A senior Egyptian general admits that "virginity checks" were performed on women arrested at a demonstration this spring, the first such admission after previous denials by military authorities.Did you get that last bit? Mind-blowing isn't it?
The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.
"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were (virgins)."
Or maybe not.
Cuz really, how is this different from our cultural beliefs about rape, and who can be raped, and under what conditions? Why else do we spend so much time investigating the sexual habits of women who claim they were raped? I mean, if she would voluntarily sleep with Joe on Tuesday, then can we believe her claim that she didn't consent to sex with Bob on Wednesday? If she was seen dancing with or leaving the bar with a man on one occasion, then doesn't that mean she gave blanket consent to all men in all bars on all occasions for any sexual activity they might wish to engage in with her?
Of course, if asked these questions point-blank we'll claim that we don't believe that. But look around at the reporting on - and discussions that follow - rape cases, and you'll see that we pretty much do believe these things. So maybe our attitudes are a little less extreme than the ones being voiced by this Egyptian general, and for sure most people would never actually say out loud the things they think about women who "get themselves raped." But the attitudes are still there, and a person can't live within a culture without being aware of these unspoken beliefs.
Which is another factor in our fascination with/horror about the Elizabeth Smart story. I mean, there she was, modestly dressed, not drinking alcohol, not walking down a dark alley, being a virgin, in her parents' home. And she got raped. How could that happen? Don't you have to do something to entice men to rape you? It contradicts everything we "know" about rape.
In other, sort of related news...
If you read the rest of the article at CNN, you'll also find that the prison sentences most of these protesters had received have now been revoked, because some of the detainees had university degrees. Not because they had good reason to protest or they were just being used as an example or because maybe they really were guilty of some crime but now there's a lot of international pressure on Egypt to mind its human rights bidness. No. It's because they had university degrees so they should be given an extra chance.
In America we're not classist, so we would never admit that the justice system went easy on a defendant because s/he was educated or wealthy or had good connections. We'd never say it. Right out loud like that. That would be embarrassing. But again, what's the difference, really?
It's almost refreshing that this guy will say this stuff right out loud. It's honest in a way that we're not. And when you're willing or able to articulate your cultural beliefs and attitudes like that - you make this stuff explicit - then the mind has a chance to critically engage with it.
For instance, if I said to you "if you drink x brand of beer, then hot chicks will love you. They'll come out of fucking nowhere and rub their bodies all over you as soon as you crack that can/bottle open," you would find that laughable. Or if I said to you "women are the only ones who are competent enough to do housework, and anyway, cleaning the house makes them deliriously happy," no doubt you would argue with me.* And yet, you've had these messages communicated to you over and over and over again, and you've probably never really thought about it. But no doubt you've internalized it.
If you took an implicit association test, you'd be much faster at connecting female names (or pictures of women) with cleaning products than male names or pictures of men. You'd be much faster at connecting certain beer brands with adjectives that suggest sexual appeal than those brands that don't use the hot-girls-will-love-you advertising formula. No matter what you would explicitly say you believed about these things, somewhere in your head, these implicit beliefs have been safely planted and reinforced over and over and over again. The implicit association test tells us that, at some level, you got the message. You learned what the advertiser wanted you to learn. You absorbed the implicit belief without ever actually engaging intellectually with it.
So in a way, although the things this Egyptian dude will say right out loud are sort of shocking to me, I appreciate the fact that he'll say them. We can engage with a belief that's explicitly stated, and discuss what's right or wrong about it. But beliefs and attitudes that are implicitly held and communicated are much more insidious and hard to address. And that's why articulating the implicit beliefs behind media reporting and advertising and the discussions we have around issues like this is so damn important. Even if it makes you the stick in the mud or the oh-rape-jokes-are-funny-to-you? buzzkill or the uptight fat lesbian feminist in the room.
*In the latest estimates I've seen, the average American child will see over 600 images of women vacuuming before the age of 4, while they will see few or no images of men vacuuming. And although this wasn't included in the research, I'd bet a lot of those women were smiling, or at least acting content and happy.