and we’re just not horrified enough

The woman, whose intestines were removed because of injuries caused by a metal rod used during the rape, has not been identified. She was flown to Singapore on Wednesday night after undergoing three abdominal operations at a local hospital. She had also suffered a major brain injury, cardiac arrest, and infections of the lungs and abdomen. “She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome,” Dr. Loh’s statement said.

As many of you have been, probably,  I have been thinking and thinking and thinking about this horrific story. I hesitate to lead off with the gruesome description above. Do any of us really want to think about this in such a graphic way? But it happened. Do we have a right to pretend it didn’t? Do we have an obligation to look at it, directly, and talk about it? I can’t even really decide if I can write about it — what can I possibly say that we either aren’t already thinking/don’t already know or that can make any kind of change in this world in which we live?

I had actually heard mention of this probably a dozen times before I could even bear to look for and read about it. Contrary to the belief that what we imagine is usually worse than the truth, this is even more horrifying than I could have imagined possible.

I can’t help but wonder about the other people on the bus. About the bus driver. How do you watch something like this happen and not do anything? I get fear, and self preservation, and all that, but what about humanity?

I shudder to imagine.

Sohaila Abdulali posted this op-ed in response, to the rape and to the protests which followed. I watched her being interviewed, and thought what a remarkable, courageous, articulate woman she was, and what a triumph it is for her that she has obviously moved past her own horrifying ordeal so that it no longer defines her. I don’t know if I could do the same. I am grateful for her that she had a family that supported her and didn’t fill her head with rubbish about how it was her fault and how she should be ashamed and how she brought that shame to the whole family.


There’s a lot of talk about how women are treated in places such as India and Africa and the more fundamentalist-Islam countries like Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. They are objects, to be owned and beaten and manipulated and controlled at will, and the loss of their virtue somehow not the loss of THEIR virtue, but the loss of their “owner’s” (brother, father, husband) honor.

We’ve heard the stories of the women in refugee camps in Africa whose legs are slashed by their rapists so that their husbands will know of their dishonor and not allow them to return home TO RAISE THEIR OWN CHILDREN. We’ve heard the stories of the young woman in Afghanistan who was attacked by her brother WITH AN AXE because he believed she had left her husband (much older, by an arranged marriage) and gone to another town with another man. This belief was unsubstantiated, but it didn’t really matter, because if it was rumored, even possibly true, the dishonor was too great to be borne by anyone. We’ve heard the stories of clitoral circumcision and of pre-pubescent girls being married to men in their 50s and of girls not allowed to go to school or drive or walk on the street with anyone but their brother or husband.

And we’re just not horrified enough.

Or the woman who had acid thrown in her face. Or how lesbian women in Africa are subjected to “corrective rape,” as if being brutally assaulted by a male will convert them from feeling a stronger romantic pull towards women.

And we’re just not horrified enough.

Girls and young women in India are being encouraged to stay home after dark; or to go out and to challenge the police to actually protect them. (Hmmm, why does this not sound like a good idea?) Boys and young men in India are being encouraged to behave properly, but female fetuses are still aborted at an astonishing rate and males are served their meals first, and sometimes separately, and sometimes need to finish before the females eat at all. One of the protestors viewed in one of the NYTimes articles was holding a sign beseeching men to “imagine she’s your sister” — but brothers are doing horrifying things to their sisters in the name of “honor.”

How about “imagine she’s a person”?

It’s so easy to demonize or dehumanize our enemies — Saddam Hussein in his “spider hole,” etc. I have always wondered if that describes the perpetrators accurately, or if it just makes it easier for us to hate them. And then I imagine these men, who were capable of such brutal cruelty, and try to imagine them as “people.” I just can’t. But I think part of the bigger problem is that they couldn’t possibly have seen that this woman was a person. I can’t imagine they would do this to another man, or even to a dog they found on the street. Yet they had the capacity to attack this woman so viciously SHE HAD TO HAVE HER INTESTINES REMOVED.

I feel such tremendous pain and sadness, from my head to my heart to the deepest part of my being. We can get all up in arms because Hilary was told as a young girl that girls didn’t become astronauts, or that op-ed writers think it’s appropriate to question her extensive travel as an exercise in vanity. And yes, we should be horrified about these things as well — all, in a way, part of the same problem.

We’re women, so we’re told that we’re less. Less smart, less strong, less capable, just less. We should even weigh less, talk less, be satisfied with less.

And we’re just not horrified enough.

2 Responses to “and we’re just not horrified enough”

  1. January 25, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Thanks for articulating this. i have a really good friend who is a “thoughtful feminist”. She doesn’t rant or rave, but rather EDUCATES me in the assumptions we males make at every turn. The little things that illustrate our subconscious elitism as males. I am grateful for her gentle lessons, as I am for your piece.

    • January 26, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      I am completely at a loss to understand these behaviours. I agree that they can only be done by people who don’t see women as people; don’t see that they share a common humanity.
      Moreover, I have no answer to the question: what do I do to stop this from being repeated

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