(Image from http://jade-nadezhda.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default – please do read this site!)
Two very depressing statistics in the news this morning.
The first was that one in three women apparently now think that women who are raped need to bear some responsibility for what has happened to them. The figure came from a survey of 18-50 year old men and women in London. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
The other statistic was that one in five boys think its ok to be violent towards their girlfriend while one in three teenage girls think that its only to be expected. This was related to a campaign being released on youTube to combat and try to denormalise this idea.
This is really, really scary.
Radio 4 this morning interviewed Dr Linda Papadopoulos (who I remember as the Cosmo agony aunt and who is always very sensible). The frustration in her voice was palpable: she spoke about “learned helplessness” -that it’s going to happen, that the values of our culture are that we have taught girls primarily to desire to be desired, while – with boys playing video games that reward them for gunning people down, driving riskily and committing violence against women.
She stressed that it was almost ”as if the feminist movement never happened”.
What’s scary is the control issue. It’s not just about physical forcing of teenage girls to do or not do certain thing, it’s about the psychological control – the girls talk about being not “allowed” to do something, that he checks her phone messages, that he “cares enough” to behave like this, that sometimes you just “have to” to keep him happy.
This was girls as young as 13 talking.
I guess its one thing in a long term relationship (by which I’m talking years, not weeks or months) to occasionally think I’m not really up for this but conjugal rights and the continued bonding and closeness in a relationship means I should at least try. But that’s one thing when you’re in your 30s or 40s and the craziness of life is getting in the way of time and libido. It absolutely should not be the case on a regular basis, or if you’re a teenager with their whole life ahead of them!
Now I know Channel 4 “Skins” is a heightened reality drama, not a documentary, but sex is presented in this show as a normal and early occurance in teenage relationships and often just as part of social interaction. As if teenagers are actually bonobo monkeys.
As with drinking and other age-limited activities, it doesn’t really seem to matter that the age of consent is 16 in this country. Very few 15 year old boys are ever actually likely to face rape charges for sleeping with their 15 year old girlfriend. And if its consensual many people would say fair enough.
The problem comes though in defining consensual. The “no means no” message seems to have got lost somewhere over the last decade or so.
Women are presented in the media – and often in magazines aimed at women themselves – as really only being of value if primped and preened to perfection, dressed in high fashion or revealing clothes, make up, jewellery etc., as if there’s no intrinsic value to their company, no worth to their words or point in listening to them unless there’s an outcome at the end of the night. And when words aren’t important, what value does “no” have?
The huge number of stories in the press about sexual violence against women seem to be split between famous-people-accused and she-was-lying coverage – I generalise greatly of course. There’s also the gang-rape-of-teenage-girl-by-teenage-boy-gang-on-council-estate coverage. And we get so desensitised to the stories that we forget the ongoing trauma that the victims suffer, especially give how few successful prosecutions seem to be made which means that the perpetrators must quite often be getting away with it.
Getting rape taken seriously has always been a problem, and when I learn that its used as a tool in war, take Rwanda for example, to subjugate the local population (leading in that case to the rapid spread of HIV and the birth of thousands of HIV positive babies whose mothers die and the misery caused perpetuates through the wider family, village and down the generations – this story on Comic Relief left me and others in tears) I felt so angry that I could happily condone enforced castration for the perpetrators.
The upsetting thing in the statistics out this morning was the number of women who felt that “no means no” was offset by the behaviour of the women that had been raped. The idea that two people can share a bed and not have sex seems to be regarded as quaintly old fashioned, the supposition is that they will. And if it gets as murky as forced sex when consent had been given to share a bed but not to sex (seems it was quite specific), well, the survey this morning said that a third of women thought that the woman must bear some part of the responsibility.
So even a third of women don’t believe that men should be able to control themselves, that no means no, or that actually the most important thing that we as women can do is stand up for and support each other. Trying to get to have sex is a basic function of men – hardwired into not just their psyche but their physionomy. And sadly some need to be devious and worse to get that to be the case.
There’s a lot of political organisation that tries to address all this: UN level, EU level, national government (and indeed local although the message gets somewhat diluted when for example Sapphire centres get their funding cut).
But we had feminism demonised for decades, laughed at, and even dismissed by women themselves (from Thatcher’s “I owe nothing to women’s lib” and the page 3 models claiming that what they do is liberating, to the ongoing pressure from mothers to dress more femininely to attract a husband) and I’ve blogged before on how I think that it has lost its way.
Feminism shouldn’t as far as I’m concerned be just be about the right of women to dress as provocatively as they want and sleep with whoever they want whenever they want. It is about the hard economics of both childrearing and women’s place in the labour market, and it is also about recognising where we need to be supporting each other.
This morning’s stats are revealing of just how far we’ve still got to go. We need to fix the sisterhood so that it’s image is not just Germaine Greer and earnest American academics, but so that 13, 15, 17 year old girls have too much self respect to just accede to their boyfriends’ demands, so that women’s contribution and role in society is valued.
And it’s not even 9am yet!