Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Heavy Rant for a Tuesday Afternoon

This is a heavy socio-political post. If you’re feeling fragile, I’d leave it here. Some things one has to get out of one's system...

People argue that women are liberated in this country. People even argue that things have “gone too far the other way”. However, you don’t have to look very far to see that some very unpleasant and deeply oppressive attitudes continue to prevail.

The article Drunk young women ‘taking risks’ details a survey by the Portman Group, an organisation promoting moderation in alcohol consumption. According to their statistics 36% of the five hundred young women surveyed claimed to have been sexually assaulted whilst extremely drunk. Thus the ‘risks’ referred to in the title. Women 'get blamed for being raped' refers to a survey by Amnesty International which suggested that one in four of the thousand respondents thought that women were at least partially responsible for being raped if they were drunk or wearing revealing clothing.

Both these are shocking statistics and as such questions must be raised as to their research methods that are not detailed in the articles or in the original press releases. But it is not the statistics that incense me. Last year there was the more explicitly entitled Binge drinking link to rape rise and indeed this week the BBC News website has a “Have Your Say” page entitled Should women be blamed for being raped?

So, to rape. Alcohol makes you vulnerable. If you are stone cold sober, are a 7th Dan in Karate and travel about with a pair of armed bodyguards – and if you wear a cast iron chastity belt under your burkha - then you may greatly reduce your chances of being raped. But to guarantee your safety, you must avoid all men. Because you see, women don’t actually get themselves raped. It is not something we carelessly do to ourselves because we’re a bit pissed or wearing impractical shoes.

In fact, the causes of rape have absolutely nothing to do with the victim. It doesn’t matter if she is a nun or a prostitute. It doesn’t matter if she is eighteen or eighty years old. It doesn’t matter what she is wearing or whether she knows her assailant or whether she flirted with her assailant beforehand. And it doesn’t matter if she is, to use an old Suffolk expression, as rat-arsed as a fiddler’s bitch.

Rape is perpetrated by men who have got seriously warped ideas about the relationship between men and women, along with the relationship between sex and violence. Crucially, men who rape think that, for whatever reason, it is okay for a man to assault a woman for his own gratification. Why exactly – whether this is about power or sex or something to do with their mother - doesn’t really matter. They achieve this by pretending that this is something that a woman either wants or deserves, or pretending that what a woman thinks or feels is of no consequence.

Now a rapist might say she was asking for it because she had a short skirt on, but then he might say she was asking for it because of a certain look in her eye or the tone of her voice or some such nonsense. There is little difference between those who rape women and those who rape men or children; the same excuses are made in all cases and the excuses ought to be equally dismissed.

The only way to effectively prevent rape is to teach these men – to teach everyone - that it is never ever okay. It can never be okay. The message that the drunkenness or any other behaviour in women results in the rape of women sends out the exact opposite message. This says, these sluts are getting off their heads so really it’s there own silly fault.

Now, this issue of avoiding all men. Fear and loathing is actually a big turn off for the vast majority of men. Rape is against human nature and nature in general (apart from mallard ducks - the bastards). When you’re drunk, you’re not always able to read the signals as well as you might and indeed, everyone opens themselves up for some degree of being taken advantage of under the influence. However, most men, even drunk, don’t need a whole lot of vocal - let alone physical - resistance to get the message.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to identify the exceptions to this rule and the concept of rape disturbs most men because it makes them feel ashamed and confused about the sometimes predatory way they look at and think about women. (In truth, women look at men in an equally predatory way, but we’ve no chance of overpowering our prey.) This leads many men and patriarchal society in general to be in denial about rape. Either it didn’t happen at all, or it wasn’t really as one-sided as is claimed.

In previous ages and indeed in more oppressive cultures in the world today, the avoiding all men policy was the way they did things. To become victim of rape was an even more shameful experience than it is in this country today, simply because most ‘decent’ women spent all their time at home, in the company of other women or protective male relatives. Decent respectable women were unlikely to get raped because they would always be in a ‘safe’ place. No freedom of movement, but hey.

Unfortunately, this is an attitude that quietly prevails in our own culture, even if some of the barriers have lifted. What the media really wants to say is women brought this upon themselves. They would absolute love a study relating skirt-length and rape. Why on Earth is nobody asking questions about the men who are committing these crimes? Who are they? Are they drunk?

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not denying a few pretty obvious truths here. Being drunk inhibits your judgement, your awareness of your surroundings, your ability to think quickly, articulate a need for help or co-ordinate yourself if you need to run or fight. Getting drunk late at night in a town centre puts you in a place full of shadows, renders your friends disloyal and surrounds you with drunk, boisterous, possibly frustrated and potentially aggressive strangers. Any fool would put some basic strategies in place.

However, nobody can possibly provoke violence of this nature. Violence against women, as a threat or in real terms has always been at the cornerstone of inequality. We need to get our attitudes straight about this once and for all or else we're all going to lose out very badly indeed.


Anonymous said...

Rape, I was taught, is not about sex. It is about power. About imposing one's will. About humiliation, and revenge (never mind that the victim is an innocent, complete stranger to the assailant).

You hear of women in their seventies and eighties being raped; of babies under a year being raped. What can that possibly have to do with sex, or testosterone?

Anybody can be raped, male or female. The difference is, that no-one kids themselves that the rape of male by male is something to do with an over-sexed younker losing control.

In bygone days, in factories, it was often the custom for young male apprentices on their first shift to be sexually assaulted by female operatives. Again, power and the revenge of the disempowered.

The Goldfish said...

Well that's what I have always thought. Most rape is actually perpetrated by men towards wives, girlfriends and daughters in situations where there are other sorts of domestic abuse going on. And male rape is far from exclusive to gay men who might have a sexual incentive; happens in prisons, within the military and indeed as a war crime, some forces preferring to rape menfolk in order to humiliate a defeated people.

The only people who insist it is to do with sex are those radical feminists who see male sexuality as somehow inherrantly dangerous to women - Andrea Dworkin, twice a rape victim, argued this very strongly.

Also, there are have been arguments among evolutionary psychologists that rape is some sort of adaptive reproductive strategy, but this doesn't make much sense on any level. Also, the same people who argue this tend to argue for a very old-fashioned, submissive role as natural for women. Basically they insult us all.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if it is also, in some way, a perversion of another social instinct.

Many mammals, and I'm thinking especially primates, use sexual submission display to defuse a power clash. Typically the junior party "offers" him/herself to the senior, who then may make a token gesture (eg climbing on) or may just turn away, satisfied that their relative hierarchical positions have been re-established.

Man, of course, has evolved to be able to ignore these anti-aggression signals but I wonder if the use of rape in particular is a reminder of their existence.