We need to change our attitude toward women, not just rape

One of the rapists in the brutal gang rape of a student in Delhi in 2012 has said the victim was to blame for the attack.

“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” Mukesh Singh said in an interview. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night … housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes … she should just be silent and allow the rape.”

Jyoti Singh. A 23-year-old student was tricked into getting onto a bus with a friend and the men, who had taken the bus for a joyride, knocked out her friend and raped her. She died soon after from her injuries.

The attitude displayed here is not just one of disrespect for women or the victim. It’s a display of sheer inhumanity.

Let me deconstruct his comments here for a minute. What Singh is saying is:

*  There are “good girls” and “bad girls”;
* “Good girls” don’t go out at night or dress how they want;
* “Bad girls” go out at night and wear what they want;
* “Good girls” do housework and housekeeping; and
* “Bad girls” go to discos and bars.

Essentially, Singh is saying that “good girls” are what women should be and “bad girls” deserved to be raped. And he throws around the word “rape” as if it’s a perfectly adequate and acceptable punishment for being a “bad girl”.

Comments like this are not only sexist, but prejudiced toward both men and women and make both victims of patriarchy.

It implies that all men are latent rapists who are unable to control their urges, and all have the power to deal out rape as punishment. It implies that any woman who is seen as tempting a man, or doesn’t take the right precautions to avoid rape deserves to be raped.

Rape is not about sexual pleasure. It’s about power, and in this case the rape itself as well as Singh’s comments are an assertion of power over another person. He saw Jyoti Singh’s body, actions and life as his to control, and the only thing she could have done to spare herself was to stay quiet and accept her fate.

These attitudes – and rape apologising too – are damaging to all humankind, regardless of gender. It makes us all victims, because we are entrapped by this never-ending cycle of ownership, violence and consequence.

We cannot let attitudes like this fly. We need to educate our sons that other people – not just women, but people – are not ours to own or do with what we will. We need to teach them that people have agency.

This post originally appeared on Mail & Guardian Thought Leader in March 2015.