Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones

Goya5_460wA roundtable discussion with Miranda Alison, Debra Bergoffen, Pasquale Bos, Louise du Toit, Regina Mühlhäuser and Gaby Zipfel in Eurozine:

Louise du Toit: War is a boys’ game. War and the figure of the warrior are closely entwined with hegemonic and hetero-normative masculinities. In her book The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry makes us intensely aware of the extent to which traditional and modern warfare take place on a symbolic plane – the extent to which they are imaginary constructs.[1] The identity of the warrior, soldier or freedom fighter is closely tied up with the image of the hero, who challenges and risks, but also wields death for some supposed greater good. The Italian feminist Adriana Cavarero sees the heroic risking of personal death as a cornerstone of idealized masculinity in the West.

In material terms, of course, armed conflicts are often about the expansion of male-owned power-bases, including access to land, minerals, and other resources such as oil. To my mind, therefore, the very notion of “war” needs to be interrogated before one looks at the set of questions at hand. For gangs of youngsters on the Cape Flats, or gangs of criminals in Johannesburg, one could say that, irrespective of the official status of the country as a whole, their lives are characterized by perpetual warfare, and indeed that is the language they themselves employ. The metaphor of war dominates their lives and so crowds out other possibilities for them. South Africa as a nation-state need not be at war with any other state for these young men to inhabit, on a permanent basis, a parallel universe that constitutes a war zone. Built into the rhetoric of war is the notion or value of survival, which legitimizes conduct that would not be permissible otherwise. In other words, war per definition entails an exceptional situation or period that calls for exceptional sacrifices and exceptional conduct.