A king bets his daughter in a game he’s obsessed with. An ogre unexpectedly wins, and the father is forced to leave his teenage daughter in the hands of a brute since he cannot go back on his word. This is the story told in “The Flea,” an old fairy tale by poet and tales collector Giambattista Basile from 1634.
“Who could ever have imagined that an ogre would win this lottery? But since a leaf can’t fall unless it’s the will of the heavens, we have to believe that this marriage was arranged first of all up there and then down here,” the king tries to console his daughter.
“So be patient, and if you’re a blessed daughter don’t talk back to your daddy, for my heart tells me that you’re going to be happy; a plain stone jar often houses treasures,” he reassures her before the ogre drags her into the woods and into his house full of the bones of the men he has eaten.
But, as is common with fairy tales, the princess is eventually saved. The brave half-giant sons of a passing old woman help her to escape, one of them kills the ogre, and the princess is sent back home to her father’s kingdom. She marries and lives happily ever after.
However, adapted in the “Tale of Tales” film in 2015, “The Flea” has a very different ending. The ogre who won the king’s guessing game not only manhandles and rapes the princess, but also murders the brave, kind boys and their entire family who try to help her.
And it turns out that the princess has no other choice but to save herself. She cuts the ogre’s throat and goes back home. Covered in blood and holding the ogre’s severed head in her hands, she says to her father: “Here’s the husband that you chose for me.”
Naomi Alderman’s speculative fiction novel “The Power” offers similar scenarios. Through various characters in different stories, she paints an imaginary picture of what it would be like if women not only had the power, but if they abused it. And she paints an ugly picture. The female characters in her novel abuse, torture, and violently kill the men who have done them wrong.
Regardless of the horrifying crimes documented against girls and women in real life, many would find these stories disturbing, condemn the violence no matter what, and feel the need to reassure the public that there is no war against men and that feminists do not, in fact, hate all men. We must nevertheless insist on justice and for all rapists and abusers to be held accountable by law.
Recently, an incident came to light which has reignited the conversation around sexual violence against girls in Kosovo. A 16-year-old teenager from Drenas was allegedly harassed and raped by her school teacher.
When she reported his abuse to the police, the 50-year-old police sergeant in charge did not help her. Instead, he is alleged to have abused his power and authority to blackmail and threaten her, so that he could rape her himself for the next two years. It is also reported that his continuous raping left her pregnant, a problem he is said to have addressed by forcing her to perform an abortion at a well-known Prishtina gynecologist, who is also accused of performing the abortion against her will.
This girl has found herself in a circle of intimidation, blackmail, rape and forced abortion. And as commonly happens when such an act of violence against women is unveiled, the whole nation seems to experience a state of shock. Men and women politicians, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, the police station in Drenas, are all stated to have been shocked by the case. On social media, people decry the case as “monstrous” and are asking: “What is going on with all the violence?”
When you live in a “rape culture,” it is predictable that the female victim is blamed for provoking men with a particular choice of clothing or a flirty attitude. Or that, as some people have, it is claimed that this situation is not a “real” case of rape, but is actually a consensual sexual relationship that the girl entered by her own free will.
This whole range of emotions and opinions has been accompanied by a complete and utter media exploitation of the victim. Her identity was eventually exposed, leaving her even more vulnerable and struggling to deal with the traumatic experience. She has been branded a “sex slave” who found herself at the hands of a patron, a “heroine” for surviving the pain and abuse, a “poor girl” for the bad luck she had, but also “not a good girl” for not being brave enough to simply stand up and say “no.”
Such is the culture in Kosovo and the region when it comes to girls and women. A culture of fear, precaution, and judgement. A culture of obedience and shame, where the concept of sexual education at schools or at home finds strong opposition.
We have an education system permeated by sexism and racism both in the curriculum and when it comes to behavior, exemplified by teachers who allegedly sexually harass and rape girls. Our villages and towns are full of parents struggling with financial problems and who lack the proper educational knowledge and tools to protect their daughters. We have an Assembly in which MPs cannot stop holding rambling speeches that rarely offer any worthy solutions.
And we have women politicians like PDK’s Xhevahire Izmaku, who instead of aggressively protecting the safety of the girl whose rights were awfully violated, is more concerned with the harm that this story will bring to Kosovo’s international image. It is so very typical to cling to the old principle of protecting the honor of the “family name” and to try to keep the shame “inside of the home.”
Failing to noticing all of the above, many keep on lamenting: “What a burden to raise girls in this reality.”
It is going to take an entire new generation of politicians, professionals and educators to help strengthen the state structures whose core values will be ensuring the safety and dignity of its young citizens. While we wait for this drastic change to occur, violence against women at an institutional level will continue to be ignored, and other cases that will emerge in the public will shock the country over and over again.
Therefore, while we keep on fighting the legal battle for women’s justice and dignity, I too suggest the value of some shock element to help evoke compassion and humanity. Why not paint a picture similar to the one Aderman paints in her novel every once in a while?
If prison, public humiliation and professional disgrace was anywhere in the picture for the men who threatened, abused and raped a teenage girl, destroying her chance of being a healthy teen, they might have thought twice. Driven by the fear of shame and punishment, they might have taken a step back before claiming ownership over her body and causing her a sort of harm she will never be able to fully let go.
Through open rebellion, I suggest we inflict fear in boys and men. Rebellion that drops the superficiality of political correctness and instead celebrates the voices of our young and angry girls. Girls whose voices we heard in the protests that emerged in response to this case, protests against a system that allows the institutional violation of girls’ rights.
Only girls’ open anger and organized activism will protect them from harm. An activism that teaches girls to scream their heart out and confront the boys and men who try to intimidate them, regardless of age or position.
We need girls who will “talk back to daddy” and who understand perfectly well that a “blessed daughter” does not always have to obey. Girls who demand sexual education at home and at school, and who are able to recognize and protect their autonomy. Girls who inspire their peers to show some teeth any time they feel threatened, patronized and taken advantage of.
Girls who help to turn the table around and who participate in developing a culture in which boys and men have to fear the consequences of their behavior — a culture in which it is the parents of boys who have to feel an extra responsibility.
Feature image: Majlinda Hoxha / K2.0.