Thursday, 2 December 2010
Last Thursday marked two things. One was Thanksgiving, but the other was International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women. This isn't just a day of awareness but the start of 16 Days of Action Against Gendered Violence when this often taboo subject can be discussed and action taken to prevent it and aid those who have already suffered its effects.
Here in London there have been events such a Rape Crisis fundraiser and the annual Reclaim the Night March last Saturday. I toyed with going to the march, but the cold weather and an invitation to go for cocktails sidetracked me. I also have some issue with the fact the march itself is female only. I understand some people think it should be a 'safe space' but I think it would be helpful to get a wider variety of men on side, not just the kind of right on guy who happens to be dating an outspoken feminist, but the kind of regular guy who doesn't know whether he knows any rape victims or feminists, but probably knows the type of man who thinks getting a girl blind drunk doesn't 'count'...
There's a pretty pervasive 'rape culture' out there in wider society typified by the high rate of attrition by the police, low rate of conviction, surveys that say women should take some of blame for rape depending on their behaviour, the casual violence advocated by Danny Dyer and his ilk and a rise in the amount of 'rape talk' in popular culture with rape jokes apparently being laugh a minute these days. Even places you think would eschew this attitude, like Jezebel, cannot be relied on at all times...
To me, it's the people who look at those points and don't see a problem who need to be brought to the fold of rethinking rape. And without giving that ghastly old trope about 'all men being rapists' house room, I generally find the people who think this way are primarily male. While some women attribute blame to other female victims of rape*, they very rarely joke about rape or use the word to describe inconsequential events. I think this is because the fear of being raped hangs so heavily over most women that it just isn't humourous to them. I have also found that most of the 'victim blaming' I have encountered from other women is really dressed up in fear. If you say you would never get drunk with a man you don't know or wear a skirt that short, you're not just blaming the victim, you're telling yourself you're safe and it won't happen to you. And it's a lot easier to live life like that than admit their are men who rape out there and you are vulnerable if you meet one no matter what you do.
The victim blaming I've endured at the hands of my fellow women has done a hell of a number on me over the past few years and I'm not going to pretend it isn't a problem, but after living through the misery of sexual violence and seeing just what crippling impact it has on a person, I can see why the very real fear of it happening can cause women to act badly. I find it much more painful and infuriating when men minimise the severity of rape by joking about it or describing a gruelling gym workout as having 'raped' them. Can we please just say it now? Rape isn't funny. The degradation, violation, intimidation, and injury of other people isn't a laughing matter at the best of times, but especially when society seems to condone it by prosecuting those who report it, a low conviction rate and light prison sentences for committing it. Find something else to laugh at.
Perhaps that makes me sound like a stereotypical humourless feminazi, but I can live with that. Ironically I have laughed at my own experiences of rape, but even where I can see a certain gallows humour in my last few years of my life, the laughter has been somewhat hollow. But a bit like only you being able to bitch about your family, just because a rape victim can titter about events in their life, doesn't mean other people can do the same, especially if that humour has a mocking tone to it.
I know expressions like "I could murder a coffee" crop up in society and may well be painful to anyone who has lost a loved one in a violent death, but I see none of the victim blaming or mocking tone that tends to accompany the same casual attitude in conversation about rape. I don't really advocate being flippant about murder or other forms of violence in conversation, especially with people you don't know well. But if you think you should be cautious about references to murder, you should definitely being careful about casual chat or giggles about sexual violence since it is estimated that 1 in 4 women will be a victim of either a completed or attempted rape or sexual assault in their lifetime. When you include the friends and family of these women who have watched them suffer, that's a hell of a lot of people you might be upsetting or angering with your lighthearted comment.
So while I realise the pro-active nature of the Reclaim the Night march makes lots of feminists feel like they are doing something to stop the scourge of sexual violence on society, until it and its affiliate organisations aim to further include men who don't act like this and harness the peer pressure they can assert on the less forward thinking men they know, rather than just inviting them to the party afterwards, then I'm not entirely sure I could get involved in the march.
Instead, and not just for 16 days of the year, I'll be sharing my experiences of rape, reminding those who joke about it or belittle the experience that their attitude is hurtful and offensive and leaving comments on all those 'cry rape' stories on the Dail Mail to try educate those whose ignorance perpetuates rape culture. I'll also be being brave and be 'reclaiming the night' everytime I refuse to be scared by what's happened and go out after dark. I'll also be drinking a few cocktails along the way too! I hope I'll have some company along the way...
*No word on how the women interviewed felt about male victims. Maybe they though their trousers were too tight?