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Work In Progress

“Leaky Bodies: Rethinking masculinity, hardness and sexual violence in the DRC”. Dr Rachel Massey

22 March 2018

Work In Progress Seminar Series. 31.01.2018

On the 31th of January the ISRU met in the first of our bi-weekly Works In Progress seminars of 2018. The unit met to hear and discuss Dr Rachel Massey’s working paper: ‘Leaky bodies: rethinking hardness and sexual violence in the DRC’. Dr Massey is a lecturer in International Relations at Cardiff University, and this article is a continuation of her PhD thesis, that focused on sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the working paper Massey discusses the widely used feminist concept of militarised masculinity, which refers to the ultra masculinity of military environments that create a culture within which there is a narrow range of acceptable behaviour and emotions that can be displayed. This narrow category of acceptable emotions is associated with stereotypical gender binaries and the absolute reduction of behaviours and emotions associated with femininity such as compassion.

In the DRC sexual violence is often used as a weapon by soldiers trying to control local populations or in disputes over natural mineral resources. Rape in this context becomes a cost effective weapon that does not face the transportation problems or risk of discovery of traditional weapons. For the dominant feminist perspective of militarised masculinity the male body is conceptualised as a hard weapon of warfare. In contrast, these perspectives have often portrayed the female body as leaky, leaky in a literal and metaphorical sense.

Leakiness often refers to the long term health problems of many of the victims of serious sexual violence such as gang rape or being raped with guns. However leakiness also refers to the emotions and behaviours often prescribed to the female condition within these gender binaries, women being seen as emotional and unable to control their emotional leakiness. Equally this argument suggests that rape is a means of soldiers to consolidate their militarised masculinity.

However in this paper Massey wants to offer an alternative female analysis of sexual violence in the DRC, claiming this conceptual stance risks creating stable connections between masculinity and male bodies and ‘reproducing rather than challenging the conditions for this violence’. Massey believes that by reading the male soldiers as leaky in order to deconstruct the binaries of the solid violent male body and female body as leaky and vulnerable we will be able to better understand the reality of sexual violence in the DRC.

Massey uses empirical evidence of male soldiers, who have previously committed sexual violence, and their apparent leakiness in dealing with the emotional responses to the crimes they have committed. Invoking the footage of a former solider called Alain (from the documentary ‘Weapon of War: Confessions of Rape in the Congo’) who is trying to make amends for the acts of sexual violence he performed whilst a solider in the conflicts. At several stages Alain displayed particularly emotional responses whilst recounting his crimes or being confronted by his victims. In the working paper Massey uses a detailed analysis of Alain’s body language in order to highlight the way in which Alain displays tendencies associated with the leaky binary concept and not the hard masculine weapon.

The ISRU agreed that paper was incredibly interesting and bought a fresh lens of analysis to the heavily researched issue of sexual violence in the DRC whilst begging important questions concerning the dominant feminist analysis of sexual violence more generally.