Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Silent no more and 'manning up' on online abuse

Today the media reported how, since her appearance on Question Time, all-round amazing woman Mary Beard had been subjected to some horrific online abuse. The reason? She’s a woman who happened to have an opinion and expressed that opinion in a public forum.

Of course, the abuse did not relate to what she actually said on Question Time. It all related to her being a woman. For those of us who know the drill when it comes to online abuse, we know what that means. All the usual offenders were there. Nasty comments on her appearance, sadistic sexual threats and even obscene Photoshopped images. I say all the usual because all of those things have happened to me. And a hell of a lot of other women I know.

The Women’s Room UK account responded to the news story by setting up a hashtag #silentnomore – encouraging women to speak out about their experiences of online abuse.

I joined in, of course. As a woman writing online, having a voice, I have had my fair share of online abuse. It has ranged from being called ugly, a dyke, speculation about my sex life, nasty insults about my family, rape threats and threats to post my details online so that men could find me and ‘make me pay’. That last one triggered a call to the police. For me it has meant being called a ‘fucking baby killer’ for writing about Dorries’ attacks on abortion rights. Being called a ‘fucking thick bitch’ for saying that perhaps F4J deserved to find themselves on the wrong side of the ASA. People wishing I’d get kicked in the vagina. Being told ‘I hope some cunt rapes you’. Those are just the ones I remember. Particularly last February when it really took off with the abuse from Hooters supporters, there were just so many I simply can’t remember them all. It’s just a blur of cunts and bitches and jealous and uglies.

I have always believed in the power of speaking out about online abuse, just as I believe in the power of speaking out about street harassment and all forms of violence against women and girls. This does not mean pressuring any woman to disclose what has happened to her. It isn’t an expectation on women to speak out. It’s more that I feel able to speak out and therefore I believe I can add my voice to help raise awareness of the reality of online abuse. And once we know the reality we can start to stop it.

I talk about the reality because often people think when you talk about online abuse you’re talking about someone disagreeing with you. The shock in their faces when you actually show them the words on the screen that are directed at you reveals how people don’t actually realise what online misogyny looks like. It’s not ‘girls’ being ‘hysterical’. It is women and girls being threatened with rape. It is men, in the case of Mary Beard, saying ‘they plan to plant a d*** in my mouth’.

Of course it didn’t take long for men – and it was mainly men – to turn up on the hash tag, a tag where women were sharing really awful experiences, painful, verbally violent experiences, to tell us, as one guy put it ‘to man up’.

There were plenty of men showing solidarity and listening too. But I can’t help but feel furious with those men who dared to tell us to stop moaning and ‘man up’. Speaking out is a hard thing to do. The very fact online abuse exists is proof how hard it is for women to safely speak out, to safely disclose. Already when we raise our voices so many people – again mainly men – are doing their upmost to silence us with abuse and threats of sexual violence. There’s something terribly ironic then that when we raise our voices to protest that silencing, so many people rush to try and silence us again.

What is so frightening about women speaking out? Why does that threaten some men so much that they respond by telling us to ‘man up’? What is so frightening about women speaking out on their experiences that some men respond by telling us they hope we get raped?

Online abuse is always the same. It always starts with telling you how ugly you are. The reason men who want to abuse women online do this is because they believe that calling a woman ugly is the perfect insult. They think this because of the cultural value we place on female beauty. We equate being able to conform to the current culturally defined beauty standard as THE measure of success for a woman. So calling a woman ugly is the misogynist's way to call a woman a failure. It is a way to undermine, and to point out that nothing a woman says has any worth because she has failed in the most important aspect of being a woman - being attractive to men. This is really, really important. This is what AA Gill famously did to Mary Beard.

It then moves on to speculation on your sex life or calling you various names that mean gay – as if gay is an insult. There are a lot of parallels between trying to insult a woman by calling her a lesbian as there are to calling her ugly. The idea that 'lesbian' is an insult is based on the idea that a woman's success in our society is based on her being in a straight relationship. Speculation on your sex life for me has also meant quite frank discussions between commenters on what kind of sex I might be having.

And then the threats arrive. All of these aspects of online abuse are dedicated to one thing – to shutting you up. To taking your voice away. For chasing you out of the conversation.

It’s not good enough.

One of the wonderful things about #silentnomore is that it is a moment where women can come together and expose the shit that we put up with every day. It’s not acceptable for men to come along and try and silence that. Again, massive big up to the guys that showed solidarity. Perhaps Mr. ‘Man Up’ can learn something from them. Sometimes it’s time to listen to women and what women are telling you. And if we’re telling you that we are sick of being silenced by online abuse, it’s probably best not to try and silence us. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Whilst you’ve been talking about us, we’ve been here doing stuff. So let’s celebrate!

Hello. My name is Sian Norris. I am a feminist. I am 28 years old. Although that means I have long waved goodbye to the chance to use a young person’s railcard, I think I am still technically a young feminist. 

I’m not sure what the cut off point actually *is* but seeing as I have no plans for losing my young label anytime soon I stand by my point. I am a young feminist. What’s more, I’ve been a feminist since I was definitely young. I was 14 when I read Marge Piercy, I was 16 when I read The Whole Woman, I was 22 when I organised a feminist event (Ladyfest Bristol 2007) and I was 23 when I started co-running the Bristol Feminist Network. Got it? Feminist. And. Young. 

But a lot of the talk about the feminist movement for as long as I have been involved in it has often put me in the state of an existential crisis. We apparently do not exist. Young women aren’t interested in feminism. They don’t identify with feminism. All that wonderful marvellous stuff that the feminist movement has achieved is ignored in favour of arguments about rebranding and changing the name. 

This came to a head for me the other week when Vagenda, who are feminists and who are younger than me, started talking about why young women aren’t feminists. Then this triggered more debate about why young women aren’t feminists. And then everyone forgot to check in with the young women who are feminists. They just talked about us without talking to us. Again. It’s pretty confusing but most of all it’s bloody infuriating. 

Sometimes we see the opposite effect. An article appears saying ‘hey! Look! Feminists are here! They’re young and they wear make-up and some of them are men! Wahey!’ But in many ways those articles can be as frustrating as the ones that say there are no young feminists because they often de-politicize feminist issues and only focus on very narrow areas of what feminist activists are doing. 

So anyway. Here’s the thing. I don’t believe feminism needs re-branding to be made attractive to young women or any women. I don’t believe in abandoning the name of a movement that has brought women so much. Instead, I believe we need to counter the voices in the mainstream media that do down feminism or just focus on feminists when we’re talking about issues that can be illustrated with tits. Now’s the time to celebrate the amazing work feminists are doing. 

Because what better way to show what a vibrant, exciting, inclusive and fabulous thing feminism is than actually talking about what a vibrant, exciting, inclusive and fabulous thing feminism is?

Of course, as this last week has shown once again, feminism is not without its problems. We still have a long way to go to sort some shit out. So please don’t take this post as some how glossing over those issues. It’s not. 

But sometimes we can all take a moment to celebrate the great work that feminism does. Especially when so much of that work is deliberately ignored in the media. 

Living in Bristol, my list may be a bit West Country biased. And also biased towards women I know. So add your own ideas, people and wonderful projects to the list. 

I am so proud to be a feminist. Feminism has enriched my life so much, has taught me so much. It has given me friends, new perspectives, brought new thoughts and concepts and people into my life. 

So here goes…

First, let’s celebrate The F Word
When I first came to feminism as an adult, The F Word was there for me. It is still there today. It’s a consistently fantastic site that covers so many issues in an unbiased way. It gives a voice to so many women. It strives to be intersectional and, during a week where trans issues have been in the spotlight, it is a safe space that challenges transphobia. It is unashamedly political and isn’t snarky. 

Daughters of Eve is a wonderful charity empowering young women around issues of FGM. Founders Nimko Ali and Leyla Hussein are passionate, driven and amazing women who are standing up for the rights of girls across the globe. They give a voice to young women affected by FGM and are totally awe inspiringly amazing. 

In a similar vein, if you saw the Newsnight special on FGM, then you saw the young women from Integrate Bristol. These girls and women are tackling FGM – speaking out, making films, giving presentations and putting together a huge international conference last July. When a young man from the Somali community stood up to introduce the event I had tears of respect in my eyes. Their energy and determination is an inspiration. 

Go Feminist is run by a group of women who wanted to put on a truly intersectional feminist conference that gave a voice to all women. Now they’re taking their skills and expertise to work with young people across London to talk to them about issues such as violence against women and girls. 

And then there’s Intersect. Organised in Bristol last year by @TheNatFantastic it was a conference of inspiring speakers including Women Asylum Seekers Together, Paris Lees, Sarah Round and Nimko Ali. 

UK Feminista was set up by feminist powerhouse Kat Banyard. An organisation to bring feminist activists together, it has inspired hundreds of young women to identify as feminists. The Summer School this year was so packed with young women that I felt old! Then there’s the conferences, the research, the protests – a truly inspiring organisation. 

Object is tackling the issues of the treatment of women as sex objects. Successfully campaigning for law changes – including a law that made it a criminal offence to pay for sex with a woman or man who is coerced or exploited – they are a brilliant organisation and their website is a great resource. 
Campaigning on similar issues and equally as fabulous are Turn your Back on Page 3 and No More Page 3.  

Everyday Sexism is showing the world just how bad things still are when it comes to misogyny. Their exposure of sexual harassment, sexual violence and basic, everyday sexism (duh!) is doing so much to prove to the world that yes, we still need feminism. 

No Women No Peace is demanding for change across the world to ensure that women’s rights are not sold down the river when it comes to peace negotiations. They’re exposing what violence against women in conflict zones actually means. As we move closer to leaving Afghanistan, No Women No Peace are working in solidarity with Afghan women’s rights activists to make sure women are part of the peace process and the country’s future. 

Women for Refugee Women was set up by feminist writer Natasha Walter to work for the rights of refugee women and asylum seekers. This organisation works in partnership with WAST to give women refugees a voice when all too often they are silenced on all sides. 

Reclaim the Night was re-ignited by feminist powerhouse Finn Mackay who is also the founder of London Feminist Network. Her energy and vision to end violence against women and girls is inspiring and now Reclaim the Nights are happening all over the UK (independently of Finn) – including in Bristol. 

One25 is a Bristol based organisation who work with street-based sex workers. Non-judgemental and totally brilliant, our city is a better place for them. 

The Sky Project is another Bristol organisation that works on issues of forced marriage, providing support. 

EVAW or the End Violence against Women Coalition are a fantastic organisation that are currently doing lots of work on sex education with a focus on consent and respect. They’re providing teaching resources and educational info that will help to tackle sexual harassment and violence in schools. And that’s just ONE thing they do…

Ladyfest – because if you love women, music, art, writing and having a fun, feminist time, you love Ladyfest.

Abortion Support Network We’re facing a real threat to our reproductive rights. ASN campaigns on abortion issues and supports women coming to the UK from places such as Northern Ireland who want an abortion. 

Bird’s Eye Film Festival because they celebrate women’s work in the male dominated film industry. 

We are Equals and WOW for celebrating the amazing work done by women and championing women’s rights activists across the world. And, you know, that Daniel Craig vid.

V Day because Eve Ensler is an inspiration and she is working to end VAWG across the globe. 

Bristol Feminist Network and Bristol Fawcett – because, quite frankly, where would I be without them? They are my sisters. When I think how much BFN have achieved in just over five years I am overwhelmed with pride. 

All the women who have been part of WomensAid, Refuge and Eaves over the years. All of the women who have founded, volunteered at, managed Rape Crisis Centres. All of the women who give their time and energy and determination to end violence against women and girls. I don’t know your names. But without you and the women who came before you, the world would be a worse place. 

My blogging sisters – We Mixed our DrinksToo Much to Say for Myself, Rmott62, The Real SGM,  Marina SGlosswatchForty Shades of Grey, StavversBlack Feminists UK, Bird of Paradox. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Without the women’s words I read on the internet I would be a much more ignorant woman than I am today. And I don’t even know that much stuff. 

HammerOn Press and all of Debi’s incredible ventures bringing our feminist history to life. 

The White Ribbon Campaign works with young men to educate on issues of violence against women and girls. 

The Anti-Porn Men Project brings together men who want to question the increased normalisation of pornography in our culture and the impact that has on men and women. 

My friends like Anna, Helen, Sue, Katy, Marina, Jenny and everyone who I met through feminism and who I love. 

Every woman who has written about feminism, every woman who has spoken out about women’s rights, every woman who has helped us move closer and closer to liberation. Feminism has a rich and complex and exciting history. Feminism – in the UK – has given us the right to vote, the right to be our own person, the right to an education, the right to pay the gas bill, the right to control over our own bodies. In the UK feminism has meant that rape in marriage is a crime. Feminist women have built a movement that has changed all of our lives for the better. Every single one of you is on this list. Without all the women who came before, without all the women who are acting NOW, I would not be able to say today that I am proud to be a feminist. 

This list is basically no-where near as long as it should be. It’s all the organisations I could think of from the top of my head in my lunch break. Organisations that I think are inspiring and deserve celebrating. So don’t have a go at me if I have missed out any wonderful feminist things. Just add them to the list in the comments. 

Because it’s important to remember the wonderful work being done. I hope by celebrating our work, our energy, we can help show why feminism is such a vital movement and try to do away with the negative stereotypes of feminism that have such a stranglehold at the moment. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

I'm angry about the latest statistics on rape and you're about to find out why

*Trigger warning* contains discussion on rape and sexual violence

This week the latest figures on sexual violence were published. These figures come from the Home Office, the Office of National Statistics and the Ministry of Justice and cover England and Wales. So, as far as statistic go, these are pretty thorough.

The stats show that 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault. They tell us that there are 473,000 sex crimes every year – from unwanted touching to rape. Of these 473,000 assaults, between 60,000 and 95,000 are rapes. 9,000 of these victims and survivors of rape are men.

What the statistics also tell us is that only 15% of these rapes are ever recorded and only 1070 of the reported rapes lead to a conviction. This was shockingly illustrated by an infographic on the front page of Friday’s Independent.

When you look at these statistics it reveals the true extent to which we live in a rape culture. It undermines the endless defences for rape and rape culture we have heard last year. The ‘it happens over there’, ‘it happened in the past’, ‘it happens in those communities’. Sexual assault and rape is a crime committed against one in five women in the UK right now. It is shockingly common. It is so common as to be commonplace. It’s not even newsworthy most of the time. 

This has to end now. It has to stop. I feel ashamed to live in a society with people who rape women, men and children. I feel ashamed. I do not want to live in a society that allows men to rape with impunity. And the numbers show so clearly just how much we allow that to happen. This is the reason Unilad could write an article about how low rape reporting rates meant ‘pretty good odds’. If we as a society were better at dealing with rape, then firstly we wouldn’t have up to 95,000 rapes every year in the UK and we would have a conviction rate that matched the crime.

The survey revealed some of the reasons why the reporting rate for rape stays so stubbornly low. Women explained how they felt the police wouldn’t believe them, that they didn’t feel confident reporting, that it was a private matter. When we hear the editor of Newsnight say the evidence against Jimmy Savile was ‘just the women’, can we blame them? When we see Ched Evans getting awards and his defenders harassing his victim out of her home, can we blame them? When an alleged rape victim is named on Newsnight, or another is falsely reported as being a gold digger - who can blame any woman for not reporting a rape?  When we hear of an officer arrested for falsifying rape complaints, when a Judge convicts a rapist but tells his victim she let herself down badly, when another anti rape campaign tells women to cover up, stop drinking, stay home, when the average rape case takes months and then at the end of it the Judge might let your rapist go home for showing remorse  – who can seriously blame any woman for not wanting to report rape? 

This has to stop. This has to end now.

All of the cases bar one that I mention above happened in the UK. One happened in the US. This violence against women, this refusal to believe women or respect women’s bodily autonomy, it is happening here. It is happening today. Since the horrific rape and murder in Delhi I have heard a lot of people talk about how that awful crime says something about Indian culture and attitudes towards women, they say it wouldn’t happen here. Of course, there are lots of issues around violence against women that are unique to India, just how some of the VAWG issues we experience are unique to the UK. Many women have written about this far better than I can and there’s a good round up of those pieces here. But the fact remains. Violence against women and girls, a low reporting rate and a low conviction rate is a universal problem and what causes this violence is a problem whether it is found in Delhi or Sarajevo or New York or on our own doorsteps.

And call me a pessimist, but I think the actual statistics of sexual assault are higher than one in five, if, as the survey explains, we include unwanted sexual touching. I don’t know any woman that hasn’t been groped, grabbed, touched or pinched. But we’re told to put up with it. We’re not told that this behaviour counts as sexual assault. We’re told that it’s just what happens, that it’s just a fact of life. If you’re a woman and you go outside and someone grabs you or pinches you or pushes you against a wall and sticks their tongue down your throat then we’re told that there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s just something that happens.

I’m angry. And I am ashamed of a society that lets this happen. I’m angry and I’m saddened that another year goes by and we’re still seeing these numbers, these shocking and yet still unsurprising numbers.

But I am hopeful too. Because more and more I am seeing the women around me standing up to this bullshit. I am seeing the Everyday Sexism  project telling the world the truth about women’s lives. I’m seeing One Billion Rising and Reclaim the Night and protests in India and protests in Bristol and London and around the globe saying we won’t put up with this anymore. There is reason to feel despair at these figures, the printed stories that accompany them and the untold stories that we never hear about in the papers but hear from the women we know, the women around us. But there has to be hope too. I believe that one day violence against women and girls will end. I believe that my descendants will live in a world free from sexual violence and domestic abuse and be amazed and horrified that it was ever not so. Because this can’t go on. It can’t. We cannot continue to live in a world where 1 in 3 women are raped, beaten or assaulted. We cannot live in a world where this happens and the majority of the perpetrators are never held to account. So long as we live in this world, women will not have true equality. We will not have true liberation. And that’s why I am fighting for a better world in every way I can. Because this violence has to stop. This has to stop now.

Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999

National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247

A letter to the Observer on transphobia

Like many people, I was really angry and upset by Julia Burchill's article in the Observer today. I am sending the below letter to the editor to complain about their use of transphobic language - a use that is simply not acceptable. Please feel free to copy and paste this letter and amend as you wish. I have put in a note at the end about language and intersectionality.

Because this is a letter about the article I am repeating some of the words Burchill mentioned so comes with a warning about that.
Dear Editor of the Observer,

When the Sun newspaper published an article using the offensive and transphobic term ‘tranny’, the PCC ruled that it was not acceptable for a national newspaper to use words that are prejudicial and perjorative.   A few years later, Leveson  heard evidence about how the use of transphobic language is not compatible with a press that respects the rights of everyone to live free from discrimination.

Therefore I was astounded to read Julie Burchill’s article on Sunday 13th January 2013. The article purports to defend her friend and colleague Suzanne Moore. Earlier that week Suzanne left Twitter after a row over her use of transphobic terms and subsequent comments. However, Burchill’s article quickly became deeply unpleasant, using incredibly offensive terms including ‘tranny’, ‘shemale’ and ‘shim’.

These perjorative and hateful terms are used on a regular basis to insult and dehumanise trans men and women. They are used to justify the frankly terrifying levels of transphobic violence that happens in the UK and across the world every day. Every 36 hours, somewhere in the world a trans person is murdered. This terrible violence continues to happen because all too often transphobic attitudes remain unchallenged. These attitudes which Julie Burchill so carelessly and proudly displayed today simply do not have a place in a national newspaper. In fact, this kind of hate language does not and should not have a place anywhere. 

We would not put up with this abusive language being shouted out to people on the street. I find it difficult to believe that the Observer would condone this language if it came from the mouth of a traditionally ‘right wing’ commentator such as Clarkson or Littlejohn. I would also challenge the idea that the Observer would publish such flagrant hate language focused towards any other group of people.

We all have a responsibility to work together for a society that does not encourage discrimination and hate. We all have a responsibility to challenge, question and call out transphobia. As a newspaper, I believe you share that responsibility. You know as well as anyone that language matters. Giving a national platform to transphobic language helps to normalise dangerous and violent attitudes that cause so much real and devastating harm. It sends a message that transphobia is somehow acceptable, that it is ok to speak hatefully. It isn’t. Hate speech is never acceptable, whoever it is directed at and whoever is saying it.

I hope that the Observer will take this complaint and other complaints seriously and publish an apology for using language that the Press Complaints Commission deems prejudicial and perjorative. I hope that this unfortunate incident also encourages the Observer to look closely at how it represents trans women and men and leads to your paper giving more of a voice to the trans community.

Yours sincerely

I hope that my letter is clear and angry. If I have inadvertently used any terms or phrasings that are perhaps unhelpful or unwittingly discriminatory against trans women and men then please let me know. I think what the rows over the last few days have emphasised more than ever is that we are all continually learning about intersectionality and the overlapping nature of oppressions and privilege. It is a process I have been learning about for a long time and I still make mistakes. But I am willing to learn from those mistakes because that willingness to listen to one another and learn from one another is the only way I can see where we can truly be intersectional.

I feel very concerned how intersectionality is becoming something to almost jeer at, when the reality is intersectionality is about how we all experience different oppressions and privileges and how we must not use that privilege to silence one another. To me, intersectionality is not about academic vs non-academic, working class vs middle class or even second wave vs whatever wave this is. It's about listening and learning and understanding one another so that both blatant and inadvertant discrimination and oppression can end. It isn't a question of choosing between being intersectional and being angry at patriarchy/David Cameron/rape culture. It's all part of the same thing. If we're angry with David Cameron whilst not looking at how government policies impact different women in different ways because of multiple oppressions and privileges then how can we truly, really fight for social justice? For an end to patriarchy and a better world for everyone? Without intersectionality to me feminism becomes about shuffling the same power structures around. When what I want is liberation from the patriarchal power structures that oppress everyone but the most privileged.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

When we celebrate men like Polanski, what message do we send?

Trigger warning

You would have thought the last few months would have taught us something about celebrity men and violence against women and girls. After forty years, the women who had accused Jimmy Savile of sexual assault and rape were finally being listened to. The rumours that had circulated for years were suddenly, truly heard and those in charge stopped dismissing these voices as ‘just the women’. Initial doubt and disbelief was quickly replaced with justified horror when the evidence was just too big to be ignored. In the end, the only ones defending Savile or questioning the allegations soon found themselves under arrest for alleged sexual offences, or having to justify their own conduct in the 70s. 

You would have thought that after all this, we would have learnt something. And yet, there are some men who can go on the run from accusations of raping a child that seem to escape criticism, justice or even condemnation. Who instead continue to receive adulation and have high profile defenders. I’m talking of course about Roman Polanski who is just about to enjoy an all-singing, all-dancing retrospective at the BFI

There is no doubt of course that Polanski makes a good movie. I’ve written before about how violent men can still make good tunes and films. The issue is that their talents in other areas should not and must not give them a free pass for their violence. And yet all too often that is exactly what happens, at the expense of women’s voices and freedoms. 

What’s the difference between Polanski and Jimmy Savile? They are both accused of raping girls. Children. Of course, Savile is guilty of a greater number of offences. It’s just one of them has won some Oscars and one was responsible for fairly forgettable light entertainment (if we needed any further evidence of the sexism at the Academy we could well remember that in over 80 years they have only awarded a Best Director Oscar to ONE woman, whilst happily handing out three to a child rapist). 

In the New Statesman yesterday I read an incredibly gushing article previewing the BFI Polanski retrospective.  A cursory mention is given to the crime from which he has spent decades evading justice:

He also spent a spell in prison and then under house arrest in 2009 and 2010 on historic rape charges dating back to 1977. A thorough documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, examines the case and its ambiguities.” [my emphasis]

Unless you subscribe to the belief that a girl is somehow culpable in her own rape or follow the Whoopi Goldberg defence that this wasn’t really ‘rape rape’ (bearing in mind what Polanski is accused of was drugging and anally raping a child, one wonders what Whoopi would count as ‘rape rape’), then there are no ambiguities in this case. At all. Polanski may be a great director, he may have had a terribly tragic life but he is also a man who went on the run from this case. He does not deserve our defences, he does not deserve our respect. He does not deserve celebrities and politicians falling over themselves to try and diminish his crime and minimise his responsibility. 

The Polanski case is a classic example of rape culture and the way we simply refuse to believe the horror that across every walk of life, across society, there are some men who rape women, men and children. And these men include those we hold up as our cultural heroes. In order to cope with this horror, we try to justify their behaviour through their other talents. 

It goes something like this. 

“I really like The Pianist but obviously I really hate rapists. But I know that the director of The Pianist was accused of raping a child. But I can’t possibly like something created by a rapist! Therefore the case must be ambiguous, it can’t have been ‘rape rape’.”

We see this twisted, tortured logic occur over and over again. Assange is a good example. Obviously he is innocent before guilty and we simply don’t know whether he is guilty until the case is tried in court. But throughout the media circus surrounding his case we have seen the laudable and important work of Wikileaks used to excuse and diminish the accusations made against him. At best this takes the form of a refusal to accept the possibility that someone can do things we agree with and also potentially do things that are wrong. At worst it has descended into violent misogyny against the women who have accused him of rape and sexual assault. 

Ched Evans is another example. Of course no-one is going to admit to being ‘pro’ a rapist. We all know that rape is bad, that committing this crime is horrendous and cruel and violent. So instead his supporters tried to claim that it wasn’t ‘really rape’, that the woman was at fault and, ultimately, some of his supporters committed a further crime against that woman by naming her online.  

The list is long. The Shit List on Feministe gives you a good idea of how long. 

It matters that our cultural institutions, politicians and icons have decided to ignore or brush aside Polanski’s crime. It matters because it says something very serious about how we view women and girls, and how we view our right to bodily autonomy. The fact that we can still have writers and commentators calling this case ambiguous is incredibly silencing of women’s and girls’ experiences of violence. It re-enforces the belief that women and girls are somehow to blame for the violence committed against us, that we are the cause of this violence. And whilst we continue to laud and celebrate Polanski, then we are making a statement that his artistic reputation is the most important thing, more important than justice. 

Rape Crisis Helpline: 0808 802 9999

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

I'm done being polite on victim blaming

Trigger warning
This post talks about rape, victim blaming and includes a triggering image of a dramatised assault

I’ve tried to write calm, informed and thoughtful posts on victim blaming anti rape ads. I’ve critiqued calmly and politely journalists who have made victim blaming comments. I’ve done this because when I have let the anger out, let my sheer, utterly despairing rage and anger out, I’ve been accused of being hysterical and irrational. Emotional. 

Well, I don’t care any more. I am angry and I am emotional. That doesn’t make me irrational by the way. It just is my only valid response to a culture that tells me every single fucking day that women and girls are responsible for the violence committed against them. 

Today, Stavvers tweeted an anti drink/rape campaign from Thames Valley Police. This is after a police officer tweeted a warning to girls not to get too drunk and become a victim on NYE. This is after a campaign on domestic abuse warned women not to be a victim this Christmas. This is after year after year of the same conversation as to why it is not ok to tell women not to be victims when we don’t tell men not to rape.

Here’s the poster:

The line is:
Her mum bought her the cider

The image shows a girl being attacked by a man. Her face is pixelated but you can still tell she looks distressed. 

The copy then proceeds to explain the law on buying minors alcohol.

This poster is not ok. In the first place, it is not ok to use women’s bodies to give a message about drinking laws. It is not ok to use a triggering image of a girl being assaulted. It is not ok to portray a girl being assaulted and then explain that image by talking about alcohol. 

If a mother buys her daughter a cider, and then a man chooses to commit rape, then the only person at fault is the man who chooses to rape. Women drinking alcohol does not cause rape. The presence of a rapist causes rape. 

According to the most reliable statistics from the BCS, 80,000 women are raped each year in the UK. None of these rapes were caused by a mother buying her daughter cider. Every single one of those rapes was caused by a rapist. 

I have had enough! I have had enough where every day women and girls are told not to live their lives because of the actions of some violent men. Of course, I am not advocating buying alcohol for minors – which is a TOTALLY separate issue – but I am advocating that we stop framing rape as something caused by the behaviour of women and girls. 

It simply wouldn’t happen the other way around, would it? You wouldn’t see a picture of a young man in the dock being read a rape sentence, with the line ‘His dad bought him the cider’.

Telling women not to get raped does nothing, absolutely nothing to reduce the number of rapes. It is the most lazy, the most stupid, the most sexist way to campaign on reducing this crime. All it requires is a poster propping up rape culture. It doesn’t require better sex education, it doesn’t require better understanding of consent (which might actually involve campaigns aimed at men!), it doesn’t require improved and sustained training for the police and CPS to better handle rape cases, it doesn’t require better funding for rape crisis. All of those things can and will have an impact on reducing the number of rapes. 

But another triggering image alongside a message blaming women? I can promise you that will have no impact on ending rape. Instead it just enforces rape culture where rape is seen as some kind of natural hazard that women should take steps, life-restricting steps, to avoid. 

I had a quick look on the thread beneath Emer O’Toole’s (problematic) piece on rape in India. So many male commenters filled the thread with outrage at the implication that rape isn’t taken seriously in the UK. They missed the point. On the surface of course rape is taken seriously. One of the reasons it IS taken seriously by men like Keir Starmer is thanks to the tireless work of feminist campaigners. Of course no-one outside of Unilad is going to say they’re pro rape! (Unilad wrote an article in Jan 2012 about because the rape reporting rate is so low, it offers “pretty good odds”). But what this Thames Valley poster, and all the posters before it, what the 2005 Amnesty survey showed, what Galloway’s comments and Savile-gate and the Sapphire scandal and Rochdale and Assange and Ched Evans and all of it shows is that on a day-to-day, cultural level, we don’t really take rape seriously. We know it’s bad, but we still make excuses for it, we still try and minimise it, we still refuse to face the fact that some men choose to rape. Instead we demand to know how women cause rape. 

I don’t know how much more of it I can take. 2012 was a master class in victim blaming. There were of course great steps – for example the above-mentioned Starmer’s commitment to making sure VAWG is taken more seriously. But conversation after conversation around rape still seems to centre around ‘yes…but…she did do X’. 

Throughout the year, I’ve heard women say in relation to some of the VAWG media headlines: ‘that happened to me’. They say that, as the overwhelming cultural narrative tries to deny the fact that these crimes are rape at all. I don’t think Thames Valley have even considered the possibility of a girl seeing that poster and saying ‘that happened to me’. And how that poster would make her feel. How that poster might make her feel she or her mum was to blame. How that poster might stop her reporting a terrible crime. And perhaps the person who perpetrated that crime might see the poster, and think it exonerates his actions. 

Did they think about that?

Rape Crisis Number: 0808 802 9999