This morning, while wasting time on twitter, I came across the following tweet:

Anti-date rape nail polish! It changes colour if your acquaintance has slipped something dodgy into your drink! So a bit like those Hello Colour bath time toys you might remember from childhood, only way more sinister!

I look at this and I wonder, what is really being achieved? First we had anti-rape underwear, then hairy leg stockings, now rape drug detector nail polish (also available as drinking straws and cocktail stirrers!). You start to get the feeling that rape isn’t an act that rapists choose to commit, but an inevitability for which all women should prepare, like bad weather or traffic jams. You wouldn’t leave the house without an umbrella, so why leave the house without your anti-rape clothes on? Embrace your role as “potential rape victim”! Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that to some men, that’s all you’ll ever be, life gets a whole lot easier, right? I’m not convinced. (more…)

When I was three, I knew that boys had penises. I did not know that girls had vaginas because no one told me. I presumed, as I think many do, that my lack of a penis was just that: a lack. Even later on, when I learned about human reproduction, still I found my role in it to be passive, that of a vessel waiting to be filled. The noble sperm battles his way through the harsh environs of Womanland, hunting out the ovum, who is playing hard to get. The continuation of the species depends on the sperm penetrating the boundaries of the resistant egg, or at least that’s the narrative spin that patriarchy puts on it. Woman as creator was never going to fly.

The reduction of women to holes, serving only to define those who fill them, is central to how misogyny perpetuates itself. Our perceived permeability and lack of completion is used to justify the marginalisation of women and the exploitation of our bodies and labour. Our own flesh and blood does not make us weak, but the metaphors derived from it – woman as hell mouth, moral abyss, cesspool, vacant space – have long supported arguments that women are not quite people. We tend not to voice these arguments today but the fundamental assumptions remain. (more…)

Lynx. The perfect Secret Santa gift for the male colleague you don’t know and/or don’t particularly like. The heterosexual male equivalent of one of those Baylis & Harding “looks vaguely like Molton Brown but totally isn’t” bath sets. The year before last, I received the latter, my partner got the former. What this says about us as colleagues is something I’d rather not consider.  

Having had some Lynx in our household within the recent past, I can say at least this with certainty: the Lynx Effect doesn’t work. One whiff of Africa, Cool Metal, Excite or Fever does not provoke unstoppable horniness. It provokes, first, amusement because it smells so fucking awful, second, vague memories of some really creepy lads in Year 10, and, finally, a migraine. Only the first of these is even remotely fun.

Back in the 1980s there was, sort of, a female equivalent to the Lynx Effect, when Impulse used the “men just can’t help acting on it” tagline.

That’s right, ladies, when a man you’ve never met before gives you flowers, you’ll know he’s acting on Impulse (which obviously makes it totally reassuring and not at all stalkerish, or so my 11-year-old self used to think). As ever, the expectations placed on men in response to female body spray were considerably lower than those placed on women in response to Lynx. Women detect a little Lynx Apollo and they’re whipping their bras off to reveal ample, if somewhat artificial looking, tits. Men get a noseful of Impulse Chic and the most they’re expected to do is proffer some limp Gladioli (tip: most women would rather have booze. Or even a book token, to be honest). To make matters worse the ball is then back in the woman’s court (he’s bought you some flowers, you say? Time to whip your bra off to reveal ample …). It’s not great, is it? And all this is before we get into the deeply disturbing overtones of a tagline which suggests men can’t really control themselves anyhow.

It’s bad enough that the ads play on the idea of male pursuer, female pursued (always in a deeply heteronormative context). These days Lynx are taking it one step further. Consider this delightful ad:

Lynx

The Lynx Effect. Encouraging Involuntary Seduction, that is, making someone who doesn’t actively want to have sex with you become more “amenable”. A bit like too much alcohol, or Rohypnol, only cheaper. “Involuntary” because, let’s face it, choice always gets in the way. Clearly Lynx understands what a young man wants: not any form of sexual interaction, but someone, anyone, into whom to stick his cock. Sod giving them flowers (that’s so 1980s). Let’s drug them (or let’s at least kid ourselves that a lungful of Lynx Rise will do anything other than repulse).

Sometimes it’s really difficult to explain the concept of rape culture to the unconvinced. Some people still believe there is rape – which bad people commit – and a surrounding environment which does nothing to condone it. If they do nothing else, Lynx adverts, with their jaunty sexism and teenage bedroom fantasies, make it that little bit easier to show how distorted concepts of seduction feed into a belief that consent doesn’t really matter. The word “involuntary” should never be used in adverts aimed at young men at a stage when they need to learn what enthusiastic consent really means. If sex involves anything that is not voluntary, it needs to stop.

It’s not that Lynx actually works. Of course it doesn’t. Everyone, even those using it, knows it doesn’t. But spreading the notion that it is reasonable to get people to whom you’re attracted to do things they don’t really want to do – that can have an effect. This is not selling seduction; it’s legitimising fantasies of assault.

I’m not a philosopher. I did one module of philosophy as part of my masters and I did it very badly, managing to scrape a pass by pretending to understand Kritik der reinen Vernunft when all my ideas actually came from Sophie’s World. Hence I am not very hot on philosophical terminology and naming different types of argument (straw man and circular are about my limit). All the same, I have decided to at least attempt to write a response to this post on rape, victim blaming and logical fallacies. The central point being made – that being drunk does make women vulnerable, therefore it’s intellectually dishonest and logically fallacious to present it as irrelevant to discussions of sexual assault – is presented clearly, with great pains taken not to offend. However, while I recognise the positive intent, I don’t think it’s an honest representation of the integrity of most feminist debates on this subject. Furthermore, I don’t feel it captures how and why discussing a hypothetical victim’s alcohol consumption causes offence.

I don’t want this to be seen as a highly critical or combative post. On the contrary, it is refreshing to read something about rape and victim blaming which has made me think rather than want to throw things (so no more CiF comment threads for me, I fear …). (more…)

We’ve all been there: you’ve just had a long, hard day at work, during which it’s become evident that the project which is three months’ behind schedule (and which you assumed everyone had forgotten about) is still expected to reach completion next Monday. You’ve picked up your kids only to find that they are far more whiny and annoying than you remember them being (especially the one who keeps brushing past the other simply in order to get another opportunity to say “Muu-uuuu-uum! He pushed me!”, again and again). You’ve got the buggers to bed, settled down with a glass of wine and finally you’re all set to relax. Only you can’t sodding well relax. Relaxing doesn’t feel normal. In fact, it feels positively unsettling. You desperately need something to irritate you again. Well, here’s a suggestion: pick any Guardian Comment Is Free piece on the subject of rape and scroll down to the comments. It works every time. (more…)

One thing about being a prat is, it’s easy to become obsessed with those who are even bigger prats. I speak as one who knows. For instance, last year I developed an obsession with the plagiarism scandal surrounding journalist Johan Hari, if only so I could think ‘well, I’ve fucked up at work, too, but never quite that badly’. In more recent times I’ve become fascinated with the self-destructive self-exposure of writers such as Liz Jones, just so I can tell myself ‘okay, so I’ve made similar mistakes, but at least there aren’t pictures of me making them in the Daily Mail’. During the past week I’ve turned my attentions to former X-Factor winner Steve Brookstein, due to his amazing skill at being a wanker on Twitter. I’ve sent tweets I’ve regretted – even written whole ruddy blog posts – but I’m pretty sure I’ve never quite plumbed Steve’s murky depths. (more…)

There’s a story in the news at the moment relating to sex, reproduction and consent. Well, okay, there are several (and each is maddeningly offensive in its own special way). But this one stands out from all the others. This one relates to husbands, wives and sperm donation. A woman in Surrey whose husband donated sperm without her knowledge is calling for new guidelines to treat sperm as a “marital asset”, which would mean that in future sperm could not be donated without the spouse’s views being taken into account. (more…)

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