Monthly Archives: December 2010

A Culture of Victimhood: Using Rape as a Weapon

This post was brought to my attention today by several women who were obviously incensed by Stacy McCain’s statements.

Here is the what I see as the heart of the initial post:

If you tumble into a random hook-up with no prior knowledge of the guy’s reputation and he turns out to be a selfish brute whose standard modus operandi is repulsive, dangerous or painful, in what sense are you a victim of anything except your own stupidity?

Rape is something that both sides are desperate to avoid and really quick to jump on when it seems as though it’ll work to their advantage. There is no delicate way to approach this, perhaps, but I believe it’s important to discuss.

I think we can all agree that no means no, and stop means stop. If at any point in preceding events a woman says no, all bets are off. No one is disputing that. There are, however, choices involved, and sometimes people make bad ones that they regret. If a woman decides after the fact that she made a bad choice, she doesn’t get to go back and decide that her partner was a “selfish brute”, to use Stacy’s words, and call it rape. At that point, the choice has been made.

A rampant culture of victimhood does nothing to empower women, and removing them of all responsibility in every situation is demeaning. Again, women are not responsible for rape in any instance, and the “she was asking for it” argument is generally noxious. However, using rape as a weapon against someone you’ve decided you want to destroy is inexcusable, and should be treated as such.

Assange is not someone that most of us would rush to defend, and there are certainly more facts that will be brought to light in coming days. I won’t pretend to know any more than I have read online about this situation. I certainly believe that when more than one woman comes forward and there are multiple accusations, things should be investigated. Speaking specifically to this situation, there seems to be little evidence that there was force involved.

Jill over at Feministe writes this:

There’s a lot going around in bloglandia and on the interwebs about WikiLeaks honcho Julian Assange’s sexual assault charge in Sweden; commentators are saying that Assange didn’t really rape anyone, and these are trumped-up charges of “sex by surprise,” which basically means that Assange didn’t wear a condom and so days later the women he slept with are claiming rape. . .
It also sounds like in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn’t, and the woman didn’t realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not. . . .

I don’t believe for a second that he managed to have sex with a woman without a condom without her knowledge. Let’s assume, however, that this actually occurred – isn’t the question more of an ethical one, on the level of not telling your partner you didn’t take your birth control? It’s still sex if he’s wearing a condom.

Regardless, I don’t think there’s much dispute that Assange is a scumbag. Being a scumbag, however, is very different from being a rapist. Should a stronger statement be made or more evidence surface, I’ll reevaluate the Assange situation. Until then, we should be careful not to let rape accusations with no basis be a trump card, and those who ask legitimate questions about public statements should not be labeled misogynists or rape apologists.

UPDATE: Stacy’s latest response is here.

Breaking the Stereotype: The Women of the Western Sahara

My trip to the Western Sahara this month was the first time I’d ever traveled to a Muslim country – and as a very Caucasian Christian American woman, there were reservations. Before you get excited, this will not be a commentary on Islam. I’ve no intention of drawing any conclusions about the religion – my goal is simply to illustrate what I saw on the ground in the Western Sahara. The Western Sahara, for the majority of you who have no idea where it is, is the land between Algeria and Morocco that has long been in dispute. The Sahrawi people fled Morocco 35 years ago and have been in camps on the Algerian side of the border ever since, fighting for self-determination. I was not entirely sure what to expect out of this trip, but I hopped on my plane to Paris amidst a chorus of questions and concerns from my friends and family.

The morning after our arrival in the Western Sahara, we went to the February 27th camp to meet with the head of the women’s school and wound up in the middle of a Sahrawi heritage festival. Standing on the edge of the parade, listening to the music and watching the dancing, I quickly forgot any reservations I had and was drawn to the women and children. They wore bright tye-dyed malfas, beads, and jewelry. They smiled at us and welcomed us into their tents for tea and taught us how to play games. They were beautiful and confident and gracious, and I immediately realized that whatever subconscious preconceived notions I had about their culture, I’d been wrong.

I learned quickly that my concerns were totally unnecessary, and that the Sahrawi women were breaking all my stereotypes. Many left their faces uncovered, they held positions of power in government. They were well educated, and fought hard against the oppressive Moroccan regime. There was a sense that the women had more to lose in the battle than men – they were fighting for their freedom with everything they had.

Women at the festival. Note the cell phone.

Me with the women who were making tea for us.

The festival itself was a celebration of the Sahrawi people. The flags they waved read “Sahara Libre” across the bottom. They laughed and danced and watched children sing traditional songs. Substitute a decorated convertible for the camels and replace the dusty Sahara ground with Main Street and it wasn’t unlike a small town parade in America. We wandered around and purchased jewelry from the merchants and spoke to many of the people in the town, who seemed nothing but grateful to have Americans in their midst. Most of them spoke 2 and 3 languages, making it easy to communicate and ask questions… and making me feel the part of the ignorant American who only spoke English and a bit of pathetic Spanish.

Sahara Libre

Later in the week, we had the opportunity to meet with Nana Rachid, the Director of the Union of Saharwi Women. I was so taken with her and what she had to say – our meeting was easily one of the highlights of my week. She was beautiful, confident and incredibly intelligent, laughing easily and happy to spend a time taking questions. She focused on the level of education, touting their 95% literacy rate (100% in people under the age of 35 – the period of time since they moved to the camps). She spoke of the small business loans for women, enabling them to start up agricultural and textile businesses. The women raise their children, work hard outside the home, and are treated with respect. They divorce and remarry, and are entitled to the house and children in the instance of a split. Nana spoke of her disdain for men who take multiple wives and the practice of arranged marriages (although we understood from other conversations that there may be some men who did have more than one wife). She was in the process of having her 4th book published, both in Arabic and French, and expressed interest in having her poetry translated into English.

Nana Rachid and myself.

Another one of the women we had the opportunity to meet with was Mariam Salek Hamada, the Minister of Education. She fled to the camps in 1975, at the age of nine, and began her career as a teacher in the early 90′s. By 2004 she had been appointed Minister of Education. Judging by the caliber of the people we had the privilege to interact with, she does her job well.

After meeting the Sahrawis and experiencing first-hand how incredibly well educated they seemed to be, this was a meeting of particular interest. In 1975, when the Sahrawis fled Morocco and the men were off fighting, the women were left on the oases with the children. They began “school” by doing math problems and writing in the sand with sticks or scratching things onto stone. They now they have their own school buildings in each camp, special accommodations for children with disabilities, and universities. Their biggest problems remain a shortage of supplies (books, paper, pencils, etc) and educating teachers. As far as continuing education, they struggle to find places that will scholarship the education of their doctors and other advanced degrees. They tend to have more in common with Latin cultures, in part because of the Spanish influence, but also because much of the Arab world believes them to be too free. They begged us to bring their students to the United States for higher education, explaining that only Cuba, Spain, Libya, Venezuela and Mexico would take their students.

The difference between the Sahrawi people and the other refugees I’ve encountered was simple: hope. They are there because they choose to be, and they believe that they will soon be independent. They don’t believe that they will live in camps forever, and they have a vision for what their people can accomplish. Their will is strong, and their fight for freedom is one that should resonate with all of us.

Tabitha Hale is the New Media Director at FreedomWorks, and visited the camps in December 2010. She did not receive any payment for this trip from any government or from the Polisario. It was privately funded by the Defense Forum Foundation.

Journey to the Western Sahara.

Last month I was invited to the Western Sahara to report on a conflict I knew nothing about. Without even thinking about it, I responded with my characteristic “Hell yeah, I’ll go.” I mean, sleeping on the floor of refugee camps is sort of my thing. Why not?

So on December 6th I boarded a plane to Paris, then on to Algiers. We landed in Algiers and were met by amabassadors who took us to lunch in town. It was meat on a skewer, bread and dates, basically, but it was wonderful – and really nice to see some of the city before we headed off into the middle of the desert.

Meat skewers - we picked out our own and they threw them on the grill. Lamb, chicken, sausage, and some sort of kidney we were so not brave enough to try.

We returned to the airport to pick up the Chicago contingent of our delegation and left several hours after planned. We learned later, while talking to a group of people from a huge Spanish delegation, that they refer to Air Algerie as “Insha’Allah Air”, or “If God Wills it”… apparently they’re even less reliable than the airlines around here. We did, however, make it to Tindouf in one piece and were transported by Land Rover (the official vehicle of the Western Sahara) to our compound.

We stayed on a chicken farm on an oasis about half an hour outside of Tindouf. Don’t know where tindouf is? You’re most likely not alone. Here’s a map:

So, really far away from everything. Now let me give you a little bit of background on the conflict we were investigating.

Back in 1975, Spain began the process of decolonizing Morocco, and held meetings with the Polisario leaders to negotiate the independence of the Saharawis. The UN became involved and went to the Saharawis to gather information on public opinion – did these people actually want independence? The answer was resoundingly yes. Morocco, however, invaded the Western Sahara on November 6th and a bloody battle ensued. The Saharawis left in protest, setting up the four camps on Algerian soil – this territory is where I spent all of last week.

From the moment we arrived, I was impressed with the Saharawis. They were beautiful – vibrant clothing, animated in their conversation, and incredibly hospitable. Over the course of the next few days we met with the President, the President’s wife, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, the Defense Minister, the Education Minister, the head of the Red Crescent, and the head of a Saharawi women’s organization. We toured hospitals, schools, museums, and camps, and slept in the home of a refugee family. Everywhere we went, there was only one request: Tell Americans our story.

Right now, Morocco is spending billions on this fight, arming the 1,200+ mile Berm on the border of the Western Sahara and now lobbying the US Congress with propaganda about the supposed horrendous conditions in the camps and information on how the Algerian government is holding these people hostage. One thing was clear from everyone we spoke to: The Saharawis are in camps in voluntary protest. No one is holding them against their will. They are incredibly well educated, and the only hostility I encountered was from a woman who was upset that the United States, the freest nation in the world, wouldn’t recognize their fight to be independent.

It’s taken me a few days to process everything, but over the next few days I will be posting several articles about the trip, focusing on the women, the culture, and their fight for self determination. Please feel free to ask questions, and send this information around, and look into the conflict for yourself. The Saharawis are an incredible group of people, and it was an honor to get to spend time with them.

Free Western Sahara!