A close friend of mine packed her life up and relocated to Norway recently. She has Norwegian roots but the reason for making the move was one borne from fear of things to come, here, at home in the UK. Tory Britain was one of the contributing factors but it wasn’t the motive. She moved because her 5 year old daughter was slut shamed for wearing a vest during PE. Little one looks like most five year olds, a round-faced baby with an impressive vocabulary but this seemed to have escaped the attention of the teaching assistant at her school in the London Borough of Lambeth who decided, for whatever reason, she would make a 5 year old child cry for exposing her shoulders. Little one didn’t know why she was crying, she just knew she’d been accused of doing something wrong. I hoped she was upset because she could not understand and not because she had internalised the feelings of shame as something she was guilty of, that her body is disgusting or she is asking for it, whatever ‘it’ is. When the school were challenged about this they denied it had ever happened. This was the last in a chain of events that prompted my friend to withdraw her little girl for her own safety. She wept at the time that it was only another 6 years before her baby would be openly harassed on the streets, remembering how it was for herself aged 11. I remember that time too.
Can you recall the first time a boy called you a slag? I was still very much a virgin. I was used to that word already; it was commonly thrown about when referring to women; in my home, on the television, in the street. It meant they thought you slept around, that you were easy, loose, diseased. This, before I’d even kissed a boy. I can remember my grandfather spitting at the TV and accusing Princess Diana of being one, despite the fact she’d been cheated on for the duration of her marriage. It wasn’t Prince Charles who was accused of being an adulterer, there was no scarlet letter for him, no, long-suffering Diana was the nymph to blame for the Royal family’s bad image. It is easy to slander a woman in this way when as a society we do not trust them. It is easier to blame a woman for having breasts, for wearing makeup, a short dress than it is to admit that men violate because they desire not us, but control. Patriarchy controls even the most privileged women of all; we cannot be so surprised when it affects the rest of us in this way.
Why don’t we trust women? Why is it our word against theirs? Watching the film Lolita, it was stomach churning to witness paedophilia through the eyes of a perpetrator. The rapist reads sexual messages in every one of her actions. As a teenager I was frequently told that I was too nice and I ought to watch it as I might be giving people the wrong impression. I was admonished for being too tactile by my male friends. I internalised this. So much so that when I once woke to find one of these friends attempting ‘non-consensual sex’ with me as I lay inebriated, I believed it was my fault for sharing a bed with him. Men are so used to reading everything as a come on, because they are entitled to feel this way through male privilege, we blame ourselves for being too tempting. We are taught this from a very early age; we are not autonomous.
As children, we won’t get the same rights to express ourselves as our brothers do. This is not something exclusive to only some non-white cultures; the same is true in the West. When boys fight, when they leave a mess, they are being unruly and boisterous and we love them for it. We make excuses for them when they develop at a slower than little girls, from whom we expect so much more. We dress our daughters up in little frocks and put things in their hair. Anyone who has ever made a trip to a children’s clothes store will see aisle upon aisle of pink frilly stuff with which to adorn our girl children. We objectify them from the very start. We coo at little girls and throw boys up in the air. We train girls to be conscious of their looks. When they misbehave we respond with disbelief and the punishment is more severe. We don’t react in the same way to boys. It doesn’t matter if we do, they may behave in a certain way at home but then we have to let them go; exposing them to secondary socialisation in a rape culture where pop culture presents men as strong, courageous and intelligent, the world is his oyster, there for the taking and women as submissive, in supporting roles (manic pixie dream girl, mother, whore, virgin). I’ve listened to mums cry that they fear having to raise boys because of the way they are swept away in the pervasive narrative, that they are not born ours, patriarchy claims them. Of course, how could they possibly resist when conforming has so many rewards? The admiration of peers for being a stud, the kudos of being the alpha male, it is no wonder they respond to this conditioning because the alternative is being thought of as a wuss, a girl, and isn’t that a disgusting thing?
Patriarchy hates femininity. It hates our ability to create life. It can’t do the same so it controls it, claims ownership. I can’t be the only one who feels disgust at the role of the father who plays gatekeeper to his daughter’s vagina; the one who vets boys for suitability, the one who loses face if his baby girl becomes pregnant as a teenager. Where is her autonomy? Why aren’t mothers as fussed about it as fathers? Mums probably do get in on this sort of parenting but I bet it’s largely down to what the father thinks “wait till your dad gets home”. Perpetrators frequently seek out women who do not have a father figure in their lives. They have no one to prove their worthiness to, they can control these women as they see fit. What does it say about us as a species that we are only safe if we have a man to protect us? If not our fathers, then our spouses? Why do some countries have rules around chaperones? Simple, men make the rules, they know what it is to rape but they don’t want you to rape ‘theirs’. It is where the concept of hijab comes from; if you can’t see the ‘goods’, then they can’t be spoiled. It is the origins of female genital mutilation too; if the vagina is not open “like a gaping sleeve” then they cannot gain entry. We know this is nonsense because rapists don’t care what you or your vagina look like, they only care about raping you cos control. Still, it helps them to exercise their patriarchal control in other ways. Males cause war, war means rape, impregnating the women by force so they can conquer and claim property and patriarchy loves war but it doesn’t want you to take what is not yours, especially if you’re not the right colour. The practices against women on both sides of the planet are a response to the fear and paranoia men have for each other. Women are a commodity, vessels for furthering the bloodline of people that were born on the same patch of soil as them. Pathetic, really.
When rape is used to control and shatter the lives of the people it affects (of all genders, ages, etc.) how can anyone claim that it is humorous and the problem lies with the victim/survivor traumatised by the ‘joke’? Are men that entitled they can elevate their need for ‘dark humour’ over the suffering experienced by real people in real time? People who are probably suicidal. When you challenge these pricks, they dismiss you as man hating feminist who is always trying to change people. As a woman and an aunt, a sister, a daughter and maybe a mother someday, I will never stop trying to change this rape culture we are in. My nephews are too precious to send out in a world where they will either become victims or perpetrators themselves. I do not want our boys or girls to face the consequences of living in a patriarchy they have absolutely no control over. I do not want them to cut themselves, self-medicate (like I did) because a few fuckhead ‘comedians’ think their pain is funny. I want them to step out into the world empowered; with a sense of autonomy and consent. I want them to recognise the apologists (perps by any other name) who are so forceful in their defence because they possibly exert some of these behaviours behind closed doors.
From the Yewtree operation, the insufficient sentencing, ‘rogue’ sexual offences officers at Sapphire to the music we listen to and the comedians we worship; as survivors, we are under constant attack. I cannot be the only one sometimes afraid to leave the house on my own.
There are no grey areas with rape. You can’t be a gentle non-abusive human being and find sexual violence funny. There are only those who are for it and those who oppose. Let this inform your interactions and act accordingly.
*Clothes, looks, booze, nightlife, the number of sexual partners you’ve had, mental illness, shoddy housekeeping, “didn’t make the sandwich”, the company you keep, your sexual orientation, the natural state of your vagina, the hair on your head, the size of your breasts, your bank balance do not cause rape. Rapists do. Also, minors cannot consent and therefore can never be a ‘willing’ party. The only way we can end rape is to end misogynistic perceptions of entitlement. We know Britain has a huge problem there.