Image from thefastertimes.com
Several old men have offensively sought to re-define rape against women for their own political ends in the past week. And while the online response has emphatically reminded people that rape is rape, much of the online backlash – such as the #MenAgainstRape hashtag – has actually been more telling than the comments themselves, and helps shed light on how misunderstood the issue of rape really is
Rape. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, it is unlikely to have escaped you that rape is on the news agenda at the moment. In a big way.
First, we had US Congressman Todd Akin giving an interview in which he staggeringly-ignorantly described how, “as I understand it, if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down”.
BOOM! In that one single sentence we have both utter ignorance of how the female body works AND a suggestion that some rape isn’t legitimate. Well, holy shit, we must have reached the pinnacle of white, old men pontificating on women’s bodies, right? But no. Wait! There’s more!
Next up comes WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently hiding in the London Ecuadorian embassy, flatly refusing to come out, thereby winning this year’s prize for stretching the rules of hide-and-seek to patience-whittling levels AND refusing to face rape and molestation allegations in one fell swoop.
Now, while it’s beyond the remit of this blogpost to properly comment on the WikiLeaks situation and what embassies will and won’t allow, the rape allegations seem unequivocal. In the more famous indictment, Assange is accused of having had consensual sex with a woman, who then woke up later on to find him having sex with her again. Let me repeat: WOKE UP – ergo, Assange started having sex with her while she was still UNCONSCIOUS.
The law is clear on this: it’s rape. A means through which some men have sought to demean, dominate and violate women since the beginning to time. (Yes, men get raped too and many of the same points still stand, but in this case, we’re talking about a man doing it to a woman.)
As Hadley Freeman, and so many others, got piercingly-right when they repeated it again and again: rape is rape is rape. If you have sex with someone without their outright and mutually-understood, fully-conscious consent, then that is rape.
It’s quite simple really. Except, apparently, for some people.
In which Galloway sends himself down shit creek
Because, next up on the batshit-tosser train this week was Respect MP George Galloway (best known for dressing as a cat on national television) who inexplicably joined Akin and Assange in the redefining-rape fun by saying that for some people, being naked in bed with them means you’re “already in the sex game”, and therefore have consented to more sex EVEN IF YOU HAPPEN TO BE ASLEEP. “Sure, a tap on the shoulder would have been more polite,” he then went on to suggest, causing me to have a minor embolism before I could continue watching.
Although it has to be said that the sheer numbers of people who have come out against the comments, as shown by the Vagenda’s ‘Rape rainbow’ or Jezebel’s ‘Official guide to legitimate rape’, is one of the most heartening things about this whole sorry tale, some responses haven’t been uniformly encouraging – and have actually highlighted why we still need to keep talking about these issues in the first place.
Of course, it all started with a hashtag. The #menagainstrape hashtag.
In case you’ve read this far and your eyes are getting squiffy, that’s Men Against Rape. Many people took offence to this hashtag , but I think it addresses some serious points; the dismissal of which could be potentially extremely damaging to what we’re all trying to do: educate people about rape.
In a nice handy list, here are a few of the most common ideas that I saw bandied around in criticism of the hashtag.
- It’s making this crime, which largely affects women, about men
- It’s taking away from women’s ability to talk to men and put their own experiences across
- It’s obvious and completely unnecessary; why not simply have a hashtag saying #MenAgainstMurder, or #MenAgainstPaedophilia or #MenAgainstDrinkingBleach ?
- It seems to ‘thank men for not being rapists’, and suggests that this is an ‘opt in’ thing rather than a general base level of respect we’d all expect as default
Although I can see where these points come from, they largely miss the point that, actually, rape is quite often about men.
In fact, wherever the crime is a man having sex with a woman, that’s about a man as much as it’s about the woman. About the fact that a man has so little respect, appreciation or understanding of that woman’s right to her own body and sexuality; about how her sexuality, power, intellect and identity has got absolutely nothing to do with him, unless she explicitly consents to make it so.
Rape is about power, and as long as it’s about the wielding of power over women, it’s also about men.
Feminism was born from women demanding dialogue with men, and even though women now have the power to speak out without men’s permission or help, it doesn’t follow that men cannot empathise with women or espouse their views on equality.
Of course men shouldn’t seek to redefine or dominate feminist debates, or women’s experiences. But joining a discussion or wholeheartedly espousing its principles doesn’t automatically mean a man wants to dominate it, ‘make it about them’ – or, if you will, ‘mansplain’ it.
While rape of women strikes right to the heart of what it means to be a woman, in these cases, anyway, it also strikes right to the heart of what it means to be a man coexisting with women.
Of course, it’s extremely obvious to have a hashtag saying #MenAgainstRape.
Because OF COURSE men should be against rape as a default position. Just like I’m against kicking puppies and shooting children with rifles.
BUT the fact that some men and women still agree that in some cases, rape just isn’t that serious and that women must shoulder some of the responsibility when they ‘lead on’ a man or drink a bit too much; the fact that there are still people in the world (especially those who are in positions of political power) who think that conscious consent is a blurry concept, means that actually, I’d say having a #MenAgainstRape hashtag isn’t such a bad idea.
At the very least, inviting men to join discussions about rape might get people ‒ namely men for whom it doesn’t seem immediately obvious ‒ considering what rape means, and getting them to think about it a bit more before engaging in sexual relationships with people.
It might also provide a rallying point for men on the subject, in their own arena, away from the feminist blogs and the sections of the newspapers which, with the best will in the world, are not usually read by those who have the most need for them.
All those men who are so obviously already against rape, well thank god for you, you’re absolutely right. You don’t need to ‘opt in’, or pat yourself on the back for not being a rapist. (But if so, this hashtag, and the comments created alongside it, were not aimed at you.)
And frankly, if it gets even one man thinking about what it means to rape versus not rape, or even strikes one line of dissention against the ideas perpetuated by Akin, Assange and Galloway, then I’d consider that a success.
At least it’s not trying to redefine or qualify rape, in a discussion which is so often reduced to a ‘women’s issue’ against men, simplistically pitching the genders against each other.
It’s simply saying that actually, men don’t all agree with Galloway or Akin.
And if it provides a rallying point for groups such as domestic violence charity Respect UK (NOT Galloway’s ‘Respect’, thank god) to tweet links such as “10 things you can do to stop violence against women” or “If you want to show sexual respect, always check you’ve got an enthusiastic yes”, then frankly, where’s the harm in that?
It doesn’t take away, it only adds
Giving people a platform on which to assert that they are against rape doesn’t take away from the testimonies of women coming out to tell their story about rape. Neither does it, logically, suggest that anyone who doesn’t assert their view in this way is therefore ‘for rape’ or ‘rape ambivalent’.
In fact, as I see it, it only adds to the dialogue between the genders; only adds an additional voice to the crowd of people around the world telling Assange, Akin and Galloway, and their sympathisers, that their views are profoundly offensive, unwanted, unfounded, ignorant and completely at odds with the experiences and views of the vast majority of men and women.
And isn’t that what we’re all trying to get across in the first place?
Comments and (constructive!) criticism very welcome!
Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahsRhapsody, or see her other writings at http://notallwhowonderarelost.wordpress.com where a version of this post first appeared.