Saturday, April 26, 2008

Whose Genitals Matter?

Reuters recently ran a story on, penis thievery in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Men reported being touched by witches and sorcerers. This touch either removed their penises, shrunk them, or left them impotent. When men were told that there was no visible damage to their genitalia, they claimed to have once possessed a larger penis. Police arrested 14 people in an attempt to protect them from retaliation lynchings. There was fear that there would be a repeat of the violence that occurred in Ghana a decade ago when men were "assaulted" in this manner.

As reported in Reuters,"You just have to be accused of that, and people come after you. We've had a number of attempted lynchings. ... You see them covered in marks after being beaten," Kinshasa's police chief, Jean-Dieudonne Oleko."

These attacks quickly became a part of the national dialog and were widely discussed on radio programs. The very idea of men being "attacked" this way, led to the potential for great social unrest.

What is the situation like for women in the Congo? Let us pause, to juxtapose men and women.
Last week HBO premiered the documentary, The Greatest Silence, Rape In The Congo. It is the award winning documentary by Emmy award winning producer/director Lisa F. Jackson.

Women are viciously gang raped and left bleeding to die. After being assaulted they are considered defiled by their communities. Often they are abandoned by the husbands that failed to protect them. This is particularly problematic for women who become pregnant as a result of rape; not only are they stigmatized bodies but they must bare the burden of raising a child that is the product of rape.

It is clear that a gender hierarchy exists in the Congo. Mens hallucinatory attacks quickly become part of the national discourse, while the mass rape of women goes largely ignored. This is beyond phalocentrism, this is a culture of misogyny and violence. The penis is protected not because it is a part of the male body, but because it functions as a tool to oppress, brutalize and silence women. The penis literally symbolizes the hierarchy of gender in the Congo, thus the very idea of it being diminished becomes the cause for social unrest.

Womens cries go unheard. Their mass rape does not become part of the national discourse. In fact, their bodies are stigmatized to be rendered invisible. The pain and horror in their eyes reveals a glimpse of souls that have been forever wounded. Do the truculent men of the Congo emote even the smallest form of remorse? ... No. For as long as the penis represents power, it will be protected even at the cost of the lives of girls, and women. I hear the cries of these women, for it has been etched into my heart, the question is do you? Stop the silence, end rape in the Congo! End violence against women everywhere!


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