Rape is never a game

As part of my morning news-gathering ritual, I awoke today to a story on CNN.com about the explosion of a new category of games whose objective is the stalking, raping, mutilation, and killing women. These games, called hentai, originate in Japan, and, partially because of the outrage they have generated, are going viral around the world. Understandably, women’s groups are actively trying to ban them. However, the ubiquitous nature of the Internet today makes this impossible. The games can be banned from store shelves and reappear as free downloads on the Internet. They can be banned in one country, only to appear in another.

In today’s technological society, we cannot squelch what people feel is their right to free expression (especially when it involves generating income), even if that free expression promotes violence and hatred against women.

Here’s the CNN story: ‘RapeLay’ Video Game Goes Viral Despite Outrage

So what is the appropriate response? Outrage can only begin to express the pain that these games cause. It is not the games themselves but the reality that there are men around the world who get sexual pleasure from raping women, from seeing women raped, and in this case, from imagining women being raped that is most disturbing. It is natural for women everywhere to feel the anguish of every woman who has suffered at the hands of a man.

Whether it has happened to us or not, we carry around a deep-seeded fear that we might be next. And even if we never are victims of overt violence ourselves, we have all, at times, felt powerless, humiliated, and abused by men and the society that they control.

Women have long contended that rape is violence, not sex. But that doesn’t change the fact that some men derive sexual pleasure from this violent act. Whether we like to claim it or not, power, control, dominance, and submission are part of sexual excitement for human beings. I am not saying that everyone gets sexual pleasure from these things but, as controversial as this statement might be, I do believe it is inherent in our genetic make-up, just as it is for thousands of other species on this planet. It is the job of males to perpetuate the species, whether or not the female complies. We women get pregnant, have babies, and in most cases, rear the children, but none of this can happen unless men first impregnate us. This is a biological power that men carry with them throughout their lives that even sperm-banks and in vitro fertilization cannot erase.

When you add to our biology, men who grow up surrounded by violence and fear, who witness models of male dominance and female submission played out every day by their parents, the very people who are supposed to teach them about how to treat others with respect, it’s no wonder that we create millions of landmines around the world ready to explore at the slightest provocation.

The question is whether we humans can overcome our biology, the complexities of our psychological make-up, and our negative life experiences to see sexuality, and all human interaction, as the beautiful, trusting, loving act it can be.

My first reaction when I saw this story this morning was an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. It was a familiar feeling – one that I’ve  had many times in my life when I have heard about similar abuses. Will this ever change? Has our seemingly endless work toward a peaceful world made the smallest impact on the future? When people get enjoyment from even pretending to rape women, is there any hope for the future?

What I know with certainty, and this might be hard for some of you to hear, is that no matter how hard we work for it, we will never achieve a utopian society where everyone treats everyone else with the respect and dignity they deserve, where children are uniformly nourished and loved, and where the entire planet lives in peace. Human nature is much too complex, and our biology is too strong, to control all the factors that cause people to strike out against each other.

This does not mean, however, that I can or should stop working toward this vision of what the world could be. It is this vision that gives my life purpose, fills my life with meaning, and keeps me moving through another day. Perhaps it is a foolish notion, a cause as hopeless as preventing a river from overtaking its banks after a relentless rain, but it is my foolish notion, one that keeps me from letting the hopelessness overtake me, that keeps me flowing down the river.

I can and will express my outrage. I can and will support efforts to ban any activity that promotes violence against women, against all life forms. I can and will do what I can to improve conditions that contribute to violence. I can and will work to improve human interactions and to personally work toward discovering what it means to engage in healthy relationships (and God knows even this small thing is a struggle some days). And I will do that knowing that I am but one drop of water in that river.

I cannot change its course alone. For that I need you.