Although Lynn Nottage’s Ruined brings up the conversation of rape in the context of war, it only offers the effects of this issue and fails to discuss the causes. Rape was considered an inevitable part of war; it’s something that was unfortunate, to say the least, but unavoidable. After reading Ruined, I’m left with one question: Why?
Rape is not just a product of war, it is a strategy. Soldiers use the degradation of women in the enemy’s community as a tool to maximize the negative effects that the war has. When women are raped at gunpoint or held down, it gives the men an immense feeling of power. This temporary control over one individual can make them feel as though they’re winning the whole war. Rape as a product of war doesn’t come from lust, it comes from a power struggle and provides a confidence boost. However, this terrorization of soldiers’ families carries over to the soldiers themselves. In the same way that the perpetrators feel a gain in power, the victims feel the loss. The use of rape as a weapon of war not only breaks the community of the victims, but it also demoralizes the troops who believe they let it happen.
The play, however, focuses more on the physical consequences than the psychological. In the introduction of Ruined, Nottage clarifies, “[Rape was] not just a tool to humiliate the women or to degrade the opposing side’s masculinity, it was a way to strip women of their wombs” (xi). She explains that soldiers see women as the caretakers of the community, and harming them will spread that damage throughout the neighborhood. In addition to the mental toll they placed on these women, they also spread sexually transmitted diseases, impregnated them in an effort towards ethnic cleansing, and in some cases left them unable to reproduce, making them “ruined.” These lasting effects caused the remembrance of the war to eternally linger, allowing the attacking soldiers to hold social control.
As Ruined claims that rape in the context of war is “senseless yet targeted violence,” it argues that although the concept is hard to fully grasp or comprehend, it’s important to unpack the idea that rape can have a strong effect on the outcomes and effects of war (x). However, because the play doesn’t address the reasons why this is true, I was left with an itching to learn more. Ruined encouraged me to think deeper about the different strategies of sexual violence during times of war, and I found that while this play gave some examples, these instances were just small pieces of the much larger puzzle. Rape is an integral part of any war, and women’s bodies become the second battlefield.