RSS Feed

Tag Archives: justice

Patriarchy’s Wet Dream

View story at Medium.com

After the controversial TED talk ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ was programmed to be part of London women’s festival WOW 2017 there was outcry from survivors and individuals who felt that having a rapist at a woman’s festival was inappropriate, offensive and upsetting. In response the WOW organisers moved the event to one day outside of the festival and made it open to both WOW pass holders and the general public. Where the talk had been originally scheduled they instead held a panel discussion with the very loaded title of “Deciding Whose Story Gets Told”, where some of the people who were opposed to the talk going ahead at WOW joined those who wanted it as part of the festival. I thought the idea of ‘Deciding Whose Story Gets Told’ would be an interesting jumping off point for further exploration of this talk.

A quick breakdown of’Rape and Reconciliation’ for those who are unaware: 16 year old Elva was raped by her boyfriend Stranger who was 18 at the time, many years later she emailed him and they begin to correspond, resulting in Stranger admitting he did indeed rape Elva. They meeting in South Africa where they ‘reconcile’. They co-write a book together and rehearse for their TED talk. They are now touring the world to promote their book “South of Forgiveness”. A shorter version of this analysis is “Rapists admits to raping a minor. World Applauds”.

In the UK only 15% of rapes are reported to the police and only 5.7% of reported cases will end in a conviction. There are women who struggle to get their friends and family to believe they were raped, women who will never tell a soul, women who tell the police but aren’t taken seriously or who are told there isn’t enough evidence to prosecute, women who are silenced, women who are threatened, women who are raped as a tool of war, women who make up the 31% of UK women who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood and many more women who experience sexual violence in a range of different circumstances- and all of these women have stories that deserve to be told. However the story that the media, the book publisher Scribe, TED and Southbank have decided to tell is Elva and Stranger’s, a story of rape, forgiveness and reconciliation.

I am not suggesting that Elva not be able to tell her story, nor am I suggesting Stranger not be able to tell his either. I would however like to propose a few questions, like would they have been gifted so much publicity and so many stages if say, one or both of them had been a person of colour? We only need to look to Hollywood to see how white men accused of sexual abuse are treated very differently to black men accused of same. What if they were Muslims? What about if they were both physically unattractive? If they were in their 70’s? If they were both obese? It is hard for me to not think that the fact that they are both white, slim and attractive allows them access to stages and places that many other people would be denied. It feels likely that their white, middle class, attractive privilege gave their story a leg up when it came to  “Deciding Whose Story Gets Told”.

Elva states that by putting her story out there she hopes it will create a change of conversation around rape. She says we need to start talking to men about rape and include them in these types of conversations. I agree. It is a shame that the majority of media and festival opportunities Elva and Stranger have been given have all had primarily women audiences. As most survivors of sexual assault are women who do not need to be taught that it is men we know who are raping us. 90% of us are raped by men we know, this is not news to rape victims (1 in 3 women) nor is it (for the most part) news to the men who rape us (we don’t know how many in 3 that is, as we only ever talk about how many women get raped, not how many men will rape). We also do not need to be taught about why men rape us. We know why men rape. They rape because they feel a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, and this sense of entitlement has been socialised into them by a culture that pictures women through a lens of largely unattainable and restrictive gender stereotypes. We know they feel that they are of a higher status than women, they do not see women as their equal – and again this is where gender stereotypes play into these ideas men have that lead them to harm women.

Given Elva and Stranger’s stated desires for the talk and the fact that this knowledge (of why men rape) is so widely available I had hoped that Stranger’s part of the TED talk would be quite different from what he offers. I’d like to see him dissecting his toxic socialisation. I’d like to see him admitting to where society failed him by teaching him to have so much entitlement and so little regard for women that he would chose to rape a woman and manage to fool himself for years into pretending it wasn’t rape. I’d like to see him placing his actions in the context of it being considered ‘normal’ male behaviour and showing it up as the awful, degrading, harmful and abnormal behaviour it is. I’d like to see him explore rape culture from the point of view of someone who drank from it’s waters. I’d like to see him challenging other men to consider what they perceive as  a ‘normal’ way to treat women, and giving men tools on how to get help for themselves or the other men in their lives.

I completely agree with Elva when she says we need to change the discourse around rape. I believe we need to be talking mostly to those who rape (as in men and boys) and we also need to be focusing on parents. They are the people who are socialising the coming generation and if they aren’t talking about consent and role modelling it for their kids then we are going to have another generation of sexual and domestic abuse ahead of us.  Parents are, I believe the way forward and the way out of the abuse against women epidemic. We need a parenting revolution, one that teaches our sons to be respectful of girls and women, to understand the many ways in which someone says ‘No’ or ‘I’m not happy/comfortable’, we need sons who are critical thinkers, who can see through the patriarchal dream the media is selling them.

How amazing would it be if Tom Stranger fully owned all his previous toxic masculinity and combined his youth work with this knowledge to prepare and deliver talks for teenage boys? And for parents so they could learn how to raise sons who will NOT rape women? There is a great opportunity in the seed of Elva and Stranger’s collaboration. I just feel disappointed that have not grabbed it and instead the primary angle we are getting is on the ‘reconciliation’ and ‘forgiveness’ aspects of their story. The idea of a cosy reconciliation with your rapist is a largely unattainable dream which will be and is denied to the majority of rape victims. I should add that for many, myself included it is also an unwanted outcome.

A dream is what is being sold here, and when you think about it it’s a patriarchal wet dream. A lovely, attractive, quiet, forgiving woman who does not rail and spit and claw at her rapist, or even try and have him arrested. Instead she meets him, forgives him and they co-write a book together. Then they go on to tour the world together as business associates promoting their book. On their website it stated initially that Stranger would be donating a portion of his profits to charity. That has changed in the last week to now read that he will be donating all profits to charity. However he will (and already has) profited in many other ways – status and celebrity, platforms and contacts. I do not know if he is financing his own way around the world on the book tour (it seems unlikely as I’d imagine they would be keen to tell us that if he was) but he will undoubtedly be offered other opportunities off the back of having raped a woman. And that is a bitter pill for many of us who are victims of rape to swallow. A white privileged man who has never had any legal consequences, profiting from raping a woman –  it’s hard to see how the real winner in this story isn’t patriarchy (served with a side order of capitalism).

 

My previous writing on the ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ talk can be found at these links:

Deconstructing the TED Talk: Here

View story at Medium.com

On the Privilege and Patriarchy in the talk: Here

On Southbank’s decision to move the event and their statement: Here

View story at Medium.com

 

Rape, Reconciliation and Peak Patriarchy

TED talks are supposed to offer blueprints and ideas for a more ideal world. Their tagline is ‘ideas worth spreading’. Last month a TED talk aired by a rapist and his victim, both sharing a stage. Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger’s TED talk, “Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation” already had me nervous, as we live in a world that victim blames, silences and dismisses women’s testimony about their abuse and assault and as a rape victim myself I was somewhat alarmed by the idea of Rape and Reconciliation being sold as an ‘idea worth spreading’. Not that I have a problem with reconciliation, or healing after rape and I am glad to hear that Elva has found healing in her process but her path is one that is unavailable, unwanted and potentially dangerous for many rape victims to pursue.

The scene is set by Stranger, an affable physically attractive Australian man. We hear about his life as a teenager just moved to a country (Iceland) where he doesn’t speak the language, and we hear about how vulnerable and homesick he is. Stranger cracks a joke and the audience laugh along. The set up focuses on his background, his origins, his humanity. He is established as sympathetic character within the first 2 minutes. Then Elva speaks and describes their early relationship she is a 16 year old dating Stranger who is 18. Elva goes on to recount the night Stranger raped her. When Stranger speaks again he skips over the actual rape. He tells us how he re-contextualised it and then went back to Australia shortly thereafter.

The piece is primarily about Stranger. We get a humanising origin story about him. His story is placed in the context of his wider life. We hear of his love for sport and his career as a youth worker but the primary narrative of Elva is is her role as a broken woman in the context of the rape, first of all as his girlfriend, then in the context of what he did to her and then in the context of her struggle to deal with that. We are told she has a husband and son and attends conferences on sexual violence but have no other insights into her interests or humanity. This illustrates the difference between how the two parties are presented,the aftermath of the rape is primarily framed through the eyes of the man who raped her, a man who is set up as sympathetic figure who has the audience in the palm of his hand within moments of speaking.

Stranger never speaks in specifics about the rape, we never hear his story of that night, but he talks in grand platitudes. This is one of the great parlour tricks of this talk, the rapist is granted permission to remain detached from the specific details of his crime. He doesn’t mention or acknowledge the fact that Elva had to do all the emotional labour that lead to their reconciliation, or that it should have been him seeking Elva out to apologise and make reparations to her and not her seeking him out to hold him accountable.

Elva frames her journey as a need to forgive in order to heal. That is fine if that is what works for her but this is not the case for many of us who are survivors of sexual assault. Forgiveness and healing are not the same thing. There are many women I know, including myself who have healed from their experiences but do not forgive the person who raped them. I do not forgive because the rapist never admitted they did the wrong thing, were never bought to justice of any kind and I have had no apology nor any attempt to repair or any reparations made. This is unfortunately the case for many rape victims. I do not need reconciliation or to forgive in order to heal. I do not need anything from the man who raped me in order to heal. In fact the thought of contacting the man who raped me makes me feel sick to my stomach. While I appreciate that Elva has a different journey and experience to me I am alarmed by the context of their talk — as a TED talk — ‘ideas worth spreading.’

I feel it is irresponsible of Stranger, Elva and TED to purport their very unique story of forgiveness after rape as an ‘idea worth spreading’. Especially as the talk is called “Rape and Reconciliation” and their book is titled “South of Forgiveness”.  Both are framed around the idea of needing to forgive in order to heal. This slyly introduces the idea of a “good rapist” and a “good, forgiving victim” which is dangerous in the extreme in a world that already does not believe women. Rapist are regularly forgiven by society and rarely bought to justice. The forgiving of a rapist is not news, it happens every day all around the world by families and communities that do not call the abusive person to justice or accountability. There are so little consequences for abusive men that worldwide 1 in 3 women will be physically or sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The platforming of a victim forgiving her rapist as an ‘idea worth spreading’ is in my view very dangerous. I am not suggesting that Elva not have a space to share her story, I’m concerned that TED was the chosen platform. It is not hard to imagine people judging rape victims in the future for ‘not forgiving their rapist like that woman on TED did’. While Elva does admit during the talk that her process is not something she is advocating for everyone, it is not hammered home that  most victims may never get, nor indeed want this outcome or situation. As my friend Victoria Patterson said: “It is reminiscent for me of the myriad ways in which women are expected to overcome insurmountable emotional challenges, swallow our feelings and appear to be reasonable at all costs.”

How many victims of sexual violence struggle to get the police to take them seriously or listen to them, yet so much public attention is being given to two wealthy white people who were able to travel to South Africa to spend a week discussing the rape and aftermath and who have since had years of coaching. If this IS an idea worth spreading then you will need to begin this process with a certain amount of privilege. You will need the privilege to have enough money and time to get help and therapy, the privilege to have enough money and time and perhaps help with your family to fly halfway around the world or to where ever your rapist/victim is, the privilege of not having been so destroyed by what happened to you that you cannot even support yourself, the privilege of having enough mental health/well being to be able to deal with meeting your rapist. These levels of privilege are not acknowledged by Stranger and Elva and is disingenuous of them to say they know what they did isn’t for everyone, while setting the whole thing up as aspirational and telling their story on a platform designed specifically for creating aspirational visions for the future.

That two privileged white people have received so much press coverage and were given a TED talk platform displays the selective bias of the media regarding what rape stories get told. An alternative headline for this talk could be “Man agrees (years after the fact) that he raped a woman. World Applauds”. When the talk has been framed through this man’s journey and “Gasp” accountability and ownership of “Gasp” his own actions, the media wets itself with excitement over this brave man. And there is a joy to be taken from a man owning his actions. If he truly does.

But does Stranger truly own it? Yes he does admit to having raped Elva. That is a fact. Should he be applauded for that? I can see why some people think his admission is great. As a society we have set the bar so low for men, especially for white men. They are mostly unaccountable for their actions no matter how harmful to others. This message is constantly re-enforced. Think of Woody Allen or Casey Affleck being lauded and awarded despite the allegations women have made against them. Does he deserve applause just for taking responsibility for his actions and telling the truth? Does the rapist in the courtroom who pleads guilty also deserve applause? No, it’s just the right thing to do.

During the TED talk Stranger speaks of how the family and culture he grew up with had lots of good role models of people being respectful to women. And perhaps his family were all role modelling respect to women, however I find it VERY hard to believe he was not untouched by the wider sexism that exists in Australian culture. Having grown up there I can tell you that it is a deeply misogynistic society, where men are bred on entitlement. But don’t just take my word for it. As of 2015 two women a week die at the hands of a partner or a former partner. Shocking statistics for a country with such a small population and indicative of the disposable view many men have regarding women.

But Stranger does not talk about rigid and systemic gender stereotypes, toxic masculinity or any of the other factors that no doubt contributed to his younger self thinking that he had ownership over Elva’s body. This is the great missed opportunity of the talk. We are offered a floundering ‘I didn’t even realise I had raped her’ vague pronouncement and lack of accountability with no willingness on Stranger’s part to look at or acknowledge the cultural conditioning that lead to his despicable actions.

We do not hear about Stranger’s journey of soul searching after Elva’s initial letter. We do not know if he quietly consulted lawyers to find out what his options were before contacting Elva again. He very well may not have, but I have to wonder if he considered the legal ramifications of admitting in writing to committing a rape. Did he ever consider taking himself to the Police station to confess to the crime he committed? Did his willingness to own his actions extend to actually living with the legal consequences of that?

The world has gathered round to applaud a man who, many years after the fact, due to the emotional courage and tenacity of his own victim has now admitted to raping her. And as far as we know has incurred no legal consequences for his criminal act. We expect so little from men who abuse women that we have granted this man one of the most influential stages in the world, and a book deal. It is hard to know how many more platforms will be offered to Stranger now that he has become a poster boy for a reformed rapist. This my friends is peak patriarchy. Where a self-confessed rapist actually gets rewarded, applauded and financially profits from admitting he raped a woman. Slow clap for the man at the front for admitting he’s a rapist. There is something sick and dark about so many people lapping this up as a step in the right direction.

It is of interest that Stranger does not explore his life before or after he raped Elva. We know that rape is caused by male entitlement and a feeling of ownership over women’s bodies. We know that rape is about power and control and not sex. It is an act of violence towards a woman. The mindset that creates this sense of entitlement is not something that you can turn on and off at will. While I think it is brilliant that Stranger has so clearly decided to explore this part of himself, and that he is doing it so publicly, I am interested to know what else he may have done in his life before he realised he was a rapist. What were his other encounters with women and girls like? Can he honestly say that he never crossed a line with any other woman? I would find it hard to believe as Stranger himself says he didn’t recognise what he had done as rape for many many years. Perhaps he had zero interactions with women and his sexism didn’t emerge during those years after he raped Elva. I feel there was another missed opportunity for Stranger here, for him to fully own up to any and all harm he may have caused women. As the piece stands the rape is made to sound like a one off event, an anomaly in the otherwise happy life Stranger lived. Again, I feel the idea of a nice guy who “Ooops, one day raped his girlfriend and didn’t even know he had” is a dangerous message to be sending out into the world on such a large platform. That is simply not the way sexual assault and the toxic belief system that leads to men feeling entitled to assault women works. It is NOT a one off event.

I feel there was a golden opportunity here for Stranger to fully step into the causes of male entitlement, to own up to his part in it, to talk to other men about where he now knows he went wrong and why they all need to do some serious soul searching as well. It had the potential to be one of the most amazing conversation changing pieces — a man laying bare and dissecting toxic masculinity through the lens of his own story. Owning every uncomfortable bit of it and explaining how and what brought about his change, creating a pathway and vision for future men and boys to follow.

Now THAT would be an idea worth spreading.

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

Media outraged over playground insult while Irish Water bullies roam free

RTÉ’s outrage over protesters insulting the president illustrates the hypocrisy at the heart of the media establishment. Let’s be frank here; no one in RTÉ gives a toss about ableism. Of course it isn’t nice to see someone being called a “midget parasite”. It is ableist language and pretty nasty, and not a word that should be bandied about like that.

I’m not unfamiliar with pointing out when people use rubbish or offensive terminology, but I’m finding it really hard to jump on the condemnation here. It’s not that I think this is fine behaviour or in any way acceptable, or that I have some special regard for the office of President (although while I’m on the subject I don’t think protesting against the president because he signed a bill into law and refused to do an Article 26 referral is a good politics. It’s silly and lacks an understanding of what the implications of a finding of constitutionality under Article 26 actually are). It’s just that I literally do not care that a bunch of people did this in Finglas to register their dissent given what’s going on elsewhere.

The media are gleefully hawking this video around like snuff at a wake but their fury has nothing to do with ableism or even affording appropriate respect to the office of President. Labour Senator Lorraine Higgins called it “incitement to hatred” on twitter mere weeks after tweeting about the “free world” and the hashtag #jesuischarlie. RTE expressed outrage, and anyone who wants to say Paul Murphy is an apologist for hooliganism is given a platform to air their views. Michael D is a man that goes to League of Ireland football games, so I’m pretty sure he’s heard worse and much less cares, but to RTÉ, Finglas is rapidly taking Jobstown’s place as Ireland’s home for a feral community intent on destroying civilisation as we know it. Production staff on Morning Ireland would probably save themselves time if they just played Tony Harrison from the Mighty Boosh on a loop screaming “It’s an outrage!”

But as I said, I don’t really care about what happened in Finglas.

I really don’t care that a bunch of people said some mean things to the President when he is surrounded by a gaggle of Gardaí to protect him. Sure. They shouldn’t have said it, but I don’t care because I have watched too many videos of people being beaten with impunity by the guards and having excessive force used on them.

I don’t care because as I type this a private police force decked out in balaclavas is roaming through Stoneybatter and Broadstone assaulting people, abusing pregnant women, and filming  people coming  and going from their homes all at the behest of Irish Water. I don’t care because I have listened and watched as Irish Water staff screamed at my next door neighbour that he was a “cunt” at the top of his lungs. There are plenty of videos on youtube where the Gardaí stand by and watch as Irish Water staff abuse and assault people, and more where the guards assault people.

I don’t care because two people using the word “midget” to the president is a convenient mechanism for distraction for a lazy media (including the government mouthpiece RTÉ) who can wring their hands over this instead of airing stories about communities under siege and families in poverty looking at prospects of Irish water bills that will push them over.

That protest was last week so why is the video only coming out now? Oh that’s right. There’s a protest this weekend. It’s the equivalent of throwing a stick for dog to distract him from chewing your shoe. If there was half as much righteous indignation in the media over Garda brutality and Irish Water and GMC Sierra as there was about name-calling, it would be in much healthier shape.

The feigned shock and condemnation is hypocrisy at its worst and there really are bigger and more urgent things to worry about. People need to stop falling over themselves to try and be the most respectable game in town.

Get over it.

Get organised.

Get out on Saturday and show the zero fucks that you give about this.

Sex Offenders and Vigilantes: You can’t beat up a structural problem

A few weeks ago while on a bus going through Cabra I noticed some posters pinned to trees alerting locals to the fact there was an alleged rapist in the area. They included his photo. This kind of thing always reminds me of a media story a few years ago about a bunch of headers in England kicking in the door of a paediatrician mistakenly thinking that paediatrician has the same meaning as paedophile. An unfortunate mistake for all concerned. The thought occurred to me while travelling through Cabra, that it wouldn’t end well.

Last night I noticed something on facebook. Someone had liked a public status update from Cabra based city councillor. As it was public and I presume that this Councillor uses this to communicate to his constituents, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest he won’t mind me reposting this here (I have however, not included his name in order to prevent whining from The Left (™) that I’m criticising politicians for my own nefarious political ends):

 

Attack on House on Attracta Road

 

The disgraceful attack on the house on Attracta Road on Sunday night has completely undone the positives of the community uniting against the presence of serial rapist Trevor Byrne in our area. The female occupants of the house were once again terrified by people claiming to be against violence to women. Byrne hasn’t been positively identified in the area for almost a week and wasn’t in the house when the raiders burst in and searched it.

 

The peaceful community campaign appeared to be working as Byrne was keeping his distance. Local residents leafleting the houses in the area warning about his presence and putting up posters put real pressure on Byrne and the Gardai monitoring him. The rally on the Cabra Road on Saturday, while poorly attended, did keep the pressure on Byrne. Ironically, the occupants of the attacked house were at the rally supporting their community against Byrne only to find themselves attacked the very next day.

 

This attack has done untold damage to the community campaign to have the right to know about sex offenders in their areas. The Gardai and the local politicians will claim the attack as proof that working class communities could not be trusted with sensitive information about sex offenders.

I want to be really clear about this from the outset, and say that my sympathy does not lie with rapists and sex offenders.

Everyone’s priority should be keeping communities safe, so it’s completely understandable when a tight-knit community hears there’s a rapist in their midst that they will want to organise and protect one another. In saying that, I think it’s fair to ask what exactly the organisers of this rally thought was going to happen when they organised it.

The purpose of a rally is to engage people, give them something to do, demonstrate the importance of an issue and increase a level of solidarity. It would be absolutely foolish to think you could have a rally designed to highlight a rapist’s presence in an area without some kind of vigilantism potentially happening as a result. It is in no way “ironic” that “the occupants of the attacked house were at the rally supporting their community against Byrne only to find themselves attacked the very next day.” It was completely predictable. To write it off as ‘just one of those things’ is a little disingenuous.

The problem with this kind of vigilantism is that it creates exactly the level of hysteria in a community that leads to women in house cowering in fear as a bunch of men enter and demand to know where a rapist is because someone, somewhere along the line made a mistake as to the rapist’s whereabouts. And this Councillor is of course correct, it is the exactly the sort of thing that is listed by the Gardai, and politicians as a reason not to notify people when there are sex offenders living nearby. But he also leaves out that Barnardos, the NSPCC, and even the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland are against giving this sort of information to local communities in general too. Because it results in the doors – or worse, the heads – of the paediatrician and innocent bystanders being kicked in.

There are of course other problems with it. When the community focus is turned towards a convicted serial rapist that everyone knows about, it perpetuates the myth that women are more likely to be dragged down an alleyway in the dead of night by this particular man and viciously attacked. While there may be a risk of that happening, the fact is that women are far more likely to be raped by someone that they know. Over 80% of rapists are known to their victim. It is often someone that they trust. Children are more likely to be raped or abused by a family member or a friend than a stranger in the street. One in four women will be raped or assaulted in their lifetime and only one in ten of those rapes are ever reported. It’s a staggering statistic and it shows that abuse and assault is sadly embedded within our society, so when there’s a pursuit of one rapist, the vigilantism has a smack of “Don’t touch our women” about it. Because even when the motives are genuine and sincere, and those who act do so out of genuine love for, or solidarity with the women in their lives it really does leave a very big question as to where the regard or solidarity is for the women in the next community that the sex offender is pushed in to.

Communities taking justice into their own hands doesn’t always work out so well; Trayvon Martin was shot by a vigilante. However, there are situations where people cannot for one reason or another, engage with the police or gardai. When communities are abandoned by the state, and are used to fending for themselves, it is not unforeseeable that they will take matters into their own hands and such situations will arise where they will find and punish someone who has perpetuated an awful crime. When the justice system that exists will not address the needs of its constituents, they will find a way to seek their own justice. There are still ‘no-go areas’ in Dublin for the Gardai. But Cabra certainly isn’t one of them and this group was not comparable to the Gulabi Gang of India.

I am not qualified to assess whether there is a genuine risk to a community because of a convicted rapist’s presence, but the fact remains that even if he has been driven from Cabra, the 1 in 4 statistic tells us that there’s still a few more sex offenders in Dublin 7 whether they are known to the community or not. It probably would have been far better if this could have been used as an opportunity for a community conversation on sexual violence and how and where it usually happens, issues of consent and how to negotiate it, breaking down some of the myths around rape, and how we might prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place. It certainly would have been more productive than having a gang of blokes storming into a house to terrify the very women they purport to protect.