Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sexual Violence Against Women

In Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home violence, specifically sexual violence against women, plays a key role in two scenes that enable the boy to take control of his own life and to force this control onto another human being, particularly other women.  First, the boy attacks and possibly even sexually assaults the girl, a scene which shockingly ends with their profession of a deeper love unto one another.  Wendt writes,


He hit her.  She spun away from him and slammed into the wall behind her.  She stood there, hands clutching her bleeding mouth, watching him as he moved towards her.  He hit her again.  Her head thumped against the wall…

He tore her clothes from her.  She didn’t resist him.  He pushed her on to the bed.  He pushed her legs apart and started making love to her.  She tolerated him.

‘You love me, don’t you?’ he asked… ‘I’m the only man you’ve ever loved.  You must love me!’

She put her arms around him. (116)


“Toleration” is not consent, therefore the boy rapes the girl; he does so in order to gain control, agency, and domination over her.  Her forces himself onto her just as he forces her to love him, saying “You must love me!”  The fact that the girl succumbs and “put her arms around him” sexualizes the violence that the boy uses against her.  Violence is seen as merely a way of gaining access to sex instead of as the atrocity that it is.  Further more, the violence not only leads to sex, but also to “love”, which plays into gender stereotypes of passive, dominated girl and active, dominating boy.  After sex, the couple talks about how glad they are that the fight ensued; he says, “And I do love you more, I think,” and she replies, “I think I love you too.  More so now.” (116)  Deepening love stemming from both rape and domestic abuse is not only unrealistic, but frightening.  The boy obviously successfully abuses her to the point at which she values herself less, needing desperately to be loved by her abuser. In reaction to his own vulnerability, he gains control over her, forcing her to tell him what he wants to hear.


In the boy’s highly sexualized relationship with the receptionist at the hotel he stays at in Samoa, his aggression appears again, this time to stop her from loving him, to free himself from commitment, which he obviously does not want.  After the receptionist tells the boy that she loves him during their first night together, Wendt writes,


He gripped her hair and pulled down.  ‘Tell me the truth!’

Tears streamed from the corners of her closed eyes; she pummeled feebly at his back with her fists.  ‘You can’t leave me like this!’

‘It’s not a sin, is it?’


‘You like it, don’t you?’


‘And you don’t love me and I don’t love you?’ he asked.  She tried to move her hips against him.  He pinned her down with his full weight.  ‘Okay, I don’t love you!’ she confessed. ‘Now, please…!’  He resumed the rhythmic movement of his hips.  ‘Good,’ she murmured.  ‘Good!’ (200)


The boy uses sexual violence as a vehicle to get whatever he wants.  It plays into the gender stereotype of violent masculinity, and forces women’s submission and subservience.  After the receptionist “confesses” that in fact she does not love him, he continues to have sex with her, and she responds positively, saying “good.”  The violence is once again sexualized as she accepts his violence and furthermore encourages it through her reaction of giving him what he wants.  Similarly, pornographic material circulating the world depicts sexual violence particularly against women as heterosexual normative behavior instead of as the injustice that marginalizes half of the world’s population.  Although this violent scene is not romanticized as is the boy’s violence against the girl, it still gets him exactly what he wants, freedom.  When he is done with her, he casts her aside, saying, “Don’t touch me.” (201) Violence is used by the boy to control the women around him and to control his own emotions.  The women unfortunately reinforce his behavior through their own, and the consequence is that the audience perceives violence as a normal aspect of romance, sex, love, and freedom.

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