Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dear Caitlin

Dear Caitlin, I loved your book ‘How to be a Woman.’  It made me feel like I could identify as a feminist, that being a feminist didn’t mean I shouldn’t shave my underarms and spout man-hating rhetoric.  I read it and I realised I could say I was a feminist and yet still enjoy painting my nails and caring about my appearance.  I read it and realised that being a feminist really meant I was being a woman.  You wrote in an engaging, self-deprecating, humourous way.  It was accessible, enjoyable and you inspired me.

When other feminists complained that you weren’t inclusive enough, that your point of view was too white-focussed, too you-focussed and that as a result you never should have claimed to be writing for all women with the book’s title, and criticised your comment about ‘not caring’ that you hadn’t been inclusive and represented the experience of women of colour or others, I kind of understood.  The need to always be aware of inclusivity and entitlement within feminism frustrates me because it makes me feel that I am always having to apologise for being myself, for having the privileges in life that I’ve had.  I am white, middle-class and have had an education.  My perspective will always be coloured by my background & experiences, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be empathetic of others’ experiences.  In a way, the furore that surrounded your comments taught me to be more self-aware, if not apologetic.

But, Caitlin, this time you’ve made me deeply sad.  Your career, the success of your book, have given you a voice, a very loud & influential voice.  And you’ve used it this time to do harm.  I don’t know whether you meant to do harm, but harm you’ve done.  What you said in the interview with Mia Freedman basically boiled down to saying that if a woman wore heels that go clickety clack, she is advertising herself to rapists – that it is her fault.  I’ve tried re-reading the interview, giving you the benefit of the doubt, trying to see some attempted humour (however misguided humour with regard to rape is), but I can’t.  It reads exactly like victim blaming. 

Caitlin, you have a voice, whether you want to have it or not, you have it.  Women listen to you.  And you just told them things that are wrong.

1.       You said that a woman can avoid rape if she doesn’t draw attention to herself with the sound of her heels – and implicit too, in the clothes that she wears.
This is false.  Women are raped in their pyjamas, in the their own home.  Women are raped in jogging trousers.  Women are raped in hijabs.  Women are raped if they’re wearing flats, or running shoes.  Women are not raped by their clothes, they are raped by rapists.
2.       By saying that, you’ve implicitly blamed women for their rape.  You’ve made women feel that, if they were wearing heels, they were the stupid ones, it was partly their fault.  You’ve made it harder for a woman to recover, not to feel shame, to not feel stupid, for something that wasn’t ever a woman’s fault.  Rape is only ever the fault of the rapist.
3.       You’ve also exacerbated the myth that women tell themselves to feel safe – that if they take certain precautions, this horrible thing won’t happen to them.  This is a lie.  The perpetuation of that myth means that society still blames victims.  The reality is that most rapes are not ‘stranger’ rapes, the majority of rapes take place inside victim’s own homes, by someone they know well. 
4.       You basically said that rape is a class thing – that rich women don’t get raped because they can afford a taxi home.  It appears I did take a taxi home, with the rapist.  I have no recollection of that journey, but he came into my home and the mode of transportation was taxi.  And of course, there have also been high profile cases of the cab driver being the rapist.  And, rich women are as at risk as anyone else of being in a relationship with an abuser, or finding out the hard way that one of their so-called friends is an abuser.  Rape is not a class thing.

Caitlin, you have a voice, a loud voice, and people listen to you.  You are lauded as a feminist.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is not unequal pay or everyday sexism.  It is not our right to shave or not shave our legs, underarms or muffs.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is that somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 8 of us will be raped or sexually assaulted in our lifetime.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is that society apportions some of the blame for that rape on the women who were raped.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is that society tries to redefine rape into something lesser, to diminish the horror.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is the rape epidemic. 

Caitlin, you have a voice, a loud voice, and people listen to you.  Please, listen to me.  My voice is only a whisper, but I am begging you – use your voice wisely.  You could do so much to help change the way the world is, to say it is not right that society partially blames me for my rape, to say it is rapists who rape, to say you are sorry for the pain your comments have caused so many who are struggling to get by day by day from a trauma which still lives with them. 

Caitlin, I hope you read this through.  I hope you think on it.  Your book inspired me.  What you said was such a deep disappointment to me, has caused me so many tears of frustration because when someone like you says something like that, I fear the world will never change.  And I simply have to believe the world will one day change, because it cannot go on like this.

Thank you for reading.

[The interview between Caitlin Moran and Mia Freedman is here: http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/mia-freedman-interviews-caitlin-moran/

Monday, 10 December 2012

Rape Apologist?

So, yesterday I was accused on Twitter of making excuses for rapists.  Me.  A friend of the rapists.  Well, I know that’s not true, but it did get me thinking. 

It all started with reading these two blogs.

http://www.xojane.com/issues/nice-guys-commit-rape-too by Alyssa Royse of The Good Men Project and,

The first is an account by a SlutWalk speaker of what happened when a male friend was accused of rape.  When he told her what had transpired, she confirmed to him that, yes, he had raped the woman.  (Girl is flirtatious, drinks, ends up in bed with man; he ‘has sex’ with her while she’s sleeping.  Pretty clear-cut.  She wasn’t conscious to give consent).  The writer tries to make sense of the ‘social intercourse’ that had seemed destined to become ‘sexual intercourse’ and how a ‘nice man’ could make such a mistake.

The second blog dismisses the first as attempting to make excuses for the ‘nice man’ and is clear that the situation could only ever have been rape.

I agree.  It was rape.  The ‘nice man’, however ‘nice’ he might be in other aspects of his life, should have known that to have sex with a sleeping person who has not explicitly said ‘hey, I’d love it if whilst I’m asleep you woke me with your cock inside me, that’d be really hot’, is rape. 

But, what I said on Twitter was this:

[Original tweet linking the Feminste blog] was really shocked by that story too. Having “sex” with a sleeping person is NOT SEX!
[Me] agree. But also agree that it's a problem that so many men seem to not understand what rape is
[Twitter] a woman’s body as a thing to use. Lots of men get that, why make excuses for those who don’t?
[Me] not making excuses. But there's a lot of education to be done to stop men raping. Too many don't >
[Me] don't seem to know when they've raped. That has to stop
[Twitter] another person’s body. Not sex. Not cooperative. Never ok. Not due to lack of education.
[Me] I agree. Never ok. Was rape. But he apparently didn't know that. Hence need for education.  
[Twitter] you believe a rapist when he says he didn’t know it was rape? This must be a joke, seriously.
[Me] I am not defending a rapist. I am saying there is a societal problem in understanding what rape is

The conversation was brought to a halt only by my admitting that I wondered if the man who raped me had realised he’d done it at the time.  (As an aside, I think he must have known.  Not only was I mostly passed out comatose, but the violence was extreme (over 4 years on I can still see the remains of the bruising on my thigh) and the vaginal & anal penetration by espresso machine hub isn’t on the menu for your normal, run of the mill, drunken fumble).  But, I did spend many years wondering about it, and when I wrote about it on this blog (see, http://musingsofemilyrose.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/triggered.html Triggered), a Twitter friend RT’d with the words, ‘this man doesn’t know he’s a rapist.’  (As a further aside, it was interesting that the other party pulled out of the conversation, and very civilly, telling me to take care and sending hugs, only when I revealed myself as rape survivor.  Does that make my opinion count for more?  It shouldn’t, I don’t think).

And perhaps the medium of 140 characters is really not enough to engage in a conversation on this. But I absolutely, totally, think that one of the only ways out of this rape epidemic where somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 8 women will experience rape or sexual assault in their lifetime (dependent on which study you pick) is to educate men and society at large as to what rape is.  To be really clear, so there never is any doubt.  So that, instead of the adverts that tell us not to get into an unbooked minicab, there are adverts that spell out, in the simplest of terms, that having sex when consent isn’t enthusiastic & explicit is rape. 

She kissed me.  Now she’s asleep next to me.  That means I can have sex with her? NO! That’s rape.’ 
If I get her drunk, she won’t be able to say ‘no’.  NO! That’s rape.’ 
‘She’s wearing a really sexy outfit, that means she wants me to, right?  NO! That’s rape.’

Now, these messages may be clear to most of you already.  But, the evidence is that a lot of people simply don’t believe them, know them, or understand them.  Politicians, the media, and much of society do not appear to understand rape.  If they did, there would not be an apparent hierarchy of types of rape, from ‘bad sexual etiquette’ (George Galloway), to date rape, to marital rape, to legitimate rape (Todd Aiken), to forcible rape (pretty much any fundamentalist republican), to stranger rape (which is the minicab ad’s target).   But, rape is rape is rape.  And that’s not because of the circumstances under which the rape happened.  That’s because the impact of the rape on the victim takes no account of the circumstances in which it happened; whether the rape happened at knifepoint by a stranger in a dark alley, or in your own home by someone you knew, from a mental health point of view, the impact on the victim can be just as severe and long-standing.

I believe there are two types of rapist, but not two types of rape.  I believe there are some people out there who are sociopaths (and this isn’t to say that all sociopaths are rapists), but there are some people who intend to rape.  They choose a target, and they engineer circumstances to get what they want.  These are the people who we can try to protect against by attempting not to be in harm’s way (i.e. not walking down a dark alley alone, not getting into an unlicensed cab), but who we may not be able to avoid, no matter what we do to protect ourselves.  These people truly are monsters, although they probably don’t appear that way to the rest of the world.  Some of them probably do appear to be ‘nice guys’.

But, I don’t believe that there are that many monsters in the world.  Not enough to justify the statistics of between 1 in 3 or 1 in 8 women experiencing rape or sexual assault in their lifetime.  Either each monster is raping several hundred women, or there is another factor at play.

And I think that is the other type of rapist.  This is the rapist who if he stopped and thought about it, would realise it was rape.  The rapist who is not so much after power, but after sex.  If he questioned the rape culture around us which makes jokes out of rape ‘it’s not rape if you yell surprise first’ (!!!), or the recently pulled Virgin Mobile US ad ‘is it a necklace or chloroform?’, or the ‘it is never acceptable to wear your girlfriend/mothers/victim’s socks’ (courtesy of FHM), if he questioned his behaviour, then he would know that what he was doing was rape.  Perhaps these are the accidental rapists, who try their luck one night, who think they are entitled to sex, who cross the line without consent.  They did not perhaps set out to rape, but they did rape.  Please do not misunderstand me, I am not making excuses for them, rape is rape is rape.  And the impact on the survivor can be just as debilitating, sometimes more so, because when it appears that there are mixed signals it is hard to forgive yourself for possibly giving the wrong signal, as well as a break-down of trust.  I am not attempting to diminish the crime.  What I’m saying is, perhaps this is the type of rape that as a society we can work together on getting reduced, happening less often, becoming more rare.

When I spoke at SlutWalk this year, I said we need to have an open, honest dialogue about sex, and about enthusiastic consent.  Rape, and rapists, do deserve to be demonised.  But, it’s happening too often to just demonise the act and the perpetrator.  We have to work towards a solution, and I believe that solution lies in education – not in the education of telling women how to protect themselves, but in the education of telling men how to be certain of consent, and in the education of being really clear that when enthusiastic consent is not explicitly given, that then it is rape.

But, perhaps I’m wrong.  Perhaps I am being manipulated somehow. The Twitter conversation ended as follows (after I outed myself as a rape survivor):

[Twitter] look, I’m very sorry for that, and I wish the best for you, but men have to do their own work to…
…be good people and they are fully capable of it. Pointing the finger at lack of education is…
…great in some ways because we have a shitty system for that, but also we need to acknowledge…
…that men often manipulate perfectly in order to get away with things. I’ve been there
anyway big hugs to you and all the best. Signing off now, take care.

I remember also though, this Jezebel article from July 2012 http://jezebel.com/5929544/rapists-explain-themselves-on-reddit-and-we-should-listen?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_twitter&utm_source=jezebel_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow which had rapists explaining what had happened.  It’s a difficult read, but it seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that a properly thought-through campaign of re-education about sex & consent really could do some good in preventing many from being rapists, and preventing many from being raped.

I know that some will think I am a rape apologist.  But I know that I am not.