a choice. These women are still considered inferior by a large majority – be it unconsciously – survival entails the shame of the survivor. Not just the shame of every concentration camp survivor for having survived, but that of having survived in a particular way.
I think of these things because the District Attorney in charge of the Cleveland case has called for the death penalty for the “murder” of four fetuses. What I find shocking is how this eventuality becomes the negation of a greater more obvious crime, and again renders women subservient to men’s pretended greater wisdom.
By seeking punishment for a crime that was committed against women, but whose victims were unborn embryos the judiciary has chosen to ignore the suffering of these women for the “higher” goal of vengeance. The crimes of kidnapping, enslavement, rape, violence and torture could lead to centuries of imprisonment and the perpetual menace of a prison yard. Those are the most heinous crimes committed by Ariel Castro – not the deaths of embryos – and refusal to acknowledge that is a negation of these women’s suffering. By underlining the life and victimization of the embryo we are sidestepping and diminishing the life and victimization of the women. Be it the State or Ariel Castro, a woman’s body remains enslaved.
The quandary we are faced with is devastating in its implications. To truly respect these women as individuals and victims we would have to know if they wanted to keep the children of enslavement and rape. Was the chance of a child a hope or a dread? For the moment we know nothing of their plight, as they withdraw from the world to reconstruct their lives.
Unfortunately they are far from being alone. The name of the criminal and the faces of the victims are familiar to millions. But what of the tens of thousands of victims raped and abused amid a largely masculine indifference. Gang rapes in India, combat rapes in Africa and ex-Yugoslavia, sex slaves in Asia and throughout the Muslim world. What state or judiciary or religious leader speaks out in their name? What leap of consciousness do men need to make to understand that women are equals and not mute sex-tools or reproductive organs? Even as victims they have no say in the matter, and will be judged according to men’s condescending prejudice. The overall implementation of feminine inferiority has no limit. From Thailand to Brazil, from Egypt to Ireland, from Afghanistan to Cleveland, men want to control women but don’t know how to control themselves.
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