Saturday, 28 May 2011

Yes means Yes and No means No.

So since around 2009, when  the intense ignorance, bigotry and intolerance of people on the internet seemed to explode onto a forum I had frequented for about 5 years, I have generally avoided such situations. I don't like to be reminded how much I feel the need to dislike a group of people or even just the human race.
I avoid destructive arguments and "debates" (they're not debates, but that's what people call them) and I avoid people who have the habit of "debating" everything, even though I used to be pretty damn good at it, and I'd been party to some fantastic discussions and real debates online for a good 3 or 4 years. Some would maybe call me pathetic and a bit cowardly to fence myself off from the sheer unpleasantness of this planet, but I would like to refute that claim; just because I do not associate myself with it does NOT mean that I ignore it/deny its existence/do nothing about it/do not discuss it if it comes up. I try to put people right where I can or see the potential to. I have simply learned that there is no use in getting too deeply involved with some people.

Lately the huge debate has been about the Slutwalk.
For those of you who have not heard of it, I shall enlighten you. It is a series of demonstrations occurring in America and Europe, sparked by the 'advice' given by a Canadian police officer to some women reporting harassment - "don't dress like a slut if you don't want to be harassed". Common sense, I suppose, but HERE IS THE PROBLEM.
Not only was the police officer way out of line with sexual assault/harassment statistics, but he was also apportioning blame upon the victim. On top of this, he has used a derogatory word which is also subjective - one man's slut is another man's Virgin Mary. Who is to say where the line is drawn between "asking for it slut" and "poor innocent school girl"?

I do think that women should be advised to take precautions - even though this again causes some responsibility and blame to be placed upon them - but this is where I draw the line.
The number of cases of sexual assault or harassment that fall in favour of the offender is astounding - and that is just the number of cases that are reported in the first place. The large majority of rape and assault cases, unreported to the police or not, are perpetrated by relatives, friends or acquaintances of the victim and very very rarely that brassy, exhibitionist drunk girl in the club. It is largely the shy, low-self-esteem girl who is more likely to be traumatised into not reporting the attacker, and is less able to fight back. Even if the case is dropped or the trial is a farce, the offender gets a blemish on his permanent record - to avoid this, it's handy if the girl chosen for such physical atrocity is unlikely to so much as mention it to a police officer.

The Slutwalk brings this fact to light, and also challenges the accusation of 'slut' charged at the victims. All of the people marching in the walk are "sluts" - old people, children; no doubt in some twisted head, they asked for it, too. Those participating on the walk can dress like 'traditional sluts' if they like, but you can wear normal clothes. The point is that 'wherever you go, whatever you wear, yes means yes and no means no'.
Anybody who is sexually abused is labelled a 'slut' - even a horrendously large number of misguided women think that it is the victim's fault, somehow. That she lead him on. Perhaps it is a teenager with her first lover, who thought she was ready for sex, but changed her mind - and the boyfriend, instead of being the loving, kind, supportive human being expected by the majority of society, just goes ahead and rapes her anyway. Perhaps it is a pregnant woman in a quiet park at twilight. Perhaps it is an old woman in a home, abused by her carer. Perhaps it is a person who thinks that a catalytically drunk 'mmmmmmurgh' is understood as a 'no', but is too far gone to prevent herself from being understood. (My compliments to Canada for passing the law saying that no matter when you pass out (before, during or after the act), if you've passed out, you were probably raped.)
Girls who have their drinks spiked in a club by a friend or acquaintance - sometimes a stranger, too. They are all asking for it, because of what they wear.

That's the funny thing about society and the media. Girls, from a younger and younger age, are told that to be attractive they must be the following: confident; vivacious; flirtatious; cheeky; able to dance; able to wear high heels; able to dress in a flattering way. In short, they must be sexy.
They are taught how to dress, behave and look by television, models, music videos (ESPECIALLY those by MALE artists and rappers) and their peers.
When a woman reports a sexual assault, no matter what the circumstances, she is assumed to have and is blamed for adopting any or all of the above descriptions and attributes endorsed by our society and media.
Unless you are a religious leader from the extreme Middle East (or I suppose certain parts of East London, these days), and consider anybody who does not wear a burqa to be culpable, it is very likely that you have encouraged or paid money towards or unconsciously supported society's affirmation.

In fact, I have just seen an article written in the Australian version of The Sun, criticising the Slut Walk, and more specifically (and solely) the women in the article picture for dressing like pole-dancers or something along those lines. In short, they weren't wearing a lot, and clearly this is just an excuse to be exhibitionist. What is the Sun famous for, as a tabloid, I wonder... could it be THE PAGE 3 GIRLS? And the underwear models with "opinions" about current topics? What an epitome of hypocrisy.

I've heard stories that ended in sexual assault. A girl walking home with a friend whom she liked, but he took liberties without her consent. A girl walking home from the bus from college groped by a strange man. The former wearing school uniform. The latter wearing a baggy jumper and jeans.
Unfortunately, the former made a complaint and reported it, but because of their differing accounts, the charges were dropped by police, and even her mother said that perhaps she brought it upon herself.
I would not be surprised - incredibly sad and appalled for the person - but not overly surprised, if I had an acquaintance who has in the past been sexually assaulted or raped.
I'm sure, in some perverted way, they were "asking for it". Perhaps their hips swayed just a little too invitingly. Who knows but the perpetrators?

But it doesn't end there. The victims are given no counselling before, during or after trial. They have their private lives and clothing choices paraded in front of a jury. They are put through a second traumatic ordeal when they should be taken care of. And those that don't reach the courts? They are left with the knowledge that their words, complaints and experiences do not have the same or more weight than the ''differing account'' given by the assailant.

I was actually stalked - yes, I'll use that word - by a man on my street. He was very very briefly employed by my grandfather to help with the gardening. But he was so decrepit and such a heavy smoker to boot, that he didn't work for us long.
I'm a polite soul. I've been brought up to say 'please' and 'thank you' and to smile nicely at people I know, and to say 'how'd you do?' (not literally, but go with it). I am very uncomfortable being rude to my elders, especially. This man would take a daily walk, and we often met when I was walking the half mile home from the bus stop after sixth form. I soon noticed that although I didn't get the same bus every day, because my timetable meant some days I would be home at 3pm and others at 5pm or 4pm, I somehow managed to come across him on his walk every day.
I put it down to strange coincidence. I had to talk to him for 5 or 10 minutes sometimes, unless the weather meant I could make excuses, or if it was late and I had to get home for tea. It was inane prattle and frankly, he was toothless and I couldn't make out everything he said. He inquired as to whether I was the girl ''whose mum is dead'', and did I know that he used to work for my granddad? I would have to respond to comments about the weather, and if I had a good day at school and all the inanities that being polite to even disgusting old men entailed. I would complain about it once I got home, but there wasn't really a lot I felt I could do apart from be so disgustingly rude that he was angry with me or something.

The second year of sixth form, my time table was quite different - and yet he seemed to pick it up quite quickly. One day, it was a fairly warm and still afternoon. I was wearing 60denier (very thick) black tights, my babycham shoes, a knee-length dark denim skirt and a long-sleeved pale blue top, which had a neckline that came to maybe just an inch below my collar bones. That day, I even wore my hair down - must have had a good hair day or something, cause I usually had it tied back in a ponytail. I don't wear a lot of make up. I probably didn't even have mascara on. I was 17 years old.
He commented on the warm weather, and I responded with the usual vague agreement. He then asked how old I was. I told him. He then commented that I had a nice chest on me, nodding to my chest. I can even remember right now the feel of my head jerking back in astonishment, standing near the post box. I said something like, "Sorry?"
He went on to suggest that I wear my hair down more often, cause I had lovely hair or something. By this point I was blankly excusing myself. I got home, going over the words in my head. I looked down at my top, wondering if perhaps it was extra provocative or something. I thought about how at least I could easily knock him down with my heavy school bag, and out run him. He's ancient and not very big. But the words sort of buzzed and I was astonished that I'd heard them. I got in and shouted up the stairs "so apparently I have a nice chest". My grandmother was of course curious at my outburst, and then grew concerned when I told her what happened. My granddad came home and she told him, and he grabbed her into the car and they drove to Mr P's house to tell him to never speak to me again else they'll report him for harassment.

I thought it was a bit over the top, at first, but I was so glad when I could just keep my music on loudly in my ears and walk past without acknowledging him, and to just get home without any hindrance. He tries to talk to me now, when I'm at home on holiday from uni - I just keep walking, though once I replied to his comment of how he never sees me now that I was at university with boys my own age. I felt horrendously rude, but I felt it had to be said.

My story pales significantly in comparison to girls who've experienced a lot more than some dodgy compliments from men that are so old and out of shape that a girl would be charged with bodily harm rather than the other way around. But it brings me back to my point about 'sluts' - what I was wearing was pretty conservatively for a 17 year old in my area. It was flattering, perhaps. The blue brought out my eyes. But it is not something that is normally considered "slutty".

There are still too many what ifs to my story - What if he hadn't the body of a 90 year old when he was only in his early 70s? What if he had had the strength to do something? What if he hadn't left me alone? What if he had been younger and he hadn't stopped me near a house or two? Would I still not be to blame? Would I have definitely been showing an interest, by forcing myself to politely give him five minutes of my time 3 or 4 days a week? Would it be less ok if he was youger, or would it make me more culpable?

Words, just words, somehow in this horrible society we live in, can be the difference between sympathy and blame. The victim, not only having been put through such an ordeal, is then psychologically abused by the press, judgemental bigots and men and even their attacker, with words and labels that, did they have 'man-' prefixed to them, would be compliments.
Whore. Slag. Slut. Cow. The accusation that she was 'gagging for it'. That she was 'flirtatious' (probably just said hello and smiled).
Man-whore is a big compliment among males. It is a horrible insult for a woman. And each of these words carry blame and responsibility not on the rapists, but on the victims.

One of our brilliant MPs tried to pass through parliament a revision of sex education for girls. She wanted women to be taught abstinence. To be taught how to say no. Nothing else.
Where does that leave sexually abused people? How does that, in any way imaginable, help those that get raped? It's madness.
I'm not sure which is worse, this proposal or the fact that a vehemently anti-sexual health advice and anti-abortion group is now working as Health Advisers for the government. It's actually a pretty close call.
Fortunately for women everywhere, the House of Commons does not care about preventing rape or making laws to protect women, so this bill wasn't even passed through parliament.

By teaching women only how to protect themselves or to prevent themselves from becoming a victim, we are casually undermining the help we give them pre-rape by applying responsibility to them. And them alone.
Rape is not like consensual sex - where both parties are responsible for any STIs or pregnancies they encourage. It is violent. Unpredictable. And entirely the fault of the one who did it.
To quote a speaker on the slutwalks:
The urge for women to ‘not dress like sluts’. Can someone explain how covering up has been sold as some guarantee of rape proofing a woman? It’s not. There is no less sexual abuse in societies where women are forced to cover up. It’s not like sunscreen.
 - Catherine Devney

Any man that can not follow these sorts of rules (in the picture) is entirely to blame for his actions.
Any man who feels some strange uncontrollable sadistic urge is not, I'm afraid, a real man. Nor is he right in the head, but that does not mean that he should be let off, either.

What needs to be taught very early in people's lives, through school and through their parents and their peers and the media, is that women are not in anyway sexual objects. Nor are they pornographic items that should be covered up to prevent the stirrings of men. They should be allowed confident expression, as much as a man's body is. They are complex evolutions, with feelings, emotions and thoughts of their own. They have agency. They are not to be categorised in patriarchal ways. They require the same respect and personal boundaries that men seem to inherently be given.

When a woman says no, she means no, and she will respect those that respect her.

A somewhat unstructured and long post, but it's been sitting in my head for a while, now.

I thought I'd put a little disclaimer here: I understand that men too can be raped. I understand that rapists can, therefore be male or female. And I understand that there are the very occasional cases where a woman/girl has made up a rape story and is found guilty of ruining a man's life with a trial that has no basis but revenge. I also am ashamed to have to acknowledge that many many many women have been and are collaborators in their own degradation. But that does not go against what my overall message is: Everyone is a 'slut', whether they have been victimised or not. Being a 'slut' should never ever be used as a moral justification for rape or sexual assault. Any body that says it is should be challenged and carefully brought around to progressive thinking.

Go out there and help change the world by persuading potential victims and potential attackers (i.e. everyone) that reporting assault is vital, that the victim is not to blame, that rape is in fact rape.

1 comment:

e.f. bartlam said...

It seems obvious...just because somebody leaves their door unlocked at night doesn't mean it's ok to rob them. The problem with these situations is the only control one has is over their own behavior.

In short, if I had a daughter she would be taught to take somebody out Chuck Norris style if they ever laid a hand on her...and she'd be the quickest draw in Hinds county.