During my year in Humanities Core, I have analyzed the Ancient Roman Empire and select historical moments all the way to Modern Iran. My writings have been focused on the “othering” of minorities and the inequalities of women, but in my reexamination of what I’d learned, I realized that I never combined them together. I looked at women through the lens of a white woman, never bothering to widen my scope. I am now taking the time to talk about women mentioned throughout Spring Quarter.
Their experiences are not to be ignored.
Here is the cover page of “The Trial of Captain James Dunn, for an assault, with intent to seduce Sylvia Patterson, a Black woman (1806).”
In the 1700s, nonwhite women were depicted as sexually promiscuous. There was an ethnic appeal attached to them, and since they were already viewed as “lower” than white women, they were seen as being less likely to say “no” to a sexual advance. Back then, rape was defined as “carnal knowledge by force and against her will” (since men weren’t acknowledged as being able to be raped). White women were seen as pure, and even they had trouble convicting men, especially white men, of raping them, which gave nonwhite woman a virtually impossible task. As an example, Sylvia Patterson, a black woman, had her case prejudiced against since the very beginning. The cover of her trial (shown above) depicted her attacker, Captain James Dunn, pulling on her dress and offering her a watch. Even though the watch was actually offered to Patterson’s husband to try and keep the case from going to trial, it is depicted as being offered to Sylvia as a form of prostitution. Many of her neighbors were called to testify that she was a “whore,” which is unlikely to have happened if she was white.
Here is an image of women wearing the chador.
The chador is a traditional head covering that is often worn by Muslim women. In Iran, it has been required on and off for many generations, but it is used as a means of protecting a woman’s chastity. It is too difficult for men to practice self-restraint, so it is up to the women to cover their skin and hair and refrain from being too provocative. Much like in many other societies, men are not responsible for their actions regarding women. Women must take all the precautions against sexual abuse whether they are from the United States, Iran, or even Vietnam.
There is not a number that can be placed on them, but the amount of Vietnamese women who were raped as a systematic tactic of war is appalling. In an interview with Nick Turse, a former soldier in Vietnam, he states that “A lot of times I found myself, I felt I didn’t have the language to describe exactly what I found in the cases, because rape or even gang rape didn’t seem to convey the level of sexual sadism. These are extremely violent gang rapes, or raping women with inanimate objects like bottles or even rifles.” American soldiers were trained to dehumanize the Vietnamese so that killing, or raping them, would be easier, but it just made them become the real monsters.
These are just some of the women who go unrecognized for their sufferings throughout history. Writing does not change what has happened to them, but it does help spread their stories and the awareness that white women are far from being the only victims.
It may be late, but it’s time for a change.