College of Humanities

Rape Under Philosophy Microscope in Master’s Degree Study

Rape was the subject of research by Ms Thokomele Banele Zulu who graduated with a Master of Arts in Philosophy degree.

Zulu says that growing up in a rural settlement in KwaZulu-Natal, she was always aware of the dangers lurking on the path to her school, mostly the possibility of rape. ‘I struggled to understand why does rape survive in South Africa? despite the existence of the extensive body of laws on rape in South Africa, rape is normal and prevalent in society.’

Zulu believes that in order to be able to find ways to mitigate the issue at hand, we need to get to the roots of it. Originally, rape was a crime against property of a man. As a South African philosophy student with interest in women, gender and sexuality, she sought to offer a philosophical perspective on the social issue of rape.

She revealed that there is a problem with the way society conceptualises rape- displaying that society fallaciously conceptualises rape as something that is solely a matter of the actions of individual bad, or evil, or perhaps sick, men (and more occasionally women).

However, in her study, Zulu found that Rape is not “contained in the rapist”, it is not the work of a few “bad apples”, such that if we could simply rid society of these particular bad men, we would have solved the problem of rape.

Instead, rape is the product of a pervasive patriarchal culture, one which affects both men and women and that is why rape survives, because it is a tool of patriarchy used to police, perpetuate and uphold patriarchal control and dominance.

In addition, given that the crime of rape was initially the crime against property of a man. ‘We need to change the way we think about women and how we teach our children,’ said Zulu. ‘Too often, laws, policies, and efforts to promote the welfare of women have been shaped by a patriarchal belief that women are property of men’.

‘People must realise the fight against rape involves a fight against patriarchy. Rape is not just a single event committed by a rapist, but something deeply rooted and used to perpetuate patriarchal control and dominance. Rapists are the product of a patriarchal society (unless we can prove they are born

with an inherent desire or traits that propels them to rape, or rapists emerge from a different universe) and rape is an instrument society uses to perpetuate patriarchal norms.’

Zulu said, ‘We need to think deeply about the underlying causes of violence against women and examine ways in which patriarchal beliefs are perpetuated and how they manifest in our daily lives. We need to teach our children that women are not property and that violence against them is unacceptable. Only by doing so can we hope to create a world in which all people, regardless of gender, can live free from the fear of violence.’

She faced challenges during her study, including the need to read stories about the offence of rape as well as having to learn to remain rational, professional and philosophical in her work.

Zulu is grateful for the support of her family and friends, and plans to pursue a PhD in Philosophy.