Not an Odalisque

Posts Tagged ‘rape

Rapists and Changing Rooms

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Yesterday a judge in Hull sentenced a man to five years for rape and reassured him he wasn’t ‘a classic rapist’. He did have a previous conviction for battery, and he did that fairly classic thing of taking a woman out for drinks and having sex with her after she’d thrown up and passed out. The judge says he “lost control of usual restraint,” because she was a pretty girl. Could happen to anyone, yeah? Of course, the last time I suffered a lapse of restraint, I made a lasagne, but gender differences and all that.

Fitting-Room

This cast light, for me, an another link I clicked this morning, about a trans woman who was let down by a lingerie shop, which wouldn’t arrange a fitting or use of the changing rooms. The shop would only allow penis-free people to use all their facilities, and wanted a ‘delicate conversation’ about their new customer’s genitals. Understandably, she thought her privates where, well, private. The shop said they wanted to protect their staff. Others are rightly pointing out that trans women are more sinned against than sinning, when it comes to violent encounters, but the problem wasn’t that she was a trans woman, the problem was that she may have had a penis.

As women, we’re constantly assessing the signification of situations and actions. Not whether someone is dangerous—how on earth are we meant to know that?—but whether our actions could be twisted into a story which involves an invitation or a ‘loss of control’.   Our first jobs, in shops and bars, are often where we train in this. My first lesson in pulling a pint taught me a lot: don’t let a man instructing you stand behind you or guide your hands, because when he gropes you, it seems like you should have stopped him earlier, and he can use the excuse that he was overcome with desire, in that position.

There’s a special logic that men use to get you into this situation. The man who wants to walk you home, to get you into his car or the stock room, will imply that you’re accusing him of being untrustworthy if you hesitate. Do you think he’s one of those awful men who’d grope you in a stockroom? Of course he’s not, it’s insulting that you would think that! Unable to justify your reticence—because what would constitute proof that this is the sort of man to grope you in a stockroom?—you have to go along with it. Then, somehow, the meaning of your action is retrospectively changed. It was an invitation, you got him in a position where he was overcome by temptation.

A man offers you a lift, for example, saying it’s not safe walking home by yourself. If you find a polite way to say, “maybe it isn’t safe with you, either,” he’s wounded. He’s one of the good guys. You get in his car. He doesn’t take you straight home, don’t you want to have a drink at his place/his mate’s place/this bar? Insisting on going home is hard, you don’t know where you are so you’re in his power. If you make a fuss, all friendliness will go, and he’ll be insulted by your lack of trust in him. If you go for the drink, it makes a statement (see the rape case above). If you don’t, you’re still going to have that awful moment with his hand on your leg, but you must have wanted that, because you got in the car with him, and it’s hard to resist when your leg’s only a handbrake away.*

This method works so well because while it’s easy to think an unknown stranger could do terrible things to you, it’s hard to tell someone he’s that stranger. We all learn to do it, in time, and we learn the cardinal rule: never be alone in a small space with a man.

I want to be very clear here, that this isn’t about sexuality, it’s about signifiers. I’m sure there are evil lesbian gropers out here (if you are one, please do get in touch, I wouldn’t mind a bit of evil lesbian groping), but being in an enclosed space with a woman doesn’t mean the same thing. The woman who got someone drunk and raped her wouldn’t be told that she just lost normal restraint.** In our culture, the penis is the great, overriding excuse. It’s not a good one, but it’s almost universally accepted. That weird belief some men have that gay men are liable to jump on them and begin doing unspeakable things at any moment? It comes from the same place.

What has this got to do with some poor woman’s bra fitting? Well, if you put her in the penis-owning category, it looks an awful lot like the process I’ve just described seedy men executing. What she’s asking for is to be alone in an enclosed space with a woman. She says you can trust her, she’s insulted that you don’t. Trans supporters online point out that she can’t be in that category, because she identifies as a woman, and trans folk are the victims, usually, not the perpetrators.

That’s a much more logical argument than any the seedy men normally give, but is self-identification a better system than the penis/no penis one, for working out when you’re in a dangerous situation? Those men self-identify as “good guys” almost every time. I don’t think that, on the self-identification standard, we’re going to have a surge of men turning up at lingerie departments self-identifying as women in order to grope the staff, but I’m still not comfortable with it. When your thoughts about yourself trump my thoughts about us when deciding my actions for my safety, I have no power. I’m not signing up.

I understand being angry about being turned away from a lingerie shop, I would be, too. I suspect that the truth is there aren’t enough visible trans women walking into shops to be factored into the system. Given that the safety of women is at stake, though, I think we need a better argument than ‘she identifies as a woman’. My preferred approach would be stomping on the ideas of men like that judge in Hull with big, snakeskin heels until sixteen year olds don’t have to learn how to avoid being groped by middle aged men and women don’t have to avoid mixing alcohol and male acquaintances. That project’s been going for a while, though, so I doubt it will be finished in time for the next trans woman who wants a bra.

What can I say? We’re all trapped here. The women who have to avoid being alone with men and trans women, the women who are excluded from changing rooms, the men who cross the road five times on the way home to avoid walking up behind a woman like an attacker in the night. Don’t get any with shop owners, get angry with the people we’re guarding against. Get angry with the people who make us live in fear.

*Mandatory disclaimer: not all men.

**What the lesbian rapist would be told is interesting and irrelevant.

 

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Written by Not an Odalisque

July 4, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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The Paucity of Play Partners, or Unreasonable Expectations

with 10 comments

SMS to the Lover: “The door’s on latch. See you later.”

I rinse a bowl, turn off the tap and turn for a tea towel. I almost scream. He’s moving towards me, silent, fast, hoodie up, face grim, one hand in his pocket, the other reaching for me. There’s a thud of pain as he swings me round by the shoulder. He grabs my hair, wrenching my neck. I try to pull back—“what are you—?”—but something cold and hard is shoved into the flesh under my jaw. I’m absolutely still. We stand in the kitchen, a tableau of fear and pain. A bus idles at the traffic lights outside.

He yanks my hair and I squeal. Pushing the gun* harder into my jaw and pulling at my scalp, he drags me into the hallway and throws me towards the ground. I go down gratefully, out of his grasp. My elbow hits the doorframe, vibrating my arm to my wrist, and I graze my forearm on the carpet. As I cover the broken skin, rough under my palm, he pushes me down with his weight on my back. My arm’s trapped under my chest. Pain shoots up it as I try to wriggle free.

His weight lightens and I see my moment—he must be undoing his fly. I kick and twist up, but he presses down again. I continue to struggle, although I’ve missed my chance, then the cold metal pushes at the back of my neck, and I freeze. He flips me over, grunting, and shoves the gun hard into the bottom of my ribcage. It will bruise, the barrel thrusting in like a bullet through shards of bone. The idea of bloody shattered ribs does a lot for cooperation. I don’t squirm away from his hands. He worms his fingertips in the joints of my jaw and speaks for the first time. “Open your mouth.”

That wasn’t entirely gratuitous. I think about scenes like that, you see, when I wonder why I don’t get more play. Perhaps there aren’t that many people who are interested in raping girls at gunpoint. But then, my rape-at-gunpoint quota is mostly fulfilled. Being caned for not having learnt my Latin verbs is where I feel a lack. Or being half-drowned. Or abducted by slavers. Or looked at sternly and told that I need to learn my lesson, and it will be taught with a hand spanking, over his knee. Any applicants?

When I moved to Manchester, which has a sizable fetish scene, I thought these wouldn’t be difficult to achieve. They are hardly niche fetishes (well, maybe the drowning). I might have an easier time if a bottle of Chardonnay and a rented DVD made me weak at the knees, but I’m not hoping to find people who want to eat my hair, put me in nappies or watch me impersonate a duck. And even those people generally find someone.

However, these activities, from the guns and the drownings to the hand spankings, do need a fair amount of trust. I’m chasing vulnerability, and there’s a lot that can go wrong. I want to be nearly saying stop at every moment, but forcing myself to continue. I have to trust the person I’m with to not do anything stupid, because I can’t constantly reserve half my mind to assess safety or subtly advise repositioning. That would be half my mind unable to engage in saying, “Oh God, no, please, no!” Worse, I have to recognise that, playing so close to the border between what I want and what I don’t want, I may find myself on the wrong side of the ability to safeword with someone doing something I genuinely wish they wouldn’t do. That’s a risk I’m willing to take, but only with someone who has the emotional nous to help me pick up the pieces afterwards. Oh, and they’d better know how to aim a cane, because I like parallel lines in carefully chosen places. And they should have an excellent stern look. And education and intelligence and a sense of humour and… Oh dear, this list is getting a bit long, isn’t it?

The more I think about it, the longer the list gets, and the more it sounds as if I’m looking for a life partner or a unicorn, not a playmate. I was surprised, therefore, when I signed up for discipline from Miss. Prim a couple of months ago without a qualm. She was offering a Muir Academy style role play at the SM Dykes conference, and once I’d put my name down I spent more time worrying about my uniform than whether I could trust a lady I’d only met that morning. I was nervous about my first caning in front of an audience, but not enough to curtail the doodling and origami frog making during class that was provoking it. And when I leant over the desk I was worried about the pain, not her competence. It hurt. It hurt enough to make me jump off the ground with both feet on the third stoke, causing a titter from the onlookers and a pause while Miss. Prim asked if I’d ever been caned before, but it didn’t hurt so much that I tore off my blazer and ran from the room. I trusted her knowledge, experience and sense of propriety.

But where does that leave my hunt for play partners? I can’t advertise for, “Extremely experienced semi-professionals. Must be willing to give lectures on the history and uses of the cane before scenes and have an aesthetic more appreciative of straw boaters than leather and studs.” Standing on the sidelines at clubs watching people with floggers (no thank you) or needles (I’ve been sent home unpricked from doctor’s surgeries due to faintness at the sight of them) doesn’t seem to be achieving much. So what am I to do? Lower my standards? Be contented with my lot? Or commence a serious search? How do all of you with full and busy kinky lives do it?

*In the interests of those who might try this at home, I should note that it has been clearly demonstrated to me that the gun doesn’t have any of the insides to make it work, that they are in fact in another county, and assured that in any case this really isn’t the sort of gun that you would use for shooting people anyway.

Written by Not an Odalisque

August 6, 2011 at 12:03 am

How Not to Deal With Harassers II

with 6 comments

Last New Year, as I stood in a crowd watching the fireworks and feeling a stranger’s hand squeeze my bum, I made a resolution. I was going to stand up to gropers, harassers, wannabe-rapists and people who refused to read my subtle signals. I wasn’t going to put up with it any more, because putting up with it only encourages them. If I was to become a shrill harpy of a feminist in the process, so be it. I didn’t have a specific plan, just a vague anger towards the people who think my body isn’t exclusively my own.

I should have made a plan. As it turns out, not suppressing my first reaction usually leaves me feeling guilty as well as grubby and violated. A couple of months ago, when a man passing on the street leant close to my ear and said, “nice tits,” I didn’t reasonably respond with, “I object to your sexually harassing me,” but choked out, “fuck off!” at an inappropriate volume. When a man touched me last week, I said if he did it again I’d kick him in the balls. While he didn’t seem too phased, I’m ashamed of myself for threatening violence. If violence is ever the solution to anything, surely it should be the last resort.

None of my readers have admonished me. If anything, those who responded implicitly supported my reaction. The notion that violence is acceptable in these circumstances seems to be widespread, look at the comments on this post, for example. I can see why. There’s a fire in it. The same fire I felt when I first read this:

Lots of women (men didn’t dare comment on the subject) stood up to publically declare: “How revolting, we absolutely must not consider that violence is an answer to rape.” Why not? You never see news items about girls—alone or in gangs—biting the dicks of men who attack them, or trailing their attackers to kill them or beat them lifeless. This only happens, for the moment, in films directed by men. […] You see how men, if they were women, would react to rape. A bloodbath of merciless violence. Their message is clear: why don’t you defend yourselves more fiercely? […]

But women still feel the need to say that violence is not the answer. And yet, if men were to fear having their dicks slashed to pieces with a carpet knife should they try to force a woman, they would soon become much better at controlling their “masculine” urges, and understanding that “no” means “no”. I wish I’d been able to escape the values instilled in my gender that night [when I was raped], and slit each of their throats, one by one.

Virginie Despentes, King Kong Theory, trans. Stephanie Benson (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2009), pp.36-37.

There’s something very seductive in that. I could write all of my pain on the bodies of men who invaded mine, those who raped me, groped me, squeezed me, prodded me with their erect penises or otherwise made me feel violated and afraid.* In so doing I would send a message to all of the others. Maybe if I’d punched that man on Portland Street, he wouldn’t rub his dick against any more women.

On the other hand, maybe he’d have punched me back, harder, and left me bleeding on the ground. I didn’t reform one rapist even after breaking two of his toes. When I hit a colleague, reacting to a girl shouting, “get this man away from me,” my boss told me I’d done the right thing, then went off to advise the man against carrying out his threat of breaking my arm in retaliation. I’d done a great job at de-escalation as you can see!
I think there are two reasons why, on some level, accept a violent reaction in these situations. One is that it proves you meant “no.” I would be very hesitant to turn up at a police station to tell them about rape or sexual abuse without a scratch on me. I don’t think I would be believed. I’d be even more reluctant to fight back hard, though, because I’d rather be raped and alive than unraped and dead or seriously injured. I guess I’m weird that way.

The other reason is that women are seen as weak. Lashing out at men, they can look like the poor, victimised underdogs going after the baddie and grinding him into the dust. It’s an empowering image. The might of the powerful being used against the weak is not. The flaw in this view (apart from its obvious inaccuracies) is that the violent reaction is only acceptable because we’ll lose. Its premise is our weakness, our vulnerability. I’m allowed to hit him, because it won’t really hurt, he’s tough. If we all started punching men who touched us uninvited tomorrow, I suspect the result would be the same horrible power dynamics and black eyes all round. If it wasn’t, soon campaigners would be calling for an end to the reign of terror, and suggesting solutions for the oppressed underdogs: the men.

I got it wrong last week. Threatening to kick a man in the balls felt like standing up to him, but I was positioning myself to lose. I’ve replayed it in my mind many times since, and I still don’t have the answer. It’s nearly a year since I first resolved to do it, and I still don’t know how to confront the gropers. Do you? Will you tell me how?

*Apart from the ones who made me feel violated and afraid in a good way: Sade, Nietzsche and a few others. You know who you are. You all deserve cuddles and cake.

Written by Not an Odalisque

December 1, 2010 at 10:33 pm

If You Read This, You’ll Discover I’m A Monster

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I think that if you met me you would believe that I’m a nice girl. Middle class. Rather shy. Prone to thinking that everyone has read Byron and agrees on the importance of soup spoons. On the first day of my course nice women mothered me and bought me bakewell tart. That’s the girl they bought it for.

Now and again other parts slip out. I forget that in a discussion about pole dancing you shouldn’t admit that you’ve actually seen any, and especially shouldn’t admit that you were in a lesbian bar in Soho at the time. I forget that reading ‘120 Days of Sodom’ on the train will get me funny looks. Mostly, I forget that there are a number of topics you’re meant to come at sideways, and shock people with frankness where they expected allusion.

In everyday life, it isn’t too difficult to keep parts of myself separate. I remember to be nice to my granny when she asks why I haven’t got a nice boy, and don’t need to additionally remind myself not to tell her I don’t want a nice boy, but a big, nasty man who’ll do unspeakable things to me. I don’t need to talk about Kristeva’s theory of abjection when I call Estates to report a blocked toilet. I remember who I’m speaking to, and everything flows from there.

That isn’t the case with writing. When you write something down, anyone can read it, but you’ll never write that sex scene with your granny sitting on your shoulder. In fact, you’ll never write anything if you’re trying to please everyone, and everyone, you see, is your potential audience. Will Milly from the chip shop appreciate that parody of the Commedia dell’arte? I doubt it. Your old tutor, though, author of numerous books on the subject, will probably laugh at your childish attempts. It’s best to put them all out of your mind.

So I conjure an ideal reader. You, dearest, are a reader of Byron, an owner of soup spoons (possibly also a supplier, have you any spare?) and a lover of bakewell tart. You aren’t scandalised by pole dancing or kink, and you’ve read at least the first half of ‘The Powers of Horror’, you’ve met Columbine and Harlequin. You’re perfect, and you’ll reinvent yourself tomorrow when I begin another piece.

If you’re reading this and you don’t fit that description, I consider that to be your problem. There are people whose opinions matter to me very deeply, but all of them have got better things to do than read my ramblings. The rest of you will just have to take me as I am.

If only it were always that way. I’m taking a Creative Writing course. Now and again I have to sit in a room with your readers. Talk to them, lunch with them, see them drink soup from polystyrene cups. How are they going to react if my stories aren’t nice?

I’m not nice. I’m rather monstrous. If I’m to render an honest account of my experience (and it’s the only experience I have to offer) then that monstrosity is going to come out one way or another. I can’t see a way around that. I’ve found myself to be really very bad at writing poems about flowers.

You might say (although you won’t, if you’re my ideal reader) that I should try harder on the flower poems. My thinking is this: Women spend an awful lot of their time pretending not to be the monsters they are (no doubt men do, too); we pluck and shave, bite our tongues and paint our faces, and keep quiet about desire or periods or hating having to do the washing up. It hasn’t done us very much good. It’s one of the reasons we’re still stuck not only with the image of women as beautiful, good and pure, but also with having to do the dishes. To fall in with society’s expectations is to deny what we are, and, in some sense, to tell a lie. The right to write about our whole selves has been fought for in the courts and won. That means that I get the chance to read ‘Baise-Moi’ and think “fuck, yeah!”

The best story I’ve written recently includes a rape. It includes the word “purpling”. It is filled with sticky sexual anecdotes which may not be true to the letter, but are true to the spirit, of things that happened to me. I want to hand it in, but I’m gripped by this anxiety: what will people think of me?

Did Nabokov worry that people would think he was a paedophile? Shakespeare a poisoner? Dostoevsky a thief? Tolstoy an adulterer? I don’t know. It seems quite likely that, soon, all the people on my course will think I’m a weirdo. Perhaps then, in search of acceptance, I’ll begin to value you, my darling, perfect, reader.

Written by Not an Odalisque

September 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm

There’s Always A Creepy Man

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“There’s always one creep,” a man said to me last week, before twirling me around and semi-ironically staring at my breasts, “at least one.” I have to say that I like this man. He’s one of my regular dance partners, a proper Yorkshire man, quiet to the point of gruffness, who teases me over the inordinate quantity of hair with which I occasionally hit men in the face (entirely by accident) as I twirl. I’ve brought him cake and he’s offered to have a whip-round so I can pay for a proper haircut. We get on, but he doesn’t understand about the creeps.

I’ve just about had it with the creeps. I used to have better tolerance levels. I used to be able to think it was a laugh, that it was an odd sort of compliment to receive someone’s attention. If I’m entirely honest, I’ve sometimes been a little disappointed not to have been the object of more creepiness. There are so many books about young, beautiful things catching the eyes of teachers and uncles, throwing them into paroxysms and crises which I would have been flattered to cause.

I didn’t have the sun-kissed body, slender legs and shiny hair of the charming teenager of those novels. I didn’t even have a white tennis skirt. Instead I had a cloud of frizzy hair and the pale complexion that comes of spending too much time in the library with a dusty volume of Tennyson. So when I did meet my first creepy man, he wasn’t of the vintage car and picnic hamper variety, he was a hairy homunculus with an overworked wife and a study full of poetry books. We read each other’s poems, he talked about Ruskin, I flirted outrageously and one day at his daughter’s sleepover he put my hand on his penis. Suddenly it wasn’t fun anymore.

I didn’t tell anyone and I did my best to avoid him. It took me years to work out that it wasn’t my fault.

That’s the problem with creepy men. You’re never sure whether you’re imagining the creepiness. Afterwards, instead of feeling angry, you feel guilty, and keep it to yourself. You think that to be getting that sort of attention you must be doing something wrong.

Now I wonder, if I had told someone, what would have happened. Would he have been dragged off to prison for molesting underage girls, or would someone have had a quiet word with me about being more careful in future?

I was rather blasé about the creeps after that. Nothing that bad was going to happen, I thought. To my credit, I was right. I managed to wriggle out of the grasp of every creep. Even when my boss pressed several glasses of rice wine on me and sent me home in a taxi alone with a colleague who’d been trying to get into my pants all evening. It somehow culminated in him declaring I was like a daughter to him and putting me on the phone to his very confused wife. All part of a colourful experience, I thought as I plotted a route off-campus which wouldn’t take me past his office.

I don’t know why I attract the creeps. I don’t know why, the last time I was in London, I was asked out by three men between the tube station and my friend’s house, or why, the time before, someone followed me to her door. I don’t know why it’s me who men choose to feel up when we’re dancing, or why they think that I will be receptive to their advances as they offer a phone number or a walk home. Are you thinking that these things happen to all women, not just to me? I know that they happen to me significantly more than they do to my friends, I don’t know how often they happen to you. More importantly to me, I honestly don’t know why they happen. I’ve been through so many reasons. Am I too friendly, too smiley, too open, too likely to flirt, too sluttily dressed? I’ve tried changing my behaviour in all sorts of ways, but it keeps on coming. I begin to think that blaming myself is like feeling guilty for having conversations about poetry when I was fourteen. It’s wasn’t my action, it was his.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to find a polite way to tell a man twice my age that I’m really not interested. I’ve been hiding behind pillars to avoid a man at dancing who stares at me. I don’t know if he still does it, as I’m scared of encouraging him by looking his way. Last night a man put my hand on his penis again, this time over his trousers. When you’re in the middle of a crowded room, snatching your hand away from someone’s crotch, you do begin to ask what’s going on.

I still don’t think anything terrible is going to happen. Dance halls are not good venues for assault, sexual or otherwise. Overfriendly middle aged men are more lonely than violent. All the same, I can’t tell you how much I wish they would stop.

I’ve tried telling people about the staring man. I’m told that he’s reacting to my nice dress, that he thinks I’m attractive. It’s been implied that I’m paranoid. It’s difficult, apparently, watching women dance. There’s always one creep, it’s no big deal. Some men find it difficult to interact with women, we should make ourselves clear. The men don’t take it seriously; I wonder if they have considered who they are aligning themselves with?

At midnight last night I scanned the room to see if anyone was available for the last dance. An overweight man lumbered towards me, and I thought “if he waddles, rather than walks, how is he going to dance?” Nevertheless, I politely accepted his invitation, on the basis that good manners cost me only the length of a single track. I submitted to being pressed into his sweaty side and having my hips and waist pawed for a couple of minutes, then escaped his clutches. A couple of minutes later he appeared beside me and leered, “are you here alone?” At the same moment I realised I’d lost my keys. I was stranded twenty miles from my locked house, in the middle of the night, with a creepy man who wouldn’t leave me be. I tried to shake him by walking to the car park and back, but he waited. I repeatedly told him I’d be fine, but he lurked, and as the crowd cleared I realised I would soon be alone with him. I thought I’d managed to lose him, but he pulled up in a car and told me to get in. I was rescued by a woman half my height and weight, who told him, in no uncertain terms, where to go.*

She made me very, very happy.

I’ve had enough of creepy men. You should have, too. On a bad day I feel as if I’m living my life under siege. I think if a single one of the men I’ve mentioned it to understood that, they wouldn’t make excuses for the starers, the pinchers, the feelers and the lurkers. They wouldn’t want to think of themselves as in the same category. They don’t have to do anything inappropriately manly, there’s no need for a confrontation, but, men, I could do with a hand. If you see me struggling to get away from another creep, because there’s always going to be another one, you could make your presence known. Perhaps you could even whisk me off for a nice, chaste dance. I can’t tell you how much I would appreciate it.

*It isn’t relevant to creepy men, but you might like to know that my rescuer and her friend, both good friends of my father, calmed me down, drove me home, offered to climb up ladders and through windows, but didn’t have to because I had neglected to lock the back door. United with my spare set of car keys, I was driven back to my car and not left alone until they’d checked I was happy, safe and sufficiently fuelled. Some people are just amazing.

Written by Not an Odalisque

July 31, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Anyone for a Pair of Chastity Jeans?

with 3 comments

This week a man in Australia was acquitted of rape because the jury considered that it is impassable to remove a pair of tight jeans without the wearer’s cooperation. Tight jeans make women rape-proof.

This is fantastic news. Skinny jeans are a simple solution to the worldwide epidemic of sexual violence! We can hand them out at schools and health centres, along with condoms and leaflets on STIs. There should be a nationwide campaign to convince women to wear them, featuring upbeat sound bites from women who had been threatened with rape, but mercifully escaped due to the expedient donning of this garment. No longer shall women cower in their houses when they could be out, wandering dark alleys, and no longer shall they arrange safe calls with friends, or privately wonder whether the man who suggests walking them home is a greater risk than the unknown strangers on the route. Skinny jeans spell liberation!

I really do wish it were true. The problem is that while some men are fumbling weaklings who couldn’t unhook your bra if they were given a manual and half-dressed mannequin to practice on for ten minutes beforehand, other men aren’t. Other women aren’t, come to that. Sometimes it is about physical strength, sometimes it’s skill and sometimes it all the pressure a rapist needs to exert is psychological. When you are faced with someone who can do you harm, who wants, in fact, to hurt you, and who has the ability, you to try to survive. For some reason, keeping hold of your handbag in a tussle with a mugger is considered foolish, while even the slightest indication that you didn’t fight tooth and nail not to be raped is interpreted as tacit consent.

Have a look at this page. About half way down you’ll find a passage in which women are advised to run from their potential rapist, even if he has a gun, because:

“POLICE only make 4 of 10 shots when they are in range of 3-9 feet. […] The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times. And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN!”

Now tell me, next time someone points a gun at you, are you going to weigh the probabilities of taking a bullet somewhere vital and run for it? Me, I think I’d miss my chance while stuck on “arrrggghh, gun!” What if your assailant had a knife? What if he was just (and this is my experience) a big, strong man with martial arts training? Where, in that moment of panic, do you want to draw the line between self-preservation and acquiescence?

I have no trouble in believing that a pair of tight jeans could be removed by a determined rapist. That process is a lot easier for me to understand than the one which leads him to rape, and I’m not denying that as a possibility. My point is, though, that fixating on whether or not the jeans were ripped off is based on a flawed notion of how rape works. Even if he had stood up, walked to the other side of the room and quietly said “remove your jeans” it would still be rape if she didn’t consent. Abject terror is not consent.

I have to wonder how many items of clothing are left to women. Is it only coincidence that you’re asking for it if you’re skirt is too short, your neckline too low, your heels too high, and now, apparently, your jeans too tight? Excuse me, I have to change into something utterly shapeless in case someone works out that I’m a woman.

Written by Not an Odalisque

May 2, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Myth Number Five: It Wasn’t Rape.

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I had been planning a light-hearted post about women’s orgasms, but then I read this:
Rape Case Dropped. A woman was denied the right to have her alleged rapists put on trial because she had shared fantasies of group sex on MSN messenger. She intended to have sex with one man, but, she says, when she reached his house she found several more men who forced her to have sex with them. Let me repeat the reason why these men weren’t tried: she had told somebody about her sexual fantasies.

Fantasy is not consent. I used to daydream about accidental explosions during chemistry class, but I wouldn’t have thanked the person who actually made a bomb. In no other area of the law is fantasising about something an agreement to action.

When it comes to rape we don’t think straight. We make excuses for perpetrators, often along the lines of “she was asking for it.” If she really was asking for it, it wouldn’t have been rape, but a surprising proportion of people blame the victim. I did the number-crunching at Amnesty International for this study Amnesty International Study. It shows that almost half of Northern Irish university students believe that a woman is to some degree responsible for being raped if she has behaved in a flirtatious manner and almost a third believe she is if she is wearing ‘sexy or revealing clothing’. One in ten students considers violence acceptable against a girlfriend who nags, flirts with other men or refuses to have sex.

Would a thief be acquitted he said “I only stole the Ferrari because it was so shiny and red”? Would its owner be blamed because he washed and polished it? If I broke into a shop, could I excuse myself by saying that I had seen the advertising and it made me really, really want what was inside? It would be absurd.

In truth, that’s because the analogies don’t make much sense. If I stole a Ferrari, I would then have a Ferrari, with all of the same features as a legitimately purchased one. If you rape someone, it isn’t going to be the same experience as consensual sex. She’s not going to light candles or lick your nipples or whisper how much she wants you in your ear. So I can’t help thinking that, if you’re a rapist, you aren’t actually after those things.

So let’s reassess the ‘temptations’ (fantasy, flirtation, sexy clothes) from another perspective. What sort of a woman has sexual fantasies, wears sexy clothing and flirts? It’s not the good girl.

Our culture distinguishes between two types of women: virgins and whores. It isn’t all that long ago that a woman’s virginity was her most precious possession and her virtue was measured by her chastity. Yes, we’ve had the sexual revolution, but I think the 6.5% conviction rate for rape tells us a lot about the rate of actual change. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I have mentioned to a man that I find both men and women attractive, or that I’ve visited a fetish club, only to find that his eyes have glazed over for a moment and he’s lost to his own thoughts. Soon after he will make a move, or reveal an assumption about the sorts of activities I may be willing to engage in (group sex, for instance) and I will realise that I’ve been put in the bad girl box. Sometimes that’s fun, because it makes me attractive and provides opportunities to play. It isn’t an accurate perception of who I am, though, and that can be a problem.

Bad girls, you see, can’t be raped. A recent study of men who use prostitutes found that a quarter of those questioned thought that the very concept of raping a prostitute or call girl was “ridiculous.” I’m not saying this is a representative sample of the population, but how would you feel if one in four of your clients thought that forcing you to have sex with them wasn’t in any way out of line? Twenty-seven per cent of our interviewees explained that once he pays, the customer is entitled to engage in any act he chooses with the woman he buys. Any act. What a terrifying position to be in.

The prostitute is the most extreme example of the bad girl in popular perception. As such, she is seen as radically different from other women. One interviewee said “the very fact that they’re prepared to do that job where others won’t even if skint, there’s some capability inside them that permits them to do it, to not be disgusted by this, a normal woman would be if she was asked to do it.” Another man concluded, “They must be able to have sex more often because they do it all day. They don’t mind foregoing a lover or romance or a married partner…. They don’t mind going to people’s homes for sex. They don’t mind having sex with anyone.” One interviewee who struggled with the notion that prostitution damages women rationalised it by believing that women in prostitution are, unlike other women, intrinsically indecent and slutty:

“It’s a dirty job in my humble opinion, having sex for money isn’t a decent thing for a human being. I wouldn’t go out on a date or be in a relationship with one of them. I don’t see myself going out with someone who has been paid for sex. I’m an old fashioned person, Roman Catholic. In high school, boys don’t want to go out with slutty girls. Part of my brain is divided – like a wall. I think two different ways about women.”

This last quote brings up an important point. Not only are prostitutes intrinsically different from other women, they are also desirable. Why else does he pay to have sex with them? Presumably because of their supposed difference, their indecency, sluttiness, lack of disgust and discrimination.

So what of women who do not take payment for sex, but share some behaviours with those who do? Women who, say, have a lot of sex with a number of different men, outside long-term loving relationships? Woman go to some lengths to attract men? Those who put on mini-skirts and go out looking for casual sex of a weekend? They, too, fall into the ‘bad girl’ category. Can you rape one of them? The prevalence of terms like ‘date rape’ implies that while you can, this is a lesser form of rape. A girl who spends and evening with a man, drinks alcohol with him and goes to his home has diminished rights.

The logical conclusion of this was reached with the support for Roman Polanski, who gave a thirteen year old alcohol and drugs then raped her. Some of the greatest artists alive today have protested against his arrest. Whoopi Goldberg says it wasn’t ‘rape rape’. Our divisions into categories of rape have come so far that when a man in his forties drugs a child and fucks her up the ass we find a way to argue that it wasn’t really, truly rape.

What do you have to be to be sure that you aren’t going to be laughed at when you report your rape, as one of the victims of John Worboys says was when she went to the police? I think you’d better be a virgin wearing Laura Ashley who was jumped by a stranger late at night. A few witnesses and a couple of broken bones, would help, too.

How did we get to a situation in which behaviours common to most women, such as trying to look attractive and flirting, became signifiers for an identity which apparently invited violence? I think it is due to desire and jealousy. Men like bad girls. We have a communal fantasy, dating back to Eve, of women with insatiable sexual appetites. These women are beautiful, they are seductive and they want you. Who wouldn’t want a woman like that? Men want them, so, to some degree, women try to be them. We style our hair, put on our makeup and choose the sexiest clothes. We learn to give killer blow jobs and to walk in high heels. I do it, too. I do it because although I know I’m brilliant on the basis of my knowledge of Foucault and ability to make a fantastic chocolate trifle, most people are never going to be exposed to these things. Anyone likes women has a chance of falling for my curling tresses and reddened lips. I like the attention, who doesn’t? Not making an effort to be attractive makes a big statement in our society. Who wants to be a hairy-legged lesbian?

While men like bad girls, they wouldn’t want their mother or their wife to be one. Their liking is specifically sexual. The image is seductive because it communicates availability. A woman who is sexually voracious and indiscriminate in her choice of partner will certainly sleep with you. Her dedication to dick frees a man from his inadequacies (he can’t talk to me about Foucault, but that doesn’t matter, he can certainly supply a cock) and from commitment, since she’s not attached to any of his specificities. The fact that her experience and longing imply that she knows how to please a man and is gagging to do so (gagging, in some cases, being far too accurate a word) add to the perfection of the fantasy.

The possibility of rape would shatter the fantasy completely, predicated as it is on sexual availability. For men who cherish this fantasy, then, it is easy to see why there would be little sympathy for allegations of rape if someone isn’t squeaky clean. And the number of men who do wish to preserve it is surprisingly high, in my experience.

What about women? Surely we can see more easily the complexities of the situation? We have all experienced the difficulty of balancing sexual liberation with sexual objectification. In the report I worked on, however, women’s views were similar to men’s, with a high percentage excusing rape in cases involving low cut tops or flirtatious behaviour. So what have women got against the bad girl? I think we fear her. We know men want her. Our boyfriends and husbands desire her, possibly more than they desire us. Men have affairs, they visit prostitutes, and sometimes they hurt their loved ones very much in the process. Who do you want to blame, the man you love or the woman who ‘seduced’ him?

The ‘bad girl’ is competition. I know this because I feel it, too. In a very small way, intermittently, I am envious of those who are better at seducing men than I am. I know that what I actually want is a man who loves me on a deeper level than noticing that I have great legs, but it doesn’t change my reaction. I know that other women feel this, too, because I’ve seen the marketing campaigns for mascara and heard about the national obsession with weight loss from all of my female friends. I notice that there is a whole genre of magazines dedicated to telling you the difficulties of celebrities’ lives and printing pictures of them on bad hair days. We want to be the most attractive, and when we can’t, in some nasty, hidden part of ourselves, we want to see the winners suffer.

What punishment would be more fitting than rape? You want to be a sexual object? Well, there you are then. These are the consequences. It’s the same plot as any number of novels, the good girl gets the guy, the bad girl gets her comeuppance.

There is a flaw. The girl we are talking about is a fantasy, albeit a fantasy that has a profound impact on who we are. Most prostitutes aren’t sexually voracious; many are traumatised, drug-addicted, coerced or just in need of money. Most women playing the bad girl role have a lot more to their characters. Those that don’t must have had good reasons for turning themselves into a male fantasy, reasons which made them crave the approval and attention it brings. My guesses at those reasons would be isolation, loneliness, low self-esteem, self-loathing, even.

I’m not saying that the bad girl role isn’t a fun one to play. I enjoy being bad and I’ve got the outfits to prove it. It’s something I do, though, not something I am. It doesn’t change my right to say “no.”

It doesn’t matter who she is, how she’s acted, or what you’ve done with her before. If she doesn’t want to do it, if she is subjected to force, violence, coercion or manipulation, it is rape. There’s a very simple way to check whether she wants to have sex, you can ask her, and see if she says “yes” or “no.” The criminal justice system in the UK is improving its services to rape victims, albeit too slowly and in spite of judges like Robert Brown. Wider perceptions, however, show that we have difficulty separating fantasy from reality. These are real people, real lives, so get over it.

More Links

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6982555/Men-cleared-of-rape-after-online-chat-on-group-sex-revealed.html

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/cons-paying-the-price/

Written by Not an Odalisque

January 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm