Here is a challenge. You are Amnesty International. You want to take a position on sex work. It must not, however, have an impact anyone else’s human rights, in particular the “human right” of men to purchase sex. Therefore whatever your research throws up, your conclusion has been set in advance. How can you get from A to B, at least without openly treading on the corpses of too many trafficked women and girls?
August 5, 2015
Comments Off on The Amnesty challenge
July 7, 2015
Comments Off on They used to call it rape
They used to call it rape, back in the day. For one brief, shining moment, we thought we knew what rape was, if not how to stop it. Oh, but that will come next, we thought. Now that we have our words, we can use our voices.
It didn’t turn out that way. Yesterday Morwenna Ferrier wrote a piece in the Guardian in which she described how, in Rihanna’s BBHMM video, “the themes of sexualised violence, seemingly gratuitous nudity and non-consensual BDSM sent segments of the world’s media into a state of apoplexy.” Images of spluttering, red-faced Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells instantly sprung to mind. Imagine getting angry over non-consensual BDSM! God, I hate those bigots who spend all their time stigmatising the BDSM community!
So what is non-consensual BDSM? Well, I guess it’s like sexual abuse, but with the focus on the “sex” bit and with greater empathy with abuser, now recast as taboo-breaking participant. It’s a bit like Bill Cosby’s “sex” with the women he drugged, only edgier and way cooler. Don’t panic, though, because in the former scenario it’s just art and the way we use language to describe art has no connection whatsoever to the way we use language to describe real-life interactions (only joking!). Yeah, we used to call these things abuse, we used to call them rape. But what does it matter? Language changes, cisters. Some of the things we called abuse aren’t abuse any more. Get with the programme. (more…)
March 22, 2015
Comments Off on How great is the stigma attached to rape?
The Home Affairs Select Committee have announced that unlike people accused of any other crime, those accused of sex crimes (including rape) deserve anonymity until charged. It’s a decision that has been made without consulting rape victims or rape support charities, instead appearing to be motivated by sympathy for the DJ Paul Gambacinni, kept on bail for 12 months over an allegation that was eventually dropped. According to Committee chairman Keith Vaz “we have seen how destructive [releasing names] can be to a person’s livelihood, causing irreparable reputational damage and enormous financial burden.” We have also, one would think, seen how damaging rape – which happens to an estimated one in five women – can be, but apparently that’s less measurable (or less important?). In any case, the belief that a “special stigma” attaches to rape, making those accused more in need of protection from publicity, persists.
Personally I find it strange to think that we live in a world so appalled and outraged by rape that those accused of it are social pariahs. If that were the case, surely we wouldn’t be surrounded by men telling women that forced penetration and sexual coercion are perfectly fine. A world in which great stigma is attached to rape itself is not a world in which … (more…)
January 6, 2015
Comments Off on Look, men, I’m being reasonable
Recently several women have been making unreasonable and irrational statements regarding rapist footballer Ched Evans. Things such as “I find the idea of this convicted rapist returning to professional football […] sickening” and “Ched Evans doesn’t know what rape is”. This has upset a lot of reasonable and rational men who wish for order to be restored. They are not angry at Ched Evans; why should anyone else be?
I wish to reassure these men that #notallwomen are as irrational as it currently appears. This is all just a minor blip. On a daily basis we’re eminently reasonable and compliant. Here are just a few examples of how: (more…)
November 21, 2014
Comments Off on There is no freedom as long as women are being raped
One week in November.
- BBC Radio DJ Nick Conrad tells women that they are “partially responsible” for rape because “it’s very difficult for many men to say no when they are whipped up into a bit of a storm”.
- Professor Betty Stanko of the Metropolitan Police concludes that when women with mental health difficulties are victims, rape has been “effectively decriminlaised”.
- An all-male fraternity at Edinburgh University is under investigation for threatening to rape members of the university’s feminist society.
- The Cafepress website is shown to be selling pro-rape clothing, with slogans such as “No means yes, yes means anal”.
- Bill Cosby is accused of rape – not for the first time, nor the second, nor the fourth, nor the fifth …
- Over the course of this week, an estimated 1,600 women in England and Wales will have been raped. Many more will have experienced sexual assault.
This is a normal week. It’s not Rape Week or the annual Festival for the Promotion of Sexual Assault. It’s just seven days in a world where we’re basically okay with women being raped. (more…)
October 17, 2014
Comments Off on The #takehomeselfie rules
There is universal acceptance that women are constantly under threat of attack. It is in the air we breathe. Don’t go there, don’t do this, don’t wear that, remember I’m only telling you this because it’s common sense. We live our lives exposed, vulnerable and never able to forget it.
I think it is rare for a woman to walk anywhere alone without weighing up the risk, not just of being assaulted but also of being held responsible for any potential assault. I do this as a matter of course. It doesn’t stop me moving from place to place – I barely acknowledge that it’s happening – but it does mean I’m constantly feeling “I shouldn’t be here”. As a woman, wherever you are – at home, the workplace, somewhere in between – you know that this isn’t really your space. Men know it, too. Women are penetrable, weak, raw meat on show; there’s no way of redeeming them, so the only thing to do is keep them in the background as much as possible.
So we talk about what women can do to minimise the risk as they make their way through this foreign territory known as the entire world. The risk comes not from men, of course, but from women themselves; it’s our very being that is the problem. Talking about male violence – as something men do to women because they are raised to believe it is their right – is considered not only pointless, but offensive. Because #notallmen, right? Because what does “male” mean anyhow? Because aren’t you just putting women at greater risk by telling them there’s an alternative to this hunter-prey relationship? Because actually, isn’t it essentialist and conservative to talk about male violence (but not at all essentialist and conservative to tell women to simply suck up the fact that this unnameable thing is all around them)? Because aren’t there always “bad people” out there (ignoring what it is that over 90% of said “bad people” have in common)? Because, because, because. (more…)
September 9, 2014
Comments Off on Pam Ayres does rape culture
For those unfamiliar with her work, Ayres writes poems that are so bad they are almost good. Writing said poems has made her into a national treasure. Like Alan Titchmarsh or Terry Wogan, she’s one of those people about whom it is treason to think mean thoughts. You imagine her being just like your mum, or maybe even more like your mum than your actual mum is. Oh, that Pam Ayres, you think. Bless her. Bless you, Pam Ayres.
April 15, 2014
Another day, another entitled white male columnist expressing his outrage at the victimization of his poor, downtrodden brothers. Today (yet again) it’s the turn of Dan Hodges, who not only penned this little rant on lives ruined by false rape accusations, but then took to twitter to ask this gem of a question:
@PennyRed It’s a simple question Laurie. Do false allegations of rape make it easier or harder to secure convictions against rapists.
— Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) April 15, 2014
It is, I’m sure you will agree, a simple question, but also a profoundly stupid one. Of course the tiny proportion of complainants who lie about rape make it harder to secure rape convictions. The behaviour of the liars is bound to have an impact, at least insofar as it proves that some people lie about rape. That’s obvious. However, what doesn’t seem to be so obvious, at least not to Dan Hodges, is that this impact will – but need not – be magnified by the over-reporting of cases involving false accusations and by the proliferation of opinion pieces on the “ruined lives” of the falsely accused. The broader impact is indirect but even so, rape conviction rates suffer less from false accusations themselves than from misconceptions about how often accusations are proven to be false. What’s more, it’s at this point that the responsibility shifts. Those who lie about rape are not responsible for how their crimes are publicised; writers such as Dan Hodges are. (more…)
February 4, 2014
I was 17 when the allegations that Woody Allen had abused his daughter Dylan Farrow first surfaced. I’d never seen one of his films – and haven’t enjoyed any of those I’ve subsequently watched – but I knew straight away whose side I was on: Team Woody all the way.
I just knew, as did everyone else, that mad, vengeful Mia Farrow had made up the whole thing to punish Allen for his relationship with Soon Yi Previn. Like everyone else, I felt sorry for Dylan, not because I thought she’d been abused, but because she had Mia for a mother. No wonder Woody left her. No wonder Soon Yi betrayed her. What a horrible, twisted individual Mia must be. Back then, I already considered myself a feminist, but I resented Farrow for putting on such a stereotypical performance of woman scorned. She had, I felt, let us all down.
Twenty years later the same story’s still running. Some of us have learned, through hard experience, to question it, others have not. Some of us believe this is the only thing that can make sense. After all, there is logic, of sorts. We already have our villain – angry, unforgiving Mia – and as for the idea that Allen could be an abuser after all? Well, that’s just too weird.
October 27, 2013
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve read the same article on young women, alcohol and rape over and over again. This isn’t, I hasten to add, because it’s a particularly good article. It’s more to do with the fact that each time, it appears to have been written by a different woman, even though the ideas, tone and prejudices remain the same.
October 17, 2013
Every so often, police, politicians, newspaper columnists and judges take it in turns to reissue what I like to call the Rapeability Checklist. Should you be unsure what this is then I’m guessing you’re not a rapist. Every rapist is an avid reader of said Checklist. It is, one might say, a kind of informal code of conduct for anyone who’s chosen raping either as a full-time occupation or just a hobby on the side.
Thanks to the Rapeability Checklist, every rapist knows which female behaviours and attributes are officially regarded as provocation. Other people may not realise it but this is incredibly important when you’re out raping. Without an utterly dehumanising attitude towards women and a massively inflated sense of entitlement, raping can be really hard work. You might feel guilty. You might think it’s wrong. You might, God forbid, get the idea that vaginas are different entities to unlocked cars or open windows. Thankfully, the Rapeability Checklist will set you straight. Nothing will boost your raping career like the message that you, the rapist, are unchangeable (it’s your natural vocation! You were born to do it!) and that every single woman is obliged to operate primarily as a potential rape victim (after all, isn’t that what women are?). (more…)
September 29, 2013
Dear Victoria Coren,
I’m writing in response to your Observer piece on Roman Polanski and the sin of simplification. I might as well say straight off that I don’t agree with it. But wait, don’t leave just yet! For I have a PhD! From Cambridge! Therefore I’m assuming I’m allowed opinions, too (this may be presumptuous of me; I didn’t get a first and I’m useless at Only Connect, but do bear with me).
You’re aware that your piece has angered many people. Indeed just recently you tweeted:
Some remarkably un-nuanced responses to my piece about nuance. Ah well. If there hadn’t been, there would have been no need to write it.
— Victoria Coren (@VictoriaCoren) September 29, 2013
Ah, those silly, silly people, with their knee-jerk reactions and idiotic binary thinking. As you yourself write, “our modern world does not invite us to treat anyone as nuanced. People are heroes or villains, victims or victimisers; sometimes neither, but never both”. It takes a special kind of visionary to see through all this, doesn’t it? Most people, well, they’re just too busy getting mindlessly self-righteous to sit down, brow a-furrowed, and ponder the ways in which Roman Polanski’s work being “filled with beauty and humanity” sits uneasily beside the fact that he’s also a child rapist (because hey, that’s way too confusing for our little heads! How can he do bad things AND good things? How can anyone, other than an utter intellectual giant, cope with such thoughts without a total brain meltdown?). (more…)
September 13, 2013
We all know how damaging it is when someone lies about rape. It can ruin lives, not just those of the people directly involved, but those of all future rape victims, who are less likely to be believed as a result. So why do people do it? Why would someone who has not been raped do something that’s so harmful to those who have?
I don’t think there’s always a straightforward answer, although sometimes it’s obvious. For instance, if you’re an actual rapist you’d probably want to lie about rape if there’s a chance you’ll thereby avoid a prison sentence. Sure, it damages the credibility of the tiny minority of men who are falsely accused of actually raping someone, but what can you do? You’re a rapist! It’s not as though you give a shit. (more…)
September 10, 2013
The actor Michael Le Vell has been found not guilty of rape and crikey, this makes some people angry. If only he’d been a convicted rapist! Then we could all sleep easy at night.
According to Phillip Schofield, “it’s bloody ridiculous a man’s life and reputation can be so comprehensively trashed in this way”. Is it just me, or is this an odd way of portraying what “being a rape defendant” means? It’s as though being on trial should be considered a crime itself. While I don’t doubt it’s horrible, not everything that is horrible is horrible in quite the same way. No one should be falsely accused of rape, but accusing someone of rape — even without securing a conviction — is evidence neither of malice nor criminal intent. (more…)
July 6, 2013
At risk of being deemed yet another person whose sanity is in question or who isn’t a “true feminist at all”, I thought I’d write my own response to Christian Jessen’s recent twitter comments regarding rape. This is because they made me angry, the reasons for which I will state below. Or it is because I have mental health problems, for which I take medication and for which I have on occasion been hospitalised. Or it’s because unlike Dr Jessen I’m actually shit at feminism. I guess it’s up to those reading to make their own diagnosis.
There are individual facts about rape and then there’s the broader context in which they’re publicised and discussed. There is no point in discussing the first without taking the second into account because by raising the subject you are helping to shape this broader context. To pretend that things are otherwise is at best naïve and at worst deliberately obtuse. (more…)
June 30, 2013
The Friday’s Guardian announced the UK publication of a book 45 years after it was written. Goliarda Sapienza’s The Art of Joy “follows the sexual adventures of a woman who sleeps with both men and women, commits incest and murders a nun, and […] was considered at the time too shocking for readers”. Of course, it’s all different now, not shocking at all. Hard to imagine how repressive things were back when murdering nuns was illegal.
I don’t think much – or in fact any – of the porn I’ve seen is realistic, morally edifying and/or an appropriate template for long-term human interactions. I’m not sure whether this is particularly problematic. All the same, very recently, and particularly in light of the campaign to ban the ownership of rape porn, I’m starting to realise I have greater issues with some types of porn than I thought. I’m still cool with gratuitous nun slaughter, obviously, but it’s the other stuff that’s getting to me. (more…)
May 26, 2013
Say what you like about old-school misogynists, they’re no slackers when it comes to getting a style guide in place. No one knows where they keep it – perhaps in a cave somewhere, surrounded by oestrogen-sensitive traps – but each and every one of them follows it to the letter.
One of the first rules seems to be, whenever expressing misogynist views in print, insist you’re breaking a massive taboo and thereby risking life and limb in our aggressively misandrist society. Everyone knows this is crap, even the people writing it, but it’s obligatory to preface any sexist diatribe with the same old lie. Hence poor old Crimewatch presenter Nick Ross, complaining of how for some it is “heresy” that “victims [of rape] should ever be held responsible at all”. Just imagine! Although, to be fair, in this case he probably does have the beginnings of a point. He’s at least right that for others, this isn’t “heresy” at all. Just look at Facebook. Or Steubenville. Or George Galloway or Kenneth Clarke or even feminist spokeswoman Caitlin Moran. Victims of rape are held responsible for what happens to them all the sodding time. But don’t let that stop you, Nick. Go on, be brave! Say the unsayable, via the radical pages of the Daily Mail, even though it’s been said a billion times before and is no more true now than it ever was. (more…)
May 12, 2013
- If you lend George Galloway a fiver, he’s unlikely to think he can now dip into your bank account at every opportunity (on the basis that one shouldn’t have to ask “before every withdrawal”).
- If you were to tell someone that most thefts are committed by people outside the family, you wouldn’t then be told “yeah, but to be on the safe side, I’d hide all your valuables from your granny”; on the other hand, tell someone that most rapes are committed by people known to the victim and you’re straight onto the stranger in the dark alley.
- If someone steals your iPad, the fact that you willingly gave friends and relatives PC World vouchers for Christmas won’t be seen as an indication that you’d actually consented to your iPad being taken.
- You can leave your wallet at home but your body and all its orifices are constantly with you.
- UniLAD don’t advise their readers on the odds of getting away with burglary while college frat boys don’t film and circulate scenes of handbag-snatching.
- No one decides theft is a “grey area” if you allow someone to touch the product they go on to steal.
- Men are expected to be able to control themselves in a consumer society saturated with attractive products just begging to be pilfered; no one accuses advertisers of sending out “confusing messages” to those who lack the financial equivalent of consent.
- Theft prevention advice helps people to protect their possessions; rape prevention advice merely formalises the particular behaviours which a given culture deems to constitute “asking for it”.
- There is no bodily autonomy equivalent to locking your front door as a safety measure. There are, however, plenty of ways in which you can limit your own freedom – not drinking, not having consensual sex, not walking home alone, not wearing “provocative “ clothing, not ever leaving the house. You can do all of these things and people will think of more. There is no limit. And this might be sold to you as consistent safety advice but it’s not. It is inconsistent, shifting moral messaging that forms the backdrop to rape culture. You don’t need to be told to feel afraid. You don’t need to be told to feel vulnerable. You don’t need a culture that normalises rape in the name of “protection”.
- People don’t own their bodies, they are their bodies. End of.
May 11, 2013
Here are some things which even the most reactionary branches of the news media might set within the broader context of a sexist culture:
- the under-representation of women in politics
- female genital mutilation
- sexual objectification and harassment
And here is one thing which they don’t:
- the imprisonment, rape and fertility control of women by men who decide they can “own” them
The first three things are misogyny in action; the latter is just pure evil, badness, whatever you want to call it, providing you don’t use words like “sexist” and “patriarchal”, because that just wouldn’t be playing fair. (more…)