Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rape, Hypermasculinity and Philippine-American Relations

When I woke up this morning to pick up our copy of the Inquirer from the garage floor where the newspaper man regularly throws it every day, I was pleasantly shocked by the headline; 40 Years in Jail for Smith. I was 99% sure that no American soldier would be convicted yesterday. Not because I doubted “Nicole’s” story, but because the idea of an American being pronounced guilty and serving time in our jails just seemed incredible. After all, my doubt stems from historical experience. As far as our country’s relations with the United States are concerned, we are almost always at the losing end.

When the trials began six months ago, we all knew this was no mere trial of a woman wronged. Nicole’s story is our story. Her fascination with the American soldiers, her friendship with Christopher James Mills, her seduction by these good-looking young men and her ultimate downfall.

All sorts our discourses weave their way into this rape case. The discourse of gender relations, of American militarism, of post-colonial relations, of hypermasculinity and violence.

In the early weeks of the trial, Nicole’s character was as much on trial as the accused. Had she been a prostitute? And if so, did she deserve to be raped? Was it an unavoidable hazard of her “profession?” Even if she was not a sex worker, what did she expect from drinking and dancing with these Joes? The implication that she provoked her assault in the back of that van underlies a certain view of masculinity, one that sees the male as a sexual predator, a slave to his base desires. The female is seen as the passive recipient of the male’s seduction. He proves his masculinity to himself and to his peers by subduing and conquering the woman. A woman who inflames such a desire must yield or suffer the consequences. As the expression goes, an erect penis knows no conscience. We all acknowledge that such behavior literally belongs to the Stone Age, and yet, the attack on the plaintiff’s character is almost always used as a tactic by defendants in rape cases.

The fact that the defendants are American servicemen adds yet another discourse to this story. The United States spent $400 billion this year on defense, the highest in the world and roughly equivalent to the next 15 countries combined. Militarily, it is the most powerful nation on Earth. Military might has traditionally been linked to international relations. In fact, the discipline of IR, barely a hundred years old, has been, for the most part, concerned with war. And wars are fought by men. Women have no place in warfare. They are relegated to the sidelines, presumed safe and shielded from the horrors of severed limbs and blown-up faces. It doesn’t matter that in truth, more people die of economic causes; poverty, starvation, easily-preventable diseases. But men must have their wars and their weapons of destruction. They must have these awesome displays of masculinity. Who has the biggest and most explosive gun? Who can stand the most pain? Who has no qualms to commit violence in the name of the “Motherland,” that symbol of femininity left safe at home?

No doubt, today the United States has the largest penis of all. This penis knows no conscience. It is confident in its subjugation and conquest of others. What it cannot take by wooing and soft words, it takes by force. Such is the story of American imperialism from turn of the 20th century to today.

Was Nicole completely faultless? Did she know she was courting danger by having a few drinks and dancing with these killing machines? Could her rape have been avoided had she behaved more prudently? Had she been born elsewhere, had she not grown up in our post-colonial context with our post-colonial mental maps, then perhaps she would not have consorted with these men. Ours is a story of seduction and false promises. Our culture today is replete with evidence of surrendering to the seduction of a “superior” race. Our indoctrination in the early days has been: All things American is what you little brown brothers must aspire for. American education, government, culture, the American way of life. We are but extensions of the original. The Eve to his Adam.

Was it Nicole’s fault to find these GIs, the baby-faced Smith, seductive? Her mental map dictates that his Caucasian features are attractive and that his twang is adorable. Her mental map dictates the desirability of marrying an American GI, or any Caucasian foreigner for that matter. Like so many of the other girls in the provinces whose mental maps and parents dictate that their only option out of abject poverty and destitution is to marry or prostitute themselves to the seduction of a better life “abroad.”

For the first time in history, the American ambassador is a woman. She hosts cultural events and attends basketball tournaments. She is an attempt to soften the face of the US in the Philippines. She is cordial, smiles a lot and likes to take photos with kids.

Yesterday the US embassy had this to say about the guilty verdict:

The U.S. Embassy notes the decision of the Philippines court in the case of the four U.S. service members accused of involvement in the alleged rape of a Filipina citizen on November 1, 2005.

With their acquittal on criminal charges, Carpentier, Duplantis and Silkwood will return directly to their military unit. Their Commander will now take action regarding the completion of the U.S. military's own investigation of this case. The U.S. will continue to abide by the Visiting Forces Agreement through the completion of all judicial proceedings, including any appeals.

This has been a difficult and emotional matter for all involved, and for their families and friends. The U.S. Government has adhered throughout to the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which provides the framework for U.S.-Philippines cooperation on legal cases involving U.S. service members.

Just now as I write this, the breaking news on Inquirer states the US' formal request to seek custody of Smith. The fight continues.

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