Friday, 22 September 2017

51. The raping gaze: Las Vegas and Weinstein

(continues from entry 50.) 

The raping gaze

Feminist theory speaks about the male gaze as the act of depicting the world from the masculine/heterosexual point of view, presenting women as objects of male desire. This gaze has a violent version where women appear through this lens directly as prey (an even lower category than that of objects). This gaze tears apart life, vitality, power from the victim. One of the most poignant descriptions of this, came a few days ago when Prince Harry spoke about dealing with the death of her mother. He said:

 "I think one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the fact that the people that chased her into the tunnel were the same people taking photographs of her while she was still dying on the back seat of the car"
"She had quite a severe head injury, but she was very much still alive on the back seat. And those people that caused the accident, instead of helping were taking photographs of her dying on the backseat. And then those photographs made their way back to news desks in this country."

As I mentioned in the previous article, the "sacrifices" - the crimes and the abuse used to cleanse aggressors of their own negativity- once in a while are seen for what they really are:  violence against an innocent. And every once in a while these cases provoke a change, even if temporary, imposing self-restrictions to power. In this case, the public demanded the power of the media to show self-restraint.


Cruelty as a display of power

Feminists, like anthropologist Rita Segato, argue that in most cases rape is a power crime through sexual means. In this sense, not only women are subjected to it but anyone whose power must be denied through a violent act, who is forced to take the submissive, passive position in what is often a public display of power (with witnesses or performed by a gang). The act that includes humiliation, sexual humiliation, nudity, exposure, inflicting pain or even purposefully looking for multiple completely helpless innocent victims, wants to demonstrate that there are no limits to power. It is a display with a public in mind. This public aspect is not a minor detail. Sometimes this shadow audience is reduced to a circle (most of rapes are performed in gang or in front of a friend), sometimes is imagined (eg a message to all women, to the guardians of the woman involved; her father, a brother) but sometimes the display is addressed to the wide public, like we see in mass shootings. In a violent spectacle there is a gaze that is being addressed: pairs, the male brotherhood, the father, the mother, society, the state: are you looking? Can you see my power? And in an age of mass communication, mass shootings in particular are granted a lot of attention. The invisibility of the individual in the community stops. The community gaze finally sees what they did.

Violence to establish the hierarchical xenophobic, racist and chauvinistic order

In the pictures of Abu Ghraib we, viewers, are seeing the raping gaze in action. Rita Segato, through her studies of rapists in Brazil, concluded that rapists see themselves more often than not as moralists. They see their act as a disciplinary act over someone who had to be put in place, with the objective of imposing an order (eg Harvey Weinstein imposing himself as the gatekeeper to be revered) or reinstating the order that was being broken. Internally, this order is higher than the law itself. It is indeed a system of two laws (one for "us", one for "them") or as it is normally referred to, it is a system of two bars or double standards. In their mind they are not breaking any law, they are following it. Sometimes it even goes beyond the animal behaviour of establishing hierarchy through sexual means, there is a desire to kill their victims morally too.

The "morality" that the rapist is enacting does not come up from nowhere. It is sustained by the culture we live in and is propagated through images and concepts that build up the ideal of masculinity, femininity, power, otherness, justice in society, order, etc. Anything that is considered "normal", is normal only through a particular gaze.
Because this cultural hierarchy puts white males at the top, media struggles to condemn white crime. White men are assumed virtuous or "normal":

Highlight positive aspects of white men and negative aspects of victims:

They try to create empathy towards the murderer:

All of this, came to the spotlight again with the recent Las Vegas mass shooting:


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