Have you read A Woman In Berlin? No? Well, nor had I until this week. If I could urge you to read it with out telling you the content that would be much better, but I'm unsure if you'd listen. It is a book that describes, through diary entries, the life of an anonymous woman in Berlin from April 20th - June 22nd 1945. In it she writes about rape, her own and all the women around her. I can't help feeling that the reason it's overlooked is because people are compelled to compare one suffering to another: an empty exercise, with no winners.
Though a film has been made of this journal it is important that it should be read. There is something that the 'I' can do, which the ocular cannot. The ocular must own things, look upon them, where words can climb inside and resonate within.
Women's status as chattel is clearly and cruelly brought to the fore in war, where rape is seen as an inevitability: the spoils of victory. Catherine MacKinnon writes passionately about men's states and women's status in a collection of essays that asks "Are Women Human?" The anonymous Berlin woman's journal is a piercing account of being just such plunder.
The place of woman as own-able object could not be more clearly illustrated than by the 'protection' the Berlin Woman receives from one of her rapists, against attacks from potential others. The situation exemplifies what MacKinnon would call the male bond: men's respect "of other men's control over their own domain in the hope and expectation of reciprocity". This is seen on larger scale in the division of states. When it comes to the treatment of women, sovereignty is left intact. Everyday life goes on: women continue to die by stoning.
The fact of rape is a terrible one: it's the inhumanity of deriving sexual pleasure in the face of another person's pain. Where sex might please in the pleasing of others, rape is its opposite. It becomes a violence like none other, a nightmare extreme of Schadenfreude. Only it isn't: it's a reality for many people we know. Therefore it becomes all our responsibilities, as parents, brothers and sisters, as children, as friends. We have to know that in some small way we have allowed it to happen: because without that responsibility we have nothing, and I am hanging on to optimism.
A few weeks ago game reviewer, Alanah Pearce, responded to rape threat trolls by contacting their mothers, a move that recalls the old adage that every rapists is somebody's son. Of course there is a large gap between threats and action, but what is sad about the situation is the fact that the threats had come from 10-15 year olds. These are children, and if - as in Pearce's words- they didn't "know better", surely adults are to blame? We are failing them. Precisely how and why, it is hard to tell, but it has something to do with machismo and one thing is clear: we are all complicit. We are all born innocent into this world, and if within 10 years we can be shaped into creatures that threaten sexual violence, what will another 70 years do to us? At some point, lifting one's hands and crying 'but boys will be boys', just doesn't fly. Boys are human like the rest of us and want to fit in. If fitting in and being a boy means wielding weapons and acting out war, well that's what most will do. They may not enjoy it at first, but they will learn to enjoy it, just like the taste of beer or cigarettes. But unlike them, those gendered behaviors are not addictive, they are just habits. Habits can be broken.
Much of this will fall to parents and carers, but not all. However unusual a child's upbringing - gender neutral, feminist or otherwise, children look to societal norms as a guide to their expectations. They will learn how to be gendered by how the world shows them their gender looks and is enacted. Parents can only hope to counter some of the effects of these enactments where they might be damaging. Pink is in no way an intrinsically girly colour, but try telling that to a little boy. None of us are individually responsible for the boy's hard felt belief that he can't possibly wear pink, collectively we all are. These are fallacies that are constructed and maintained, just like the peacetime structures that pit women as possessions. While pink may not be an issue that matters, let it be a reminder of the darker constructions that we also let live and their terrible consequences, by our failures to reveal them for the falseness that they are.