This is the second part of the previous post. I finished the article, and I have to say it is one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever read! It’s one of those articles that makes you rethink a lot of ideas you’d taken for granted.
Although men and women in Gerai are not equal, the Gerai view that men are “higher” than women does not translate into a conception of that potency as attached to and manifest through the penis – of men’s genitals as able to brutalize women’s genitals. For many in the west, Halliwell claims, men’s superiority is linked to and manifest through his penis, which is why rape is one of the scariest acts imaginable. In Gerai this is not the case – a penis is just a penis.
Rape is something that people in the community find almost impossible to comprehend. “How would he be able to do such a thing?” one woman asked when I struggled to explain the concept of a man attempting to put his penis into her against her will.
Interestingly, in Gerai men and women’s sexual organs are seen as the same, unlike in the west where there exists a clear differentiation between male organs and female organs. In Gerai, the only difference is in the location: men’s are on the outside and women’s on the inside. Also, sexual intercourse is not about penetration by an aggressive force, rather it involves a mingling of similar bodily fluids, forces and so on.
Gender difference in Gerai is not predicated on the character of one’s body, and especially of one’s genitalia, as in many western contexts. Rather, it is understood as constituted in the differential capacity to perform certain kinds of work. While for westerners genitalia, as significant of one’s role in the procreative process, are absolutely fundamental in determining one’s identity, in Gerai the work one performs is seen as fundamental, and genitalia, along with other bodily characteristics, are relegated to a kind of secondary function.
It is problematic to use the English categories woman and man when writing of this community, since these terms are saturated with assumptions concerning the priority of biological difference. In Gerai, it would be more accurate to deal with the categories of “those responsible for rice selection and storage” and “those responsible for cutting down the large trees to make a ricefield.”
Most importantly, the sexual act is seen as mutual: the idea of having sex with someone who does not need to you have sex with them is unthinkable. “How can a penis be taken into a vagina if a woman doesn’t want it?” one astonished man asked.
An important question from Moira Gatens:
Why concede to the penis the power to push us around, destroy our integrity, ‘scribble on us,’ invade our borders and boundaries, and…occupy us in our (always already) conquered privacy?
This article is a brilliant, thought-provoking one that pushed me to think about how power is given to certain acts (rape) and objects (the penis), and how these are socially constructed. And anything that is socially constructed can be socially deconstructed.