On rape culture and why it’s men who have to change it.

June 19, 2013 at 9:41 am | Posted in Opinions, Politics | Leave a comment

This is a re-blog of a post I wrote some months ago for Unreasonable Faith while I was still blogging for them under the name of Custador. Since a large chunk of my discussions these days seem to revolve around feminism, I thought it was appropriate to re-blog it here, on my own blog.

This post will discuss rape, including specific instances of rape, both historical and fictional.

I want to take a little side-track from talking about religion today. I want to talk about something else instead.

I know it’s not really what we do here at UF, but I think what we do do boils down to talking about ideas; today I’d like to talk about feminism. Or at least I think I’d like to talk about feminism; the definition of that word seems to change depending upon who you talk to; I’ve always considered it to mean something like “the promotion of equality between the genders”, but I’ve had more than one person (mostly frothy-mouthed Men’s Rights Movement types, admittedly) telling me that it’s about “empowering women”, and has nothing at all to do with equality. Personally I think that women worldwide are starting off with a socially imposed gender disadvantage anyway, so empowering women pretty much does mean the same thing as promoting gender equality at this point. But however. Your mileage may vary, and I’m happy to be educated about what feminism means if anybody would care to take the time. I freely confess, I don’t know what the “waves” of feminism are/were, I’m largely ignorant about feminist history, and I don’t know who most of the great feminists throughout history have been (except I once dated a girl who was named after Ememline Pankhurst and my mother thinks Germaine Greer and Janet Street Porter are awesome).

But really, those issues are kind of peripheral to what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about something that I disagree with a feminist spokesperson about. But I’ll come back to that in a while.

First I want to set some context. It’s context that I suspect that all of our female readers will already be aware of, but which may come as a surprise to at least some of our male readers (though let’s not get started on the Male Privilege Argument, which I think we have done to death on the forums).

The context I want to set is this: We live in a rape culture. If you doubt me, then let me give you some examples:

1) The movie Observe and Report, which contains a “comedy” rape, in which the main character initiates sex with an unconscious woman (who he has drugged), but we’re supposed to think it’s okay because she wakes up and, while clearly still under narcotic influence, gives consent after the fact. I don’t even know where to start tearing Seth Rogan a new arsehole for that one, but I refuse to provide a link to a clip of it.

2) Convicted rapist Mike Tyson plays himself in cameo roles in movies like The Hangover and The Hangover 2.

3) Roman Polanski, a darling of Hollywood who won’t go anywhere near Hollywood (or even America) for fear of being arrested for drugging and having forcible sex with a fifteen year old girl while she was saying no and telling him to stop.

The next few examples I want to give are taken from an article in The Independent titled “2012: the year when it became okay to blame victims of sexual assault”.

“At Caernarfon Crown Court earlier this month, a 49-year-old man was convicted of raping a teenage girl. Jailing the rapist, the judge told him: “She let herself down badly. She consumed far too much alcohol and took drugs, but she also had the misfortune of meeting you”.”

A Crown Court judge, victim blaming over a rape.

“In August, the MP George Galloway publicly dismissed allegations of rape and sexual assault against Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder, he said, was guilty simply of ‘bad sexual etiquette’ when he began to have sex with a sleeping woman who had previously consented; his actions were ‘not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it’.”

Notwithstanding that George Galloway is a complete idiot, I don’t even know where to start with this one. I’ve got quite a lot of sense, personally, and I have no hesitation in saying that if that really is what happened, then that was rape.

“In April, after the footballer Ched Evans was convicted of raping a woman who was too drunk to consent, his victim faced an appalling backlash of online abuse. Twitter users called her a “money-grabbing slut” and circulated her name so widely that she was forced to change her identity.”

I don’t know if anybody else followed the Ched Evans case, but it was a much needed victory for the relatively new and largely untested UK law which explicitly states that having sex with a person too intoxicated to consent is rape. He had sex with a woman so drunk that she was virtually comatose, having had a friend pick her up and bring her back to his hotel for that specific purpose. And the great British football loving public responded with a round of vitriolic victim blaming so severe that she’s had to move to a new part of the country and adopt a new identity.

Let’s not even bother quoting any of the US Republican party’s record on rape. It’s too long, and has been done to death in recent months.

And now onto the part I want to disagree with somebody over.

Christina Diamandopoulis from the charity Rape Crisis was quoted in The Independent as saying “We have to get together as women … to grow the seeds of the fightback, which has already started, with organisations such as Rape Crisis, Object, Everyday Sexism, Mumsnet and others. Together, women have moved mountains before – we can do it again.”

No. Sorry, but no. To imply that women will stop rape, to my mind (however unintentionally), perpetuates the harmful myth that women are responsible for rape. That is, on the whole, untrue. I’m not saying that women don’t have a role to play, they clearly do: It’s a role that they share with men, though – Educating our children so that they don’t passively accept rape culture, voting with their wallets by not contributing financially towards media which denigrates women and promotes patriarchy and rape culture, and by pressuring our political representatives to at least have a clue what rape culture is and why it’s bad.

But the reason that I disagree with Ms. Diamandopoulis’ sentiments is this: The one and only person responsible for a rape, is the rapist. And rapists, in the overwhelming majority of cases, are men.

It’s not women who need to adopt a change in attitude, it’s men. I think as men we can probably all think of instances where we’ve laughed amongst ourselves at jokes that we would absolutely never tell in the presence of a woman. I can certainly think of instances from my own youth where my attitude to women was not so much questionable as downright disgusting. I’ve given unthinking support to male friends who were accused of rape, without even stopping to think that maybe they did it. I’ve certainly had sex with women whilst we were both very drunk, and not thought to ask myself if they would have wanted to do it sober. I’ve hung around in groups of male friends discussing women like they were trophies to collect. And to my fellow men I say this: I know damned well that my experiences are not uncommon. The vast majority of us have done (or still do) these things.

And that is what needs to change to end rape culture: The things that we men do and say and are, when only men are present; the ways we interact with each other, the things that we find acceptable; the standards that we relax when we are with “the boys”.

So to that end, I’d like to make a little pledge:

I will never condone rape or support rape culture in any way. I will object, loudly, when a rape joke is told. I will not tolerate objectification of women, amongst my male friends or amongst anybody else. I will do my best to be aware of my male (and white, and straight, and middle class) privilege, and to not take advantage of it. If and when I have children, I will try to educate them to critically appraise the media to which they are exposed and be aware of the gender messages within it. I will not spend money on any product, company or media which I am aware of having promoted rape culture or gender disparity, regardless of whether they have done so deliberately.

I think that pretty much covers everything I wanted to say today. Once again, I extend my usual open invitation to educate me. Go go go!

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