Have I missed something? Is there some reason why this is okay, instead of creepy and exploitative?
“Intended Consequences” is a book of portraits of Rwandan women who were raped during the genocide, and the children who resulted from the rapes. Most include a small caption describing the rape, and often the mother’s feelings towards the child that resulted. The book is packaged with a DVD of “interviews,” which play still photos of each woman as a voice-over narrates the story of her rape in harrowing detail.
Apparently I’m wrong to be utterly skeeved out by it, because everyone else seems certain that this project is a Good Thing. The Aperture Foundation, together with Amnesty and the Open Society Institute, will launch an international traveling exhibition of the photos later this spring. Several of the portraits and stories were published in the Spring issue of Amnesty International Magazine. And the book even has a foreword by a real, live aid worker: Marie Consolee Mukagendo who, the website announces proudly, “has worked with UNICEF for over five years” and “specializes in working with children affected by armed conflict.”
Oh, well, there we go. Over five years of experience with UNICEF, and a specialization in children affected by armed conflict. I don’t have any of those things, and am neither Amnesty International nor the Soros Foundation, so that’s probably the cause of my hopelessly bourgeois discomfort with the project, non?
I’m not an expert on children affected by armed conflict (though I am occasionally a lawyer for them), so that’s probably why I didn’t know that one of the things that’s healthy for the aforementioned children is to be singled out as the product of the brutal rape of their mothers, in an international exhibition, by name and face. Or that their mothers’ snappy quotes about how it’s impossible to love a child conceived in rape are actually really good for their future development. Probably it’s just my lack of expertise that makes me thing that would actually be quite upsetting for them.
And probably, if I specialized in children affected by armed conflict, or was Amnesty bloody International, I would understand why it was a good idea to single women out as rape victims, without presenting anything more about their lives or identities. (Sad that you still live in poverty? Depressed because your whole family was murdered? Sorry, this exhibition is vaginas-only!)
Those five years of experience with UNICEF would probably have given me the information I need to differentiate between the lurid details described so carefully in each video, and the lurid details described in, say, rape-fantasy porn. Because right now, I see basically the same thing: women whose presentation to me starts and ends with the sexual trauma inflicted on them.
I know, I know. It will “raise awareness.” And that’s important, because the Rwandan genocide is totally a secret.
Oh, and it will raise more than that: it will lead to donations for Foundation Rwanda, an NGO devoted solely to providing school funding for children who were born from rape during the 1994 genocide and their mothers.
Yeah, probably I would also need expertise to understand why it would be a good idea to single people out for services on the basis of a characteristic so inherently divisive and potentially damaging as being the child of genocidal rape. As a non-expert in such things, it seems to me that such a program could have devastating effects on families. (“Sorry, only your brother gets his secondary school fees paid. Bummer that your father was married to your mom and not a brutal rapist!”) Or communities. (“Oh, the rest of your children were killed by the militias and then you managed to put your life back together and have a new baby, but now you can’t afford his schooling and are deeply depressed? Go away while we help your neighbors”) Or rape victims themselves. (“Actually, our assistance is only for those who bore a child from their rape. The non-fecund should look elsewhere.”)
But that’s just me. If you need me, I’ll be the one sitting over there, all skeeved out.
HT: Andrew Sullivan. For meditations on the difficulties and responsibilities of being a photojournalist, see this and this and this and this, from Glenna Gordon.