Tag Archives: rape

Rape culture

Trigger warnings, not kidding about with the title.

It would be a dreadful thing to be falsely accused of rape. It might damage your reputation and cause the people around you to trust you less. Were the accusations to be believed, you might be dragged through the miserable indignities of a court case, and if you lose, you might spend a few years in prison, years of your life you can never have back.

Most reported rapes do not end in prosecution. If it is one person’s word against the other (and it often is) then we prefer, culturally, to err on the side or the accused. Innocent until proven guilty is a core tenet in law. If it does go further, the victim can expect to have their clothing choices, romantic history, even their reading habits brought up as evidence that they probably consented. If you knew your aggressor, the scope for proving that you didn’t consent, is alarmingly small unless you went to the police with the evidence of injury on your body. Even then, it may be suggested that you just like rough sex.

As a culture, we value the reputations of those who have power over the bodies and bodily safety of their possible victims. We assume the victims have nasty, malicious motives for saying these terrible things, and when the pillar of the community, the famous person you saw on telly, the politician claims innocence, we take that seriously. Even if multiple victims claim to have been abused, we minimise the harm done ‘it was just a bit of harmless groping’ and all too often, we let it go.

For a victim of assault, it is a life sentence that will affect your relationships, your sense of self, your confidence and mental health, probably to some degree for the rest of your life. If someone abuses you, there is something lost that is never coming back. For victims who were children when it happened, I suspect this is even more the case, but children have a hard time getting heard when the responsible adults around them turn out not to be so good after all.

As a culture, we prefer to think that people make up false allegations of rape, rather than consider that rape is happening. It has been pointed out to me that the skin colour of the man involved makes a lot of odds here, and that we are far more willing,  culturally, to find black guys guilty of rape, and for that matter other crimes too. It is worth comparing the implications. An unchecked rapist or child molester can get through a lot of victims, leaving a vast legacy of trauma. Do we really collectively think that to be falsely accused of rape is worse than being raped?

Now, imagine the balance shifted a little, and that we became just a little bit more willing to hear the stories of the victims and marginally more prepared to doubt the stories of the accused. What would happen? Would more men become more wary about getting into situations that would make them easy targets for accusations? Would more guys be less willing to have sex with drunk and unconscious women who might protest about it later? Would people of both genders be less willing to abuse children? Would some people reconsider the influence of their power, wealth, physical strength, financial control and other means of manipulation, and try to avoid exerting those to reduce the risk of their being accused of abuse? Might it become important to the men who don’t currently give it much thought,  to make sure that consent is clearly given? Might we collectively reconsider the idea that a short skirt, an invitation to have coffee, getting into someone’s home, getting them in your car and the like are not the same as consenting to sex? I can see only win here.

A shift away from the desire for short term gratification and towards more responsible thinking about the emotional and social costs, would be brilliant and would improve life for everyone. We teach our daughters to avoid dangerous situations that might get them raped. We need to start teaching our sons not to rape, and not to get into situations of dubious or pressured consent, which is not consent. A little shift would go a very long way.

The Good Guys

Helen Wood left some powerful words in the comments yesterday, so I wanted to follow on and reflect more on this idea. ‘Good guys’ is of course rather general vague shorthand, but blogging does not really lend itself to picking over every term in every post. That’s just the nature of the beast and I often find I’ve skimmed over one idea for the sake of another and need to come back to it. I am always grateful to those people who flag up where I’ve missed a thing.

Good Guys.

I’m no kind of feminist man basher. I feel very strongly that if your ‘feminism’ is about bashing and blaming men, you’re doing it wrong. Cultures are made up of both genders, and cultures that oppress women are usually able to do so because enough women are wholly complicit in the process. My son is a bloke. My husband is a bloke. A lot of my friends are blokes. I like blokes. I also like women, as broad generalizations, and there are plenty of people of both genders who test my patience and empathy rather a lot.

Then there are the other ones. The people who actively delight in inflicting pain, suffering and humiliation upon others. That’s not specifically a gender issue, it’s just that a lot of cultures are set up such that men have more economic power to back up often being physically stronger and less pregnant/impregnatable in a way that skews things.

Actually few things drive me more mad than the women who wilfully uphold the myth that women are irrational, unknowable creatures full of whim and unruly emotion that a man can never hope to understand. Sure, some of us may be that way, but it’s not universal. People who surrender to the stereotypes generally do not help. The men who are so busy being sure that women are incomprehensible and irrational, and who therefore never stop to listen, are just as much an issue.

When we draw lines, and say ‘us’ over here ‘them’ over there it can so often be harmful. Lines drawn to hold, enable, define and support can be really good things. I once ran an all female singing group, that was a good thing. When we draw lines to exclude and alienate… everyone loses. When we assume there are only two sides, we reduce and limit. Another comment mentioned hermaphrodites, and of course many people are not at all defined by their biological gender. Those people are also more vulnerable to violence, more likely to be picked on.

So, dropping the gender language… there are people who seek to dominate and control other people for their own gain and amusement. There are people who take that so far that they kill. I’m out of date on exact figures, between every 3-5 days, in the UK and the USA, a woman dies at the hands of a violent partner. About one in three women gets raped. There are men who are killed by female partners, it’s a much smaller figure and sometimes connects to domestic abuse, and a victim snapping and retaliating. Now, I think that all needs talking about. I also don’t think a person needs to self identify as a feminist to find rape and murder stats troubling. This is not the world I want to live in. This is not the attitude between genders that I want. And of course it is not simply a men versus women issue. There are men for whom such acts would be unthinkable, and there are women who encourage their sons to denigrate their wives. I’ve heard too many stories.

We are all in this together. We will not fix attitudes and societies without first admitting there are problems to tackle. Some men are fab. Some men are bastards. Some women are extremely dangerous to the freedom of the women around them. Every day I thank the powers that be for the people who are here to do what work they can, for the ones who want to make better, make right, challenge the shoddy thinking and the places cruelty thrives.

I live in hope that one day we won’t need to make special time to raise awareness of oppression, because there won’t be any left to talk about, but until that day comes, I shall keep banging on about it, and praising the people who make positive change. The good guys. Regardless of gender.

Why do we need International Women’s Day?

I hear in my memory, the voice of a man I once knew, talking about why isn’t there a men’s day, and how women hold all the power anyway. He, and those like him, are exactly why we still need to raise issues and awareness.

There are plenty of Western women who believe that the equality issues are all sorted and feminism is just another bit of history. I’ve met them too. And there are guys who believe that what they do in the privacy of their own bedrooms and marriages shouldn’t be anyone else’s business. Including the belief that the police should not be investigating them.

We need International Women’s Day because internationally, definitions of rape are too often shoddy and sometimes non-existent. Worse still there are countries where the female victim of this crime can be punished for sex outside marriage. I’ve heard men speaking on the radio about how if girls dress in provocative ways, of course they are going to get raped. As though to be a man is to have no self control. That’s an insult to men. The guys who think that lack of self control is a justification for rape and violence need telling that no, they are not proper men. Real guys can keep it in their pants when they need to. We have a long way to go on that score.

We need International Women’s Day for the many, many victims across the world who suffer domestic abuse. Not just the ones who are bruised and bloodied, but the ones whose self esteem is taken from them, who are used as slaves, drudges and sex objects. Those who die at the hands of men also need to be spoken of. There are still too many people of both genders who think its fine for women to be subservient to men. We need today for the trafficked girls who are kidnapped and sold, and who, if rescued will be stigmatized by their communities for what happened to them. We need it for the girls from impoverished families who don’t get an education and are sold into marriage before they even hit puberty. For the girls in their early teens who still die in childbirth every year. For the victims of forced marriage everywhere.

We need it here in the UK too, where your typical woman still earns 20% less than your typical man and a working mother can still expect to do most of the housework and childcare. Here in the enlightened west where a rape victim in a court room can still expect to be asked what she was wearing when the assault took place, as though that made a difference.

We also need to celebrate the women who have been persistently written out of the history books. We have a tendency to focus history on male politicians, ignoring the roles of women, their work and actions. It creates an impression that all women do is stand round as ornaments and squeeze out babies, and this has NEVER been the whole story. Have a look some time at the role of women in dissent and radicalism in UK history – they take some finding because most books don’t include them. You’ll need a specialist, feminist text for that, but thankfully they exist.

We are a good half of the population. We have as much intelligence, skill and potential as those who landed in this world blessed with a willy, on the whole. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but on the whole, we are more alike than different. But there are still places around the world where to be a woman is to be a second class citizen at best. And there are still people who can’t hear ‘no’ in every country. Until rape is consigned to the past, until trafficking has gone forever, until there is no man on the face of this planet who is able to imagine that he has the right to own and control women, we need today.

While we’re here, it’s a good time to also appreciate the good guys, the heroes, fathers, co-workers, equals, companions, friends… the ones for whom respect is natural and a given. The ones who listen, care and respect themselves enough to do the right things for the right reasons.