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.
It is a fact that a very small minority of rape allegations are false. It’s also a fact that false allegations are damaging to the accused and those around them. I have never encountered a single person, feminist or otherwise, who would dispute this. In the case of Christian Jessen’s tweets, no one is questioning his contention that false allegations cause harm (much as Jessen and his supporters would like to pretend that they are). What people need to understand – and what many of us don’t – is the precise purpose of tweets such as these (latter since deleted but not retracted):
1)Terrible story of cabby accused of rape by female passenger only 2b saved by his recording of journey where nothing of the sort happened
2)Why do women do this?! 2 many rape cases ignored, so why try this sort of damaging nonsense on to make it worse? Loons.
What is the point being made? That women have a propensity to lie about rape? That it is acceptable for the existence of false rape allegations to influence our attitudes towards rape survivors? That the credibility of rape complainants is significantly harmed by false allegations and that the way to remedy this is not by publicising how low these figures are but by implying women bear some kind of collective responsibility? If not, then what? Random musings on the criminality of a particular group and its impact on the well-documented suspicion with which a much larger group are approached don’t help anyone, neither the victims of the first group nor the second, equally blameless group.
Look, I don’t know why anyone would “try this sort of damaging nonsense on”, just as I don’t know why anyone would commit rape (although in both cases I suspect “being a loon” isn’t a particularly useful starting point for diagnosis). I do know this, though: if I were to write something along the lines of “why do men rape? Don’t they realise this makes things worse for victims of false allegations? Twats” I wouldn’t have armies of adoring fans ready to twist this into a statement of solidarity with all false allegation victims. That’s because it wouldn’t be. It’d just be a pointless, provocative statement that somehow suggests that if only “men” got their shit together and stopped raping things would be a whole lot better for, um, other men (the “victim” men, or something).
When, how and where you contribute to the broader social dialogue about rape matters. Throwing facts, selectively picked and provocatively phrased, into a public forum and then refusing to allow anyone to infer a broader context just isn’t fair, as is then suggesting “twitter brevity” is to blame for the universalising import of your statement (especially since “why do women do” could have been “why would a woman do” without the apparently essential inclusion of “sort of” and “loons”). As a middle-class white woman I can think of plenty of random, non-contextualised, provocative facts I could toss around relating to criminality, class, race and gender. I also think it would be pretty racist, classist and sexist of me to do so without any broader discussion of privilege, discrimination and statistical distortions.
Christian Jessen might have sufficient support to enable him to adopt some imaginary moral high ground from which he’s just stating the facts but this isn’t the reality. The real world as experienced by rapists, rape survivors and false allegation survivors is somewhat different. It’s a world that’s shaped not just by deeds but by the words and responses of others. Before suggesting those who disagree with him are mentally deficient, Jessen would do well to remember this.
Dr Glosswitch (fuck it, in this one instance I’m gonna flash around my “doctorliness” too)