#IBelieveHer: Reddit, The Guardian, And How Society Really Treats Rapists. *Trigger Warning*

A couple of days ago, Reddit ran a conversation, asking rapists about their perspective of assaults they’d carried out. Following Megan Carpentier’s article on The Guardian’s infamous Comment Is Free, detailing the conversation, I found myself heading over to Reddit to read the thread myself. Between Reddit and The Guardian, an interesting perspective emerged. On Reddit, rapists were forgiven, excused, and told they were now “great” guys. On The Guardian, the CiF saw an attack on feminism, the definition of rape and comments asserting that those rapes didn’t happen. Even when men admit to rape, there’s still people in the corner, claiming that it’s a false claim.

I felt nervous about the idea of a forum giving a voice to rapists. Seeing as so many rape survivors end up silenced, I personally think that the one narrative that doesn’t deserve a public airing is the unedited voice of the rapist. As a user of Reddit said: “Giving a voice to shitheads who don’t even feel any remorse about what they did isn’t a good thing.”  And he’s right. A lot of these rapists, telling their stories, didn’t show any remorse, tried to blame the survivor, and tried to claim that they were as much victims of their crimes as the women they’d raped had been.

But for the rapists who aired their stories, a more interesting narrative unfolded in the responses. We began to see how far some men would go to excuse rape. Memorably, AntiDamage tried to argue that pressuring a woman into sex wasn’t rape. It is.

Coercion is a concept I feel that many people overlook. Whereas the rape apologists claim that feminists try to widen the definition of rape, I’d argue that rape apologists try to narrow the definition. To me, rape is simply defined as a man penetrating another person who does not wish to be penetrated, with his penis. Simple, leaves no questions. If your partner doesn’t want sex, it’s not your place to try and change her mind. If you pressurise her into sex she doesn’t want, that is still rape.

One thing that struck me through the stories where men had claimed they’d stopped just short of raping a woman is how many  of them had claimed it was seeing something in her face, usually fear, that made them stop. But there lies the problem. Were these men so removed from the woman they wanted sex with – the woman they believed wanted sex with them- that at no point they chose to look at her face? It highlights our culture that objectifies women – the person you’re having sex with no longer matters enough for little gestures, such as looking at your partner. Women are becoming products from a standard factory line in too many men’s eyes, designed to be in a constant state of consent. It’s why the “she didn’t say no” line of defence is so dangerous. Women are not autonomous, and consent is not a guaranteed right. Assuming a woman wants sex with you is a dangerous viewpoint – If you don’t want to be a rapist, assume a woman doesn’t want sex with you, until she proves otherwise.

But the most important thing Reddit proved last week was simple, and a message feminists have been trying to get across for ages. The men, relaying their stories of how they’d raped women, were telling stories of how they’d raped acquaintances, whilst in a domestic setting. Reddit proved what we’ve been saying all along – Rapists aren’t lurking down every alleyway; they’re not deranged psychopaths. They’re the friends who we trust, the boyfriends, family acquaintances. For all the “Not My Nigel” arguments that women throw about in defence of their partners, the men of Reddit have proven that, yes… It really is our Nigels who pose the threat.

“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