When you’re fighting evil and willful ignorance, there are few compliments greater than the unease and anger of the evil and willfully ignorant.
By that measure, Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg is doing great work, and the most vile, ignorant and evil aspects of our patriarchal society are churning to the surface in her wake.
It’s no new development for men to lash out at Thunberg. She’s been mocked by our president. She’s faced unceasing and vile online attacks, usually by smug, white, insecure little boy-men. The Heartland Institute, a think-tank of knee-jerk reactionary propaganda, hired an anti-Greta spokesperson in 19-year-old German climate science denier Naomi Seibt, who promptly used her platform at CPAC last week to praise a white nationalist.
So, the dearth of intelligence and basic human decency in the attacks against Thunberg, and in those perpetrating them, is nothing new. But, when a cartoon surfaced earlier this week of the teenager being raped, it unearthed the true nature of the forces fighting against her, and against countless other women.
The cartoon depicted a naked female, with the name “Greta” written across her lower back, being held by her pigtails and taken from behind. It appeared originally on stickers with the logo of Canadian oil company X-Site Energy Services, allegedly handed out for company employees to put on their hardhats. The company denied all involvement, then walked it back and accepted responsibility.
In her unflappable way, Thunberg dismissed the incident as a desperate tactic by her critics. “They are starting to get more and more desperate …This shows that we’re winning,” she tweeted.
Thunberg is right. She, and others like her, are winning. And when women of any age, race, class, religion or nationality begin to win, it is almost inevitable small-minded, scared little men will lash out. And when they lash out, it all-too-often is in acts of sexual violence.
Using rape as a weapon is seen across the span of women’s struggles for equality, from domestic violence to some of the most vile war crimes.
When ISIS swept through opposition areas in Iraq and Syria, rape was one of their principal weapons in demoralizing the population. Nadia Murad, who was captured by Islamic State in 2012 and subjected to torture and rape, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for her work to bring sexual violence to light.
Before ISIS, mass rape was used as a weapon of war against women in Bosnia, Rwanda, East Timor, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was widely used against women protesters in Egypt in 2005 and 2011, and more recently was employed against Rohingya women in Myanmar.
As the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom pointed out in a 2017 op-ed in The Guardian, the use of rape in these instances has nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with domination and repression.
“Men rape old women, and they rape tiny girls in front of their mothers,” they wrote. “In some cases, they rape with guns and metal bars. Dying women are raped. This is about power, not sex.”
Just last week, we again saw rape used as a weapon against Muslim women during pogroms in Delhi.
But, sexual violence isn’t just overseas. It is very much a part of our America, past and present.
Recy Taylor was a 24-year-old mother, walking home from church in Abbeville, Ala., when she was abducted and gang raped by six men in 1944. She was black. They were white. And her attack was in no way unique.
A documentary on her rape, and the Civil Rights Movement response, “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” says rape was “part of a continuous campaign of terror that was just as much a threat to women as lynching was to black men.”
Long before Rosa Parks sparked the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, she was an activist seeking justice for Recy Taylor and other black women had been raped, predominantly by white men.
Today, it’s estimated one in six American women have been raped. For black women, those odds go up to one in five, and for Native American women it’s a staggering one in three — twice the national average, according to DOJ figures. If anything, it’s believed those numbers are low.
For all these women — our sisters, mothers, daughters and peers — simply living puts them at risk. And nothing elevates that risk more than daring to challenge the resurgence of misogyny, or the status quo of inequality endemic in our patriarchal society.
Women like Nadia Murad, Greta Thunberg, Rosa Parks, Recy Taylor and countless others are brave enough to stand up to the ignorance, misogyny and cowardice that is the necessary breeding ground for sexual violence.
We all should be brave enough to stand with them, and to demand a society worthy of our daughters and sons.