Lather, Rinse, Repeat

The recent horrific assaults on women in Steubenville and New Delhi require a strong response. Yet as happens all too often, our horror seems to make it difficult for us to fully recognize the pandemic nature of the problem we are addressing.

The recent horrific assaults on women in Steubenville and New Delhi require a strong response. Yet as happens all too often, our horror seems to make it difficult for us to fully recognize the pandemic nature of the problem we are addressing.

It is, as other writers have said, essential to make the connection between these incidents. But while they are particularly ghastly, it is a lot more shocking that horrendous violence against women takes place every minute and it is so common place that perversely, we don't see it as shocking any more.

There is a war against women that has been raging on this planet since the dawn of patriarchy and it continues unabated today. Women are sold into slavery they are killed as babies because they are female, they are killed to preserve 'honor'. Just a few days ago, a report came out about significant numbers of cases of sexual assault in war-torn Syria. Hardly a surprise because rape and sexual assault have always been defacto tools of war. We've seen it in the DRC, in Rwanda, in Bosnia and in so many other conflicts.

And in the U.S., as Monica J. Casper points out,

"While we reel from spectacular violence that horrifies and makes headlines, mundane violence that harms, terrorizes, and kills women (and often their children) goes largely unnoticed. Domestic violence, with three women on average murdered every day, is more than a silent epidemic; it's a public health emergency."

Rape kits languish unprocessed in evidence lockers for years and a small number of mostly white male people known as the GOP members of Congress can block critical legislation such as the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and block ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) for more than 30 years.

In our military, the problem of sexual assault continues despite numerous hearings and commissions and reports. As Holly Kearl reports,

"Only 8 percent of reported military sexual assaults are prosecuted, and only 2 percent of those end in convictions. Overall, reporting is very low."

Many believe that the way sexual assault is reported in the military is a significant part of why sexual assault is rampant and convictions so low. Yet, according to Kearl,

"When members of the commission asked the military leaders if they would be open to changing the reporting process and removing the discretion that the chain of command has over rape reports, the military leaders said no. They felt it was important for commanders to retain control over the reporting and discipline process."

And that is precisely the problem. I've lost track of the number of times I've written about hearings and reports about sexual violence in the military. But little real change comes from them because naming the problem isn't sufficient- sexual assault has always been a de facto way of asserting military power over, and allowing a change in control over soldiers would open a significant pandora's box of culpability for the military and for those who wield violence everywhere. And so reports keep being written and hearings held and nothing much changes. As Kearl so aptly labels it, what we have is a cycle of lather, rinse, and repeat, which is unfortunately also the perfect descriptor for most of the war that is being waged on women in so many ways.

It is also disheartening but predictable that just a few weeks into 2013, the right-wing attacks on women's rights in this country are quickly beginning to sound like the same vile misogyny that we've been enduring for much too long. A few days ago Rush Limbaugh told a caller, "You know how to stop abortion? Require that each one occur with a gun.", and Rep. Phil Gingrey weighed in by doubling down on the now un-elected Todd Akin's disgusting suggestion that women could shut down pregnancies caused by rape. The GOP is also not wasting any time re-introducing an ugly assortment of bills that would restrict a woman's access to abortion, birth control, etc. In other words, it sounds like 2012, rinse, repeat.

There are a lot of amazing women's human rights advocates working full tilt to stop the perpetual assault on our lives and to promote constructive and useful changes with the usual assortment of activist tools. Multiple petitions cross my desk every day, hearings and meetings and rallies are held, a lather, rinse and repeat response in kind.

These things serve a purpose but they are not sufficient. The current way of doing things on this planet is failing women miserably and no amount of petitions, hearings and reports is going to change that. It will require something bigger. Much bigger.

If there is one woman who knows that and knows how to set such a change in action, it is Eve Ensler, first with the VDay movement that she started and now with her call for 1 Billion Rising which she frames as:

  • A global strike
  • An invitation to dance
  • A call to men and women to refuse to participate in the status quo until rape and rape culture ends
  • An act of solidarity, demonstrating to women the commonality of their struggles and their power in numbers
  • A refusal to accept violence against women and girls as a given
  • A new time and a new way of being

There will be 1 Billion Rising events in many locations on February 14, or start your own, check the link above for more info. It's time to end the lather, rinse, repeat cycle of misogyny and violence.


Many thanks to Holly Kearl for inspiring the title of this piece with her brilliant rinse, repeat analogy.

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