Michael Abrahams | The contribution of women to rape culture
One of my patients came to see me recently for a gynaecological issue. Following inspection of the vulva, and then the vagina and the cervix via the use of a speculum (which many women despise), it is customary to perform what is known as a bimanual pelvic examination.
During the exam, the index and middle fingers of one hand are placed in the vagina, while the palm of the other hand is placed on the lower abdomen.
After the examination, the patient asked me what I look for whenever I perform the manoeuvre. I explained that I feel the uterus to assess its size and shape, check for tenderness or enlargement of the fallopian tubes and ovaries, and look for other abnormalities that could indicate pathology.
“There is a reason for everything I do when I am down there,” I explained, adding, “It’s not like I am Bill Cosby.” She laughed, and as her laughter subsided, she wistfully said that she felt sorry for Cosby. “Why do you feel sorry for him?” I asked. She replied: “Some a dem woman too wicked!”
Whenever I speak with women about Bill Cosby and the accusations of rape and sexual assault levelled at him, more of them show empathy for him than for his accusers, and I am bewildered every time. Their lack of empathy simultaneously amazes and disturbs me.
For the record, at least 60 women accused Cosby of assaulting them. There have been out-of-court settlements and he was found guilty of at least one case in a court of law.
Sexual abuse and harassment are known to be commonplace in Hollywood. In fact, a recent survey of 843 women in the entertainment industry in the United States of America, conducted by USA Today, found that more than 94 per cent of them reported having been sexually harassed or assaulted. But I am tired of hearing women express doubt regarding his guilt, while throwing shade at his accusers.
This is unfortunately not uncommon when popular men are accused of sexual assault. I saw it when Mike Tyson picked up a rape conviction. I saw it again in Jamaica when people, including women, were clamouring for reggae singer Jah Cure to be freed while being incarcerated after being found guilty of rape.
And it’s not just well-known men. Even when unknown assailants are involved, woman and girls still somehow get dismissed, blamed, and even punished by other women. I recall a conversation with a woman who reported being gang-raped as a teenager. After being released from hospital, she got a proper ass-whupping from her aunt, with whom she was living at the time. I guess it was her fault.
Another young woman who was raped by a taxi driver and flung out of the vehicle and on to a road in Central Village also ended up in hospital and met the same fate when she reached home, courtesy of her female caregiver.
Then there was a 12-year-old girl who was being abused by a man in her community. The Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) asked me to examine the child, who did not even flinch during the speculum examination, which many women, even some who have delivered children vaginally, find uncomfortable.
Her demeanour throughout the examination suggested that she was used to her vagina being penetrated. While speaking with her, I realised that the man was giving her mother and grandmother money while they turned a blind eye to him repeatedly raping the child.
But many mothers are indeed protective of their daughters, like the mother of a friend of mine who, as a child, was fondled by her pastor after church. When my friend reported the incident to her mother, she took her straight to the pastor and confronted him, only for the pastor’s wife to defend her husband, claiming that the way the child was attired was the cause of the assault. In other words, she brought it on to herself.
The issue of marital rape is a controversial one, but laws recognising it as an offence are created to protect women. However, when the issue was brought to the fore in Jamaica in 2017, it was a woman, Philippa Davies, an attorney with a church coalition, who made a presentation to a parliamentary committee stating that changing the law would “hurt the sanctity of marriage”.
Patriarchy and the misogynistic attitudes of males have fuelled the persistence of rape culture for centuries, but an inconvenient truth is that women also play a significant role in sustaining its presence. If rape culture is to be fought successfully, there must not only be a change of attitude among men, but among women as well.