Rape

Feminism Can't Cure India's Rape Epidemic

The country's progressive laws mask a broader institutional failure

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The series of rapes in India—the latest involving an American student, which comes just weeks after two separate attacks against two 5-year-olds, one of whom died from her injuries — is prompting calls from feminists that India's rulers need to do more to fight the country's deep-seated patriarchy. Inderpal Grewal, professor of women's, gender and sexuality studies at Yale University, articulated the feminist position when she recently wrote that beyond addressing "gender violence," the authorities must also eliminate "the advantages and privileges that such violence gives to males."

Grewal, who is of Indian origin, was vague about what exactly she had in mind, but other feminists have suggested a whole gamut of measures, from sensitivity training for men, affirmative action programs, and even a special Bill of Rights for women.

But the Indian government has been following the feminist script for nearly half a century with little effect. It would serve the cause of gender equity far better if it simply did its job and provided safe streets, timely justice, and other basic public goods for everyone. The absence of such amenities that are taken for granted in the West is arguably the strongest pillar of patriarchy in India.

India's official rape statistics — which registered 1.8 rapes per 100,000 people in 2010, compared with the United States' 27.3 — might suggest that India has no rape problem. But everyone knows that rape is vastly underreported in traditional cultures where women fear stigmatizing themselves and dishonoring their families, especially since the chances of justice are remote. Whatever the correct statistics, they can't capture a crucial qualitative difference in the rape problem between India and in, say, America.

Setting aside incest and sexual assault by friends and relatives that unfortunately happens in all cultures, in America, a lot of rape is "date rape" that occurs when women exercise their social and sexual freedom. The police rarely have an opportunity to intervene in such situations and the only way of combating this problem is by addressing male attitudes. By contrast, in India far more rapes originate in public settings — parks, streets, and buses—as women go about their daily business. This is eminently preventable, which is why, unlike in America, every new episode triggers fresh protests in India.

The very lack of public safety that allows rape also strengthens patriarchy. For starters, it limits women's employment options. It is too dangerous for them to take jobs that require evening shifts or long commutes. Some companies offer rides home to women who work late, but this makes women more expensive to hire. Single rural women rarely move to cities, where the bulk of job growth is occurring, as men can. All of this undermines women's ability to maximize their earning potential and gain financial independence.

Above all, it forces women to rely on their patriarchal families for protection, opening them up to all kinds of restrictions. A woman who has to wait for her father or brother to pick her up from college or work — rather than taking a cab or a bus —c an't just meet whomever she wants, wherever she wants, whenever she wants. Everything she does becomes subject to time, place, and manner restrictions by her family and its moral code.

When attending college in India in the 1980s, I (foolishly) lived by a policy of strict silence, never reporting untoward incidents to my parents lest they restrict my movements. In the wake of the December gang rape, some women's college dorms in New Delhi imposed stricter curfews and reporting requirements on boarders before they were allowed to leave the campus. This elicited howls of protests from the women who insisted that they should not be locked up for the sins of men. The sad reality, however, is that so long as they live in an unsafe city, their lifestyles will be constrained, women's rights notwithstanding.

If proclamations of such rights were enough, Indian women would be among the most liberated in the world. Indian law and constitutional traditions are something of a feminist's dream. Women obtained full voting rights immediately after the country obtained independence from British rule in 1947. Three years later, India's constitution was ratified, which University of Chicago Law Prof. Martha Nussbaum, a committed feminist, has dubbed "remarkably woman-friendly" and an example from which America could learn.

India's constitutional framers, acutely aware of the deeply entrenched gender inequities, explicitly barred government discrimination by sex—but they added that this doesn't preclude "special provisions for women." This was an open invitation to gender-based affirmative action, which India has used with a vengeance.

Women don't just get bonus points or quotas in college admissions. They get entire colleges to themselves, thanks to the all-girls colleges that India created at its inception. There are no all-male equivalents. States have enacted many schemes to encourage girls to finish high school, including a program in New Delhi called Ladli that puts a lump sum in a means-tested education savings account for girls when they enroll in primary school—and hands them up to $1,000 if and when they complete high school. The Indian government is talking about starting a bank that offers loans only to women. India has also embraced a law requiring that 33 percent of positions in village panchayats—local governing bodies—to be set aside for women. A similar law for national parliamentary seats has been approved by the upper house but is pending in the lower house.

The thinking behind all this is that educating women and putting them in positions of power would engender a class of leaders with both the interest and wherewithal to buck patriarchy and promote women's interests. How did this pan out?

Affirmative action in higher education for women — as with caste — has benefited predominantly what Indians call the "creamy layer" — those in the upper echelons of society who are savvy at negotiating the system. The female illiteracy rate still touches 35 percent, and the dropout rate from Ladli is close to 50 percent, thanks to poor execution. India ranked 132 out of 187 on the United Nations' latest gender inequity index that measures women's health, labor participation, and education levels.

Most disappointing of all are India's female politicians. India actually has a far stronger tradition than America of firebrand women leaders. But, all too often, not only do they put their caste and clan interests ahead of women's issues, they have proven as adept as their male counterparts at raiding the public exchequer. For example, Mayawati, the former chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh who heads a major regional party, managed to acquire assets so disproportionate to her reported income that the federal government was forced to investigate her.

Feminism will never get rid of patriarchy without first getting rid of the need for it. Patriarchy's staying power stems not just from backward belief systems but a gritty ground reality. The lack of basic law-and-order means that women have to rely on male physical strength for security making men socially more valuable and more dangerous. This makes men, as feminists point out, both protectors and rapists. Electing female politicians and demanding more gender equality won't cut this Gordian knot—only good governance that promotes public safety for all will.

This column originally appeared in The Daily Beast.

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  1. Allowing women to arm themselves is not an option I would guess.

    1. and what, replace penis violence with gun violence? You’re a monster.

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    2. Allowing women to arm themselves is not an option I would guess.

      No, of course not. Didn’t you RTFA? The only answer is good government.

      1. The only answer is good government.

        back by The Only Good Guns.

        /libtard

    3. “basic public goods for everyone”

      Out of the mouths of babes. And this is a libertarian magazine?

      1. Yep, not an anarchist mag. Context is everything: “provided safe streets, timely justice, and other basic public goods for everyone.” Public goods don’t always have to be positive rights.

        1. Are safe streets and timely justice positive rights?

    4. Time to implement rule .357, unilaterally and universally.

  2. I caught The Rape!

  3. “The lack of basic law-and-order means that women have to rely on male physical strength for security making men socially more valuable and more dangerous. This makes men, as feminists point out, both protectors and rapists.”

    Right – generic “men.” I would imagine that the protectors and the rapists are generally different people, but that’s just me.

    1. Maybe the intent was to convey that the same paradigm that produces the Protector Male also produces the Rapist Male the Protector is protecting against.

      1. OK, but the phrasing was awkward. And she’s specifically agreeing with feminists on this point, so it’s fair to give the comment a feminist interpretation (“ooooh…*men!*)

    2. The rapists and the protectors are in many cases the same people. A daughter may not be in danger from her own father or her own brother, but her father or brother may well be dangerous to an unrelated woman.

  4. simply did its job and provided safe streets, timely justice

    A government serving its stated, intended purpose?

    lol.

    Oh, you’re serious. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  5. in America, a lot of rape is “date rape” that occurs when women exercise their social and sexual freedom. The police rarely have an opportunity to intervene in such situations

    Police intervening in crimes, it is what makes America such a safe place and prevents all that “rape rape”.

    1. And in Amerika, about 40% of reported rapes are fabricated (see Tawana Brawley).

  6. By contrast, in India far more rapes originate in public settings ? parks, streets, and buses?as women go about their daily business

    Meaning other people are usually around who could put a stop to it, but choose to look the other way. Sounds like a cultural problem to me.

    1. “Eh, I’m not getting involved, what if I get penis on me?”

      To be fair, it IS a lil awkward breaking up a rape.

      1. edit: “I’m not getting involved, I don’t want to get penis on this jacket.”

        1. “Hold my jacket while I interrupt this rape, It’s fresh from the cleaners and I don’t want to get penis on it.”

          1. “…these shoes are new and I don’t want to get them all penis’d-up.”

    2. Exactly. Which is why feminists want to change the culture. I don’t say that their efforts are going to pay off.

    3. Fatty, I think “cultural problem” is the whole point of the Article. DUH!

  7. I must be lost. Can someone help me? I’m looking for the government is the problem website. Thanks.

    Seriously though it is time to arm up ladies. A few shot in the penis national news stories should do the trick.

  8. The rapists and the protectors are in many cases the same people. A daughter may not be in danger from her own father or her own brother, but her father or brother may well be dangerous to an unrelated woman.

  9. Woman in India should carry a petrol sachet for their self-defense.

    India is a civilization of rapists.
    * The Powerful Are Trying to Dominate the Powerless.
    * The Uneducated New Rich Are Asserting Their Feudal Privileges.
    * The Government Lets Them Get Away With It.
    * Rape Is a Weapon in Caste Conflict
    * Intellectual Development Isn’t Keeping Up With Economic Progress
    * When Young Men and Women Mingle in Public, This Is One Result
    * Television and the Movies Are Making Women More Sexual
    * Consumption of Spicy Food
    * Women wearing revealing/provoking dresses.
    * Live-in relation leads to rape.
    * When she spends time with drunkards.
    * Girl will be raped if her mother is a slut.
    * Consensual sex is rape if money is not paid.
    * If you’re really raped, you would never complain.

  10. Some companies offer rides home to women who work late, but this makes women more expensive to hire.

    Score one for minarchy over anarchy? Or at least she’s saying forced redistribution of cost & benefit is a good thing when it comes to policing.

  11. Wait, the answer isn’t to let all Indians move to the US? What’s going on here?

  12. I don’t pretend to understand the roots of the rape problem in India, but does it really just come down to a lack of public safety standards and effective policing, as the article suggests?

    If that were the case, wouldn’t there be just as big of a problem with robberies and murder? Moving from a rural area to a big city for jobs would be just as dangerous for a single man as a single woman. While the man might have a lower chance of being raped, what’s to stop an emboldened criminal who knows the chance of getting caught is virtually nil, from smashing the man’s skull with a rock and emptying his pockets? The growing professional class in cities would be particularly vulnerable to this, since they would probably be the ones carrying enough money (or wearing a decent watch, etc.) to be worth robbing.

    Since the overall level of violence isn’t being reported as out-of-control, I suspect something else is going on with these rapes than simply lack of law enforcement.

  13. So, I’m curious about this feminist “Women’s Bill of Rights” that Shikha casually mentions.

    Has anyone else heard of this? Can you link it?

    I’m sure it would be as hilarious as the anti-gun mom’s bill of rights, and I can’t wait to read it.

    1. Haven’t seen it, but I personally don’t like the idea of rights that are afforded to one class of people but not another. Shouldn’t whatever rights are listed be equally applicable to men? Otherwise, we are talking about something more akin to a privilege.

      As for the “anti-gun mom’s bill of rights,” I’m almost afraid to look. It probably the kind of thing that reads like a parody of itself, or would if the moms in question actually had a functioning sense of humor. I imagine one of the “rights” is freedom from suggestive representations of firearms such as partially-eaten Pop-Tarts, Hello Kitty bubble makers, and gun-like hand gestures.

  14. It’s classic derp.

    http://momsdemandaction.org/mo…..of-rights/

    1. They’re delusional.

  15. Feminism is literally impossible in a low-IQ population. You can have the chattering classes chatter all you want, the low-IQ masses will always rely on instinct, as they will be unable to understand feminism, and instinct will tell them that feminism is bullshit. Nor is the solution, as Dalmia said in an earlier column, for India to create a sexually libertine society. Hati has that and look where it is. The solution, Dalmia is right, is more enforcement. That will mean more money needing to be spent on police forces and many, many more men in jail, but it will solve a lot of the problem. It won’t be Sweden, but it might make it as safe as the bad parts of Los Angeles.

    1. A classic statist solution.

    2. A classic statist solution.

    3. “Feminism is literally impossible in a low-IQ population.”

      WOW! Thanks for once again proving the bigotry and prejudice of the supposedly “sensitive” and politically-correct statist/progressives.

      Lack of formal education and “low-IQ” are not the same thing. I don’t see why you think Indians are genetically less intelligent than most, is it perhaps because of their skin tone?

      And why should it require a high level of intelligence to realize that one half of the population should not be automatically subservient to the other half, simply because of gender? By that standard, you could say that an even higher level of intelligence is required to understand that slavery is wrong.

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  17. It’s just one of those inconvenient truths that the way this was addressed in the 19th century in the US and Europe was for women to start carrying handguns. They were viewed as a great equalizer in strength.

  18. You should watch Karen Straughan’s address to the NYS Libertarian Convention this year, on radical feminism and the hijacking of our equal protection presumptions based on gender.

    Most eye opening:

  19. Frankly I cannot take this article seriously. It has so many unresolved issues and contradictions that it beggars belief. I just wanted to make one point which I think is key to all the problems in it. How is the author defining ‘feminism’? It is not a universal construct, nor uniform. Femen claims they are feminists, so does Catherine McKinon and so does Judith Butler. But none would see eye to eye, really. Overall the article makes very little sense when it makes statements like:

    1. “The sad reality, however, is that so long as they live in an unsafe city, their lifestyles will be constrained, women’s rights notwithstanding.” Umm, is the right to safety in public spaces [and home] not also a right of women?

    2. Also, I find appalling how easily the author dismisses domestic violence:”Setting aside incest and sexual assault by friends and relatives that unfortunately happens in all cultures, in America, a lot of rape is “date rape” that occurs when women exercise their social and sexual freedom. By contrast, in India far more rapes originate in public settings ? parks, streets, and buses?as women go about their daily business.” So because it happens in all cultures [whatever that means] it’s okay? and need no intervention? Also, in many countries of the ‘West’ that seems the epitome of perfection [particularly ‘America’ which I suppose stands for USA] marital rape is recognised, unlike in India. So if this country’s law makers are such close allies of feminists, where is that reflected? The fact that the IPC provides for legal abortion [which America still doesn’t have] has everything to do with Malthusian ideas of population control and thereby controlling women’s bodies and less to do with giving women the right to choose {cf: Something like A War dir: Deepa Dhanraj}.

      Also since when has the ‘West’ and ‘America’ become such exemplary models of ‘how to treat women’? And if we follow the logic of thsi article about givernment ensuring safe public spaces; then Kashmir, Manipur, etc will be safest places–enough soldiers patrolling the streets and nobody daring to venture out at all unless they want to be raped/killed by the ‘protectors’ from the administrative powers.

  20. ” It would serve the cause of gender equity far better if it simply did its job and provided safe streets, timely justice, and other basic public goods for everyone. ”
    -Safe streets. Yes. THat has been one of the strongest feminist demands. And how do governments ensure this and other ‘public goods’? By posting more police and increasing surveillance? Thereby increasing moral policing, police harassments, custodial rapes….

    1. “The absence of such amenities that are taken for granted in the West is arguably the strongest pillar of patriarchy in India.”
      -Ridiculous sentence. However, let’s talk about the West and the rest. In this nebulous ‘West’, custodial deaths are not the highest in the world. Laws like AFSPA do not abound. And women do not have to think a thousand times before registering a sexual assault complaint. Why? Because the police [in some cases, such as say, in most cases in the Nordic countries] are sensitive to gender issues. THey have not been brought up as men with huge entitlements who can rubbish women, institute things like a two finger rape test, etc etc: I could go on. And that is why WE NEED FEMINISM. To look at how masculinity is being shaped in our environs. And change it. The government constitutes of people benefitting from patriarchy. Ministers and MPs who can say ‘That is not a rape. It is a case of dispute between a prostitute and her client over money matters’, precisely because Feminism has not been institutionalised as, say in the Nordic countries where the governments have actually listened to feminists {sometimes with very badly thought programmes: such as Sweden’s abolitionist stance on sex work}.

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