One week in November.

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…)

Rape culture comes in many guises. It doesn’t always look like Robin Thicke, or Cee Lo Green, or UniLAD, or 4Chan, or Judge G. Todd Baugh. Sometimes it looks like, of all people, Pam Ayres.

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.

Yesterday a student called Archie Reed was cleared of raping a fellow student. These are the words of Judge Anthony Morris, who oversaw the trial and ordered the jury to acquit: (more…)

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…)

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.

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.

It started with Emily Yoffe’s Slate piece College Women: Stop Getting Drunk, in which Yoffe rehashes old-as-the-hills advice on drinking less to avoid rape: (more…)

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…)

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:

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

  1. 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”).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. You can leave your wallet at home but your body and all its orifices are constantly with you.
  5. 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.
  6. No one decides theft is a “grey area” if you allow someone to touch the product they go on to steal.
  7. 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.
  8. 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”.
  9. 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”.
  10. People don’t own their bodies, they are their bodies. End of.

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…)

I’m not sure why I started reading about Rehtaeh Parsons. The briefest summary of her life and death (at age 17) leaves you in little doubt that the more you read, the angrier you’ll get. That’s assuming you care about girls being sexually assaulted, photographed and then bullied by their peers until they kill themselves. Of course, Parsons’ assault remains alleged rather than proven. The same is true for the rape of Audrie Pott. Pott committed suicide at age 15 after photos of her alleged assault went viral around her school. According to reports, Potts was unconscious during the attack and awoke to find messages of “X was here” written on her body. There was more than one assailant, many more who saw the photographs.

How strange, these little pockets of society where suddenly the idea that rape is acceptable – a spectacle for the amusement of others – bubbles up from deep underground. How strange, given that we usually disapprove of rape. Sure, we argue about it – about what causes it, about how it can be proven, about whether some rapes are “worse” than others – but not about whether it is A Bad Thing. Even George Galloway won’t stoop to that. All the same, I’m starting to wish that he would. (more…)

If you are a feminist it can be difficult to understand the position of any woman who isn’t. Gloria Steinem claimed “a woman has two choices: either she’s a feminist or a masochist” (what this says about the choices of feminists who are into BDSM I do not know). Julie Burchill, meanwhile, has argued that “there is a short and sharp way to deal with women who say they are not feminists”:

If a woman answers ‘no’ to the question ‘Are you a feminist?’, she should immediately be stripped of her voting rights, her right to institute divorce, her legal protection from domestic violence and marital rape – oh, and her pay should be cut to 19% less than that of her male colleagues. Then she could lead the carefree, non-ball-breaking life she so desires, and not be forced to take advantage of all those unpleasant and exhausting social gains which those nasty butch feminists in the 20th century forced on her.

To which one is tempted to respond “oh, sod off, you attention-seeking transphobe”. Yet could it be that in this one instance Burchill has a point? Shouldn’t those who refuse to acknowledge their oppression be made to experience its full force? After all, aren’t they complicit in every other woman’s oppression, too? (more…)

It was incredibly emotional — incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.

CNN reporter Poppy Harlow on witnessing the Steubenville verdict

Like most women, I live in fear of ruining promising lives. The trouble is, it’s so easy to do. We can even do it in our sleep. It doesn’t matter what we wear, where we go, whom we’re with, whether we’re drunk or sober – any one of us could end up ruining a promising life. It could even be the life of a friend or partner (obviously some lives are less promising than others, but as women we don’t get to choose). (more…)

Finally – finally! – we get to know just how prevalent false rape accusations have become. As BBC Newsbeat reports “it’s the first time details for England and Wales have been compiled, showing how common the problem is”. From that particular wording, you wouldn’t necessarily think that the answer to that was “not very common at all”. But you’d be wrong. Over the past 17 months there have been two – yes, two – successful prosecutions per month for making false allegations and wasting police time. To put that in perspective, you find an average of 332 prosecutions per month for rape over the same period (something the BBC fails to mention). Even if we set aside the fact that many rapes are not even reported or do not get to trial, it’s quite a contrast. Think of how many times you see stories of false rape allegations reported in the press and imagine if rape convictions were reported in the same way. Every other story you read would be about a rape conviction. But it’s not, is it? Because rape is “the norm” and false allegations are the exception – even if our tendency to focus on the exception means we now think it is the norm (at least if we write for BBC Newsbeat).
(more…)

It would be interesting, if disheartening, to know how much time is spent debating the supposed “rights and wrongs” of rape, sexual assault and harrassment, as opposed to time spent supporting victims and educating potential perpetrators. I’d guess that it’s a lot. We don’t get that many pieces on why rape is bad because apparently that’s something we all know (all of us, that is, apart from the “nutters”, as Caitlin Moran would say). By contrast, there’s plenty of time spent picking over the supposed nuances, the grey areas, the “he said/she said” and whatever other flippantly offensive terms pop up whenever we’re sitting in judgement on those who make accusations (but rarely their accusers).
(more…)

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…)

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