Since we’re in the middle of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit what Bruce Malina tells us about the rape culture of the honor-shame Mediterranean.
“Young men come to consider their own sex drive so strong that only the physical impossibility of sexual access to the women of his social circle (because of their segregation, supervision, etc.) prevents them from satisfying their urges. The image young men are provided of girls and women complements this self-image. Of course, this image of females has been developed and maintained by males. According to this picture, the female sexual drive is equally strong. So should he but manage to corner any female alone, she might put up a wild show of resistance at first, but once he has as much has kissed her, she would give in and readily become his. In fact, it is popularly assumed that a woman’s lust is greater than that of a man, hence the even greater urgency to keep women duly circumscribed.
“Women, in turn, are enculturated to believe this feminine self-image. Girls are brought up to believe that once they might find themselves alone with a male, they would be unable to resist his advances. Therefore the proper female must never allow herself to be found in such a situation. Girls are taught to believe from childhood that the central human being is the male — his honor replicated symbolically in his sexual drive. Thus from childhood, girls are led to believe that the mere sight of a woman is sufficient to arouse a man sexually, and only external, social circumstances can prevent him from having his way with her. These views and expectations are, of course, self-fulfilling.” (The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels, p 49)
And because these expectations are self-fulfilling, rape is often legitimated in these cultures, even when nominally decried. But elements of this model apply to western cultures too. Susan Brownmiller, writing in the ’70s, continues to speak for some feminists:
“The rape fantasy exists in women as a man-made iceberg. It can be destroyed – by feminism. But first we must seek to learn the extent of its measurements… Because men control the definitions of sex, women are allotted a poor assortment of options. Either we attempt to find enjoyment and sexual stimulation in the kind of passive/masochistic fantasies that men have prepared us to have, or we reject these packaged fantasies as unhealthy… Fantasies are important to the enjoyment of sex, I think, but it is a rare woman who can successfully fight the culture and come up with her own non-exploitive, non-sadomasochistic, non-powerdriven imaginative thrust… When women do fantasize about sex, the fantasies are usually the product of male conditioning and cannot be otherwise.” (Against Our Will, pp 322-324)
I don’t wish to address the accuracy of Brownmiller’s assessment of women’s rape fantasies (though I will in a future post, because I think she is largely wrong about this), only to note the underscored relationship between cultural conditioning and female passivity. At the very least, she’s right that enough women have been conditioned to think and behave vulnerably which makes (real-life) rape harder to prevent — and harder for certain men to acknowledge rape as such, especially the “acquaintance” variety. The conditioning may not be as strict and suffocating as in shame-based cultures (described by Malina), but it’s the same idea.
Sexual assault is obviously a problem everywhere (and let’s be frank and acknowledge, against Brownmiller, that as a species humans are naturally inclined to rape). But it won’t do to pretend that rape is institutionalized in integrity-guilt cultures as much as in honor-shame. Our western legislators certainly aren’t passing bills which legalize rape in the name of “democracy”, and it doesn’t hurt that plenty of women can be found on our legislative bodies. We have something called Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which promotes a doctrine of intolerance for rape in all manifestations. Integrity-guilt societies have done a verifiably better job in showing a commitment against rape than the world out of which Jesus came. In Jesus in an Age of Terror, James Crossley worries about our intense focus on issues of sex and violence in assessing that world (which he sees as unfair stereotyping), but that focus is part of a larger (and very real) picture of what shame-based cultures are about. The issues are important — not least for the light they shed, in varying degrees, on western subcultures, as much by comparison as contrast.
I should note that none of this is intended to downplay the phenomenon of men who get raped (especially by other men), nor those who get raped by women. But it’s no mystery that rapists are usually men, and women more often their victims. The phenomenon of male rape culture, deeply embedded in honor-shame societies, but more generally to be found everywhere, shows about as much sign of fading from the human scene, unfortunately, as war.