The nine men who attacked and brutally raped an American woman in Karkar on Friday were our brothers and sons and husbands. We raise these men, support them, make excuses for them. They are not FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT from us as women, and we have to STOP ALLOWING them to treat us as such.
Women are not from Venus. Nor are men from Mars.
Apologies to self-help guru John Grey, but women are not from Venus and men are not from Mars anymore. That kind of thinking is best kept at a backyard barby in Perth. Or small talk with a taxi driver somewhere.
The more we reinforce the differences, the more we believe these to be neurological and not cultural, biological and not learned, the more we permit one gender to perform ‘inhuman’ acts upon another. And forgive me, but calling these kids ‘animals’ is not much better. These are humans who have made very bad decisions.
In PNG, the power of suggestion is very compelling. If you tell me I’m going to go ape-wild after smoking the new cannabis from Goroka, or drinking 8 oz of this Yawa, then I am going to go apeshtye. Im not going to defy your prediction. If you tell me that young women (or men) have the power to ‘bewitch’ me with their beauty, to confound my judgment just because of their physical presence---then I will allow this to happen. Whether I take marila or get drunk or otherwise incite the event, I will consider the attraction I feel for the opposite sex ‘irresistible’ and forcibly work to satisfy it.
‘Boys will be boys.’ ‘It’s different for women. ‘
Within one culture we allow men to satisfy their impulses and refuse to acknowledge women even have impulses. But everyone with a basic understanding of Mendelian biology and access to popular media of the last generation can safely acknowledge that men and women are fundamentally the same creatures, but for some minimal biological differences. We both have emotions, both have sexual urges, both have ambitions, identities apart from others, and intelligence. Men can cook, women can drive tractors. Big deal. Much of the differentiation, we have come to understand, has been social, or cultural. Voluntary. Or imposed. But not pre-determined by birth.
In PNG, however, a majority of people continue to subscribe to beliefs their parents inherited about the social constitution of human beings: how babies are spirits reborn from the past; how many acts of sexual intercourse are required to create a baby; how the blood and gristle of a fetus comes from a woman’s menstrual blood, and the bones solidify from male semen; how the child him/herself is neither complete nor biologically determined at birth, and must be molded by food, socialization and taboos to become either masculine or feminine, and so forth. Interesting, and even valuable as a pillar to so many other ways of thinking, especially about the interconnectedness of human being, the social value of dependence, the self-effacement of community life, etc.
One would be very careful to suppress this kind of thinking because it also underpins so much genuinely important behavior in PNG---the gentle hospitality, the sharing and sense of mutual responsibility between people. Nevertheless it is also there beneath the presumptions of men that women are inimical to their health. That they are the cause of emasculation. They are enigmas. Their wombs are the seat of all power, good and bad. They need to be ‘socialized’ into their husband’s community.
Indeed, in PNG the most dangerous state of all is that of a young woman. Everyone who has ever felt the irresistible urge of sexual attraction (women as well as men) can speak of the way this overwhelms you, saps your judgment and sometimes leads to risky one night stands.
But to assume that this impulse is caused by women and felt exclusively by men is to live in a pre-modern reality. Everyone feels this pull at one time or another. We generally allow men to give voice to it and call girls who speak of it sleazy. Uncouth. Fallen. And then add alcohol. If you hand a loaded gun to someone who doesn’t believe in impulse control, someone’s gonna get shot.
Whenever I hear that phrase about women from Venus and men from Mars, I am more and more sure that I don’t live on those planets. The news of a young American biologist brutally raped by nine young men on Karkar, while she and her husband and a guide were bushwalking is awful. And only days after another is raped in Banz, weeks after an older woman is beheaded in Buka, another is burnt alive in Mt Hagen. And many more.
A caption on the story in one blog reads: Heartbreaking testimonial of the gang rape of a young American biologist in Madang. The victim left the country today but her parting words at Jacksons Airport were "...Allow what happened to me change this nation. Not because I am White or an American but because I am a woman."
Brave. And spot on. She was attacked because she is a woman, not for any other reason. And in PNG---as in India and many other places ---that status is not just politically other, but biologically and therefore fundamentally other.
In India where a person’s caste can be threatened by drinking from the same glass as an Untouchable, where the physical self is inextricably bound up in social roles and conventions-- where the born female is molded away from the male-- there is also a rise in brutality against women. A five year old girl is now in custody after being raped by a middle aged man. That is an act of dehumanizing brutality. The young woman attacked on the bus in New Delhi was savaged with bats and other objects.
This reminds me of the Bena Witchcraft trials in the nineties. Where families brought their women---their sisters, wives, aunties and mothers----to the men’s house over one weekend and killed and eviscerated them with bushknives. To destroy their wombs. To annihilate that machinery that creates children and, for all intents and purposes, is considered the seat of all evil. Because, they told the court, they suspected one family’s women of causing the misfortune of another family’s. Sorcery, sanguma, witchcraft allegations which only serve to excuse this kind of anger against women, and are now multiplying beyond all traditional boundaries. And getting worse.