Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production

Vol.59.1: “THEY WANT OUR WOMEN!”

Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna in Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi, seen from the Piazza della Signoria

Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna in Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi, seen from the Piazza della Signoria

There is a joke I heard many years ago.  I’m not sure I remember it exactly, but it goes like this:

Back in the days of marauding hordes a village is taken by Mongol raiders.  A large, fierce Mongol strides into a hut where a man and his wife are cowering.  The Mongol says to the man, “I am going to rape your wife, and you are not going to interfere.” 

The Mongol takes his sword, scrapes a line in the mud floor of the hut and tells the man, “If you step over this line I will kill you in a horrible way.”  Then he grabs the wife, throws her on the bed and proceeds to rape her.  When he is finished he walks out without saying a word.

The husband rushes over to his wife who is weeping, but when she looks at her husband the man is actually laughing.

“How can you be laughing when a barbarian has just raped your wife?” she says.

“I sure showed him, the husband replies,” snickering.

“What can you mean, husband,” the wife say incredulously,” that barbarian raped me right in front of your eyes!”

“Yeah, the husband says,” proudly, “but he was so busy at it that he never noticed that I stepped over that line three times!”

One shouldn’t make jokes about rape, perhaps, but this one is really puts down the husband’s ridiculous machismo.   In the reality of the many, many times such rapes have occurred throughout history, the husband would have most likely been killed in any case.  Probably from the beginning of humankind raping, then enslaving (or sometimes killing) conquered women was not an uncommon practice, as was putting the conquered men to the sword.  The practice seems to have been ubiquitous.  Tribes on Borneo went off on raids of other clans and villages, kidnapping women.  The fear might have been from so-called ”barbarians,” but armies from ancient history, through the Greeks and Romans, up to he present day have engaged in the practice of using conquered women as slaves and concubines.  The Japanese army engaged in a practice of enslaving women in conquered territories in WWII, prisoning them in brothels as “comfort women” for their troops [Theresa S. Park, A Gift of the Emperor, 2005]. Russian soldiers went wild in the conquest of Berlin and there was the notorious “Rape of Nanking” by Japanese soldiers that combined rape with murder. [See DCJ Archives, 19. 7The Rape of Nanking,  Iris Chang  4.22.2005 ]  These days it is likely happening as these words are written in Darfur and elsewhere.

Rape as an instrument of warfare was, and is, as much a “political act” as was vanquishing enemy combatants.  At another level, warriors often went without sex for long periods, but the reasons for raping captives may have been lodged in the conscious or unconscious purpose of conquest by impregnation, the same impulse that “alpha males” exhibit throughout the animal world. Male bed bugs, I have read, engage in the practice or raping their competitive males, which ensure that the competitors semen is infertile.  So rape results in a form of “possession” and offspring carry the DNA of the conqueror.  Given that in many societies women were (and still are) regarded as chattel, or property, their rape and enslavement was just an extension of pillaging.  The surprising extent of enslavement and trafficking in women remains a distressing proof of the enslavement of women and girls.

The fear of this practice runs deep; it presents the prospect of the literal annihilation of a people the conquest and usurpation of their biological identity.  Despite the sort of highly consensual interactions recounted in circumstances such as those recorded in Mutiny on the Bounty, many aboriginal societies regarded, rightly, intruders from other races and ethnicities, with suspicion and fear, and did what they could to repel or kill them.  [Lynn Lofland, A World of Strangers, 1973]

And so it is not surprising that one of the forms of expression that fear of rape has taken involves the imaginary world of encounters between species. Until Steven Speilberg and his cuddly little Extraterrestrials [Close Encounters of the Third Kind,  (1977), E.T  (1982)], none of which appear to possess any threatening genitalia by the way, the prevailing fear of conquest and rape seems to have been transferred to the cinema of Sci-Fi.  Until Speilberg, most all of the inter-galactic Sci-Fi I grew up on in films and books regarded our visitors from “beyond the stars” as malevolent and bent upon enslaving humankind or wiping it out.  Of course the invaders were, for practical reasons, almost always anthropomorphic, and hence, it seems, invited into these narratives the prospect (though never the completion) of that ancient and embedded fear of rape.

Consider, by way of evidence for this hypothesis, the following movie posters of Sci-Fi films:

V094-03_0clip_image008_robby

The rather gratuitous visual references to alien creatures carrying off our blond, buxom and scantily-clad women extends even to the poster of the venerable The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which there is no blond woman and no such scene. [see DCJ, April/May 2009, Global Warnings]

If the prospect of the next generation of humans looking green and bug-eyed, or semi-robotic(?), doesn’t seem quite plausible, there are always our own terrestrial monstrosities who appear obsessed with our blond women.  In addition to King Kong’s penchant for blond beauties [DCJ Archives, 11. 5:  Going Ape for Blondes   8.13.2004], there are these nasty fellows, among whom only the Creature From the Black Lagoon seems to prefer brunettes.

V094-03_0clip_image012_wolfThen again, these imaginings of extra- and intra-terrestrials female abducting monsters might also be code for the more likely inter-racial and inter-ethnic worry that the “alien” is always out to “take our women.”  From Paris in the Illiad to Tony in West Side Story (1961), to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), the “other,” even in legitimately winning the heart of “our” women has made “their” men feel rather like some male bed bugs.  But, of course, even that protective attitude is suffused with possessiveness.

Regrettably, male attitudes toward rape may be more about possessiveness than concern for the intrinsic rights of women to be the possessors of their own anatomy.  To often we have seen the attitude of “she was asking for it,” or “why not just relax and enjoy it,” from colloquial to judicial response to rape. It just might be that our critters from outer space or terrestrial underworlds are counting on the male of the human species being pre-occupied with how many times they can “step over the line.”

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© 2009, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 6.1.2009)

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