*Trigger warning* this post includes very upsetting quotes from Unilad, lad's mags and rapists regarding rape of women and children.
When I was interviewed on BBC Bristol the morning of Reclaim the Night 2011, the presenter accused me of being 'alarmist' when I said that we lived in a rape culture. I responded that I wasn't being alarmist, but that the situation is alarming. I explained that in a society where 1 in 4 women are survivors of rape (http://cwasu.org/page_display.asp?pageid=STATS&pagekey=35&itemkey=37) and the conviction rate from incident to conviction is 6%, whilst sentencing remains low, and rape is a trope used across the media, advertising and pornography as something 'ok' (http://loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org/offensiveads.html), then yes, we do live in a rape culture.
This week reminded me of the extent of the rape culture we live in. I'm sure you are all aware of the Unilad magazine furore, which started on Twitter and has been picked up by plenty of the mainstream media. It began with anger over an article called 'Sexual Mathematics', where the "journalist" wrote that if a girl doesn't want to have sex with you, then you just have to do the maths. He states that 85% of rapes go unrecorded, and those are pretty good odds. In short, you might as well rape her, because chances are you'll get away with it.
This isn't banter. This isn't lads together, jauntily joking at women's expense. This is pure and undiluted hatred of women. I don't think that's too extreme to say. These men must hate women. Because if they didn't hate women, then they wouldn't see women as objects that are there for their pleasure and their use. They wouldn't see women as non-human, who are just there to be at the other end of their dicks and their orgasm. They would see women as people in their own right, with feelings and bodies and a sexuality and a voice.
Let alone the fact that of course he's right. Most rapists do get away with it. Because we live in a rape culture.
The Sexual Mathematics article was the one that got reported. But amazing and horrifying research by tweeps Lori Hearts and Renireni revealed that threatening women with rape was par the course for the lads of Unilad. Articles and comments about how if your girl doesn't want sex, then that's still fun for one (advocating rape), as well as 'jokes' ('every hole is a goal', that '9 out of 10 people enjoy gang rape'), and sexualised insults ('take the sand out of your vagina'). A post on their Facebook page featuring a screen grab of a 10 year old girl's question to a problem page received over 18,000 likes and some horribly hateful comments. They call the girl a 'slut in the making', suggest that maybe her 'da rapes her in her sleep'...you get the picture. My final example comes courtesy of Lorrie Hearts twitter feed (I can't bear to look at the facebook page anymore), where Unilads Facebook fans joke that 'if it's old enough to bleed it's old enough to breed' - advocating and joking about child abuse (some girls start their periods age 10 or even earlier) (https://twitter.com/#!/LorrieHearts/status/165098360573923328/photo/1). They exchange rhymes that 'if they wipe their own pee it's old enough for me', 'if there's grass on the pitch let's play ball', and, the one that made me retch the most 'if it's old enough to bleed, it's old enough to butcher'.
And that's before you even get on to the rampant homophobia, the hideous trivialising of rape of men and the ableism. I only have energy for one blogpost on this subject but would refer you to my blogpost on the intersection of sexism and homophobia about how in this environment men assert their heterosexuality by being misogynistic because of their homophobia (http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/02/sexism-and-homophobia.html).
To these lads, women are simply holes. We aren't even called women, we are 'it' or sluts or whores. But mostly, we are three holes. Sex is violence, a conquest to defeat a woman. Sex is 'butchering' and the goal is the 'hole'. Consent is meaningless, because to recognise the need for consent would be to recognise that women are women, are humans, with our own voices and desires and bodily autonomy. When they say that the odds are good if you rape a woman, it's not actually startling. Because in the minds of these lads, sex is something that is 'done' to a woman. They don't get a say in it - positive or negative. In the Unilad world, women can't win. If she wants to have sex, or engages in consensual sex, she's a slut. And if she doesn't, then she's a hole to be 'conquested'.
Anyway, Unilad offered a useless apology (we're sorry you were offended) and the story has got a smattering of press attention and widespread condemnation. The site was closed down but the Facebook page is thriving, with lads and ladies calling their critics dykes who are attacking their freedom of speech (I can't decide what the most tragic element of this whole debacle is, but the support the site has from women is definitely one of them).
But let's not allow the outrage over Unilad trick us into thinking this is a one off, or that the rape culture in Unilad is somehow unique to them. Because Unilad aren't the originators of this rape culture. The quality of their writing is enough to prove they're not clever enough to think of this shit on their own. They are reflecting our culture, our rape culture that refuses to see women as fully human, that sees them as objects and that views sex as a conquest of holes, that is done to women. Their language and 'jokes' or 'banter' is lifted from the pages of mainstream lad's mags and porn content.
A study that was published last year by Middlesex University and the University of Surrey (http://www.surrey.ac.uk/mediacentre/press/2011/69535_are_sex_offenders_and_lads_mags_using_the_same_language.htm?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twittercollected) provided quotes from lad's mags and convicted rapists, and asked participants if they could identify the two sources. Here are a selection of the quotes:
1. There's a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.
2. Some girls walk around in short-shorts . . . showing their body off . . . It just starts a man thinking that if he gets something like that, what can he do with it?
3. A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy.
4. Mascara running down the cheeks means they've just been crying, and it was probably your fault . . . but you can cheer up the miserable beauty with a bit of the old in and out.
5. What burns me up sometimes about girls is dick-teasers. They lead a man on and then shut him off right there.
6. Filthy talk can be such a turn on for a girl . . . no one wants to be shagged by a mouse . . . A few compliments won't do any harm either . . . ‘I bet you want it from behind you dirty whore' . . .
7. You know girls in general are all right. But some of them are bitches . . . The bitches are the type that . . . need to have it stuffed to them hard and heavy.
8. Escorts . . . they know exactly how to turn a man on. I've given up on girlfriends. They don't know how to satisfy me, but escorts do.
9. You'll find most girls will be reluctant about going to bed with somebody or crawling in the back seat of a car . . . But you can usually seduce them, and they'll do it willingly.
10. There's nothing quite like a woman standing in the dock accused of murder in a sex game gone wrong . . . The possibility of murder does bring a certain frisson to the bedroom.
11. Girls ask for it by wearing these mini-skirts and hotpants . . . they're just displaying their body . . . Whether they realise it or not they're saying, ‘Hey, I've got a beautiful body, and it's yours if you want it.'
12. You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.
13. Some women are domineering, but I think it's more or less the man who should put his foot down. The man is supposed to be the man. If he acts the man, the woman won't be domineering.
14. I think if a law is passed, there should be a dress code . . . When girls dress in those short skirts and things like that, they're just asking for it.
15. Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim.
16. I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them.*
I couldn't tell the difference. Can you? I bet you can't guess who said Number 12.
*Answers. 1. Rapist, 2. Rapist, 3. Lad mag, 4. Lad mag, 5. Rapist, 6. Lad mag, 7. Rapist, 8. Lad mag, 9. Rapist, 10. Lad mag, 11. Rapist, 12. Lad mag, 13. Rapist, 14. Rapist, 15. Lad mag, 16. Lad mag
Although there has been a lot of moves to restrict lad's mags, move them to the top shelf or have age restrictions; the fact remains that these mags are picked up by young boys when they buy their sweets or footie stickers at the newsagents. They grow up learning that if you don't want to get caught raping a girl, then you 'smash her on a park bench'. That women are just three holes. That consent doesn't matter, because women don't get a say or a voice. Combined with the prevalence and easy access of violent porn that portrays acted and real rape as something that women want or deserve, then the existence of Unilad is simply not that surprising. This is the language, the cultural landscape we live in.
I thought I would take a quick look at a couple of lad's mag sites to support what I've just said. It's literally a sea of disembodied body parts. A pair of tits here, a thong-encased bum there. Women are not seen as a whole, they are seen as parts. Nuts is a sea of breasts, with the 'assess my breasts' click through a headless pair of boobs. The jokes section of the site helpfully informs me that this section is not for girls (that would be 'soft'). I feel a bit dizzy in this boob smorgasbord, where women are defined and measured by their tits. All in all, that is half hour of my life I am never going to get back.
It's just so endlessly degrading! It's so depressing as a woman to know that you are being used, that your body parts, your sexuality are being used in this way - to degrade you, so that you are judged as nothing but the sum of a good pair of tits and a nice ass. That you are nothing but a potential conquest, that in the eyes of Unilad and their ilk you are nothing but three holes to be fucked. This constant dehumanisation, this slicing up of women for consumption - we're on the menu. When people ask me why I'm anti porn, why I get angry about Hooters, why I disagree with lad's mags or page 3 I can articulate my argument about the links between objectification, low self esteem and VAWG. And god knows the research by Middlesex and Surrey shows that. But sometimes it comes down to as basic a response as this. As a woman, I do not want to be treated this way anymore. I don't want men who read these mags or who absorb this culture to see me as nothing but a potential hole to be fucked. It sounds extreme. But we can't ignore this any more. We can't ignore that lad culture is raising a readership of men who see women as objects to be fucked, and women who then see themselves as objects to be fucked (http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/11/how-representation-of-women-is-form-of_25.html). When a guy walks up to me on the street and shouts in my face that I need to suck his cock, he hasn't been reading Wollstonecraft. He's been reading Unilad, or Zoo, or Nuts, and learning that women are his property, are objects that he can use as and how he wants. Even if that want at that point is to assert his own power in a public space.
I just can't believe we can achieve equality when women are on the menu.
We must remember that these men aren't monsters. The men who write 'old enough to breed old enough to butcher' are not oddballs or weirdos or 'evil'. This isn't a one off. This is part of a culture that allows violence against women and girls, that allows for women to be dehumanised. Unilad aren't creating this culture, they're reflecting something that already exists and has existed for a long time. Take a look at those quotes again from the research. These aren't from Unilad, but they are no different.
My final point on rape culture comes courtesey of a Daily Mail article published online on Friday (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2095990/PCSO-Michael-Yardley-affair-girl-12-jailed-rape.html). The piece was about the rape of a 12-year old girl by a 35-year old PCSO. The Mail reporter described it as an 'affair'.
I include this example because it shows how rape culture isn't just confined to the obviously misogynistic world of porn and lad's mags. It is everywhere, including the "respectable" media (yeah, I know, it's the Mail, but it doesn't get any more mainstream and they at least think they're respectable). Calling child rape an 'affair' taps into an idea that rape isn't really real unless it exists in a very specific setting (outdoors, with a stranger and weapon). We've said it to the Daily Mail before, but legally a 12-year old can't consent to sex. Therefore if an adult man has sex with a child, no matter if his marriage is unhappy, or she wanted to move in with him when she was 18, it is still rape. An adult has a responsibility not to rape a child. If a child has a crush on an adult, then he has a responsibility to recognise that doesn't give him permission to rape her. And the Daily Mail has a responsibility to report this responsibly. If they report child rape as an 'affair' then they are colluding with the rapist to present his crime as harmless, to present it in the way that he wants it to be seen. He wants the girl to be culpable and they are tacitly agreeing to that. So that girl, and the next girl, and the next - they are seen as co-operating in the violence committed against them. Not calling rape what it is is part of a rape culture that diminishes its seriousness, shifts the blame onto women and girls and ignores how different forms of violence against women and girls are inter-connected.
It's all part of the same pattern. If we see women as dehumanised objects, then it is impossible to rape them. If chatter in our cultural landscape is devoted to trivialising rape, to joking about rape, to blaming women for their rape, to saying that rape is 'good odds' or 'fun for one', then the end result is that in the mainstream, rape is trivialised too.
And as research published last week shows, in our rape culture jurors are less likely to convict rapists (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/jan/30/rape-victims-acquittals-chief-prosecutor). Rape culture isn't alarmist. It's real, it's happening, sometimes it's caught out, most times it isn't. In the end, it's women who are suffering.