With several men offensively seeking to re-define rape against women for their own political ends this week, I add my voice to those outraged at the fact this discussion is even still happening – but also argue in defence of the widely-denigrated #MenAgainstRape hashtag
Rape. Unless you’ve been living under a rock with no internet connection for the past few days, it is unlikely to have escaped you that rape is on the news agenda at the moment. In a big way.
Talking about rape, even as someone who reckons themselves to be halfway clued-up on the feminist approaches towards this rightfully sensitive subject, feels a little like walking blindfolded into Oxford Circus on the last shopping day before Christmas. That is, ever so slightly-scary, possibly ill-advised, fraught with obstacles, genuine pitfalls and many, many opportunities to get quite publically and legitimately shouted at by people who know where they’re going far better than you.
But some of the stuff that’s been said has been so flabbergastingly-ridiculous, so inflammatory and, sometimes, so thought-provoking that I’ve felt obliged to finally write some stuff down.
Akin and Assange: a rundown
Notice I used the word ‘legitimately’ in that sentence there. You’ll recognise it from the word ‘legitimate’. Meaning ‘proper’ as in ‘real’. Meaning the adjective US Congressman Todd Akin used to describe rape in an online interview, in which he staggeringly-ignorantly described how, “as I understand it, if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down”.
And THEN, he backtracked in a major way, releasing a terrifying video of him looking like all the world like a Madame Tussaud’s creation gone wrong, apologising for the order in which the words came out of his mouth, but in no way apologising for the sentiment behind what he said, nor in any way addressing the pernicious messages about women at which his mind-boggling little soundbite had hinted and which many of those in his revolting political party have flat-out endorsed.
Well holy shit, aside from the fact that his offending sentence grammatically sounds like something I’d expect from maybe a partially-illiterate fourteen-year-old who hadn’t really thought the whole phrase through, it’s almost like biology never even happened for this guy. As many have said before me, he’s got six kids and seven grand-children and still manages to have zero understanding of how the female reproductive system works. I haven’t even begun to address the issue of ‘legitimate’ rape. Too. Much. Crap. To. Deal. With. In. One. Paragraph. Hold on.
Next on the conveyor-belt of utter mind-bending idiocy comes Julian Assange, who wins this year’s prize for stretching the rules of hide-and-seek to patience-whittling levels by hiding like an under-developed worm in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, even emerging on to a tantalisingly-low balcony to effectively waggle his tongue at everyone and then hurry back inside.
On a basic level, the founder of WikiLeaks (itself, as far as I can tell, a brave and arguably necessary movement to publish documents uncovering quite-possibly suspect actions of governments, but which in no way lends credence to his other activities) is wanted for breaking his bail terms, and, depending on what you read and whose law-book you’re currently following, has either been accused of, or charged with, what has been undeniably defined as rape.
In one of the more famous indictments, Assange is accused of having had consensual sex with a woman, who then woke up later on to find him having sex with her again. Let me repeat: WOKE UP – ergo, Assange started having sex with her while she was still UNCONSCIOUS.
Because, obviously, if you’ve asked once, no need to ask again, right? Like one of my colleagues said today with tongue firmly lodged in cheek, everyone knows that if you’ve asked someone to lend you a tenner once, you’ve got free rein to take money from their wallet without asking from now until forever, right? Except way more serious than that and with reference to a WOMAN’S ACTUAL PERSONAL, INTERNAL ORIFICES and a means through which some men have sought to demean, dominate and violate women since the beginning to time. (Yes, men get raped too and many of the same points still stand, but in this case, we’re talking about a man doing it to a woman.)
Now, this isn’t a defence or attack on Assange in general. Frankly, it’s beyond my current understanding to overly analyse what the embassies do or do not allow between themselves, and I wouldn’t even begin to comment on the slightly worrying allegations that the US government wants Assange locked up come hell or high water.
In which Galloway sends himself down shit creek
What is terrifyingly, vomit-inducingly plain, is that several commentators who frankly ought to have known better have taken Assange’s situation as an opportunity to weigh in on the definition of rape.
FYI, this is already clearly legally defined. Despite some of the underdeveloped creatures within the US Republican party having recently attempted to get varying ‘degrees’ of rape enshrined within US law so they can decide who to feel sorry for or not Hadley Freeman, and so many others, got it piercingly-right when they repeated, again, that rape is rape is rape.
If you have sex with someone without their outright and mutually-understood, fully-conscious consent, then that is rape. You get ‘statutory rape’ if you have sex with someone under the age of consent, because they’re not deemed old or responsible enough to make that choice, whether or not they actually said yes. Above the age of consent, you still have to consent. CONSENT. Have I said it enough? CONSENT.
It’s quite simple really.
Except, apparently, for some people.
Most high-profile of those people has been George Galloway, who, inexplicably, in a video ‘address’ joined Akin and Assange on the batshit-tosser train by saying that for some people, being naked in bed with them means you’re “already in the sex game”, and therefore have basically consented to more sexytimes EVEN WHEN YOU’RE ASLEEP. “Sure, a tap on the shoulder would have been more polite,” he then went on to say, causing me to have a minor embolism before I could continue watching.
That this is utterly offensive ‒ and, particularly in the case of someone as so potentially influential as Todd Akin, terrifying ‒ bollocks is all understood by anyone with any kind of faint understanding of the rights of women (nay, the rights of PEOPLE) and a basic grasp of the fact that rape is rape, even if you’ve already had sex with that person before. In fact, as one of my friends said today, the extent of the backlash on Twitter and in the news has been one of the most heartening things about this whole sorry tale.
Despite some earth-shattering moments of stupidity, such as MP Ben Goldsmith’s now-deleted tweet saying “I’m with Galloway on this” in reference to the ambiguities surrounding Assange’s potential extradition, and the fairly confused piece by Melanie McDonagh in yesterday’s London Evening Standard, in which she seems to persist in perpetuating the ‘violent’ versus ‘lesser, coercive’ rape myth (oh, right, you mean as opposed to NON-violent, NON-coercive, NON-serious rape! Gotcha), the fact that so many people have come out against the comments, such as the Vagenda’s ‘Rape rainbow’ and, of course, Hadley’s straightforward piece, is an example of just how many people disagree with the stance.
You know you’re seriously wrong when cretins such as Mitt Romney seek to distance themselves from you, and the Daily Fail posts stories on strong women speaking out against the idea that rape which ends in pregnancy is somehow not ‘legitimate’.
Why #MenAgainstRape isn’t the trite banality it first appears
And yet, the responses haven’t been uniformly encouraging. Even from those I’d usually consider as the stalwarts of feminist reason, there has been dissention in the Twitter ranks – and of course, it all started with a hashtag. The #menagainstrape hashtag.
In case you’ve read this far and your eyes are getting squiffy, that’s Men Against Rape. Now, many people took offence to this hashtag – and, as far as I could tell, for reasons I’m afraid I just don’t agree with, and, I think, potentially extremely damaging to what we’re all trying to do: educate people about rape.
In a nice handy list, here are a few of the most common that I saw bandied around in criticism of the hashtag.
- It’s making comments about women, about a crime which largely affects women, and has a history of affecting women in the most violent way possible, about men
- It’s taking away from women’s ability to talk to men and put their own experiences across
- It’s suggesting that men get to define ‘rape’ and denying women’s experiences of it
- It’s obvious and completely unnecessary; why not simply have a hashtag saying #MenAgainstMurder, or #MenAgainstPaedophilia or #MenAgainstDrinkingBleach ?
- It seems to ‘thank men for not being rapists’, and suggests that this is an ‘opt in’ thing rather than a general base level of respect and knowledge that we would damn-well hope imagine everyone should start with in the first place
These points, while holding some validity in some cases, completely miss the point that, actually, rape is quite often about men. In most cases, in fact. In fact, wherever the crime is a man having sex with a woman, that’s about a man as much as it’s about the woman.
About the fact that a man has so little respect, understanding or appreciation for that woman he’s planning to rape, is raping, or has raped. About the fact that a man has no understanding of that woman’s right to her own body and sexuality; about how her sexuality, power, intellect and identity has got absolutely nothing to do with him, unless she explicitly consents to make it so.
About the fact that that woman, despite physically able to be dominated by him, has a moral, physical, societal and intellectual right not to be. Rape is about power, and as long as it’s about the wielding of power over women, it’s also about men.
Feminism is ALSO about men
In fact, the first rule of feminism is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s about men as much as it’s about women, because most women have to co-exist with men, and ‘equalising’ women’s experiences is often largely a struggle against the patriarchal ‘norms’ that were instigated and then perpetuated by men.
Feminism was born from women demanding dialogue with men, on their own terms, and even though women now have the power to speak out without men’s permission or help, it doesn’t follow that men cannot empathise with women or espouse their views on equality, or are no longer relevant in discussions which primarily focus on women.
No, men should not seek to redefine or dominate feminist debates, or women’s experiences. But joining a discussion or wholeheartedly espousing its principles doesn’t automatically mean a man wants to dominate it, ‘make it about them’ – or, if you will, ‘mansplain’ it.
So while rape of women strikes right to the heart of what it means to be a woman, in these cases, anyway, it also strikes right to the heart of what it means to be a man coexisting with women.
I agree with you, it’s obvious. And yet
Bringing me on to my next point, that, yes, it’s extremely obvious to have a hashtag saying #MenAgainstRape. It’s completely ridiculous that it ever needs to be said. It’s an utter platitude, and completely superfluous in appearance to anyone who has any kind of fleeting acquaintance with the issue – OF COURSE men should be against rape, and of course the base-level should be against rape.
Just like I’m against kicking puppies and shooting children with rifles.
BUT the fact that this issue still seems to divide people, the fact that it’s still got some people agreeing that in some cases, rape just isn’t that serious; the fact that people are still suggesting that women must shoulder some of the responsibility when they ‘lead on’ a man or drink a bit too much or go back to a man’s flat, the fact that there are still people in the world who effectively agree with Akin, Assange, Galloway et al, who think that conscious consent is a blurry concept, and who are in positions of political power in which they overtly seek to control women’s sexuality and right to assert their own will over their own bodies, means that actually, I’d say having a #MenAgainstRape hashtag isn’t such a bad idea.
Of course, it won’t solve the problem overnight. It won’t provide all the answers, and it’s certainly not a catch-all solution. But it might get people talking.
It might get people, namely men who hadn’t really thought about it before and for whom it doesn’t seem immediately obvious, considering what rape means and debating their own views on how complex and sensitive the issue is, and how they really ought to think about it a bit more before engaging in sexual relationships with people.
It might also provide a rallying point for men on the subject, in their own arena, away from the feminist blogs and the sections of the newspapers which, with the best will in the world, are not usually read by those who have the most need for them. Preaching to the converted is a fantastic way to re-affirm your message, attract those who agree with you, and provide a stable point in a screwed-up world, but preaching to the converted is not how you’re going to solve the problem of how men who aren’t engaged in these issues might consider rape.
All those men who are so obviously already against rape, well thank god for you, you’re absolutely right. You don’t need to ‘opt in’, or pat yourself on the back for not being a rapist, that would be as much as I would expect, frankly. No damn medals for you. But in that case, this hashtag is not aimed at you.
Some have said it should be #EveryoneAgainstRape, because it’s not only men who rape. Also a very good point.
But if this hashtag even gets one man thinking about what it means to rape versus not rape, that is a success, in my books. If it even strikes one line of dissention against the ideas perpetuated by Akin, Assange and Galloway, then that’s a success.
If it provides a rallying point for groups such as domestic violence Respect UK (NOT the ‘Respect’ affiliated with the aforementioned Mr Galloway) to tweet links such as “10 things you can do to stop violence against women” or “If you want to show sexual respect, always check you’ve got an enthusiastic yes”, then frankly, what the hell is the harm in that?
At least it’s got the right idea.
At least it’s not trying to redefine rape, or apologise for rapists’ actions. At least it’s not qualifying or judging rape with the word ‘legitimate’. It’s coming connected with the other hashtag, #rapeisrape, and promulgating the message that ‒ in a discussion which is so often reduced to a ‘women’s issue’ against men, simplistically pitching the genders against each other in entirely unhelpful and unrealistic ways ‒ actually, men don’t all agree with Galloway or Akin.
That actually, those comments are entirely alien to what they recognise or know. That it needs to be said at all is depressing, but clearly, in some circles, it does. Right SODDING NOW, before some other old white man in a position of power adds his voice where it is so completely unwanted.
It doesn’t take away, it only adds
Giving people a platform on which to simply assert that they are against rape doesn’t take away from the testimonies of women coming out to tell their story about rape, and protesting loud and clear at the inescapably offensive suggestion that some rapes aren’t ‘legitimate’. Neither does it, logically, suggest that anyone who doesn’t assert their view in this way is therefore ‘for rape’ or ‘rape ambivalent’.
In fact, it doesn’t take away from anything, as I see it. It only adds to the dialogue between the genders and political parties; adds an additional voice to the crowd of people around the world telling Assange, Akin and Galloway that their views are profoundly offensive, unwanted, unfounded, ignorant and completely at odds with the experiences and views of the vast majority of men and women.
So where, pray tell, is the harm in that?