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The Dark Heart

I know I haven’t posted for a long time, but last night I was inspired because I spent the evening in the dark heart of the Patriarchy; corporate hospitality at a Premier League football match. Here’s the stream of consciousness that followed…

If you thought the world had moved on, let me disappoint you:

  • Men still talk about having “permission” for a night out
  • Women enjoying football may be more normal; but actually understanding & having an opinion? Don’t be silly!
  • An act of pure macho bravado (playing on with bloody head bandage) is considered the ultimate heroism – and sisters forgive me, I bought into it too
  • Women drink wine, men drink beer & god forgive those who break these gender conventions
  • No man really wants to get married, obviously that’s the pressure his girlfriend is exerting not his own preferences. But, hurrah, sometimes wives take the kids away for a few days & you’re free to play out every night!

So what have I learnt from tonight? Well, football can be really exciting, no denying that – I just prefer to watch it indoors with a glass of wine. Outside the world of Twitter & NMP3, the “real world” if you like, enlightenment is a long way away & out in the real world, I failed.

I failed to challenge, I failed to be an ally, I was silenced because the odds were overwhelming against me. I felt the pressure of the social norms telling me to bite my tongue, to behave myself. So I bit my tongue & now travelling home I feel a wave of sadness – not for me, I’ll survive – but for those wives and girlfriends whose partners make them the butt of their jokes. Men so secure in their position in the patriarchy that they know they won’t be challenged; they will be free to laugh & cheat & back slap the men just like them. Then they will go back to their prescribed life of wife/kids/home/car regardless of how they feel about that. Because ultimately their family, their home, is as much a symbol of their position in the patriarchy as their corporate box & 100% bonuses.

I had nothing to lose, I could have questioned that language, I could have introduced a little lite feminism into the conversation. But I did nothing to stand up for my sisters, inside & outside of that corporate box.

I’m sorry I didn’t stand up for you. I will try harder.

 

To The New Police Commissioners

Every now and then there is a shit-storm in my corner of Twitter with police campaigns such as this or this which apparently “attempt to show potential victims how to avoid becoming vulnerable”. And what’s wrong with that? Is the fairly regular response that us Feminists are confronted with. Why wouldn’t we want women to be reminded of the risks to their safety and how best to protect themselves? If a woman gets so drunk she is the victim of a crime then she ought to be told not to get so drunk… No, wait… That already sounds wrong doesn’t it? 

Because those campaigns, and all others like them, are products of Rape Culture. (If you aren’t sure what Rape Culture is, go here and read LifeLoveLauren’s brilliant post which explains it all.)

Rape Culture says that women should avoid being raped, not that men shouldn’t rape (I know that men get raped too, that’s also woefully under-reported/supported but these campaigns are aimed at women and that’s what I’m discussing). The implication of these campaigns is that somehow women can avoid being raped. These campaigns only serve to reinforce the message that rape victims could have done something differently and therefore prevented their rape. 

The media buys into Rape Culture in a big way, making false rape claims front page news, despite the fact that there are only a tiny number of false claims made. I typed “jail false rape claim” into Yahoo and got 244,000 results. When I changed to search to “jail false theft claim” the first story was “Surrey Woman jailed for false rape claim” – I am not making that up, go to Yahoo and try it. Even in a piece about a horrific attack in which a man posed as a “good Samaritan” to help his victim home, Rape Culture means that the journalist has to repeatedly point out that the woman was drunk and precisely how drunk she was. She might have lied, she was probably drunk, she should have known better… All of this wrongly focuses attention on the victim instead of the behaviour of the perpetrator. This should not happen in a society where the law is clear that sex without consent is rape. 

If you go through my list of all the things that will stop you being harassed, the same is essentially true of being raped. There is no way a woman can protect herself from being raped because it can just as easily be the caring friend who walks you home as it is the stranger who picks you up in a bar. More than 80% of rapes are carried out by someone the survivor knows; and yet we don’t see advertising campaigns encouraging women to go out and talk to as many strangers as possible. Because it is easier, more palatable for society, to buy into the myth that women get raped by scary men in ski-masks who stalk their prey down dark alleyways. 

All that I have said above is true and is the argument that we (the Feminist Borg) regularly roll out when challenged about why we object to campaigns which aim to protect women. But there is a major point that I think we have all missed while arguing round in circles about victim blaming and “grey areas”; women are already scared of being raped. In an (admittedly unscientific) survey of female acquaintances, I didn’t find one who hadn’t at some point been scared of being raped; regardless of whether or not she was a survivor. 

When a women talks about how she felt when a man on a bike followed her (@weekwoman) she is talking about how scared she was of being raped; not how scared she was of having her Blackberry stolen. If I get off a bus late at night and a man is walking behind me, I’m not thinking about my handbag, I am thinking of how fast I can run to my front door to avoid being raped. 

I do not spend my journey home worrying that my flat might have been burgled, you know why? Because it’s fundamentally not the same thing. I have been burgled and I have been sexually assaulted. One of these crimes was reported to the police, one wasn’t. After one of these crimes the friends/family who knew rallied round and supported me, after the other, the friends who knew were disappointed that I hadn’t gone further, they certainly didn’t register that a crime had been perpetrated. One of these crimes has left me feeling guilty, ashamed and violated for more than 20 years, it can come at me from nowhere and reduce me to a tearful wreck; a part of me still believes it was my fault. The other meant I had to replace some CD’s. 

Talking to the women in my life I have heard stories of dates going wrong, the horrors of the night bus, incidents in car parks, visiting friends, walking in parks and many more; all of which are linked by the woman’s fear that she is in a position where she could be raped. This is something that women genuinely fear and I’m not sure that men fully understand this; I have recently had this conversation with a male friend and I think he was genuinely shocked to hear it. So let me repeat it… 

Women fear rape, all the time. It preys on our minds in a way that it really shouldn’t.

Spending millions of pounds on campaigns that remind women of the dangers of rape are a waste of resource. We’re already scared, we’re already far too aware of the dangers and it’s not stopping ¼ of women being the victims of sexual violence. 

You know who isn’t scared about rape? Rapists. 

You know who should be more scared about rape? Rapists.

You know why they aren’t? 

Because 97% of rapists will never see prison
Because people talk about “grey areas” and not the importance of enthusiastic consent
Because a drunk women is seen as being somehow culpable
Because if a woman doesn’t fight back it doesn’t count

There have been campaigns recently that focus on the behaviour of the potential rapist and challenge the way that men think about sex and consent. That’s the message that we (the Feminist Borg) want to be pushed more, that’s where I believe resources ought to be focused. Telling men about the importance of enthusiastic and informed consent and challenging their behaviour is the only thing that will reduce the number of rapes and also give the victims more strength to come forward.

So today, I ask all of the newly appointed Police Commissioners, to use their powers for good. Stand up for the 25% of women who will be the victims of sexual violence in their lifetime and turn the spotlight on the perpetrators. Sign off budgets for campaigns aimed at rapists, sign off budgets for specialist units who are properly trained to support rape victims and put pressure on the CPS to take rape seriously and apply zero tolerance policies to sexual violence. Apply the concept of #Ibelieveher and change this dangerous, all pervasive culture that harms us all.

Dear Dominic (an open letter to Dominic Mohan, editor of The Sun)

Dominic Mohan
c/o The Sun
By hand

Dear Dominic

You don’t mind if I call you Dominic do you? I know it’s a little informal but as you have been regularly showing me your “employees’” breasts, I get the feeling you care little for formality.

So Dominic, let’s move on to the main event; Page 3 and its continuing existence in Britain’s “favourite” newspaper. I know that you are aware of the “No More Page 3″ campaign, and although I can’t find any comment from you directly; you have made your feelings about it perfectly clear by your attempted mocking of Harriet Harman (a joke which many feel backfired). I also know that you defended Page 3 during your time with Leveson, with the argument that a 42 year old feature in a newspaper is part of British society. I find that argument interesting; are you suggesting that we should just accept things that are offensive simply because of their longevity? Your argument appears to be nothing more than the suggestion that Page 3 is a national tradition.

Personally I find those who actually think about the relevance of traditions and stand up and challenge those that are questionable to be more heroic than those who blindly accept them and defend them for their own ends; where would we be without Mandela, Pankhurst, Dr King et al? And no, before you retort, I am not comparing the “No More Page 3″ campaign to Martin Luther King, I am using him to illustrate the point that longevity alone does not make traditions good, and that sometimes they need tearing down.

I am far from alone in feeling that Page 3 is a bad tradition that has run its course. At the time of writing the “No More Page 3″ petition had more than 46,000 signatures. Why don’t you see for yourself and whilst you’re at it why not read some of the comments made by subscribers? Perhaps then you will appreciate how offensive, damaging and frankly out of touch with the world people feel Page 3 is.

This letter, however, is not to speak on behalf of all those people who have signed the petition, but to speak for myself, my own feelings towards Page 3 and to ask you to actually consider the relevance of Page 3. Think about it Dominic, there is an opportunity here to do something good. I often find copies of The Sun lying around in take away restaurants, on the Tube and in hairdressers, to name a few examples of everyday places, frequented by hundreds of people every day. It saddens me that I cannot even wait for a takeaway without having to see a topless “Katy from Brighton” in a ridiculous pose. Whilst I have no doubt that Katy is proud of her body, I am very confident that she would not walk topless into my takeaway. You see Dominic, there are laws against that sort of thing, because it is not felt to be appropriate in Society. That is why most so called “Men’s Magazines” have their covers obscured in supermarkets and newsagents, you know, places where children go, and where nakedness is the furthest thing from people’s minds. If Katy wants to pursue her career as a model, good luck to her, but I object to being confronted by it in my everyday life without being given any choice.

But let’s be honest Dominic, we are both adults after all, and I know my personal feelings about the objectification of young women, the reduction of a human being to merely physical “assets” and your desire to send a message to the world that a woman is nothing more than big hair, tiny pants and stunning “boobs”, is unlikely to change your view. So, Dominic, if I can’t convince you to ditch Page 3 for noble reasons, you know, because it is the right thing to do, I will have to talk to you in a language you will understand. Why not think about what a big win this could be for you personally? Just hear me out, I’m not a PR expert, but picture the scene for me…

Leveson is about to pronounce. Do you really think it’s going to be pretty for the tabloids – especially one from the News International stable? There is a storm coming Dominic – it is inevitable after the unscrupulous and immoral practices of British tabloids whose practices have been outed as both immoral and illegal. The Sun loves telling us it is Britain’s biggest paper; and logic dictates it will take the biggest hit. Are you going to have to print another front page apology? That’s going to hurt isn’t it? However, a big positive front page splash pre-emptive strike may just take the sting out of the tail..?

So, why not use your powers for good and plaster your pages with strong, powerful, beautiful women in clothes, all congratulating you on your decision to withdraw Page 3? Imagine the stars who will be thrilled to get behind this. I am sure Cheryl would be on board and where Cheryl leads, others follow. Politicians who have been signing the petition will have to acknowledge that you did something good. The liberal lefty media will have to acknowledge that you did something good. You’ll be on every news bulletin, on every 24 hour rolling station and not just in the UK but foreign press will pick this up too. In the world of UK tabloid journalism, You, Dominic, will be a maverick, a challenger of the bad tradition; in short, you’ll be a winner and who doesn’t want to be a winner?

Come on Dominic. Do you really think you will lose readers? Of course not, they can find their boobs elsewhere (here’s a “heads up” for you – the internet is full of them), but you will still have the sports coverage and celeb exclusives that your readers won’t find in any other paper – because if you are worried about losing readers then my only conclusion is that you honestly believe that your readers only buy the Sun because of Page 3. I’m sure you will agree that such a viewpoint is an insult to all of the journalists who write for the Sun and also your readership. You might even gain readers, I’ve heard lots of parents say that they don’t buy your paper because they don’t want their kids seeing Page 3, well that’s extra readers right there. Why not start letting young women see you as relevant to their world? That’s your future readership, right there.

I’m telling you Dominic, it’s foolproof.

Be a winner Dominic, withdraw Page 3 and do it your way, sell it your way, claim your own victory – I don’t care, it is a bad tradition and it should be gone.

Should you want to discuss my thoughts further, feel free to contact me I’d love to help you with this.

Yours sincerely

Sarah

The List

This blog was planned to be about how there is limited protection/support for harassment or sexual assault victims in nightclubs. I was going to give you a lovely piece on how the SIA does nothing and requires nothing when licensing companies to train security staff with regards to preventing and reporting sexual assault. In fact, one of those training companies told me that any mention of sexually related crimes was paid “lip service” during their training programme.

But then I realised what a silly feminist I was being, because why should there be a cultural shift away from our bodies being seen as fair game when we all know how easy it is for women to prevent sexual assault and harassment. Here’s a helpful list:

  • Don’t wear short skirts
  • Don’t wear jeans
  • Don’t show cleavage
  • Don’t cover up your cleavage
  • Don’t wear a burka
  • Don’t wear a hijab
  • Don’t wear hot pants
  • Don’t wear heels
  • Don’t wear boots
  • Don’t wear school uniform
  • Don’t travel on the bus
  • Don’t travel on the tube or any train
  • Don’t go to work
  • Don’t walk down a street at night
  • Don’t walk down a street in daytime
  • Don’t jog publicly
  • Don’t cycle
  • Don’t love sex
  • Don’t hate sex
  • Don’t be drunk, especially not “too” drunk
  • Don’t take drugs
  • Don’t be alone
  • Don’t be with female friends
  • Don’t be with male friends
  • Don’t be in mixed company
  • Don’t go to the supermarket
  • Don’t love men
  • Don’t hate men
  • Don’t go to bars
  • Don’t go to nightclubs
  • Don’t dance
  • Don’t go on holiday
  • Don’t fly
  • Don’t be single
  • Don’t be married
  • Don’t date
  • Don’t be gay
  • Don’t wear make up
  • Don’t leave the house without make up
  • Don’t eat in public
  • Don’t be thin
  • Don’t be fat

I had some help compiling this from @WeekWoman and @opinionatedpavs on Twitter during a particularly liberating rant session (apologies if others were involved and I missed you). I then added to it via a brief glimpse at the Everyday Sexism project and Hollaback London. Feel free to add your own; this is about helping women change their behaviour in order to avoid harassment after all. It really didn’t take a lot of work to find places/situations where women and girls are being harassed.

Perhaps there is some perfect balance of wearing the right thing, being in the right place, with the right people and acting in the right way that will prevent sexual harassment. Certainly being in the wrong place at the wrong time will mean that you are partly to blame for being assaulted. So, once we have eliminated all of the above, what is left? Stay in, don’t answer the door and never interact with another human being, ever.

Or maybe, just maybe, we could start to address the culture that perpetuates the myth that all women, everywhere, are sexually available. That we want this attention, are flattered by it, dress in order to achieve it and are constantly asking for it. Because (and I hate to burst bubbles), that’s simply not the case. Some women, on some occasions, might enjoy male attention, might even dress to achieve it. But it is illogical and dangerous to extrapolate that to all women, all the time. How is a school girl on the bus asking for it? Why does sitting opposite you on a Tube give you the right to stare at a woman’s tits? How does a woman being in the same bar as you give you the right to put your hand up her skirt?

Let’s repeat it again and for the record… She’s not here for you.

Boogie Nights

Am giving this post a trigger warning for sexual assault, because in writing this I have triggered myself. To be honest, while I intellectually understood what a ‘trigger’ was, I’m not sure I fully got the emotional impact until I started writing this blog and a memory that had been buried very very deep came hurtling back to the surface. So now I’m going to include that memory because I think writing about it is going to help and will certainly illustrate my point.

Please, don’t read on if there is a chance it’s going to hurt rather than help you.

So, I wanted to cover nightclubs again because you know, they are super sexy, fun places where super sexy people dance to Rihanna and Beyonce before heading back to super sexy hotels for super sexy sex. Well, we all know that’s not really the case, mostly they are full of super drunk people dancing to Rihanna and Beyonce before heading back to Premier Inn’s for hopefully consensual disappointing sex. Or just heading home for a kebab and a stare into the abyss. Both of which can be equally fulfilling in their own ways.

I’ve been hitting the dance floors of clubs with terrible names (Porkies, Top of the Town, Pier Pressure) since I was about 14 and of course with the dancing comes the boys. Because nightclubs are where people go to pull, everyone knows that and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t ever have that motive in mind when I go out. I have first hand evidence that more than hooking up takes place; one of my favourite couples in the world met at Strawberry Moon, as unlikely as that sounds to anyone who has ever visited Strawberry Moon. Dancing, drinking and courting have gone together since well before any of us created our own routine to Relight my Fire. But one of the disadvantages of learning about Feminism is that it also makes you realise that along with perfecting my moves, I have also survived a whole series of sexual assaults for more than 2 decades; some more serious than others.

Just to be sure I wasn’t getting carried away and hysterical, you know, like girls do, I got some help via Twitter and checked out the legal definition of sexual assault.  This is what I found from Rights of Women (http://www.rightsofwomen.org.uk/pdfs/sexual_assault.pdf):

“Definition of Sexual Assault

Sexual assault can be committed by both men and women against either a man or a woman.

An offender is guilty of this offence if:

  • The offender intentionally touches the victim AND
  • The touching is sexual AND
  • The victim does not consent to the touching AND
  • The offender does not reasonably believe that the victim consents.

Sexual assault is a non-consensual offence. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) must prove that the victim did not consent and the offender did not reasonably believe that she did.”

In order to determine if the touching is sexual, “The magistrate or jury have to decide whether a reasonable person would consider either that the particular act is, by its nature, sexual; or whether it could be sexual, AND either because of the particular circumstances and / or the offender’s intention, it is sexual.”.

Put yourself in the seat of that ‘reasonable person’ (I know it’s hard, but give it your best shot) and have a think about what you would consider sexual; the obvious ones clearly, but then some grey areas, would you include thighs? Then add a sexual intention and it could cover pretty much any part of the body as you only need the briefest glimpse at the internet to know that the world of the fetishist is broad and occasionally surprising. If a foot fetishist grabs your foot is that sexual assault or just assault? I suspect a vague definition is the best way to leave something so nebulous and personal.

So here’s quite a common occurrence in a club; you’re having a dance and a man grabs your ass, you give him your Paddington Bear patented hard stare, he grabs your ass again, you move away, he follows and grabs your ass a third time, you tell him to ‘fuck off’ and he grabs your ass a fourth time. Well, it turns out, that’s sexual assault. Perhaps I should have known that, but honestly it hadn’t really struck me until quite recently. I think that has happened to me pretty much every time I have ever gone to a nightclub, a conservative estimate would put that at around 250 sexual assaults (just the ass grabbing kind) in my lifetime so far. (BTW I know women are guilty of this too, but I can only speak to my own experience which is predominantly male on female assault. Not ignoring male on male, female on male or female on female. Please take it as red that I don’t agree with that either.)

I’m okay with calling those “minor” assaults, but have you ever thought about what else is going on? Well here’s the memory that this blog has triggered…

When I was about 14 my friends and I used to sneak in to a club on a Saturday night pretending we were over 18 via the medium of piles of makeup and big hair (those who know me will know that I haven’t change so much). One of my friends got “friendly” with a man who worked at the club and this helped us to get in without any questions. Well one night it was decided that her “friendship” wasn’t enough and therefore I was enlisted to entertain his friend. Honestly I don’t remember any of the build up, I have no idea how it all happened, they had given us drinks and we’d been drinking before we left for the club.

I remember being locked in a toilet cubicle with a man much older, taller, bigger and stronger than me who had blocked my escape. I have tried to write about it in detail, but I just can’t. Suffice it to say, what happened to me was physically painful, humiliating and terrifying. I was breached in a way that no one should be. I knew that saying no wouldn’t make any difference, I was a virgin and I thought I was going to be raped actually I don’t even think I would have called it rape; I thought it was what was expected of me. At some point thankfully he stopped, I think he realised I was not into it and left me crying in the toilet; I think he took my underwear. My friends were all angry with me because I didn’t have sex with him and they thought we would struggle to get into the club as a result. Because the world is a fucked up place, I believed them and thought I had been stupid. We kept going to that club for months, maybe even years, after that. I saw him pretty much every time…

(Here’s my caveat before moving on… I’m a survivor, that incident happened to me a long time ago reliving it has not been great, but part of me is glad I have. I’ve written all kinds of versions of what you’ve just read and each one has given me a little bit more strength. I have a voice, I have a platform and all I want is to stop that happening to anyone, ever…)

Okay moving on, that’s an extreme example although from what I have seen/read sadly not too unusual. My experience has also involved many “minor” assaults; hand up the skirt, unwanted grinding, boob grabs, a man once undid my bra on the dance floor, I’ve had my hand shoved down a man’s pants and I know I’m not unique in these experiences. Every woman I know has experienced what could easily be argued as sexual assault while out in a club. When I recently mentioned that I was writing this piece I was overwhelmed by “me too” messages.

Because it appears so prevalent, I have to believe that the people who behave in this way would never consider themselves to be perpetrators of sexual assault or any kind of assault. Isn’t it all part of the nightclub experience? It’s just what you expect on a night out right? Well, isn’t it?

Sorry, I have to stop my own rhetorical questions there; because they’re the wrong questions aren’t they. What we should all be asking is this, why is this part of the nightclub experience? Why? Why? Why?

Because we’re all supposed to shrug it off? Because it’s just a bit of fun? I mean what could be more fun than having your hand shoved down someone’s pants… I’m laughing just at the very thought ha ha ha ha.

Don’t forget that everyone who goes to a nightclub wants sex and anyone who wants sex will want sex with anyone who offers it. You wouldn’t dress that way, dance that way, laugh that way, walk that way if you weren’t after sex now would you? So really we’re asking to have our asses grabbed aren’t we?

Now, where have we heard that before?

Right, let me be clear here, I am not suggesting that nightclubs employ chaperones to make sure that no fun physical contact occurs because that would be rubbish. No, what I am suggesting is that a dangerous culture is bred in nightclubs and no one is doing anything to stop it. I have another piece on bouncers in the works to provide evidence of that, because from what I can see the people who ought to be supporting victims and shutting down perpetrators are neither trained nor have no remit to do so.

But I, for one, am tired of having my night out ruined by some idiot who doesn’t understand the meaning of “seriously, fuck off, I’m not interested” and then being yelled at and intimidated for saying it. If I wanted to bump and grind with you, I would do just that. Rubbing your cock against my ass while I’m trying to get my Shakira on is neither sexy nor respectful. Grabbing me sexually, when you know I don’t want you to, really ought to lead to you being at the very least removed from the club.

It is wrong that we are expected to give up control over who can or cannot touch us intimately because we happen to be in a venue where you can both drink and dance. My ass, my thighs, my tits belong to me and if I choose to let you get your hands on them, then that’s fine. But if I don’t choose you, then back the fuck off and let me dance!

Frankie Says…

Quick edit to add a Trigger Warning to the comments section – the comments are amazing and I will continue to publish them, however please read with caution.

So, here I am again, strapping on my Feminist Armour™ and heading into battle. I may regret this, but this time I’m going to talk specifically to and about Frankie Boyle.

In case you missed it, and I know Twitter fell over earlier so you might have done, Frankie (probably bored and a bit starved of attention) posted this hilarious joke:

“I raped you and I took the rohypnol myself to forget about it” ttps://twitter.com/frankieboyle/status/228505773385326593

There are much better people than me who will dissect the rights, wrongs and horrifically wrong wrongs of rape jokes. People who have an expertise in comedy can put a joke like that into comedy context for you.

But this is what I would really really like Frankie Boyle to think about:

FB currently has 810,165 followers (at time of writing)

Based on a sample of 100 followers, FB’s male to female ration is 75/25

So that’s around 202,541.25 females that received that tweet today

5% of women in the UK have been raped since the age of 16 (http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/documents/Rape%20Fact%20Sheet%201.11.07.pdf)

So, of FB’s followers that’s 10,127 women (assuming they are all in the UK and/or that most Western countries have similar stats)

Just to repeat, more than TEN THOUSAND women who follow FB are statistically likely to have survived sexual violence

That’s the equivalent of the Echo Arena in Liverpool (where FB performed in 2010) full of women who have all been raped

And to those women (and all women and men who don’t find laughing about sexual violence funny) FB tweeted his joke about how hideous you were to rape

I imagine that feels like a bit of a punch to the stomach to those TEN THOUSAND women

So that’s the lady stat’s, now for the men

Based on my sample, FB has around 607,623.75 male followers

According to Lisak and Miller (https://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/) (which I’m using as the more conservative estimate) 6% of men admit to being rapists or attempted rapists

So, in the FB Team, that would be about around 36,500 admitted perpetrators of sexual violence

FB is due to play the Edinburgh Playhouse on 31st July; he would need to sell out for almost 12 consecutive nights to play to all his rapist/attempted rapist fans

There are apparently lots of studies that provide evidence which seems to prove that rapists believe all men are rapists (http://slutwalkperth.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/feminists-don%e2%80%99t-think-all-men-are-rapists-rapists-do/ for discussion)

So when they hear a rape joke, chances are they are doing a little internal high-five, maybe even an external one – certainly a lot of them will have retweeted FB’s joke just to prove their point

So Frankie, here’s my questions for you…

Who do you want to support?

Who do you want to feel ashamed?

Who do you want to feel victimised?

Who do you want your words to empower, the 10,000 rape survivors or the 36,500 violators who follow you?

Tube Tales

So yesterday I dressed myself (I know, high fives all round) in an outfit that I felt had answered all of my outfit selection questions; is it clean, do I feel comfortable, is it professional enough for a Friday at work etc. When I left the house for work I was feeling good, it was Batman day, it was Friday and my in-box wasn’t looking too painful. I didn’t even have to wait very long for a Tube. Happy days!

I don’t know if it was the case or just my perception of the case, but I felt like the only woman in my carriage – or at least the bit of my carriage that I felt part of. Instantly, without anyone saying anything, I became incredibly aware of the length of my skirt (about an inch maybe two above the knee). When I got a seat I felt the need to put a scarf across my knees to cover up a little bit more. Over the course of a 30 minute or so journey, I became increasingly self-conscious and uncomfortable. Frankly I felt hideously exposed. I just want to repeat, no one said anything (or at least not that I heard), there was no obvious harassment – not in the way that people talk about anyway.

What did I experience? Because I think I’m confident enough to have not felt that way without an external cause. Also, I’ve worn that skirt before and not felt anything other than fabulous.

So there must have been something else… Yes there was, there were looks and exchanged glances. Looks at me, looks at my legs, knowing looks at each other, raised eyebrows and smirks. Could I have been paranoid? Of course I could. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t after me… Because there is an assumption that women get dressed thinking “will I attract a man wearing this?” followed by “do I look fat?”. Therefore when I wear a skirt that shows a bit of leg it must have been because I want men to stare at my legs. So it’s fine for them to stare at my legs and have their little “nudge nudge wink wink” moments, after all that must be why I chose to wear that skirt in the first place.

But it wasn’t fine, it was horrible and degrading and I spent the rest of the day feeling self-conscious and kind of sad. Was I supposed to feel flattered? If so, it was a massive fail.

Now I just want to be clear about this, there are times when I choose to dress sexily and that’s because I’m feeling sexy. But first and foremost I choose what I wear because of how I’m feeling and what I want to look like that day. Just as some days I want to look hot, other days I want to look professional or scruffy or warm.

There was a time when I would have just accepted the looks; maybe I wouldn’t even have noticed them. Then I had my eyes opened to slut shaming and victim blaming and all the things that feminists are trying to tell you about the world out there. How I dress is not an invitation, it’s not a signal and it’s not an advert. It’s an expression of who I am, how I feel and also probably about the weather.

So here’s what I’m going to do every morning (well, afternoon if it’s a weekend), before I put any other clothes on, I am going to put on my feminist armour and then my outfit. That way, you can stare all you like, but I’ll have the secret power because I’ll know that it’s you who are wrong, not me and I’ll keep pointing out how wrong you are until maybe, just maybe, you’ll realise it too.

Police Story

Ah hindsight, its wicked isn’t it, especially when it comes to relationships. What feels like an exciting, romantic gesture when you’re together, suddenly looks a little bit weird and creepy when it all falls apart (am assuming that Katie Holmes knows how that feels this morning). So how does it feel when you read about potentially systemic abuse by any number of police officers and realise that, while not abusive, your previous relationship with a policeman was littered with the same behaviours?

I experienced firsthand (and let me be very clear on this) in a non-abusive relationship with a policeman, the following:

  • Flowers sent to my work address which I had never given him; when challenged, he shrugged and said “I’m a detective”
  • I don’t believe I ever gave him my home address and yet he knew it
  • After we split, which was his decision, he continued to email and text – even after repeated requests to stop
  • He promised to delete my contact details and then contacted me again – his explanation for how he found my contact details was weak and now feels suspicious
  • He had serious anger control issues, never with me, but it was very close to the surface
  • I haven’t heard from him since February, the last time he got in contact he sent a message which was deliberately written as if it was part of an ongoing conversation to (I believe) disguise the fact it was him and lead me to engage; I am constantly waiting for the next message

I know of other women who have had experiences with the police and “romance”, scarily similar to mine. As a result, my BFF and I have a rule about not dating policemen; when she got chatting to one in a bar, she told him about this rule in jest and he totally lost it at her – point proven?

There are the extreme cases, such as that of Stephen Mitchell who has quite rightly been jailed for life. But beneath that it looks like there is a culture of abuse of authority and betrayal of trust. It appears that police officers are seeking out the vulnerable for their own sexual needs.

I’ve made this point before, but I think it’s important; sometimes it’s the casual, everyday stuff that is the key signifier. A police officer feels comfortable seeking out contact details as part of his dating strategy because there is a culture in which that is the “done thing”. To abuse your position with good intentions, doesn’t mean you haven’t abused your position. To do so with such casual disregard for the other person’s feelings is downright terrifying.

Now here’s the thing, I’m a strong, confident woman who may have got swept up in the sexy policeman’s antics and maybe it took me too long to see the light, but I got there. But if I were vulnerable, if I had met him because he was investigating a crime that happened to me, would I be able to see him as anything but my saviour?

So hindsight, brilliant isn’t it… I’m off for a shower to wash away the feeling that I have been slightly violated.

The Guardian report is here http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jun/29/guardian-investigation-abuse-power-police.

What Would Gregory Peck Do?

There is a scene in Roman Holiday in which Gregory Peck takes a very stoned Audrey Hepburn back to his apartment. She’s totally out of it and a princess and enjoying her first illicit taste of freedom. Gregory could make a move and she’d probably let him, because that’s how out of it she is. But you know what, he doesn’t make a move (although he does plonk her on the sofa), you know why Gregory Peck doesn’t make a move, well two reasons:

  1. He’s a total gentleman and wouldn’t do that sort of thing
  2. It would be rape

Point 1 I think we can all agree on and move on to point 2 there because that’s the important one. The fact our adorable princess is far too out of it to consent, means she hasn’t consented, which makes it would have been rape. I thought we had all agreed on that by now.

And yet, today/last night, Twitter was alight with idiots discussing Julian Assange’s alleged crimes with too many people suggesting that, if he did what he was accused of, it wouldn’t be rape/sexual assault, you know because she was asleep next to him. I suspect if we could be bothered to look into it, a substantial amount of the people who don’t feel Assange could be a rapist also don’t believe Ched Evans is a rapist (despite people who heard all the evidence thinking he is) because the victim was drunk and may or may not have agreed to sleep with his friend. See also, Mike Tyson’s victim “asking for it” because she was in his hotel room.

This, we call “victim blaming” and it’s a nasty nasty habit that this world has got into. Women are raped because someone rapes them. The blame lies squarely with the rapist; the person who should have acted differently is the rapist.  I simply do not believe that any woman puts herself in a position where she could be raped, no woman would ask for it… Never, ever.

So, in case I wasn’t clear that rapists are to blame for rape, here are a few things that aren’t to blame for rape/sexual assault:

  • Wearing a short skirt/low cut top/underwear as outerwear/high heels/hot pants
  • Being drunk
  • Being in someone’s hotel room
  • Walking home alone
  • Being high
  • Travelling on public transport
  • Sleeping
  • Being a princess high on tranquilisers and on the run from your handlers
  • Being a prostitute
  • Being married to/living with/dating a rapist

 And here are things that are to blame for rape/sexual assault:

  •  A man who rapes/sexually assaults
  • A woman who rapes/sexually assaults

If you are unsure if the person you are with is definitely consenting and is in a fit state to consent, then I would recommend not having sex with them. And if you’re still not clear, then a good rule of thumb is probably, what would Gregory Peck do?

 

This Sporting Life

Once you realise how much sexism there is in sport, it’s impossible to look away, it is everywhere.

Women athletes are subject to the same bullshit misogyny as the rest of us but ramped up to 11. They are judged on their looks more than their skills; remember Flo-Jo’s nails, The Sun called Jessica Ennis “The Body” earlier this year, type “Serena Williams Fashion Disaster” into Google and you get 85,700 hits. The International Olympic Committee’s charter states “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” and yet Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei have yet to send female athletes and are yet to be banned. They get less funding, less sponsorship and less coverage. There is a perception that if you don’t look good, you won’t get any attention at all. As mentioned in a previous blog, lady footballers were encouraged to wear tighter shorts to get more attention. Fuck you Blatter!

Last Sunday I did a little non-scientific research of ITV’s Euro coverage (no need to call in Ben Goldacre, hands up, it wasn’t expertly done) in order to see what the representation of sports women would be like – I was expecting sporty adverts, it being the football and that. Over two matches and way too many advert breaks we saw male athletes, being identified by their sportiness; advertising cars (lots of cars), chocolate, beer, tyres, Nivea, The Sun, logistics and betting sites. Lots of “manly” and “non-manly” things that couldn’t possibly be represented by a female athlete… During all of those hours of adverts, we had two incidences of sports women; a lady fencer for UPS (who doesn’t really do any fencing) and some lady tennis for Magners but that’s being played in the dark so as not to offend. A nod of appreciation to Morrisons who seem prepared to accept that women watch football, not play football obviously, that would be silly. The ad for the Kia falls into a similar category, pretty lady drives to football stadium but she’s there to sing – know your place pretty lady.

Of course the most offensive football related advert is for WKD in which a pub hilariously goes silent while a man pretends to his partner that he’s working late, the helpful barman adding sound effects to make the call sound authentic. You know, because ladies won’t understand you having a night out with the boys and would lock you in the house using their ovarian tubing if they suspected you might want to socialise rather than hunter-gathering or husbanding. Also, lest we forget, girls don’t like football and therefore it’s better to lie than let on you are watching it. As Springbreak (@sayrahtonin) said, “I hope the fictional girl in the wkd ad who’s being lied to by her pathetic bf about being in the pub is fucking someone else while he’s out”.

So here’s a bit of everyday heroics for give us all a bit of faith…

A few weeks ago I went with my little sister to watch a local charity basketball game. On the team was one girl, let’s call her Becky, because I’m fairly certain that was her name. Becky didn’t even have a real kit; she had a home-made t-shirt. When Becky was knocked on her arse by a giant man, Becky offered a forgiving high-five that the giant begrudgingly accepted. However, Becky had the most amazing talent that none of the other players seem to possess, Becky was invisible. Neither her own team nor the opposition could see her. She could get herself into wide open spaces because none of the defenders saw her, but then no one would pass to her because her own team couldn’t see her either. Everyone watching could clearly see her and some of us were getting very frustrated by the lack of play she was getting. When we mentioned this super-power to Becky she shrugged and said that it had always been the same, whenever she plays with men and she’s been doing this for 10 years. Becky was invisible, because she is a woman. I don’t know Becky, so I can’t tell you why she carried on playing on a team that was trying its best to ignore her. But I can tell you that she was awesome.

My little sister is a huge basketball fan and I hope, for her, Becky was visible. Becky is a fucking hero, an everyday crusader.

If you’ve been affected by any of the themes in this blog, try Stylist Magazine’s Fair Play campaign (you can read it here http://www.stylist.co.uk/people/support-stylists-fair-game-campaign#image-rotator-1).

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