Why clothes don’t equal rape: a reply to Maureen Messent

Someone was kind enough to comment on a previous post saying that I write in a calm and coherent way about feminism, “a topic that gets people a bit defensive”. I do try to avoid angry writing, because I’m keen to banish the stereotype that feminists are a bunch of ranting, frothing-at-the mouth manhaters.

However. As a feminist (never mind that, as a human), I sometimes encounter viewpoints so jaw-droppingly awful they provoke a visceral response in me. My two sure-fire routes to rage are 1) when people blame victims of sexual assault for their clothes/drinking alcohol and 2) when women bare their snarky claws and undermine other women. As I checked the news on my phone this morning, I had a delightful taste of both: a steaming pile of victim blaming, served up a deluded female journalist, Maureen Messent.

This article is truly the most hateful pile of crap I’ve seen this week, and that includes Nick Griffin’s Twitter feed. The contemptible human who wrote it manages, in only about 300 words, to undermine both men and women – all of humanity, in fact. In her twisted view of the world, women need to dress conservatively and not drink – otherwise, men (i.e. half of humanity) will predatorily pursue and sexually assault them.

I apparently have a much higher opinion of men in general than this woman, since I believe the vast majority of men out there are civilised human beings, capable of speaking to a woman in a tight dress without raping and pillaging her. The idea that women have to dress defensively, sartorially fending off an attack, is so breathtakingly insulting to men. It implies that instead of being rational people with their own thoughts and opinions, they are drooling gorillas, panting after then physically attacking the first woman who walks past in a short skirt.

A male student friend of mine was robbed of his phone walking back from the student union recently. He was alone, late at night, had a few drinks. Oddly enough, when he reported this crime no-one said to him “alone late at night, were you? Bit drunk? Well if you were drinking, that diminishes the responsibility of the man who robbed you. You should have taken better care of yourself”. The same logic applies to all victims of crime. Robbers, rapists, criminals of all kinds are on the look-out for an opportunity. So if a rapist is combing a bar looking for someone vulnerable, that means he’s a predator. It does not mean the victim (or intended victim) deserves to be raped.

Last summer, I was out for dinner and drinks with a friend when a man came up behind me in a bar and grabbed me by the vagina. I was wearing black jeans and a blouse, a bit see-through. I bought this blouse because it was similar to the one Lana del Rey wears on the front cover of her album Born to Die, and I thought it looked nice. My buying and wearing this blouse does not diminish the crime of the man who grabbed me. Maureen Messent would like to suggest, to me and other victims of more serious sexual assault, that this is my fault. Sorry Maureen, but I have this radical view whereby I think people who commit rapes are rapists, and the people who are raped are victims. Also, way to go, Maureen, for validating the small amount of men who commit these crimes. Because as long as idiots like you continue to publically blame victims of sexual assault, these predators are self-justified in their attacks.

“Of course there are sadistic men who leap from nowhere on sober and soberly-dressed virgins returning from evensong, but the majority – the vast majority – of women know their assailants.” – Maureen Messent

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In pursuit of equality

Watching grainy footage of the 1913 Epsom Derby today (where suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse) made me think about how attitudes towards women’s issues have changed over the last 100 years.

The right to vote is something so fundamentally just and reasonable, that from today’s vantage point the counter arguments seem absurd. I looked up some of the prominent opposers of women’s suffrage: they included Herbert Asquith (Prime Minister and supporter of Liberal reforms), and Winston Churchill, the ‘voice in the wilderness’ warning us of Hitler as early as 1934.

Churchill opposed suffrage on the basis that “women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands.” What this tells me is that people who are intelligent, astute, and morally well-disposed are capable of forming entirely flawed views of a woman’s place in the world. And that’s something that hasn’t changed.

This was brought home to me this week, when I decided to ramp up my involvement with feminism by actively engaging with non-feminists. You see, nice though it is to interact with fellow feminists – people who relate to the injustices that rankle in my soul – these aren’t the people you need to convince. The people you need to convince are the men and women out there who don’t think gender equality is an issue.

Gloves off: I’m going in
To this end, I got chatting to a friend and ex-colleague about gender equality. He is intelligent, in a good job, and personally I like him a lot. Yet we sat together in the pub, beers in hand, while he spoke about how women have already achieved workplace equality, and how as a well-educated white man, everyone else has a louder voice than him – especially women.

These comments unnerved me for two reasons. First of all, because they come from someone I know to be in all other respects well-informed and fair-minded. Secondly, because they’re based on perceptions rather than reality. My friend’s perception is that wage inequality no longer exists. The reality is that women earn an average gross full-time salary of £23,100 – £5,600 less than their male counterparts. For recent graduates, men earn more than women across all degree subject areas. In a scienctific study, research shows that male candidates were offered over average £4000 a year more – based on gender and no other factors.

His other perception (that he is marginalised and women’s voices take precedence), is I think based on a lack of awareness of the menace with which women’s voices are shouted down and dimmed when they do speak out. Which is what the rest of my post is about.

For some people, women having the audacity to publicly speak out about things they consider unjust provokes ire and outrage: they’re deemed to be stepping out from their proper sphere. A hundred years ago, suffragettes were sexually assaulted and had ‘their breasts twisted’ by London police in the infamous Black Friday campaign. They were smashing stuff up? Then arrest them and put them in jail. The threat and execution of sexual assault upon women who speak up is not something new, and more worryingly, it has not gone away.

“Shut up or I’ll hurt you”
Fast forward to today, and activists still endure sex-based threats on the heels of public speech. Two female students received a spate of rape threats (not one or two) after objecting to sexist comments made on their appearance by male Glasgow Uni students during a Cambridge-Glasgow university debate. And despite these comments, which undermined the whole debate by failing to treat the students as intellectual equals, Glasgow University  replied to a groundswell of complaints that there is ‘no case to answer’. This can’t be written off as merely the work of minority internet trolls. These are students at a good university, abetted by responsible adults, literally shouting down women in a debate who are trying to conduct themselves as equals. And it’s the same pattern: voice an opinion, get shouted down, then roll on the misogynistic abuse. In this case, the abuse went like this: “I scrolled through comment after comment discussing whether it would be preferable to rape me using a knife, or to keep me as a sex slave.”

That’s not what equality looks like.

The women I’ve profiled below (today’s feminists, arguably our answer to the Suffragettes) have all received significant threats of rape and assault, for speaking publicly about feminist issues. The men who make these threats aren’t attempting to challenge their opinions or engage in a discussion: they are effectively saying ”shut up or I’ll hurt you”.  And this is a society in which men’s voices are maginalised?

Who? Public action/statement Resulting violence/threats
‘Black Friday’ suffragettes Campaigned for women’s right to vote Sexual assaults
Laura Bates Created ‘Every Sexism’, an org and online space to share upsetting and sexist experiences Death and rape threats
Lucy Holmes Objected to page the Sun’s Page 3 Death and rape threats
Rebecca Meredith Objected to comments on appearance in intellectual debate Rape threats
Lindy West Objected to rape jokes Death and rape threats

To return to the view of my friend: I can’t accept claims that we live in an equal society, when instead of a rational debate, a woman voicing an opinion provokes threats of  sexual violation. If you fit the profile of my friend, you rarely encounter sexism firsthand. You don’t experience the undercurrent of sexual intimidation, the unconscious bias against female employees, the lack of pay equality. I don’t blame you for not being aware of these things – but just because you haven’t experienced them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

equality

Why I just deactivated my Facebook account – #FBrape

I reckon Facebook annoys most of its users from time to time. The surreptitious changes to your privacy settings, the new timeline, the relentless push towards a ‘share everything’ mindset. Until this week, my own bugbear was the insistent promptings to add my favourite films and books every time I log in on a pc. Facebook had even come up with some helpful suggestions (Dirty Dancing and Twilight), making me wonder if they think I am, in fact, a 14-year old girl.

Until now I’ve put up with these irritations because I have friends, family and colleagues on Facebook, and I’m mildly nosy. I like to see what they’re up to. Granted, there is the odd boring picture (I don’t need to see your dinner!) that doesn’t improve the quality of my life, but generally it’s worth it.

Fail
Fail

Today I deactivated my Facebook account. The #FBrape campaign of the last week made me re-think Facebook – what it stands for, and whether or not I want it in my life.

On the plus side, Facebook has very carefully defined its own parameters of what it deems to be acceptable behaviour. There is a ‘like’ button, but no ‘dislike’ button, because Facebook is meant to be a positive, sociable place. And it ostensibly does “not permit hate speech based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition”.

So far, so good. Where Facebook falls down is its inability (or unwillingness) to actually enforce its own standards. In my Twitter feed this week I’ve come across a plethora of vile images that have been reported to Facebook, including: a female child with two black eyes, a woman tied up, gagged and crying, and various pictures of girls who look unconscious, covered in blood. Facebook’s sanctimonious response has been a refusal to remove most of this content, because it is classified as ‘humour’.

One of the pages was apparently called ‘fly kicking sluts in the uterus’. I wonder if it would have been taken down if it was called ‘fly kicking pakis in the face’? I suspect it would have been – because racist content is rightly removed from Facebook as soon as it reported, which is where the raging inconsistency comes in. Race and gender are covered by the same clause in Facebook’s own standards – so either both racist and misogynistic content is not OK, or both are considered humour and tolerated. You can’t apply one rule for one and not the other.

Then there’s their other piece of inconsistent, anti-female behaviour: routinely removing pictures of women who’ve had mastectomies. You can’t share a picture of a woman who has bravely overcome breast cancer (because that’s offensive) but you can share a picture of gagged, crying rape victim (because that’s funny). To me, this just speaks volumes for the contemptuous view the company has of women.

To date, Facebook has yet to respond to the open letter, signed by 40 organisations, calling for hate speech against women to be recognised and moderated. They must assume that users are so hooked on their daily Facebook fix that they’ll overlook a small matter like gender-inspired hate speech.

I know that as only one person, deactivating my account will be a non-event for Facebook. But I want to make the gesture anyway – because I refuse to be part of a network that routinely trivialises violence against women.

FB

The peepshow women’s toilet that’s ‘a bit of fun’

A better toilet experience than The Shimmy?
A better toilet experience than The Shimmy?

When I think of revolting Scottish toilets, the first two images that pop into my head are Ewan McGregor doing his toilet dive in Trainspotting, and the typically minging festival toilets at T in the Park. But this week another contender emerged to vie for the crown of Most Ghastly Toilet experience: Glaswegian nightclub The Shimmy.

Here’s why: The Shimmy’s owners have installed a two-way mirror in the women’s toilets, allowing a select group of people (sitting in £800 private booths) to watch women. In the toilets. You know, that place you go when you’re looking for privacy.

When the fact hit the media this week, you might think the club would be embarrassed at invading women’s privacy, or ashamed of the notion that elite, wealthy guests get to pay extra to perv on ordinary, unsuspecting women. But no. The Shimmy’s response was so uppity and defensive that I just had to share it.

They start off by snootily saying: “it’s clear that those who are negatively commenting online may not have been lucky enough to get past the door staff and viewed the area”.

Damn, you got me there. I do feel downcast that I’m not ‘lucky enough’ to have spent time in a club where a bunch of random strangers are watching me without my knowledge. Oh, and clearly I can’t have a valid criticism of your creepy voyeuristic toilet because I haven’t actually seen it. Guess what though? I haven’t actually seen Guantanamo Bay either, but I disapprove of it too. Something doesn’t need to be directly in front of my retinas for my opinion to be valid. You arrogant pricks.

Next off:

The sight line is very limited and allows for glimpses into the wash up area only of the ladies loos”.

How considerate of you – so the people in these private booths can’t see me actually defecate. How comforting.

“Interestingly, you can see into a similar area of both the ladies and gents from the street at Corinthian Club and no-one has ever said a word”.

That’s right people! There’s another club in Glasgow being equally creepy, because they have these awful things called….windows. I’m now wondering how stupid the people at The Shimmy really are, if they can’t see the difference between people paying up to £800 for the privilege of peering into the women’s bogs, and panes of glass that let light in. They miss another significant point here: these evil glass-panes the Corinthian has are in both the male and female toilets. The Shimmy’s custom-made perv-mirror is only in the women’s toilets – not the men’s.

“There has always been signage in the toilets which no-one has mentioned thus far”

Translated as “we tell women they’re being spied upon – we just wait til they’ve paid the entry fee and are in the toilet”. How magnanimous of you. What you have actually done is put a sticker on the mirror, one that apparently wasn’t evident to some of your clientele. Also, poor you, having the media report on your perv-mirror without stressing this fact. One bright spot – after all this negative publicity, there’s unlikely to be a girl in Glasgow left who hasn’t heard about it.

You would think that’s more than enough arrogant chat from one company in one Facebook post, but they’re not done:

“loads of you have used the opportunity as it was intended and knowingly had pictures taken acting up to the camera individually or in a group of friends”.

Let me get this straight. You installed this mirror as an opportunity for women to ‘act up’ to groups of unknown strangers? Last I heard, that’s called a peepshow, and women generally get paid for participating. They don’t pay for the privelege. Do you seriously expect girls to fork out £10, or whatever your sleazy club charges as an entry fee, to then act as entertainment for your wealthiest clientele? Can’t you just hire a decent DJ like everyone else?

Their charming post ends by telling us that there are vibrators embedded in the dance floor. I assume this is Stage 2 in their plan to get their female guests to act as entertainment for the guys. They’ve also edited their post since I first read it earlier in the week, when they claimed that their creepy mirror set-up is ‘not sexist’. It seems even they are willing to concede that one. They’re standing by their comment that it’s a ‘bit of fun’ though.

This whole set-up is a huge invasion of women’s privacy. And the club’s cynical encouragement of women to pout and ‘act up’, is just a blatant way of lining their own pockets at the expense of the female clientele. More insidiously, it reinforces the view that women are playthings and toys of men.

I used to live in Glasgow, and I’m actually going out there in a couple of weeks. Think I’ll head to the Corinthian and check out these infamous windows it has. I would genuinely rather use the fabled Trainspotting toilet than be part of a peepshow at The Shimmy.

Cycling: Advice for Ladies

Helen Blackman

On edit 15/05/13: Sustrans have removed the original blogpost. They have put this up instead http://www.sustrans.org.uk/blog/why-women-dont-cycle. I can’t take credit for the removal, they were barracked on Twitter for the original post. Actually I wouldn’t take credit either. I would hope that they have understood why it caused offence.

Sustrans have some valuable advice for us girls, sorry ladies, er, no, what was the word now, so difficult to remember. Anyway, ladies, drawing on the wisdom of Sustrans, here is my advice to you before getting on a bike

What to wear:

Whatever the fuck you like. It’s a bike ride, not the Oscars. Or at least, that’s what you might think the advice would be. But no. Apparently this cycling malarkey is quite complicated for us women.

Just in case you were born in a bubble and have lived there ever since, Sustrans have the following news for…

View original post 572 more words

Feminism: the conversational turd

Have you ever dropped into conversation the fact that you’re a feminist? I have, and some people continue to react like you’ve dropped your trousers, squatted, and taken a crap in front of them. You get a raised eyebrow accompanied by embarrassment, as if you’ve said something indecent.

The crazy thing is, if you broached the conversation in a different way, and didn’t mention the dirty F-word, most rational adult people would probably agree with you. They would think it’s pretty reasonable that women want to be paid the same as men, that trafficking women to use as sex slaves might be a Bad Thing, and maybe a bit unpleasant for the girls involved. Genital mutilation? That’s maybe not a lot fun either, and since they’re your bits, maybe you should have a say in what happens to them.

Stop complaining!
Some colleagues of mine made the point recently that as a working woman in the UK, I don’t have a lot to complain about. I do know what they mean. The UK ranked 18 out of 135 countries in the 2012 Gender Gap Index. I had a free education, and unlike Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, no-one tried to shoot me when I went to school in the mornings. I live in a developed society where there aren’t rape-mobiles masquerading as legitimate forms of transport. I live in a country governed by laws that mean I could prosecute and seek redress if I were raped or sexually assaulted. I know all of that, and I’m genuinely thankful. But that doesn’t mean that feminism doesn’t have a place here.

Take gender inequality, and the following ire-inspiring research I discovered. A researcher at Yale University submitted 2 identical CVs for roles in science; the same qualifications, the same experience. One was male and the other female, and on average, the female was offered a lower starting salary – by $4000. Based on gender and NO other factors. Wouldn’t it be nice if people were paid based on their actual qualifications and experience, rather than their possession (or otherwise) of a penis?

Yes, I know that’s in America. But in the UK, that’s not a problem, right? Wrong. You don’t need to go all the way to the States to experience gender inequality – just toddle on down to your nearest Boots, where the science toys are stored under ‘boys’ and all the fluffy pink shit is left for the girls. You want a chemistry set? Sorry love, you look more a tea set kind of girl. Not for you.

Boots display of toys 'for boys' and 'for girls'

Then there’s sex. A fellow blogger spoke very eloquently how society views men who have lots of sexual experiences as players, while women are sluts. And there was the charming piece online (that I can’t now find) about how ‘nice girls are rarer than unicorns’. The gist was that we’re all to stay at home guarding our virginity, while the male writer has the freedom of unlimited sexual experiences. He’s joking, right? I’d love to think so, but sadly I think not.

Love sex, hate sexism

That brings me to the intimidating and sinister side of sex, and how women are treated in the UK. Passing over the incident where I was grabbed by the crotch in a club a few months back, last week I read that barrister Barbara Hewson proposed the age of consent be lowered to 13. I totally disagreed with her, as did many others. But here’s the creepy bit – people were tweeting this woman and threatening to rape her.

Let’s be clear, her suggestion was controversial and unpopular. But if a man had made it, would he have been subjected to that?

She’s not alone here – Rebecca Meredith, one of the Cambridge University students who objected to sexist comments made during a debate, received her own set of rape threats. Specifically, whether or not it would be preferable to rape her using a knife, or keep her as a sex slave. Because she and her fellow debater disagreed with some men. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s OK. And it’s just one reason why we still need feminism.

Page 3 – Denial & a big helping of arrogance

Hearing that the No More Page 3 campaign reached 100 000 signatures gave me a child-of-the- 80s flashback today. Who else remembers the Lager Lovelies? These were the women who appeared on the sides of Tennent’s lager cans, generally dressed in their bikinis. I had a look online, and it seems a lot of people look back on the ‘Lovelies’ with fondness – there are archives, online enthusiasts who collect the cans, all sorts.

  
Even so, Tennents decided to get shot of these images – decades ago.  My guess is they decided the public found them seedy and outdated – not really the feel-good associations you want for your brand. Or maybe they felt their product was good enough to stand alone without them. It was – Tennents didn’t go down the tubes because there wasn’t a sexy girl on the can.
 
The Sun though, that bastion of arrogance, has decided it knows better. This is the newspaper coy enough to asterisk the word ‘tit’ (t*t), but with no issues showing women’s actual, well, tits.  And they arrogantly refuse to recognise legitimate objections to them doing so – if you  protest, you are ‘elitist’. So says Rupert Murdoch. That would be the billionaire with all the Tory buddies, and his own evil empire and lair (OK, I made the last bit up. But it wouldn’t surprise me. All this guy needs is the Springfield power plant and his own Smithers to do his bidding. Or is that you, Dominic Mohan?)

Burns

Seriously, accusations of elitism from this priveliged, wealthy white man are hilarious. They’re also wide of the mark. Girls supporting the campaign have articulated how worthless they felt  growing up and being faced with Page 3. Parents have voiced concerns about its unsuitability in a family paper. Teachers have talked about how it contributes to sexual pressure on girls. 

 
Even the ex-editor of Loaded (formerly a cheerful purveyor of boobs to the masses)  has talked about how since becoming  a father, his views towards portraying women as sex objects has changed. Some people think Page 3 is creepy and embarrassing, the paper equivalent of a handsy old uncle. Others have simply pointed out that boobs are not news.
 
Contrary to what Dominic Mohan and Rupert Murdoch would like to believe, these are genuine concerns from a range of people. Ordinary people – not elitists. My own view is that it’s all about context; there’s a time and place for boobs, and it’s not a family newspaper. 
 
Here’s a thought. Why don’t Rupert, Dominic and his pals take a break from scoping out female flesh to exhibit and actually listen? Over 100000 of us have signed so far, and we are not going away.

Feminism, music, India, gin

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