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.
True, we might say rape is “abhorrent”. Nick Conrad used this word, midway through telling all potential victims that “it’s probably best to keep your knickers on”. We don’t really mean it, though. 85,000 rapes per year is clearly considered a price worth paying for no cultural change whatsoever. We can’t police sexual tastes. We can’t control how men see women or how women might want to be seen. Hell, we can’t do anything. Might as well go home (and hope we’re not raped there).
Of course, every now and then, just to show willing, we engage in a little “rape prevention” activity. While rape is clearly a force of nature – and nothing whatsoever to do with male supremacy – we might feel there are ways in which we can chip around the edges, just to reduce the prevalence a little. So what are our options? We could question the beliefs which make men feel entitled to women’s bodies (something feminists might call “rape culture”). Or we could ask women to modify their behaviour (something which non-feminists might call “common sense”). Since both options limit someone’s freedom, this could seem a difficult choice but thankfully, only one of these choices has an impact on men. Hence it’s not difficult at all. Deep down, we all know women don’t have any freedom to lose.
In a recent New Statesman piece on abortion, Sarah Ditum pointed out that “pregnancy is the only form of corporeal generosity that is specific to the female body”
We recognise males as entire beings with an independent moral nature, and understand that it would be an obscenity to compel any man to give up even part of his body for another’s benefit. We see women as a partial, provisional sort of human with bodies intended as a resource for others to use.
I don’t think this is unrelated to how we treat rape. We see men as self-contained, non-penetrable, complete in their own right. They exist for themselves, not for anyone else. Women don’t enjoy similar privileges. Hence to tell a man not to penetrate an unconscious female body is an outrage against his own agency. A woman is there for the taking. It is nature. If she didn’t want it to happen, she shouldn’t have been there, exposing herself, with her flesh and her holes.
Right now we are in the midst of a widespread panic about feminists limiting free speech, what with their insistence on challenging a misogynist culture rather than female “responsibility” for mitigating its effects. The Daily Beast is claiming that “feminism has gone too far” while The Spectator is busy whinging about how “free speech is so last century”. Freedom of expression must come first, as long as it’s not the freedom of expression that involves drinking alcohol, wearing revealing clothes, being alone with men, saying yes then saying no, having a mental illness (the latest self-indulgence, apparently). It doesn’t cross the mind of the authors of these pieces that if the consequences of freedom of expression for women are “being raped and being blamed for it” it’s not freedom of expression at all. We are living in a society in which for women, sexual assault is still seen as a suitable punishment for “provocative” behaviour. It’s not written into law but it doesn’t have to be. It’s embedded in our culture, this very culture that is constantly defended under the “but it’s freedom of speech!” whine.
I realise these people would “defend to the death” my right to tell rape jokes or to wear a suggestive shirt. Right now, however, I just want to interact with other human beings without feeling that anything I do could lead to the “deserving rape victim” label being slapped on my forehead. Of course, that’s not a right the defenders of liberty give a toss about defending. Because free speech is an absolute. It must be defended at all costs. Sticking your cock into an unconscious, unresponsive body, on the other hand … well, that’s complex. Challenging a culture that legitimises such behaviour? Well, that’s just oppressive, isn’t it? Far easier to tell women to keep their pants on (which isn’t oppressive at all, right?).
In 1983 Andrea Dworkin delivered a speech in which she asked men for “a 24-hour truce without rape”:
And on that day, that day of truce, that day when not one woman is raped, we will begin the real practice of equality, because we can’t begin it before that day. Before that day it means nothing because it is nothing: it is not real; it is not true. But on that day it becomes real. And then, instead of rape we will for the first time in our lives–both men and women–begin to experience freedom.
Oh, but freedom isn’t a day without rape, is it? It’s a day during which women – these freedom-deniers – shut the fuck up. God forbid we place limitations on those things – the stories we tell, the jokes we share, the images we distribute – which tell men that raping women is okay. Meanwhile, 1,600 women a week will be silenced because their lives and bodies don’t count. If this is freedom I want out.