#IBelieveHer Rape Myths 101: AKA My Nan Can’t Remember Her Son, Thus I’m Fatherless *Trigger Warning*

So, I’ve decided that I’ll be countering my latest bout of insomnia with some lovely rape myth busting, seeing as twitter users @JusticeForChed and @FreeChedwyn  have been tweeting rape myths all over the #IBelieveHer tag. Lovely. I mean, the I Believe Her tag, and subsequent Facebook page have been responsible for a lot of survivors speaking out about their own rapes. Myself included. So, to see “yada yada, Ched Evans is our hero and Assange is innocent” over such a tag is more than a little upsetting.

Anyway, I’ll be debunking a rape myth a day for the forseeable future. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but yeah… I don’t fancy letting bullshit rape myths stand unchallenged.

Rape Myth: She doesn’t remember, it can’t have happened… <insert Ched is innocent style quip here> 

My nan is 94, with senile dementia. Last time my father visited her, she had to ask a nurse who he was, to which, she replied “I don’t remember having a son.” At that point, my father ceased to exist, and was wiped from all history.

Last week, someone was murdered. The murder victim doesn’t remember it. Thus, the crime never happened.

Yeah… Neither scenario above works, do they? That’s because, if you’re reading this (and you’re not Team Rape Apologists) you probably possess that little thing called logic. Right? Therefore, to say a rape didn’t happen because the survivor doesn’t remember it happening is evading logic.

Let me tell you a little story. In 2005, I was less than a year into a relationship with the man who would later become Mini-Dragon’s father, Dom. One evening, we headed out to our local rock-themed pub. Now, being a heavy drinker, Dom could pack a few drinks before feeling anything. I’d known him to last a fair few shorts before even beginning to feel anything. This evening, he was in a slow drinking mood, taking about 45 minutes to nurse a double vodka and lemonade; something I’d seen him knock back many a time before. As I finished my drink, I headed up to the bar, and ordered two identical looking drinks; he was on the vodka and lemonade, I was on the schnapps and lemonade. After less than two sips of his drink, Dom began complaining of “not feeling right”. Eventually, he decided to head outside to try and clear his head. It didn’t work. Even now, he doesn’t remember the events of that evening, and maintains the idea his drink was spiked. I believe him on that. But what scares me is, should anything have happened to him, or had it been my drink spiked, and something had happened to me, the event wouldn’t have been remembered. If it had been my drink spiked, and I’d been subsequently raped, the rape apologists would have been telling me “if you can’t remember, how can you say you were raped”

Here’s the thing. There are a few reasons someone may forget a rape. Having your drink spiked is one. Taking drugs, getting drunk, repressing memories, are others. None of which mean that the rape didn’t occur. All it means is that, for whatever reason, the survivors memory of the attack is unavailable. If a woman is in a position where, after intercourse has taken place, (intercourse was confirmed by Evans himself) then it stands to reason she was either in no position to consent in the first place, or what happened to her was traumatic enough that she subconsciously chose to forget the event. Neither of those scenarios suggest the woman in question was in any state to consent. In fact, to me, they suggest the complete opposite.

I Believe Her. I always will.

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In Defence of The Stay At Home Mother

The Guardian, and subsequently Cherie Blair, have proved quite effective in allowing me to perfect my procrastination skills, I must admit. But, some things do need saying. Cherie Blair, according to The Guardian, has been criticising women who choose “rich husbands and put their children before their career”.

Now, the Stay At Home Parent argument is one that has caused a huge conflict in myself. As a lone parent, being a stay at home parent means that I’d be reliant on the benefit system. However, as an unqualified individual (I left my first university degree in 2005, after a Marxist moment, in which I realised my career path at the time wasn’t about making people happy, but instead, about making profits) I’d be destined to a life of low paid jobs. My mother, during my visit to see her after leaving Mini-Dragon’s father, couldn’t work out which daughter would be more disgraceful; the one reliant on income support until Mini-Dragon started school, or the one who would be working every hour God (that’s what we call Tesco these days, right?) sent to provide Mini-Dragon with a decent childhood. So, I did what any logical person in that situation would do, and headed back to university. Shortly after, my mother turned grey…

Anyway, my point here is that mothers, whether lone parents or partnering with their child’s father, are criticised at every available turn. When my sister-in-law expressed a desire to return to work, my mother protested strongly about the idea of my nephew (aged nine months at the time) being put into childcare at such a young age. My sister-in-law was criticised and guilt tripped about returning to work, despite my brother’s job barely covering the bills. Yet no focus was placed on my brother. Women are, at every turn of their life, to be criticised. Men, instead, are to be praised.

To an extent, I understand Cherie Blair’s criticism of stay at home mothers. But this is a small extent. Instead of feeling that stay at home mothers should be criticised, I feel that the work industry, which makes it so difficult for mothers to return to work should they choose to stay at home for any length of time, should be criticised. The work industry, which makes it more difficult for working mothers to progress, should be criticised for regularly holding mothers back in the workplace. We’re told we have equality in the workplace, that mothers cannot be held back because they have children. However, it doesn’t always happen.

Before Mini-Dragon came along, I worked for a retail chain for a short while. Around three months into the job, a chance for a promotion arose. I found myself up against a single mother and a woman in her 50’s. Being in my early twenties, with no outside commitments, I was granted the promotion. The single mother, I still believe, was more qualified; after all, the promotion was in baby sales, and what did I, a non-parent at the time, know about sitting up all night with a teething baby, or how to treat colic? I mean, raising a child is no mean feat.

When my brother was made redundant earlier this year, he elected to become a stay-at-home parent. For various reasons, he ended up returning to work last week, but upon his telling of his plans to become a stay-at-home parent to our mother, he was immediately asked why he wouldn’t be looking for work, so his wife couldn’t drop out of work. Luckily, he defended his wife’s decision to work. But over the following few weeks, he found himself constantly praised and patronised for being a stay-at-home parent. He found mothers marvelling at how he could possibly manage potty training his son, the laundry, and even his ability to cook full meals on his own came under marvel. This was despite the fact he’d previously been a chef…

We still see raising children as “women’s work”. Which is why we allow it to be criticised so extensively. But we also see women who choose to put their careers in the spotlight as “neglecting” their children in one manner or another. It isn’t feminism to criticise a woman who stays at home to raise her children. What we need to do is begin to see the value in women staying at home, and view them in the same positive light in  which we view stay at home fathers. Once we stop berating women, no matter their choice with regards to work, we’ll see a greater equality in the workplace, with mothers who choose to work finding it easier to progress through their work.

“You’ve Changed…” Or How Society Regularly Tries To Silence Feminism

Last week, I had an argument with Mini-Dragon’s father. It seems that, after four months of not contacting Mini-Dragon once, the only reason he was getting in touch was to have a go at me for something that had been said in January. Halfway through the argument, when I pointed out his failings, he sent the old “you’ve changed” line over in my direction.

Now, I know for a fact Dom meant this as an insult. I could tell by the tone of his voice. In other words, it was “Naughty woman, daring to answer back to a man.” To the old me, the one he abused on a regular basis, that would have been (on most occasions) enough to ensure my complicity and utmost obedience in whatever he said or did. It always came out when I was challenging him about his bullshit. See, the thing about abusers is that they don’t like their abuse to become visible. I know this from the fact he only ever left one visible bruise. I know this from an incident in 2007.

We’d been in a pub, after I’d finished my nine hour shift; funnily enough, that was in the pub, too. At some point during the evening, Dom began poking fun at someone he perceived as weaker than him. After a while, I finally pulled him up on it. In public. He began telling me that I’d better “shut the hell up”. I didn’t. At some point, the usually compliant version of myself was replaced with a younger version of my mother, when suddenly I yelled at him “Well, what are you going to do? Hit me again?” It was the only time I publicly pulled him up on his abusive tendencies.  Abusers become very adapt at silencing tactics. “You’ve changed” is the abusers last resort, hoping to shame their former victim into silence, hoping the former victim will feel remorse for no longer being the passive individual that their abuser perceived them to be.

But silencing tactics don’t stop at the intimate, abusive relationship. In fact, the deeper I delve into Feminism, the more I see silencing tactics at every turn.

In running the I Believe Her page, the most common silencing tactic I’ve noticed has been users coming to the page, and posting their support for Ched Evans. Luckily, a fast working admin team has meant that, even in my own absence from the page, these posts have been quickly removed. Yet, it was clear to us. Any space (predominantly) women use to speak out against male violence will be targeted. Those who speak in support of survivors of abuse and sexual violence can expect to find themselves silenced.

Another example of the silencing tactics faced by women can be found by tracing the Kickstarter project for Feminist Frequency. In May, Anita Sarkeesian announced plans for a “Women vs Tropes in Video Games” series, and, upon launching her appeal, was subjected to threats of violence, abuse, and attempts to have the campaign suspended. The irony in this? Sarkeesian’s project has since received more than twenty time the funding target. But the attempts to silence her show the extent that those who abuse women will go to in order to maintain that right.

But these are rare occurrences, right? Well… Not exactly… Women only spaces, over the past few years alone, have come under threat. The previously women-only Reclaim The Night marches in Edinburgh have since adapted to accommodate men. When a friend of mine announced plans to launch a Reclaim The Night march in her home town, she was automatically heckled to open the march to men, despite citing that it would remain women-only, in line with the original marches, and in line with the fact the march would take place during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence. After all, how dare women expect a chance to exercise solidarity, free from a male voice. Even if it is for just an hour or two. And who can forget Conway Hall, a venue who has housed the Paedophile Information Exchange and British National Party, declaring that they would not allow Rad Fem 2012 to be held on its grounds, on the basis that Rad Fem 2012 aimed for a woman only, in the biological sense, conference. Rad Fem 2012 aimed for two days of woman only space. Women, it seems, are not allowed this, under the fear men hold that we may just explore and expose their hatred towards us.

But this post has been somewhat pre-empted, by another conversation, which tells Feminists we’re being too “insulting”. Insulting, from when I’ve been called up on it, has included asking people to stop derailing the threads, stop spreading rape myths, stop victim blaming… You know, basically being a feminist. Yet people are consistently trying to restrict when, where and how women speak. A close friend once pointed out, in my early feminist days, that for a woman to be considered aggressive, she just needs to speak in the manner a man would be considered assertive. Women are still expected to be passive. We’re still expected to remain silent to men’s abuse of us. It isn’t happening on my watch.

Next time you tell a feminist she’s “discussing feminism wrong”, just consider this… What’s more important? Making sure we don’t offend our oppressors? Or telling our oppressors that we’re fighting back?

16 Days Of Action On Violence Against Women: A Bloghop

“Mirror Mirror” On The Wall, We’ll Keep The Wicked Witch Complex, After All *Spoiler Heavy*

Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” (2012) has been hailed as a feminist fairytale by some critics, praising it’s strong, female heroine, Snow White. However, to claim that Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” is a feminist film would be to miss a disturbing undertone throughout the tale; one that tells us giving women power is a dangerous act; one the patriarchy relies on to maintain it’s stability. Singh tells us that, when it comes to power, its “better the devil you know,” whilst spectacularly missing the oppression of the patriarchy.

Singh’s tale begins by telling us of Snow’s childhood. As a child, Snow lived under her father’s reign; one which saw singing, dancing, and general happiness that, for now, there were no ovaries in power. However, the King soon seeks out a wife, known solely throughout the 106 minute feature as “The Queen”. Even as the active narrator, we are sold a dehumanised character, void of a name, and limited to only two qualities which could be deemed anywhere near redeeming; her intelligence, and her beauty. Look, when I said anywhere near redeeming… I meant in the patriarchal sense. After the king is lost in battle, we’re told that the Queendom becomes a destitute and lifeless place; after all, according to the patriarchy, society can not flourish with a woman in power.

The Queen’s personality throughout the film hinges on several narrow factors; The Queen’s fear that one day, she’ll no longer be “the most beautiful woman in the land”, her jealousy of Snow’s beauty (something that factors in The Queen’s decision to have Snow locked in her room from the age of 8, until the age of 18), her lust for Prince Alcott, her deceptive nature, her greed, and her lust for power. In fact, the Queen’s sole traits throughout the film hinge on the seven deadly sins. Even sloth is hinted at, through her unwillingness to actively fix the country’s financial crisis. Yet again, we’re being told that women in power are dangerous, vicious, reckless, and in keeping with the Wicked Witch Complex, imprisoners of (good) women. In a rather dangerous manner, fairy tales tell us that men, on a whole, save women. In Mirror Mirror, Snow is repeatedly saved from The Queen’s clutches by men, even if, at the climax of the film, it’s by default. Men, the patriarchy would have us believe, are our liberators from the women who would otherwise oppress us. Fairy Tale Land, it seems, is an entire reversal of reality, where men routinely oppress women. Oh, and the Magic Mirror? It’s a portal. What was it I said about Wicked Witches?

What is most telling about Snow’s character is that, although, ultimately, it is her who defeats The Queen, she is only able to do so because she is enabled to, by men. When The Queen orders Snow’s death, Snow doesn’t escape due to some cunning plan, but instead, as a result of Brighton’s pity on Snow’s plight. Instead of killing her directly, he instead leaves her to The Beast. Snow manages to run to the dwarves’ hideout, although collapses at the entrance, where, I’m assuming, the dwarves pull her inside. Although Snow develops throughout the film, she only develops through the aide of men; men are consistently seen as a necessity for women’s development, and rarely a hindrance.

There are redeeming features to Singh’s feature, though. He doesn’t make the mistake of providing an inactive heroine; Snow is very much a dominant character throughout the tale, and her resolve continues throughout the film. Singh also provides an amusing commentary on women’s beauty rituals; the Queen’s routine is implied as being self torture. However. a couple of proto-feminist quips does not a feminist film make.

I’m personally waiting on a feminist fairytale. I’ll be waiting a long time, I suspect, but I’m awaiting a fairy tale which tells us of a woman in power, without a male influence, who is deemed a good character. I’m awaiting a self-rescuing, self-improving female protagonist. And I’m waiting for Hollywood to stop telling our children that “Men = Good, Women = Bad”. Preferably in this lifetime, please?

Disney’s Wicked Witch Complex

I’ve spent most of today working on an essay, which has meant Mini-Dragon has been self-entertaining today. By self-entertaining, I mean asking for recorder lessons, countless questions of “Mummy, what you doing? Why? Can I have…”… You get the point. By lunchtime, it became apparent that self-entertaining wasn’t happening. But at some point around that time, Mini-Dragon dug out the Tangled playset. At some point during this role-play, Flynn Ryder goes hurling off the chair, with a shocked gasp from Mini-Dragon. “Mummy, Mother Gothel just hurt Flynn!”

*Cough* Yeah, about that Disney… What’s the obsession with evil women?

Think I’m bluffing?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Disney films as much as the next… erm… OK, that’s beside the point. But, yes, I have an unhealthy love-hate obsession with Disney. I know Tangled word for word. Likewise with The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. But one thing has always niggled away at my mind. Where the Disney Princess films are concerned, we’re seeing an alarming rate of Wicked Witches being shown to our children, all of whom are somehow overpowering a young, beautiful, heterosexual princess, who needs to be saved by an equally young, beautiful, heterosexual prince. Giving us the Wicked Witch Complex.

Now, I’ll only be looking at the Disney Princess films for this blog post; again, I know the Princess franchise is not the be all and end-all of the Disney Corporation, but, Mickey Mouse aside, they’re arguably the most recognisable characters, and one of the most profitable sectors of the company; the release of the Disney Princess line  saw sales in the company’s consumer products raise from $300 million in 2001, to $3 billion in 2006. That’s a ten fold increase over five years. Not bad, eh?

There are ten official Disney Princesses, spanning an impressive 80 decades. And with that 80 years of Disney Princesses, we see 80 years of villains; some of which aren’t as obvious as one may think. However, up  until 1991, none of the Disney Princess films, as they’re now known, featured a male villain. We’ve also seen a development of the complexity of Disney Villains over the past 80 years; from a 2 dimensional Evil Queen in Snow White, someone that I grew up fearing, to the more complex Mother Gothel, a character who I believe was possibly the most complex of Disney Villains of all time.

But what’s most telling about this is the fact that, whilst the male villains of the nineties and noughties brought the number of male and female villains to a level playing field, we saw less of  a deviation in the diversity of  female villains. Whilst connections to the supernatural were not entirely absent in male villains, only one female villain was devoid of any connection to the supernatural; Lady Tremaine of Cinderella. The issue of the Wicked Witch Complex isn’t resolved by having male villains connected to the supernatural; it’s resolved by refusing to separate women from the supernatural. Whilst women are still being hounded for apparent connections to Witchcraft, is it really justified for Disney to routinely portray a large number of its women characters as such?

But there’s another problem in portraying women as being just as, if not more, dangerous than men. It’s the echoes of the misogynists who attempt to derail talks about men’s violence against women, with cries of “Women are just as dangerous”. Actually, that’s not entirely true… Women aren’t killing 2 men or 2 other women a week; men are. Continually painting women as dangerous killers detracts from the reality that the biggest threat to women lies with men; but the patriarchy would rather pit women against us. Solidarity is harder when we believe every woman is a threat, and men are our saviours. Funnily enough, hailing men as our knights in shining armour also makes it a lot harder for women to escape the patriarchy.

We need Disney, along with other creators of other children’s films, to stop portraying women as dangerous villains, and men as the heroes and protectors. All it is doing is harming our women, and as a result, our children.

I’ll be writing on The Problem With Prince Charming next week; It’s a long one…

Kent Online Reports Rape Case; Does Everything It Can To Avoid The Word “Rape” *Trigger Warning*

A few weeks ago, I was asked the question “What can be done to avoid r*pe”. Those exact words. My first reply was “We need to stop censoring the word rape. Where a rape has occured, we need to call it “rape”, not r*pe, not assault, not unwanted sex. We need to call rape what it is. Otherwise, it becomes a dirty word survivors feel they can’t talk about.”

Alas, avoiding talking about rape is too common; It’s usually only survivors and feminists I hear discussing the matter. Which, when you’re a survivor, looking for a space to speak out, makes things a little more difficult; How can you tell if someone’s willing to listen to you about rape; how can you tell they won’t blame you for being raped; if no-one talks about rape?

Anyway, this brings me to Kent Online. Over the weekend, one of the members of the I Believe Her page forwarded me an article that they had found disturbing. It didn’t take me long to see why.

“Michael Hitchin Accused Of Stranger Sex”

I kid you not. Now, last time I checked, sex wasn’t a crime. Nor was sex with a stranger, provided it was consensual. Rape, however, is. And it should be reported as such. In fact, it shocked me that, in reporting of a rape case, in which the defendant was found guilty, the word “rape” was used once, in describing the survivor as an “alleged rape victim”. Sometimes, the reporting of rape cases makes me despair. This, needless to say, was one of those times.

The way the mainstream media reports rape makes a difference to rape survivors, and attitudes towards rape. There’s a common misconception that rape is somehow “sex gone wrong”, or that somehow, a rape survivor was somehow responsible for being raped. It’s never the case; Rape is about power and control. Paul Hooper, the journalist who reported the case for Kent Online, has spectacularly missed the point with his article.

In fact, Hooper, it seems, is unaware of the fact that being raped is a passive act; rape is something that happens to you, not that you make happen to you. His article opens by talking about how the survivor woke up to find herself “having sex with a stranger”; sensationalising on the stranger element of the case. But sex, and I know I’m preaching to the converted here, involves consent. Regardless of the words the survivor used to describe her experience in court, what she experienced was rape, and reporting it in terms of consensual sex, in the manner Paul Hooper has, minimises the survivors experience. It reads as if Hooper believes the case has been blown out of proportion, as if  he believed a sleeping woman could consent to sex with a stranger.

Rape survivors don’t deserve their cases to be reported in such an insensitive manner. Nor do they deserve to see elements of their case sensationalised. It’s for this reason that we need an overhaul in journalism. We need to see the abolition of rape myths in journalism, and we need to see journalists refraining from the mistake of confusing rape with sex.

The original article can be found at http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/june/1/michael_hitchin_accused.aspx

*Update* Since the publication of this blogpost, Kent Online have edited their article. They’ve also been asked to donate to their local Rape Crisis centre. Rape myths and victim blaming have no place in the media. Let’s hope Kent Online have learnt their lesson. The “improved” article can be found at the same URL.