Misogyny Blues

I never read Puberty Blues nor have I ever seen the film. I am not entirely sure how I missed both of these. Of course, I knew what the book was about broadly – girls in the surf culture of Sydney in the 1970s and the implications in terms of sex and other things. Nonetheless, it means that coming to watch the series I have very limited preconceptions.

The series was beautifully acted and directed for the most part and I thought the writing was very strong. I really enjoyed it. But that didn’t mean that it was without its moments of discomfort. In fact, the moments of discomfort were its strongest feature. Puberty Blues confronted the sexism and misogygy face by women of this subculture – particularly young women, for whom joyless sex was a compulsory rite of passage. One had sex because it was the entree card to being cool – as long as one didn’t do it too soon, or with too many different people. And this role of women to be used as objects for sex in order to gain acceptance, was reflected in the ways their mothers acted – except in the case of Debbie and her mother the school principal.

For me, the characters one really feels for in Puberty Blues are the girls on the periphery – Cheryl and Freida in particular. Cheryl is the chief “mean girl” dictating permission to enter the “cool” group. But her role in this group is tied in a complex way to her relationship with the boys. For most of the series she is not “going round” with anyone, but she is expected to provide sexual services to the boys, while they also dismiss her as a “moll” when she engages in what the boys deem is socially transgressive behaviour such as getting drunk. Meanwhile Freida is repeatedly gang raped by the boys, and then is shunned socially when not being used sexually. Freida’s plight is ultimately what moves Debbie and Sue to act decisively against the established social order.

What is interesting though is the timing. A version of Puberty Blues has not been made since 1981. It is thus possible to see the production of Puberty Blues at this time politically, particularly given the bleak depiction of teenage sexuality and the treatment of girls and women. To me it says that the debate about the treatment of women has been reopened in this country – before Julia Gillard made her speech about misogyny, before Jill Meagher’s murder sparked Reclaim the Night marches, before we looked on in horror at the recent events in India. The way Puberty Blues approaches these issues does not indicate to me a view that these are closed topics or the past. The series calls into question the treatment of women, the dismissing of their sexual needs and the exercise of power that is involved in the sexual degradation of women. Puberty Blues is about power relationships, and the exercise of power, and speaks to the need for women to work together to support each other and increase their power.

History, rape and Razor

From ninemsn.com.au

The way that the past is remembered and presented for our consideration is influenced by the present in which that remembering and representation is done. The relationship between the past and present is not straightforward or simple, and can be interrogated, but there is undoubtedly a relationship and an influence.

Underbelly Razor has been interesting in a number of ways, particularly in its depiction of women. All the Underbelly series have had a slightly tortured relationship with their female protagonists, with a tendency to the exploitative – more breasts than one would have thought strictly necessary. Razor however focuses on two female leads who have real power within the criminal environment.The most interesting depiction of women has generally been, however, of those participating in law enforcement – the police. The powerlessness and challenges faced by women in these situations has been an ongoing theme of the Underbelly series.

Nonetheless, I think that Episode 5, The Darlinghurst Outrage was a particularly unusual and special piece of television, centred as it was on a complex rape case. It raised a number of scenarios – woman crying rape because she was paid to do so; woman crying rape because her husband found out she was a prostitute, straightforward rape of a woman dragged off the street. The “truth” of the episode was more complex – a wife and mother, forced by poverty and her husband’s unemployment, engages is some casual prostitution. After consensual, paying sex, one of the men involved wants to go further – she does not consent to this, and is anally raped while being held down by the two other men.

Attitudes within the police are made clear – senior officers only want to pursue the case when she is a respectable wife-and-mother; we hear that they have been unwilling to bring forward a number of cases of the rape of prostitutes. A male policeman argues that the case is unwinnable – it is the word of one woman against that of three men. So when the female officer, trying to make some headway in the prosecution of rape, finds out that prostitution has been involved, she ignores this fact and allows it to remain concealed. Ultimately, the prosecution loses. It is then that we see what Kate Leigh says she’d pay a lot of money to know, the truth according to the show. Ida Maddocks is held down and raped, screaming no.

What makes this depiction most compelling is the current media, judicial and social discourse around rape. One could almost imagine the same conversations being held by the police now. Rape against prostitutes is still, sadly, seen as a less awful crime. If there has been some form of consent given to some form of sex, public discourse often extends that consent to all forms of sex and any number of partners. The events in which football players, in particular, seem to find themselves embroiled often entail similar levels of complexity, and as often as not, this complexity is part of the tactics used to escape conviction. As is the woman’s sexual history.

Against this background of the current discourse around rape, what I think makes this an excellent contribution is that the message is clear, Ida Maddocks said no. Ida Maddocks was raped. And one of the men knew this – he was identified by the markings on the back of his neck because, while he held her down for business purposes, he knew what was happening was wrong.

Thanks Underbelly for acknowledging that, whatever our sexual history of previous consent, no means no.

Sons and Slutwalk

Signing the Slutwalk manifesto

Even before the whole Slutwalk issue came up, I have believed and said that I would feel I had failed as a (feminist) mother if my sons grew up to call women “sluts”. To denigrate women based on their perceived sexual behaviour. To view male and female sexual activity through different lenses, subjected to different standards. If they ever judge a women they have had sex with, I would despair and ask them – what does that make you?

I want my sons to grew up to understand that there are three important components to a great sex life: safety, respect and consent. I want my sons to have lots of safe sex and sex with respect. It can also be passionate, wild, outrageous, kinky, uncontained, joyous,with women or men (or women and men), but they need to understand that the best sex involves respect and consent. Without those things it is not something that is shared and enjoyed – it is imposed. And there is no joy in that.

So I’ll be taking my boys to Slutwalk in Canberra. They need to understand that labels are used as objects of violence and power, that they are there to oppress and to create an atmosphere where the unthinkable and unreasonable can be excused or tolerated. Reading the blogs and tweets about Slutwalk over the past couple of weeks has reinforced this belief. The visceral reaction so many of us have to “that word”, the fact that so many dismiss the protest as being about “dressing like a skank or a prostitute” shows just how much people fail to understand. As many women have attested over the past fortnight, we are called sluts when wearing jeans and t-shirts, for walking down the street and, quite often, for refusing the sexual attentions of a man. Being labelled a slut is not about sexual promiscuity, it is about power, just as rape is not about sex.

And even if women are sexually promiscuous, what of it? Who judges what is acceptable and what is not? Is “promiscuity” sleeping with one person, three, six, twenty, one hundred? All answers are arbitrary, all represent the imposition of one value system on someone else. All are again about judgement and power. When I was at university, I remember having a male friend imply that I was being promiscuous because a recent sexual encounter. At the same time, he’d had three times as many sexual partners as me in that year. Our view of promiscuity is subjective and results from in-built value systems. Or personal insecurities and inadequacies. That kind of judgement says more about the person making the judgement, than the person they are judging.

It is never OK to rape. Never. The arguments I have seen in comments on blogs and on Facebook that imply that going out dressed “sluttily” is the same as leaving your front door open and expecting not to be robbed are totally bogus and miss the point. Most rapes are by someone you know, and often in your own home. Should women lock themselves in a room and never see anyone or expect to be raped? As I have said before, most men are not rapists. Why can’t we put the blame on the ones who are, and not make women feel guilty for being raped, or live a life expecting that they may be raped at any time.

Like Catherine Deveny, I want my boys to grow up to be the ones who intervene, who say ‘that’s not cool”, who help the passed out girl home. I’ve had friends like that, I will treasure them for ever. I want my boys to be good sexual citizens, I want them to treat women (and men) with respect, no matter what they wear, no matter who they have (or haven’t) slept with.

The time to start learning respect is now. When they are 9,7 and 5. Not later. And that is why they’ll be coming to Slutwalk with me. And with my male partner.

* Update: So the 7 and 4 year olds came long to Slutwalk – the 9 year old was playing football, so had to miss out on this occasion. While the 4 year old was more interested in shooting droids, the 7 year old when to the front to listen carefully to the speeches. While I don’t think he fully understands the concept of rape, some concepts were very clear to him. He was very keen personally to sign the Slutwalk manifesto, engaged in some chanting, and, when asked what he had learnt from the experience, said that it was “important not to blame the victim.” A message clear enough that even a 7 year old can articulate it.

Power sluts

When Gail Dines claims that the idea of  a SlutWalk undermines feminist causes, she both conflates issues and misses the point.  While her argument that women are excessively sexualised in society is not wrong, it is also not a new phenomenon we should be surprised about. It is perhaps true enough to argue that some of the manner in which this sexualisation of women occurs is different, but I think it would be challenging to argue that it is a massive or radical change. For example in the 1980s, Kellner and Ryan wrote about the “pornification” of mainstream movies that had occured from the late 1970s. Advertising from the 1960s and 1970s showed women in much more overtly sexualised way than current advertising can, due to codes of practice and community standards. And earlier than this women have generally been viewed as a dichotomy – sexualised or respectable, with men having the right to treat sexualised women however they like, with little fear of reprisal. The concept of “Raunch Culture” is a catchy title this used by those older to tut-tut at the younger, when really it is just an extension of an approach to women that has been around for an extraordinarily long time.

What Dines et al miss is the idea of a SlutWalk is not about longing to be sexualised, it is about saying that though women are sexualised, they should not be mistreated. It is an intensely radical act as a woman, to embrace the choice to be sexual but respected. By tut-tutting about women who embrace the sexualisation which is thrust upon them, Gail Dines  and her ilk buy explicitly into the same attitude which tells women they should not be dressing like sluts if they want to avoid rape. Which puts the onus for rape on women, which forces women to police their own behaviour to avoid violence to them. These attitudes remove the responsibility for rape from men, giving the rapists a free pass.

It is disturbing also to see how early women are forced into a policing of their own sexual behaviour. At a sleep over for 7 year olds, I have had a girl tell me she couldn’t possibly “sleep near a boy”, while the boys are oblivious, and another girl report that she couldn’t sleep over because there are “too many boys who might be rascals.” These girls are already being inducted into the idea that it is their responsibility to avoid sexual assault, while boys miss out on this kind of social conditioning.

We don’t want to see 7 year olds overtly sexualised, but we also don’t want to see them fearing their own sexuality and feeling that it is their responsibility to avoid being a slut. A slut is a label given by others, making it one you can embrace yourself, while rejecting the oppressive intent, would be liberating.

To understand what a Slut Walk is really about, read the inspiring words from Jaclyn Friedman at the Boston SlutWalk. Similarly see the signs from another Slutwalk.  Then I defy you to argue these are anti-women or oppressive.

Updated: For some further good commentary see It’s Not Rocket Science and The Red Pill Survival Guide

Women & Alcohol: A combination not to be trusted

It seems that alcohol is the new front line in the patriarchal control of women’s bodies and behaviour. This has been true for some time now – over the last few years we have had a spate of current affairs beat ups bemoaning how much young women drink nowadays; there was the whole alco-pops thing which was totally infused with Young Women Should Not Drink flavour; and of course the wonders of Ladette to Lady and its ilk in which young women learnt to sip champagne rather than chug bourbon.

While most alcohol related violence, death, assault, vehicle accidents and the like are caused by men, as a society we see women drinking as the real cause of concern.

This irritates me because I like to drink. I find enjoyment in a quiet drink or two, and sometimes I find a great deal of pleasure in getting completely plastered. I am not unaware of the consequences – I know how I will feel the next day, I know that I run the risk (less now than in the past) of getting into stupid and pointless arguments, I know that I will become loud. I also know that alcohol consumption will increase my weight and my unhealthiness. So I resent the way that the bad effects of alcohol are used to control women’s behaviour.

This was horribly reinforced to me yesterday in two completely separate arenas.

First, there is the ongoing sorry story of the way some (limited and specific) people in the media chose to treat sexual assaults where alcohol may be a contributing factor. Apparently women need to be careful about this. Women, apparently, need to assume that they will be raped, and modify their behaviour accordingly. Don’t go home with men, don’t wear short skirts, don’t be sexual and, most important of all, don’t drink. It doesn’t matter that the criminal code in every Australian state and territory notes that consent is not present when a person is drunk to the point of insensibility. It seems to me that the Kerri Anne Kennerly’s and SpidaEveritt’s of the world haven’t thought this through – really, are all men rapists? I think that is more than a little insulting to men. And the social control that is being exerted here – if you do anything that might have put you at risk, rape is your fault. Clearly in these discussions, alcohol is the short skirt of the new century.

So no, we haven’t really moved on on that front. But it seems women can’t be trusted in other areas as well.

Pregnancy. So a scientific study comes out which suggests that very low levels of drinking during pregnancy might not be harmful to your soon-to-be baby. In fact, it might be a good thing. The study still reinforces that heavy drinking has a very significant downside. So what does the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre do? It doesn’t question the methodology or suggest that the results should be treated with caution. No, it says it should be ignored? Why? Well, for apparently no reason other than it doesn’t fit with NDARC’s defining ideology – alcohol is bad. These are the same people who seem to suggest that 4 alcoholic drinks in a day is “heavy” drinking for women.

So apparently women can’t be trusted to take a balanced approach to these things, to make informed sensible choices. No, they should just “ignore” anything which suggests that and get back in their box. Other people should continue to maintain their control of women’s bodies, because women can’t be trusted not to harm their unborn children or to not get themselves raped.

Now, I have objections to these things on purely theoretical grounds, but I also have objections to these which are based on my own experiences and life. So I am going to get a little personal here.

Sexual assault laws are such that women do not have to face identification in the media when they are raped. And nor should they. Turning women who have been assaulted into public figures would serve to decrease the already low levels of reporting of sexual assault. However, the down side of this anonymity, is that the same kinds of people I was discussing above feel free to fill in their own descriptions about the women in these situations. And so women who may be sexually or romantically interested in footballers become sluts, whores, trophy seekers, groupies etc etc etc. Now, while I would be quick to point out that no matter what name you might want to call a women, no matter what her sexual history, it is not OK to rape her. Not even a little bit. However, I also find the whole slut-shaming around the tropes of women-who-like-footballers fairly offensive, so time to add my own story.

When I was 17, still at school and still a virgin, I went to the football (the SA AFL) pretty much every week. I had friends whose fathers worked at the club, so got free tickets to go with my friends. We also got to hang out at the club, and often went out to the places that the footballers went. I was 17 and guess what – all of those athletic young men who were my age or a little older seemed pretty attractive, so flirting ensued. I was 17, I was out with older friends, so sometimes drinking ensued. Sometimes there was drinking and flirting and possibly even snogging. And, one night, at about 3am, after a few drinks, I ended up alone at the house of one of these footballers. It was not my intention to have sex with him when I went there – I was 17, and a virgin, and was still silly and naive enough to have romantic ideals about how I would like my “first time” (I also hadn’t cottoned on to the fact that romance is just another form of patriarchal social control, but I was young). And guess what? This footballer accepted that no meant no. That having sex with me would have constituted rape.

I have never been raped.

I will let you conclude your own morals from that story. But what I would like to say is, assumptions should not be made about people – not men and not women. I have to remember this story myself when I see all the stories about footballers and rape and start to be ready to classify them all as the same. They are not. And neither are the women involved.

My second story is a simpler one. I have had three children. When I was thinking of getting pregnant, I read widely on the issue of alcohol and pregnancy. Across the range of literature i read, the approaches which were recommended went from total abstinence to two drinks per day. I thought about the dangers and I made some sensible, informed choices. For the first 15 weeks of my pregnancy I completely abstained. After that, I had one to two drinks from time to time. I avoided beer and spirits completely, and confined myself to the odd glass of wine with a meal or celebratory glass of champagne. My children are robustly healthy and have developed normally (or in advance of time) both cognitively and physically. I feel no guilt about my alcohol consumption during pregnancy.

Why can’t other women be trusted to make up their minds about alcohol and pregnancy? Fetal alcohol syndrome is an awful thing, but having the odd drink or two is unlikely to present a higher risk of damage to your unborn child than standing next to a microwave or breathing in cleaning agents when you scrub the shower. If we are not going to lock woman in a hermetically sealed box while they are pregnant, can we just get real? I don’t advocate or encourage drinking during pregnancy, I just think that women should be able to make up their own minds.

Alcohol is a drug and not without side effects and problems. But these side effects and problems should not be used as a way to control women. Women are capable of making sensible decisions and choices about alcohol during pregnancy. And if alcohol-fueled sexual assault occurs, maybe it is the drinking of the assaulter rather than the victim which we should condemn.

Or perhaps I am just dreaming?

Woodstock and the myth of the Sixties

So it is 40 years since Woodstock, which means we get people (who are cultural theory academics apparently) saying stuff like this:

To many people it kind of represents the 60s and we put that in quotation marks. All of the kind of optimism and energy of the counter-culture of the 1960s seems to have been temporarily placed at Woodstock.

It became the capital of the 60s for a brief period. And of course, I think one of the reasons Woodstock becomes so embraced, it wouldn’t be very many years before so much optimism of that period had in fact collapsed.

Basically, it is mythological bollocks.

Paul Lyons writes about how he sends his undergraduates out each year to interview people who lived during the Sixties.

He describes the reaction of students who are sent to interview baby boomers about their experiences during the decade. Inevitably these students complain that they are “not finding the right people” and that those they interviewed “weren’t really part of the Sixties.” This is because their subjects do not confirm to the tropic understanding of the Sixties held by these students: that the Sixties involved Woodstock, hippies, civil rights and the Vietnam War. For many, the sum of these tropes is the Sixties.

OK, so what is a trope? Hayden White says:

Tropic is the shadow from which all realistic discourse tries to flee. This flight, however, is futile; for tropics is the process by which all discourse constitutes the objects which it pretends only to describe realistically and to analyze objectively.

What he means is that tropes are organising concepts which in the case of history can obscure what we are actually trying to objectively consider. So, in the case of Lyons’ students, they are so fixated on the tropes of the Sixties – the sex, drugs, protest and rock and roll aspect of it – that they are unable to understand that in fact, that isn’t what constituted the experience of most people during the period. And by then denying the voice of the non-tropic recollections of history, the idea that those things constituted the decade becomes further reinforced.

You will probably find that, if you asked, most baby boomers have been to a hell of a lot less protest marches, taken less drugs, had sex with fewer people than most people 20 years younger than them. But not in all cases of course. Someone the other day was saying it would have been exciting to be young in the Sixties. Maybe – if you came from the socio-economic class where you could afford a higher education, where you might, maybe, at university have engaged with political movements. For the majority of young people growing up at the time, it was nothing like that. There is as much excitement and change and pioneering going on nowadays.

This is not to deny that there was signifiant cultural change during the Sixties and that many movements had powerful pioneers during that time to whom we should all be greatful. The women’s movement, the civil rights movements in America and the fight for Aboriginal rights in Australia, the anti-war movement were all critical and significant parts of change. However, they didn’t “happen” to everyone, and not everyone who lead those movements was young at the time.

Nonetheless, we mythologise. And Woodstock was not all peace and love anyway. There was at least one rape reported following the event in 1969 and probably a great deal more that went unreported, given the approach to dealing with rape at the time. And rape could be a very challenging area when intersected with the “free love” movement. It is notable that, by the 1980s, some women viewed their experiences with “free love” and the sexual revolution somewhat skeptically. While there was an undoubted change in the way women dealt with sex during the Sixties, the perspective that many women took by the 1980s was far from a total endorsement their sexual lives from the time. For example, Lillian Rubin interviewed one woman who argued that the revolution, which had freed them to say yes, also disabled them from saying no. “It was weird; it was so hard to say no,” said 38-year-old Paula…“The guys just took it for granted that you’d go to bed with them, and you felt like you had to explain it if you didn’t want to. Then if you tried, you couldn’t think of a good reason why not to, so you did it.” A number of other women interviewed by Rubin repeat this theme. Rubin herself notes that “it was the coercive force of a movement that, in fact, had wide appeal to women, while it also rested on a deeply entrenched structure of roles and relationships that was bound to corrupt the ideals on which it was founded.” Thus free love without sexual equality could lead to coercive expectations on women around sex.

Despite all this, when rapes occured at the Woodstock festival in 1999, it was seen as a condemnation of “young peope today” and moral panic about the manner in which this mythologised event was being diminished. And this is essentially the danger of mythologising and tropes. We can’t critical analyse in a past when we are too obsess with protecting it and with seeing it as representative of everything about an era. Nothing, no single event, and especially not an LSD fuelled orgy can represent an entire decade, and entire generation. To try and argue that it does oversimplifies and, in so doing, distorts the past. And by distorting the past and obscuring the analysis, we can’t understand it in all its complexity.

So, I might have liked to have been at Woodstock – although I tend to avoid music festivals where I have to camp…And it certainly is an interesting event which illustrates the peak, arguably, of a certain small subculture within North America at the time. But let’s not overblow its meaning, let’s not oversimplify what happened in the past.




Douchebag society

So unsurprisingly there has been a massive outpouring of anti-Sandilands feeling given the whole, fairly appalling display of humanity that went on this morning. If you missed it, Hoyden has a transcript as well as commentary, and other commentary can be found at a shiny new coin and on The Punch, for starters.  I am reluctant to provide a link to Sandilands own response on The Punch as I wouldn’t want to dignify it by driving further traffic that way – suffice to say it is self serving and unhelpful. The issue has driven at least two top trending topics on Twitter with the #sandilandsisadouche subject and Kyle Sandilands itself.

There are a number of threads to the general discussion that seems to be about the place: (a) Kyle is to blame, especially for the callous way he continued and asked the unbelievably insensitive question (b) the mother is to blame – she apparently knew of the rape (c) rape or not, asking a 14 year old on air about her sexual experiences is abusive (d) not only Sandilands and the mother but the producers and everyone involved should share the blame, and finally, the one which really just turns my stomach (e) people should just toughen up and get over it. Yes, that’s right folks, toughen up – we shouldn’t be disturbed by young girls being forced to recount sexual assault on air – we’re all soft, bleeding hearts etc. Because child sexual assault is funny!

Aside from all of that, I think the whole scenario shows demonstrates a destructive set of cultures coming together with a horrible bang. I don’t think we can blame the media for problems is society – in fact, I think blaming the media is part of the problem. But we can certainly critically examine the various impacts that a number of cultural trends are having on us.

Parenting is becoming a very public event. There is an enormous amount of verbiage out there about what is and isn’t good parenting. Parents can be held responsible for their children’s actions and google reveals a massive list of articles about parents being gaoled for their children’s truancy. On the flip-side, a lot of parenting is being pushed onto others – we need internet censors and bans of junk food advertising and schools to teach children everything from values to sex education to healthy eating. I would have thought that in all these cases, engaged parenting could and should be just as effective as external influences. And then there is this increasing trend toward giving parenting over to reality television – Supernanny, Brat Camp, The World’s Strictest Parents…..etc. So perhaps in this climate, someone might think that using a lie detector and a shock jock is a reasonable approach to parenting. One also has to wonder – did the mother do it for the celebrity, another driving force in our current reality-drive 15 minutes of fame society, or did she do it because she was bereft of support and parenting skills and didn’t know how to address what she perceived as her child’s behavioural problems? Not that this excuses her choice to publicly traumatise her child, but perhaps it starts to explain it. And I have seen at least one comment that seemed to think it was a fair enough approach to getting vital parenting information – the writer complained that the girl “deflected the question” with the statement about rape, and Sandilands was right to probe further. Yep, women cry rape at every opportunity to deflect attention from what they have done wrong….

There is also the sex angle. Clearly the radio station loves the idea of talking about sex on air. And the constant buzz around sex and girls and the frisson that ensues, leads to a saturation of sex and young women closely associated in the media. And yet, ironically, pedophilia and sexual exploitation of children is an area in which the media loves to create controversy and what borders on moral panic. While the art world is vilified over its use of girls in art, commercial radio thinks that it is OK to sexually harass a 14 year old on air? the constant contradictions in the media about children and sex are constantly there, but this is hardly new – as Billy Bragg sang a lot of years ago about newspapers  “where they offer you a feature on stockings and suspenders next to calls for stiffer penalties for sex offenders.”

The other interesting contributing factor is the weight that is put on shame by our society. We love to “name and shame.” We relish the shame of fallen stars and use shame as a tool against things like drink driving by publishing the names of those convicted. Here, it would appear, that the mother and Kyle and Jackie were trying to shame this girl – perhaps as a punishment, perhaps as a tool to make her modify her behaviour. But it is a long way from redemptive shaming – a long way from anything that is healing or helpful.

So in this scenario, all the individuals are culpable for the individual choices they made which allowed this to happen. But individuals don’t exist in a vacuum, and, while Kyle Sandlilands undoubtedly is a douchebag, perhaps we also need to try and understand the social forces at work which lead to the creation of such a douchebag.

Rape is rape is rape

I’ve been reading the various articles about the judge’s deliberations in Adelaide over the case of Matthew James Sloan and the idea of “technical rape” with growing unease and a I-can’t-quite-place-my-finger-on-it sense of wrongness. But it took a tweet from Crikey writer Bernard Keane linking the judge’s comments with the now infamous “rougher than usual handling” discussion of a number of years back to really crystallise my outrage. Rape is rape is rape. There is no “technical” or kind of rape. Was consent present – no – therefore, rape. The idea that the judge can decide that nothing happened that “she wouldn’t have consented to had she been conscious” is once again an indication that a man’s “reputation” is more important than a sexual assault perpetrated against a woman. How can the judge know that? Given that the woman concerned was so heavily intoxicated that she passed out before sex could commence, how real was the initial consent anyway? Like the whole rugby league saga from the media earlier this year, when large amounts of alcohol are involved, and situations change, consent can no longer be presumed. And would she ever have consented to having her body used while unconscious? Clearly, this woman considered she had not consented, or she would not have gone to the police. And clearly the man, Mr Sloan, accepted this when he pled guilty (as I understand he did). For a judge to then dismissively minimise the extent of the crime because he is concerned about the impact on the man involved life, belittles and diminishes the woman.

If you absolutely have to cut him some kind of lighter sentence, argue it was because his judgement was diminished because of alcohol – don’t minimise the crime itself. Besides, perhaps the ironic fact is that his name has been splashed around the media to a way greater extent than it would have been if the judge had given his the suspended sentence the prosecutors had been seeking. I am sure that this has done more damage to his reputation anyway. Not that this makes it any better.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. But we should be allowed to be outraged.

Old cliches, new applications

So in the last week, I have been rather exercised by the whole Matthew Johns rugby league sex scandal. The thing which has frustrated, upset and disappointed me the most is the fact that, as a society, we really don’t seem to have moved on from the idea that girls in short skirts are asking to be raped. Or at least its equivalent. It seems that when a woman exposes these things, out there we feel the need to play the (wo)man, not the ball. It is not enough to talk about the meaning of consent, or the nature of moral judgement, or whether it is just to punish one for the sins of many. No, immediately the reaction of both the media and the fraternity and the (ugly, ugly) fans is that clearing she was a lying slut who was asking for it anyway. My complete flabbergastedness reached its zenith today on reading the News Ltd headline – she married a rugby player? So what – in later life marrying a rugby (union not league) player means that you consented to being gang-banged by rugby players when younger? I’m not sure I understand the logic – it is ok to be raped as long as you later go on to marry someone who works in the same profession? Fascinating.

This kind of blame-the-victim mentality is particularly obvious in some of the Facebook groups which have sprung up. What is particualry interesting is that some of the most vitrolic and mysogynistic commentary appears to come from women. Take for example these three verbatim entries:

At any time during her interview did they ask the question that I think matters most? DID SHE CONSENT??????? If so she should pull her head in. As a women I feel some of us have taken Womens rights to far its ok for some of us to start a Facebook fan club re: Picking up Pro Footballers but the poor footballers can’t have consentual relations without being ridiculed. Cmon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Or

At no time have i heard this women say she could not leave the room.. at no time has she said they violently raped her unwilling .. she knew wat was going to happen when she went to the room with the guys and wat now she is having a whinge over it. Or is money tight for her and she figures this is a good way to make a quick buck by being paid for the interviews.. I think if this women has nothing to hide come out and show your face .. she says she has been in hiding for 7 years.. hiding from what i ask.. I know the guys have to take responisbitity for their actions and learn to walk away for what is thrown at them by some 5 mins of fame wanna be women but on the same hand these women have got to either want it by a football player or dont go to their rooms… She has to remember that SHE went to their rooms not the other way round.. I think she should suck it up she got wat she wanted and get over it and leave the poor footy players alone. BRING BACK MATTY JOHNS …..

or

Its all well and good to say have respect for women, but u cant not expect people to respect these women, if the women dont respect them selves first, that girl had no self respect…never said no…..or walked away…….she knew wot could happened n it did so then the blame should also lay with her…she wasnt forced to that room she wanted to go (her idea i understand) so now she wants someone else to suffer, n that to me is discussting n should not be allowed to let this haapen she got wot she wanted her 10 minutes of fame and now she is getting away with the fact that she doesnt have to take responsabily for her own actions and people are letting this happen like channel nine….wot message is this sending to young women of the world if u dont like wot happened just blame someone else cause yr a female u will get away with it…mum always told me growing up means taking responsability for yr self now remind me how is this female doin that!!!!!!!!!!

So let’s consider this. Apparently no one asked whether it was consensual – well, clearly, ‘Clare’ didn’t think so. There was a police investigation at the time, and I’m assuming it wasn’t one of the players who made the report which provoked that. Personally, I think it was pretty clearly rape (although not by Matthew Johns himself, who apparently did have consent). She consented to having sex with two players but unless she knew exactly what she was consenting to and what was going to happen when she went into the room, the rest was rape. It is interesting because I wonder what these women quoted above would say if the men in question were young Lebanese men from Western Sydney. In a number of the prominent rape cases over the last decade, the young woman in question consented to having sex with a guy, who then brought in his friends and subjected her to repeated sexual assault. And interestingly, their defence was often similar to those quoted above – she was a slut and was asking for it and should have known.

Then there is this concept that she could have left the room and that she wasn’t “violently raped unwilling”. Firstly, a very young woman in a room full of athletic, strong blokes, half or fully naked, slightly drunk – is this really a situation that is so easy to walk away from? Is it easy to just get up and say – sorry about that, this isn’t really on guys, see you later? The fear of violence, of mockery, of scorn sees women just passively go along with any number of things that they are still not consenting to. Being naked and already engaged in sex hardly puts you in a position of power. And since when did rape have to involve violence? Is this the best defence that can be mustered – it wasn’t violent? Again we also have this prominent theme that “she got what she wanted” – the getting a whole lot more than that apparently is a small price to pay.

Sociologist David Rowe has pointed out that this is a consistent pattern of behaviour for rugby league. In the Sun Herald on the weekend an article by David Sygall notes:

“The same outcome seems to occur – that the scheming woman knew what she was doing, she’s bleating now because she feels rejected, and the real victim is the sports hero,” Rowe says, adding that this pattern is consistent with aspects of league culture.

Of course, ironically, the Sun Herald which carried this critical report about league culture, also featured on its back page the musings of Danny Weidler, a total boof-head, on the back page who, while feeling sorry for the girl, indicated that his conscience was clear because, even though he knew about the incident at the time, he chose not to report it, because he had heard “the other side.”

It is this very pattern of behaviour which leads to the repeat offenders and the endless cycle of poor behaviour.  The situation with the Coffs Harbour incident involving the Canterbury Bulldogs was similar, with unbelievably vitrolic attacks on the woman who dares to speak against their stars on ‘Doggies’ websites. It is also interesting that the Duke lacrosse team incident involved the same kinds of attacks on the credibility of the woman involved – she too was a lying slut, and a stripper at that. Is it any wonder that women still are reluctant to report sexual assault when we as a society still drag their sexuality, morality and reputation through the mud. Clearly the idea that raping a nun is infinitely worse than raping a prostitute is still alive and well.

Out of the coverage, I must say that I have grown a great deal of respect for Rebecca Wilson having read her piece in the Daily Telegraph and heard her on ABC radio. Other commentary like that of Robyn Riley and Adele Horin has highlighted some of the issue that make me shudder about the whole incident. I think that it is important that women who do like the sport (and I must admit I am not one of them) are also willing to point out that the culture is not good enough. As Matty’s wife herself said “I wouldn’t have wanted it to be my daughter.”