Uncovered meat

A Muslim cleric in Australia is in trouble for his comments which argued that if women remained at home under their veils, rape would not be a problem.

He was referring to a case in Australia where a group of Muslim men were convicted for rape and sentenced to 65 years in prison. The cleric maintained it was not the fault of the men; rather, it was the fault of women for running around uncovered like little floosies. When you leave meat uncovered, the cleric argued, the cats will come. That's not the fault of the cats, it is the fault of the person who left the meat out.

Of course, that comment provoked outrage and calls to deport the cleric back to Egypt.

The notion that men have no responsibility for their sexual behavior is one which prevailed not so long ago in this country. In my class on Wednesday, the topic turned to the place of women in 19th century America. As a part of the discussion, I brought up a rape case which occurred in my hometown early last century.

A railroad crew gang raped a 14-year-old girl, the paper reported. The crew moved on to another town before the incident became public. The town constable didn't persue them because he said identifying them would be difficult. What's more, it was the little floosie who was at fault, wasn't it? You can't blame men for taking what's offered them, can you?

So, the girl was put in a reform school and the paper published a follow-up article about her "road to ruin." The possibility that the rape was something done to her was never brought up. It was assumed that she provoked the men. No proof was offered.

There are some underlying assumptions to this age-old outlook which still exist.

One assumption is that men are not responsible. They are basically animals obeying their animal instincts, and many people kind of like them that way. Morality is the job of women. Nineteenth century moral literature is filled with this theme.

Therefore, if men transgress, it must have been a woman provoking them. If they were violent and used force, that still doesn't excuse the woman from ultimate responsibility. It is the woman's job to be morally pure. It is the man's job to be virile and strong. The woman is to gently steer the man towards morality by wearing skirts down to her ankles, or by staying at home under her veil.

If a male leader in the community transgresses, he is to be forgiven at all costs. We cannot afford to bring him down just because he succumbed to his virility. We must put him back on his pedestal and appeal to the victim to not make waves. She should realize this reality and keep her mouth shut. That is what men are like. Get used to it. But don't call the man to account, for that will undermine the whole principle of male dominance and weaken the group.

Although nobody dares say these things out loud anymore, I think the underlying ideology is still common. You see it more often when religious leaders stray. Cover it up. Keep it quiet. That's just the way men are. But don't risk the reputation of the entire group by exposing things to the light of day.

My students were appalled by the status of women in our recent history. For instance, as recently as the 1930s, a woman's testimony in court was viewed as less reliable than that of a man. It was nearly impossible for the wife of an abusive husband to get a divorce. In one case near home, I know the woman was granted a divorce only after her husband's own father volunteered to testify that his son treated his wife horribly. Now, there's a man!

One student asked what I think is the salient question: Is there actually more abuse today, or is it just more public? I would argue that things were much, much worse back then because the men knew that they could get by with it. The stories which filter down are not good.