Sexual harassment and violence in higher education: reckoning, co-option, backlash, by @Alison Phipps

Cross-posted from: Gender, Bodies, Politics
Originally published: 12.07.18

This is the text of a keynote (and the inaugural Lincoln Lecture) delivered at the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies conference in Loughborough on June 12th 2018. 

I am speaking today about sexual harassment and violence. It is difficult to speak about sexual harassment and violence; these are traumatic experiences, and survivors are subject to many forms of silencing. This is why ‘speaking out’ is crucial. We speak our truths publicly because problems need to be named, to be dealt with: and putting our trauma ‘out there’ is a way to avoid being consumed by it ‘in here’. But speech in this area is also vexed. Because of where and how we are able to speak our truths, because of how these truths constitute us as subjects and objects of discourse, and because of how our disclosures can be co-opted. We are also caught in a number of binaries and backlashes which position us or which we have to position against. There are binaries between men and women, between perpetrators and victims, which often map directly on to each other. There is a misogynistic, racist backlash from the so-called ‘alt’-right, and on the left what Sara Ahmed calls ‘progressive sexism’, which gives cover to sexual harassment and violence through critiques of neoliberalism and concerns about ‘moral panic.’ This is the context in which I share my thoughts about how sexual harassment and violence are ‘reckoned up’ in institutional and cultural economies. …

Untitled

 

You can find the full text published here. 

Alison PhippsGenders, bodies, politics

 

Everyone Knew: Male Violence & Celebrity Culture, by @LK_Pennington

Cross-posted from: Everyone Knew
Originally published: 30.11.17

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 07.41.08

Everyone knew.

We hear this over and over and over again. Every single time a male actor, athlete, musician, artist, politician, chef (and the list goes on) are alleged to be perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence and abuse, the refrain is “oh, everyone knew”.

‘Everyone knew’ about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape surrounding Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein; allegations that go back decades. Yet, no one (read men) in positions of power followed even the most basic protection regulations and laws around sexual harassment.

Everyone also ‘knew’ about Jimmy Savile’s predatory behaviour to children and women. Despite multiple allegations made to numerous people supposedly responsible for child protection and multiple reports to police, the media still didn’t want to publish the clear evidence of Savile’s sexually predatory behaviour even after he died. Everyone knew; no one talked.


Read more Everyone Knew: Male Violence & Celebrity Culture, by @LK_Pennington

Even after death

Cross-posted from: Abigail Rieley
Originally published: 03.11.16

I’ve often written about the case of William Burke Kirwan on this blog. His was the case that caused me to pursue a different path in life. Since 2010 I’ve been researching his murder of his wife and it’s lead me back to university and in directions I never dreamed of and there’s plenty more to do. So at this stage I’m a little bit proprietorial. My friends know this about me and tend to point out interesting nuggets about the case they stumble upon. In Dublin, after all, it’s a very well know case indeed. You can still argue about it if you take the boat out to Ireland’s Eye from Howth.

So when the Irish Times featured the case as part of their series of stories from their archives, quite a few Irish friends sent me the link and asked me what I thought. Now I’ll say again that this is a case that is very special to me so I’m apt to be a touch judgemental but in this case the article in question raised my hackles both as a historical scholar and as a court reporter. 
Read more Even after death

The murders of Clodagh Hawe and Megan Short by @EVB_Now

Cross-posted from: Everyday Victim Blaming
Originally published: 21.10.16

There was a tremendous amount of outrage about the appalling media coverage of the murder of Clodagh Hawe and her three sons in September. Unfortunately, this level of grossly inappropriate and inaccurate representation of family annihilators is not an aberration.

Mark Short Sr. murdered his wife Megan and their children — 8-year-old Lianna, 5-year-old Mark Jr., and 2-year-old Willow. He also killed the dog. Time magazine covered their murder with this headline:

Pennsylvania Father Took His Kids to a Theme Park Before Killing Them

Because murdering your children and your wife is somehow a lesser evil if you treat them to a day out in a theme park first. 
Read more The murders of Clodagh Hawe and Megan Short by @EVB_Now

Its Time to Change the Narrative on Victim Blaming by @rupandemehta

Cross-posted from: Liberating Realizations
Originally published: 22.08.16

Not too long ago, Brock Turner, a Stanford student, raped a woman who was inebriated. The judge gave him to a meager sentence saying he has too much potential and did not want to ruin his life.

Last week, an exact copy cat case occurred. Austin Wilkerson, a University of Colorado student, offered to take his inebriated friend back to her dorm. Instead of escorting her to safety, he took his chances with her and raped her without her consent. He was let off with a light sentence too, despite confessing that he “digitally and orally penetrated” the woman while he “wasn’t getting much of a response from her.”
Read more Its Time to Change the Narrative on Victim Blaming by @rupandemehta

#16Days: Why Supporting Women In Leaving #DomesticAbuse Is Vital by @FrothyDragon

Cross-posted from: Frothy Dragon & the Patriarchal Stone
Originally published: 06.12.12

I noticed an irony the other day. I don’t remember the exact date I returned to D, following his court case. But, given that it was a matter of days before my birthday (very early December), it would have been during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. The irony of this only struck me recently; As my family were convincing me to give my relationship with D another go – to put things right-, feminists would have been campaigning to help raise awareness of domestic abuse.

My family, when I phoned to tell them that D had headbutted me whilst I was holding our ten month old son, were a little less sympathetic than they should have been. A few weeks after the attack, I found myself being subjected to an hour long lecture from my mother, about how I’d “isolated” D, by choosing to breastfeed and co-sleep. I’d denied him intimacy. D’s right to sex was, in my parent’s eyes, more important than parenting in a way which worked for myself and my son. I was told that, by pressing charges I was over-reacting. At this point, I’d yet to tell anyone of the extent of abuse D had put me through.
Read more #16Days: Why Supporting Women In Leaving #DomesticAbuse Is Vital by @FrothyDragon

When The Cake Is Never Shared: Liberals and Their Passive Aggressive Victim-Blaming

Cross-posted from: Life in the Patriarchal Mix
Originally published: 01.04.15

As I have mentioned in a previous post, the hatred towards mothers always seems to go unchecked and is always the norm. Whenever a mother shows any concern of the impact of sexualization of women on her children she is immediately branded a “prude” or someone with “no life.” It’s incredibly ironic that many will accuse a mother of “having no life” because the minute she does not center her life around her children she is also branded a horrible mother.

Likewise, they will find ways to accuse her of hypocrisy, or imply hypocrisy, by asking her if she allows her children to watch any television. I am not certain about how exactly that is relevant to her concern because the difference between media consumption in the home versus public advertising is that she at least has some control over the media her children consume but out in public she does not have this power. You cannot simply “ignore” a hyper-sexualized advertisement when it is a fifty foot billboard in full view of the young impressionable children. Liberals may deny this, and most certainly will, but children do notice their outer environment, they do not live in a bubble (as much as Liberals would love to make it so) and they do take in everything that they see around them. They cannot ignore that it actually does take a village to raise a child and our mainstream media is part of our global village. The accusations of moralistic pearl-clutching against Jennifer Campbell is absurd and the other arguments against her very legitimate concern are also astoundingly ridiculous.
Read more When The Cake Is Never Shared: Liberals and Their Passive Aggressive Victim-Blaming

I Hate Myself Every Time I Tell Her To Be Careful (Why Do We Tell Our Daughters Not To Get Raped?)

Cross-posted from: Ponderinglif
Originally published: 13.01.15

The world of media, Facebook as well as Twitter has been full of conversations about rape and sexual assault over the last few weeks. There are conversations about Ched Evans and what are called ‘political sex scandals’ (rape of children) and most recently there has been a groping incident on celebrity big brother. These conversations have become intertwined with people discussing degrees of rape, because some rapes are seen as worse than others. One journalist tells the story of how her friend was attacked and raped in a dark alley by a stranger and how this is far worse than the victim of Ched Evans whose victim can’t remember the rape as she was so drunk, so that’s not real rape. Perhaps if all rapists simply knock out their victims to impair their memories there wouldn’t be so young men whose lives are ruined when they are caught and prosecuted? Maybe all rapists should carry a bottle of spirits with them to make sure their victim is discredited because as we all know rape is an acceptable punishment for being drunk if you’re female.
Read more I Hate Myself Every Time I Tell Her To Be Careful (Why Do We Tell Our Daughters Not To Get Raped?)

‘Nagging wives’ aren’t the problem; lazy-arse husbands are by @Firewomon

cross-posted from Firewomon

orig. pub. 10.5.14

In a spectacular display of misogyny, a headline in yesterday’s Telegraph informs us that ‘[n]agging could cost the lives of hundreds of men’.

Yes, you read that right. Before I go any further, let’s just unpick that sentence. ‘Nagging’ is defined as ‘constantly harassing someone to do something’ but, let’s be clear here, it is a slur which is used against women – indeed, the OED gives an example of the word’s usage as “a nagging wife”. The Telegraph’s headline refers to the lives of ‘men’ only, which suggests that women are the wrongdoers and men are the victims. The implication is that women are nagging ‘hundreds’ of men to death. As hyperbolic statements go, that takes some beating.

Delve further into The Telegraph’s piece (if you can stand to) and you would no doubt be astounded to find that ‘around 315 extra deaths per 100,000 people per year could be caused by spousal demands and worries’ with ‘men tend[ing] to respond to stress with higher levels of the hormone cortisol which is known to be linked to poor health’. Women, so the report says, are ‘immune to nagging’. It is poor, put-upon men who are apparently dying in droves as a result of being ‘subjected to ‘nagging’, constant demands and worries from their partners’.

From a feminist perspective, ‘nagging’ is a misogynistic term because it is used pejoratively and more or less exclusively against women. The ‘nagging wife’ is the subject of ridicule and disgust. If a man complains to his friends or family that his female partner is ‘nagging’ him, he will expect – and more than likely receive – sympathy. No-one thinks to question why his female partner is ‘nagging’ him. Why would a woman ‘nag’? Why would she ‘constantly harass someone to do something’? If we remove the term ‘nag’ and replace it with ‘protestation at being used as a slave’, that brings us closer to the nub of the problem. Could it be that women, responsible for the bulk of childcare and household chores, just want the men in their lives to get off their lazy fucking arses and actually help out?

Of course, male socialisation and male entitlement contribute massively to male lazyitis. From a young age, many girls are expected to help out around the house in a way that boys are not. Girls are taught from an early age that housework is Our Job. Research carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research shows that just one in ten of married men does an equal amount of cleaning and washing as his wife. This is appalling. Do men somehow produce 90% less mess than women? Do they eat 90% less? Obviously not. Why, then, are they leaving their female partners to do the vast majority of meal-planning, cooking, washing, ironing, cleaning, and the looking after of children? Why do men expect their female partners to clean up the vast majority of the mess they create? I don’t think it is a stretch to describe this as slave labour. Radical feminists have long propounded the view that marriage enslaves women – given these statistics, is it any wonder? It is difficult to argue otherwise.

Articles such as this one in The Telegraph are damaging because of the inherent implication that women should just shut up and get on with the household chores. It normalises inequality within heterosexual relationships. It says: housework is a woman’s work, a wifely duty. If she objects, if she dares to even voice her dissent, she risks driving her male partner to an early grave. What a burden to place upon a woman!

The Telegraph goes on to say that ‘poor habits such as eating junk food and lack of exercise… exacerbate the problem’. Ah. So, of these ‘hundreds’ of men who are dying each year due to ‘nagging’, an undisclosed number of those would have died anyway because they never move off the sofa. I suppose woman should be blamed for that as well, eh? Your hubby’s a fat, lazy bastard? You’ve compounded the problem by hoovering around him! You should have asked him to move! It’s all your fault!

As Germaine Greer says:

The universal ‘division of labour’ between the sexes was in fact the apportioning of daily drudgery to the female, so that the male could indulge his appetite for sport, play, dreaming, ritual, religion and artistic expression.’ (The Whole Woman)

The problem, again as Greer points out, is that:

Men resent having to work and harbour a positive ambition to do nothing… Men regard weekends as time off [whilst] working women use weekends to catch up with the tasks left over from an exhausting week.

The truth of this cannot be emphasised enough. How many times have you heard a female friend or colleague say that her male partner is ‘babysitting tonight?’ In some cases, the act of a man looking after his own children appears to be so rare that one wonders why he is being praised for stepping up to the mark for once (presumably after some ‘nagging’) instead of being challenged over his dereliction of duty. A mother would never be described as ‘babysitting’ her own children – looking after them is her job and hers alone, see?

A ‘nagging’ woman is a woman who refuses to keep quiet when faced with the drudgery of housework and the huge responsibility of childcare. A ‘nagging’ woman is a woman who recognises the unfairness of her situation, who gets angry about the unfairness of her situation and who tries to persuade her male partner to do the things he should already be doing. This Telegraph article is blaming women (‘you nagging harridan!’) for voicing their dissatisfaction at being a man’s slave. Ask yourself: in a relationship where women do 90% of the household chores, who is the real victim?

 

Firewomon: A Radical Feminist Blog [@Firewomon]

Her name was Rehtaeh Parsons. by Mary-Anne Franks

One night in November 2011, a 17-year-old boy threw a party. At this party, he watched a friend rape a 15 year-old-girl while she vomited out of a window. Instead of intervening, he took a photograph of the rape and distributed it to friends. After months of tormenting by her peers over the photo, the girl hanged herself.

The friend who assaulted the girl was charged with distributing child pornography, but not rape. His trial is set to begin soon.The boy who took the photo was charged with creating child pornography and entered a guilty plea.

Today, a judge ruled that the boy, now 20, must apologize to the girl’s parents and take a “sexual harassment” course. No jail, not even probation.

The girl’s name was Rehtaeh Parsons. In 2013, her father wrote this letter. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking letter, and this passage in particular stands out given the sentence today:

“Rehtaeh Parsons thought the worst outcome for her case would be no charges against the men who raped her but we all know better. The worst thing that could happen would be charges. That they would be found guilty, and that Rehtaeh would sit on a court bench and listen in utter disbelief as they were given parole, or a suspended sentence, or community service. All for completely destroying her life while they laughed. Why is it they didn’t just think they would get away with it; they knew they would get away with it. They took photos of it. They posted it on their Facebook walls. They emailed it to God knows who. They shared it with the world as if it was a funny animation.”

Her father is right. Those boys knew they would get away with it, and they did.

 

Mary-Anne Franks: I write about gender bias generally and often write specifically about non-consensual pornography. I am the Vice-President of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (cybercivilrights.org), a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about online abuse and advocating for social and legal reform. CCRI is the parent organization of the End Revenge Porn Campaign (endrevengeporn.org) founded by Holly Jacobs. In my work with CCRI, I have helped more than a dozen states and the federal government draft legislation on so-called “revenge porn.”

Ways to deal with Eve-teasing by Occupy Sexism

Action against sexism by Street Smart Girl:

Yesterday the medias reported 12 bizarre tips issued by a Kolkata police station. They basically burden women and victims with the responsibility of stopping street harassment, instead of targeting the perpetrators.

Ways to deal with Eve-teasing (police’s tips for women):

1. Dress decently.
2. Have emergency speed dial numbers in your phone.
3. Self defense.
4. Aware of people around you.
5. Avoid late nights.
6. Carry pepper spray.
7. Be well behaved.
8. Stay in groups.
9. Avoid travelling in crowded bus or train.
10. Avoid going in isolated places
11. Walk in well-lit and frequented areas.
12. Be street smart.

 

Dear cops, you have now removed them from your website. Why don’t you upload new tips targeting teenage boys and men, the usual perpetrators, for a change? Let me suggest my dozen tips:

Ways to deal with Eve-teasing (woman’s tips for men):

1. Act decently. Your attitude should send a positive message.
2. Have emergency speed dial numbers in your phone in case you witness eve-teasing.
3. Self control.
4. Respect people around you.
5. Avoid late night if you won’t control yourself.
6. Carry a smart phone and pin the creep if you witness any eve-teasing.
7. Be well behaved. Don’t harass others.
8. Stay in groups and encourage each other to behave.
9. Avoid travelling in crowded bus or train if you won’t control yourself.
10. Avoid going in isolated places so women can enjoy there safely.
11. Walk in well-lit and frequented areas so women will see you from far away.
12. Be street responsible.

Let’s STOP street harassment.

Occupy Sexism: We were taught that being subjected to misogyny was just part of being a woman. We should not attempt to curb male violence, not even name it. But… This is Operation Occupy Sexism. We are Women. We are 3 billions. We do not comply. We do not tolerate sexism. Expect us. Occupy Sexism is a platform to share our experience. Share your success stories of fighting sexism and shouting back at misogynists !

The Great Big Patriarchal Shaped Elephant In The Room #RotherhamAbuse by Outspoken Redhead

(Cross-posted from Outspoken Redhead)

As if to delight news channels across the country, August vomits up the moral panic of the inquiry into child exploitation and sexual abuse in Rotherham. 1400 children abused or exploited over 17 years by abusers, some of whom were Asian males. This is a news story with perfect components:

POLITICAL DRAMA!!!! Should Labour be blamed? After all it’s a Labour Council isn’t it, and its Social Services Department is probably staffed by bearded do gooders more likely to remove a child because their parents want to take her to Sunday School than challenge Asian people.  Labour grab this chance to score endless home goals by demanding the resignation of the Police Commissioner or else they will suspend him from the party! Oh yes, that’ll show everyone.  And anyway, isn’t this the Tories fault for introducing these Commissioners roles in the first place with their £120k salaries and then finding out no one can remove them.  All of these points may or may not be true, none of them have any relevance or any prospect of making things right for the victims.

RACE AND MULTICULTURAL DRAMA!! Up pop UKIP, making sly digs about different cultural values and even sensible people mutter that this is what Islam is like, painting non Muslim White women as whores and this is where it all ends.  People who have never read the Qu’uran feel qualified to pronounce on religion, at least other people’s religion, foreign religion that doesn’t belong here. Nigel Farage must have wept with joy that a UKIP MEP in Yorkshire is Pakistani and could be wheeled out to condemn his own community.  Look, a Pakistani person thinks this is a race issue, so it must be right, just as it is when a woman condemns feminism. This makes it TRUE!

USELESS PUBLIC SERVICES DRAMA!!  Police, Councils, they’re all the same. Sitting on their gold plated pensioned arses, doing sod all except soaking up taxpayers money. Sack ’em all!  Ok, sack quite a lot of them.  Well, please for the love of God can we sack some of them so that we can all convince ourselves that this is sorted and has gone away and will never happen again?  Can’t we?  Isn’t this how it works?

Well, sadly no.  Sexual abuse of women and children isn’t like a flu pandemic.  It happens every day in every city, town and village in every so-called civilised and not so civilised country.  It’s perpetrated by black men, white men, religious men, atheist men, rich men and poor men.  Handsome men and ugly men, successful men and men who have failed in every other part of their lives. But you will see there is a common thread. It’s men, abusing women and children over whom they have some power.  Or power imbalance.  Because while it can often be the power of the priest, the politician, the famous radio star or the children’s entertainer which prevents their victims from speaking out or being believed if they do; sometimes it’s the powerlessness of the victim, a Looked After* Child (*yes, I do use the term wryly) or so often simply the powerlessness of the child that depends on its father for a home and security.

Sexual abuse exerts power and control, most of all by shrouding the victim in shame. It’s easy to spot a bruise or a burn on a child – but how does any teacher spot the signs of sexual abuse.  The psychological impact is often profound or over sexualised behaviour can make the child stand out but to make the link to abuse is close to impossible unless the child speaks out.  And then, as we have seen all too well, so many men are capable of swaggering while protesting their innocence and damning their accusers and achieving a successful prosecution is beset with difficulties. And is that even what victims want?  Most of all they want it to stop, for it never to have happened in the first place and for the shame and guilt to be removed, feelings that overwhelm, like Lady Macbeth dabbing futilely at blood and only being amplified by having to recount every detail in court to a man in a wig determined to show you and your 12 year old self as a slut and a liar.

The incidence of sexual abuse, shown by surveys of adults shows it is shockingly high and massively undiscovered.  1400 children in seventeen years in a town the size of Rotherham is the screaming headline figure. Why don’t we poll towns of the same size over the same period and ask the questions we never ask and see how high those figures are?  Perhaps we might find out what we don’t want to know – that sexual abuse is rife in every community, that it is entirely equality proofed in every way, except gender.  While we’re asking awkward questions, could we also consider whether we want families to be less ‘private’, more subject to scrutiny without screaming Nanny State! While we’re at it, do we want children to be able to talk freely about sexuality without shame from a very young age without having paroxysms of outrage?

Wow, if we were to have really difficult discussions, could we talk about patriarchy? Could we talk about how our male dominated society tells us sex is something men want and women give, that girls are sluts while boys are ‘lads’ and every day a national newspaper publishes pictures of women’s breasts for a bit of fun and how all of that might, just might, determine how many men view all women?

Could it be that if video games allow young men to rape prostitutes or kill them, it might be evidence of something really, really wrong?  We are told equality is a battle long won, look, we had a female Prime Minister.  Let’s just forget that for every year she was in power it was lawful for Denis Thatcher to rape her, a law repealed in my adult lifetime.

Actually, that’s all a bit difficult isn’t it.  Tell you what, let’s get back to political mudslinging, baying for sackings and making dark assertions about race.  Sexual abuse happens to the others, not us and is perpetrated by evil monsters, not that nice chap next door.  Let’s continue with our time-honoured hand wringing and say over and over “This must not happen again”.  Except, it already is.  Right her, right now and will continue until we start to name the real problem. Patriarchy. Or just Power, if that’s not as scary.  Either will do, but once again those in power choose Pretence.

 

 

 

When Women and Girls Are Attacked by Men, We Blame Everything Except Male Violence by @CratesNRibbons

(Cross-posted from Crates & Ribbons)

Last Tuesday night, two teenage girls from India went out into the fields, looking for a place to relieve themselves, due to the lack of toilets in their village. On their way, they were brutally attacked by a group of men, gang-raped, and murdered. Their bodies were found the next day hanging from a tree, in a sickening display of complacence that speaks volumes not only about the men’s arrogance and lack of shame, but also their sense of entitlement to female bodies. Activists in India have rallied in protest against the problem of sexual violence in the country, and villagers have condemned police inaction relating to the incident.

Yesterday, an article appeared in The Guardian, citing the lack of basic sanitation as the main reason for the death of the girls. It was the lack of toilets in their village, the article suggests, that resulted in the attack, never mind the perpetrators themselves, never mind the global ideal of masculinity that accepts, even encourages, violence in men, never mind the global culture of misogyny that normalises violence against women.

Don’t get me wrong — I do believe that basic sanitation is crucial. It is of the utmost importance for reasons of hygiene, leading to cleaner surroundings, safer food and water, lower rates of diarrhoea and illnesslower risk of snake bites, and lower mortality rates. Access to toilets provides privacy and dignity, and having a toilet in schools can encourage girls to continue with their schooling after hitting puberty. And with around 2.7 billion people around the world without access to basic sanitation, the problem is a pressing one.

Neither do I deny the fact that many men choose to attack women when they are seeking a secluded spot in the fields to relieve themselves. Yet, to focus exclusively on the circumstances surrounding the attack, while ignoring the main source of the attack (the perpetrators), fits into a pattern that feminists have been decrying for decades — society’s propensity to treat male violence as an accepted fact of life, to make allowances for it, to try to avoid it, and to attempt to redirect it. None of these can keep women safe.

Around the world, men have been raping and murdering women in every conceivable situation. They have carried out violence against women in their own homes, on the street, in clubs, atpartiesin hostels on a school trip, on public buses, in school toilets, in high school hallways, atconcerts, while camping, during piano lessons, in taxis, during a football game, the list goes on. Women can avoid going to dark and secluded areas, we can stay at home, we can take all the precautions we have been told to take. No wearing short skirts, no going out alone at night, no getting drunk in public, no trusting a strange man. But as long as men continue their violent behaviour, as long as they continue to rape and murder women, then — naturally — women will continue to be raped and murdered. They will be raped and murdered no matter where they are, no matter what they happen to be doing at the time.

The global epidemic of male violence against women must end, but we will never end it by refusing to place our finger on the key issue at hand, the link between socialised masculinity and violence. If we continue to ignore this, then the only world where men no longer attack women will be a world where women and girls do not exist at all.

 

Crates&Ribbons:  A feminist analysis of society [@CratesNRibbons]

“We Must Not Always Talk in the Market-Place of What Happens to Us in the Forest”: Victim Blaming is Our Scarlet Letter at Americas Studies

(Cross-posted from Americas Studies)

Source: Wikimedia Commons. “”Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks”, an illustration by Mary Hallock Foote from an 1878 edition of The Scarlet Letter”

“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom” – Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850

Are we all born with scarlet letters, unseen until someone or something makes them visible? Like unlucky lottery scratch cards, a letter rubbed raw, eczematous, infectious: one for every woman who dares to speak out against rape and sexual assault. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fictional character, Hester Prynne donned a red letter “A” for adultery, a signal of her deviant sexuality, a public warning, a badge of shame. Today, society has become that puritanical scarlet letterfor every woman, every victim, everyone who tries to take back the power and make a try for justice.

Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is the scarlet letter used by rape culture to marginalise women. It is as much an elaborate cross-stitch of (un)reasoned words as a flaming mark left by a phallocentric branding iron. In an article examining the problematic attitudes toward rape in Ireland, Amnesty International state that, in relation to low conviction rates for sex crimes, “It is clear. . . .that public attitudes to victims of rape are a significant part of the problem, and something the UN too said needed to be addressed. Rape, as with other forms of ‘gender-based violence’ against women, is directed at a woman because she is a woman. The underlying cause, according to the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, is the historical and ongoing discrimination against women by men. Also, these attitudes necessarily dictate how victims are treated subsequently.” As Hawthorne says of Hester’s scarlet letter, “It [the scarlet letter] had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.” Isolation, social exile, mockery, threats, even violence are some of what can face rape and sexual assault survivors who speak out against their attackers.

An accusation is worth a thousand brandings

Hester says to her daughter, “Hold thy peace, dear little Pearl! We must not always talk in the market-place of what happens to us in the forest.” What Hester was talking about is sexuality. Not much has changed for women since Hawthorne’s 19th century exploration of 17th century womanhood in Puritan America. We are not supposed to talk about rape, sexual assault, sexuality, or gender-based violence. An accusation is worth a thousand brandings leaving the victim mottled and worn by the collective prejudice of a society that is stunted by patriarchy, shackled to a medieval chauvinism, and hog-tied to ignorance.

Education, Justice, Support

There has been a surge of posts, articles and commentary about rape culture and victim blaming since the Steubenville rape case became global news. Many bloggers have compiled lists of why victim blaming happens, how it happens, and how to put a stop to it. Quite simply, we need to educate, improve our justice systems, and provide more support for victims of rape and sexual assault. As long as statistics like the ones below exist, we have an impossible task ahead of us. These figures are also the glaring reasons why education, justice and support are essential, yet lacking.

 

BGDBuztCEAAnbtY.jpg-large

“Violence against women is not a private matter – it is everyone’s business. We too must challenge negative attitudes to women, and resist images and information channels that reinforce discriminatory attitudes and perpetuate violence against women” – Amnesty International.

 

Americas Studies: This blog, Américas Studies is the product of an Irish feminist researcher in transatlantic dialogue with the Américas. It is grounded in my current experience as a doctoral candidate with posts about literature, film, feminism, and issues related to academia.

Richard Dawkins: Belittling Rape by The Feminist Writer

(Cross-posted from The Feminist Writer)

originally published July 29. 2014

These are just a few of the horrendous Tweets posted by Dawkins today:

This morning Richard Dawkins took to Twitter to announce the idea that there are varying levels of sexual assault (a view that he has never kept quiet) and one which unsurprisingly caused a ruckus on the social media site. To put briefly, in a discussion about syllogism, Dawkins suggested the enduring rape myth that there are varying degrees of rape, and he was wrong to do so. Based on the misconception that ‘date rape’, or rape by a partner, is less violent and therefore less important than rape by a stranger, Richard Dawkins excellently showcases misogyny in all its glory. Not only is this completely untrue, (let’s look at the facts) anybody who choses to utilise sexual violence as an acceptable example of syllogism clearly undermines those who have gone through the pain of being assaulted, showing complete disregard for survivors.

Dawkins ‘logic’ does not need to be based on such an unnecessarily horrific (and inappropriate) analogy. Rape is rape and all rape is violent. If we look at the lowest statistics recorded by the MOJ and ONS (and reported by Sian Norris in today’s Independent Online), every single one of the 1,100 rapes that occur weekly in the UK is a violent crime. And regardless of whether or not you know the perpetrator (even though evidence by Kelly suggests that 89 percent of rape victims know their attacker), the violence still stands. So rape is rape, but Dawkins choses to ‘rank’ sexual violence in terms of severity, and brushes off doing so by suggesting that regardless he is not “endorsing” the lesser of two evils. In fact, I have no issue with catagorising things in terms of severity, but like most women, I have a huge issue with claiming that rape can be categorised dependent on the situation. Richard Dawkins may not be “endorsing” date rape but by suggesting that date rape should be taken less seriously, he is most certainly adding to the difficultly that survivors face when reporting or speaking out about their experiences.

As ‘stranger rape’ is more likely to be reported by the media, it creates the false impression that these assaults are ‘more serious’, and therefore ‘more newsworthy’. The rapes that fit the narrative of what society is told constitutes rape. The rapes where the perpetrator hides in a dark alley way, knife in tow. And the rapes that all too familiarly distance society from the fact that most rapists are actually “husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers, colleagues and friends”(as Norris puts it). The very fact that Dawkins alludes to varying levels of sexual assault only heightens the culture of victim shaming, and encourages the questioning of the victims behaviour (what was she wearing? Did she go home with him? Didn’t she like him?) We shift the focus away from the perpetrator and examine the behaviour of the victim instead. This is never ok. The fault of the rape lies with the rapist and never with the victim regardless. This negative portrayal of the victim not only heavily supports the enduring rape myth, but also has a huge impact on women’s access to justice, which is heartbreaking. Considering the ideology that partner rape is ‘less serious’, in a society where only 15 percent of rapes are reported, 89 percent of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance, and men like Dawkins encourage such harmful misconceptions, is it any wonder that so many rapes go unreported?

The Feminist Writer: Soprano. Music Student and feminist. University of Bristol. Identify yourself as a feminist today and you’re automatically assumed to be a man-hating, whinny liberal; we need to challenge this perception. Feminism is misunderstood and it seems important to fight against these misconceptions. @amymarieaustin

“THE FAPPENING” – A BLAME GAME at Three Letter Blog

(Cross-posted from Three Letter Blog)

So this is a quick blast-post about the horrible event that has taken place in the past 24 hours. Anyone with their finger on the pulse of social media will know that a major photo-hack has taken place. Originating in what my BF has affectionately referred to as ‘the Dickhead Hive Mind’ aka 4Chan, intimate and nude photos of numerous celebrities (Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton to name but two) were posted earlier today and the internet has exploded. (Oh and FYI the super classy hacker/poster/collector isapparently disappointed they haven’t made that much cash of these ladies bodies)

Now, this is going to be a short(ish) post to address a couple of the more disturbing reactions I’ve come across today. Namely Victim Blaming, and Slut-Shaming.

The reaction of the world wide web has been abundantly disheartening today with most comments ranging from ‘YES, INTO THE WANK BANK #TheFappening’ to ‘What idiots, who would be so careless, they should know better’ and my personally most hated ‘Who even takes these photos, sluts deserved it’ (these are all abridged versions of tweets/comment/fb statuses I’ve seen today, feel free to find your own).

What is obvious is that there’s a real culture of victim blaming surrounding these photos. People seem to feel they have an outright valid claim to these intimate images, these celebrities are already out in the public sphere in sex scenes and raunchy photo shoots, so what’s the addition of a personal photograph in that mix? Well the issue here is one of consent. There’s a big difference between consenting to a Playboy photo shoot and knowing about the incoming sensation in the aftermath of one of their centerfold pieces (Madonna, Kate Moss, Sharon Stone, Drew Barrymore, and Lindsay Lohan to name a few) versus the violation of people’s private accounts and disseminating them amongst the masses. These raunchy  photo shoots and steamy sex scenes are carefully crafted and are done with the full consent of the actress/model in the comfort of a controlled environment, along with full monetary recompense for their work. They enter a CONSENSUAL CONTRACT about these images and understand how they will filter into the public. Contrast that with a VERYprivate naked-selfie you’ve taken explicitly for your own, or your partner’s own pleasure, and I think the differences are obvious.

marc-jacobs-kate-moss-playboy

Apparently however, the difference is lost on some.

Most comments I read which aren’t merely of the tasteful ‘oh my right hand is gonna be sore this week!’ variety, specifically blame the girls for the violation of their privacy. More often than not I’ve encountered that age old House-Analogy regarding the self-prevention measures people could have put in place regarding their own personal safety: ‘Excuse me while I leave all my doors and windows unlocked because no one should break in’ – Imgur User. Which basically means, if you don’t police yourself and use security measures to the extent of a metaphorical bunker then you deserve EVERYTHING and ANYTHING that happens to your body/house. If we continue with the ridiculous House-Analogy then logically this argument is just a few steps shy of saying ‘I mean, I could leave my house, but if I did that I’d totally be bringing it on myself when I get stabbed to death.’

It’s increasingly shocking how often these analogies are used in response to Rape. Apparently if we don’t walk around with chastity belts and razor-blade lined underwear we are at fault in any and all violation of our bodies/houses. The same goes for our nude pics. If we don’t want to have our privacy abused, we shouldn’t take photos. Which is basically the same as saying, ‘If you don’t want your privacy violated, don’t have a private life’. It’s inhibiting, it’s victim blaming, and it’s verging on the Big-Brother style self-policing. Why do I have to live a life of fear and imposed nunnery simply because others have no decency? I have every single right to photograph my own body in an intimate manner and share this with my partner. You have absolutely no right to look at them. (FYI the Guardian has written a great post discussing the abuse of this current scandal, I encourage you all to read it). Granted, uploading photos onto the cloud is a bit silly, I personally delete any/all backed up photos for fear of accidentally sharing them on my Google Plus page and my father accidentally coming across them. That is a logical fear. But equally, the cloud is accessed via means of password-protected accounts. PASSWORD. PROTECTED. Simply because these were on the cloud doesn’t mean the public has right of access. These are private accounts. Full stop. You have no ownership or right to these images. Do kindly piss off.

The most upsetting element I have found around this whole scandal is the Slut-shame aspect. People seem to feel that these ladies, taking photos for their personal use, deserve what has happened, because who else other than great big skank-whore-slut-bags takes nude photos!??

I do.

MJ does.

I’m pretty sure my mum has. Your mum probably has too.

Are you calling my mum a Slut?

Fuck you.

And do you know why we take these photos? Because bodies are beautiful. The ability to share your body with your partner is one of the most sensual and brilliant things you can do. MJ has written beautifully about the self confidence she found in being photographed by her lover. To deny others that form of self expression and self confidence is ludicrous. If I take a naked photo of myself it’s because I feel fucking great. It’s because I’m happy with my body and because I want to share that with my partner, so he can reinforce my confidence by waxing lyrical about my bodacious boobs and awesome ass. We have every right to do whatever we want with our bodies, and share them (consensually) with others. You have no right to shame me for doing so. Thus, posts such as this one:

SnF525E

Which suggest that those who don’t take nude photos are cleverer/classier than those who do, need to be burned (or whatever the internet equivalent is). It sets up and perpetuates that age old Madonna/Whore complex, in which there is a publicly accepted level of sexuality which women are allowed to posses; and there is a level which only men are allowed to exploit. Stop it.

And to end on just a quick afterword: It’s honestly eye-opening to me to see the public’s reaction to this hacking scandal. The public outrage felt by News International over the phone-hacking of private conversations (THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN TALKING ON BURNER PHONES IN SECRET GOVERNMENT BUNKERS IF THEY DIDN’T WANT TO BE LISTENED TO – House Analogy) was palpable. Sadly, because these are photos of ATTRACTIVE, NAKED, WOMEN there doesn’t seem to be the same levels of anger and outrage. It just goes to show how a mobile phone is considered more sacred than a woman’s body in our culture.

So, I urge you all not to look at/disseminate these photos, and please rebuff anyone who says it’s the fault of these ladies AKA Victims. It’s abuse, it’s violation. It’s that simple.

 

The Three Letter Blog: Our writers (VJ and MJ) are two twenty-something ladies living in big cities across the UK, one is currently drowning in the midst of a Literature PhD and the other is a kick-ass young professional in the Marketing world. After becoming increasingly irritated with the idealistic, mostly sexist and romanticised sex lives promoted in glossy monthly magazines, we decided to create this blog as a means of discussing the actual reality of sex for the modern day woman (and man). We hope to present to you a mix of anecdotes and articles, a discussion of all things, from sexual health to role play, foreplay to foreskin, and everything else in between. We feel strongly that sex and being sexual is a part of being human, and that being in charge of your own sexual discourse is empowering and liberating. TLB is an open conversation seeking to break the taboos surrounding one of our most intelligent and indulgent past times.

Not all men by Kiss Me and Be Quiet

(Cross-posted from Kiss Me and Be Quiet)

Well it’s been quite the week for victim-blaming hasn’t it? Another week of people loudly proclaiming that sex offenders and abusers are not actually at fault for what they do, oh no. It’s the person who’s been attacked, abused or violated of course.

Victim-blaming is a big thing when women are attacked. It always has been. Court cases (if it even gets that far) filled with questions about whether the victim was drinking, wearing make-up, wearing a short skirt, is a virgin etc. This isn’t news. The fact that women who are completely covered up, or that men get attacked too doesn’t seem to change this narrative. Logic doesn’t apply here, it’s all about ensuring women understand the do’s and don’t’s of “acceptable” behaviour.

This week, the victim-blaming got louder for a moment, when half of twitter couldn’t stop screaming about Jennifer Lawrence. That she shouldn’t take photographs of herself that she isn’t prepared for the whole world to see. That it was a publicity stunt. That it would help her on the casting couch. That she is sexy, so she should ‘own it’. That it was worth it. Because apparently when you are famous, you are no longer allowed to have boundaries, be private or give consent. Because apparently when you are ‘hot’ then your distress is secondary to other people’s voyeurism.

And then there were the responses to the people who wrote about this. When people pointed out this was abuse, or that you wouldn’t blame someone for online banking and yet we do for storing photos online, when people said ‘stop’, or painted the picture in the wider context of misogyny or the patriarchy and of men trying to silence women.

‘Not. All. Men’ came the immediate reply.

‘Not. All. Men’ yelped the men who considered themselves to be decent citizens.

‘Fuck you. Not all men’ shouted some adding extra abuse in a heartbeat.

 

Not all men, we are repeatedly told, while being sold nail varnish that can stop us being raped.

Not all men, we are told, while being sold hairy leggings to stop us being raped.

Not all men, we are told while being given rape alarms for when we need to walk somewhere alone in the dark.

Not all men, we are told, while being advised not to wear short skirts. Or get drunk. Or kiss anyone without wanting to sleep with them.

Not all men, we are told, while being told that our mere presence in a bar, on the street, on a train, in a car park, could trigger any one of the bad men to lose control. And it will be our fault.

Not all men, we are told, while being told that the mere vision of us on our own private cameras could cause one of the bad men to go to extreme lengths to get those photos and can’t help but share them. And it will be our fault.

And it may be a surprise to realise that in spite of this, we actually know that it’s not all men. We are aware that we can walk down the street without every male we walk past abusing us. That we can take a chance and try and meet a man on a date and see if we like each other. That we can go to work and have male colleagues with whom we might have a good conversation. but I don’t know a woman who hasn’t at some point been verbally or physically abused by a man. I don’t go out with my friends without us texting each other at the end of the night to let each other know we’re home safe. The majority of my friends will wince if told to ‘cheer up love’ by a random man in case he turns nasty. And here’s the thing – we don’t know if you are the nice guy, or the man who can’t control himself. We don’t know if you’re the guy to stay near in case something happens, or you’re the guy who will make something happen.

So if your first reaction to learning how widespread verbal and physical abuse of women is, is ‘not all men!’, instead of ‘holy crap I had no idea!’ then you either need to challenge your response, or rethink your status as a nice guy, because screaming, or even calmly stating ‘not all men’ isn’t helping to change the reality that women get attacked, and then get blamed for it.

 

Kiss Me and Be Quiet: “Be plain in dress, and sober in your diet; In short my deary, kiss me and be quiet.” A satirical summary of Lord Lyttelton’s Advice to women, written by Lady May Wortley Montagu in the 1700s. Not enough has changed since then. I am a feminist, parent to two small children, and I have lived with chronic back pain for nearly two years, and counting. These are 3 topics that occupy a lot of my thinking. I’ll share some of those thoughts with you here.

On Exercising Empathy by @CatEleven

(Cross-posted from One Woman’s Thoughts)

I would like to try a little exercise with you. I would like you to try on some shoes. Most of them won’t fit, they’ll be too small but putting aside practicalities for a moment we can metaphorically slip them on for our purposes today.

Ok, so they’re on? Done up? Good. Now I want you to close your eyes and picture a young girl, 14, maybe 15, it’s not all that important-she’s below the age of legal consent, that’s all you need to know. She’s wearing a pair of shorts, a vest, flip flops, she’s a little bit mouthy, did you just hear what she said to her mum? Typical teenager right? Now, see that man over there? To her right? That’s her dad’s mate from work. That’s the man that in about 20 minutes is going to rape her. It’s up to you whether you watch, I’d prefer it if you did, to see the act, put into context, not some words on a page.

Because the act of rape is what she’s about to experience, not a nebulous “assault” or “a situation that got out of hand” or a “sex game gone wrong”. Rape, forced entry, deadly and life changing. I’d like you to watch, but I’m not convinced you’d have the stomach.

Right, moving on, the purpose of this exercise is not to make you feel ill but if it rattles, if you’re feeling uncomfortable maybe it’s starting to get through. Maybe it will open your eyes, to get you to see that these attacks and assaults, these rapes and murders that happen to women every single day are not happening in a bubble. They are not happening to cardboard cut-outs, these are real human, flesh and blood women and girls. And EVERY SINGLE TIME that you hold those women and girls responsible for their attacks you’re saying the following;

• They deserved to be harmed
• The men who attacked were justified
• That men will be believed
• That women will not be believed
• That the traumatised victims are not worth our empathy
• That the traumatised victims do not deserve justice

Every time you caveat a tilted head at a headline with “yes but” you join the scores and scores of onlookers who help create an environment and culture that treats women as second class citizens whose voices are not considered and whose experiences of trauma do not generate empathy but derision and blame.

You cannot ever know what the words “I believe you” mean to a victim of abuse, rape, assault. If you’ve always had your word taken, if you’ve always been listened to no matter what the circumstance then I can understand entirely why that would be the case.

So look, let’s take those shoes off and you’re free to walk on by. But next time, before nodding at the headlines, before agreeing with the reports, before questioning the tragically rare guilty verdicts I want you to think what you might say if you were sat right in front of those women and girls. Could you look them in the eyes and tell them they deserved it? If you were in the room with the attacks happening would you egg on the abuser, would you look away? If you were in the shoes of those women and girls can you think for one second what those headlines would do?

If you contain one ounce of empathy, I urge you to start exercising it.