By Jen Thorpe
I have read both Michelle Solomon’s and Lili Radloff’s pieces on why they think the latest Zapiro cartoon was off sides. I share Michelle’s feeling of looking at the cartoon and feeling powerless to help the two women, and of feeling viscerally nauseated at the image of the unbuckled belt. This cartoon is shocking, and it is offensive to rape survivors, and to women, who are portrayed as helpless.
But…I also think that perhaps the fact that it is so painful and scary to look at might be the first time that the media has recognised how painful and scary rape is.
If you look at the media bill as the metaphor, and rape as the act, this cartoon shows how terrifying it is to be raped, how disempowering our political system that holds survivors back rather than supports them is, and how their voices are not heard. None of the rapists in this cartoon even look at Lady Justice as she screams.
It also shows that rape is about power, not about sex. The rapists in these cartoons are trying to take power away from justice, to silence free speech – that is the same in all rapes. They are aimed at taking power from survivors. The cartoon also shows how often this theft of power is perpetrated by more than one person – the rapist, the overcrowded prison system that allows many dangerous perpetrators out on bail, the system that doesn’t inform survivors of their rights, the magistrate who doesn’t actively and appropriately apply the law to the judgement, society who thinks it might be your fault. All of these take power from rape survivors.
Rape survivors are silenced by this system, whether the perpetrators are in government or any ordinary person. Rape survivors are silenced when men in government and the criminal justice system do not use their public speaking opportunities to decry rape, de-legitimise it as a crime, put perpetrators in jail, and inform survivors of their rights.
I think perhaps we feel like this cartoon has pushed us over the edge because of the incredible sense of powerlessness we feel when we look at it. I think we feel the same way when we hear about the sheer scale of rape in our country. We don’t know what to say, what to do, or who to blame. Like in the situation of protecting our democratic right to freedom of speech, the only thing we can do is empower ourselves and get involved. This doesn’t mean that we can avoid being raped, or avoid having freedom of speech stolen from us by cleptocrats and criminals. It means that we can learn our rights, and learn how to support survivors. It means we can demand better application of the law, changes to the law where it is inappropriate, better implementation of policy and accountability for state role players who are not helping survivors.
It means friends, that we are going to have to stop watching our democracy crumble before our eyes through the television screens, and get out on the street and take it back. In short, aluta continua.