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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

 

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Intersectional Patriarchy

Intersectional Patriarchy

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In my previous piece on the TED talk ‘Rape and Reconciliation’ I touched on the privilege aspect of Elva and Stranger’s talk. I would like to further elaborate on why this part of the talk is so problematic.

Privilege is briefly mentioned by Elva during her talk but she does not acknowledge the privilege of already being a celebrity in her home country, being white, wealthy, healthy and having the connections that come with celebrity status.

Elva describes her path to healing from the rape she experienced aged 16. This path involves contacting Stranger to start a conversation with him about what he did to her and leads to the two of them flying to South Africa to reconcile. They say in the talk that South Africa felt like the perfect place to do this work due to its history of truth and reconciliation. So we have two white people travelling to a country where white people slaughtered, raped, abused and oppressed black people (and where the healing of that is still an ongoing process)  using the suffering of people of colour as a canvas to paint their story on. This is the height of white privilege. For any white person to draw comparisons of their problems with the systemic murder and abuse of an entire race of people is despicable.

Where would people of colour have to travel to to be able to soak up the energy of a place where people of colour oppressed white people and then reconciled?

Elva knowingly takes the stage at an event that is specifically designed to spread  and amplify new ideas and then disingenuously tells us she is aware that her path to healing (via forgiveness of her rapist, co-writing a book together and going on a book tour together) isn’t for everyone.

There are a tiny amount of people who have the privileges Elva has. And I wonder how many of those who do would even want to meet the person who raped them, write a book together and go on tour?

I am not trying to silence or deny Elva as a victim her agency. And at this stage even if people wanted to silence her they could not as she has already delivered a TED talk, has a book tour scheduled and been given a huge amount of publicity.  Her story is already out there. This is not a person who has had her voice silenced.

Nor do I seek to silence the voices of those who feel that they have gained something from watching the video or reading their story. I think for many women there is a sense of relief that finally, here is a man willing to be publically accountable for his crime against a woman. And there is a sense among some women that this is a step in the right direction, the crucial involvement of men in the discourse of sexual crimes against women is finally here. And in order to hold onto that glimmer they are willing to overlook the many great problems with this particular talk, and potential harm it could (and I believe will) cause women long term.

I have come to realise that this talk is something of a Rorshach Test, where viewers can see and experience very different things. Those who defend it cannot see how it could be harmful and those who see it as harmful cannot see how others are unable to see that.

Despite Elva’s insistence that they are not holding their story up as a template they believe others should follow, it seems clear to me that a dream is essentially what is being sold here. A dream of confronting your abuser and being acknowledged and affirmed in your experience. Receiving an apology. A dream of male abusers with an openness to self-reflection and contrition. Even perhaps a dream of many men learning from and embodying Stranger’s example. A dream of men seeing themselves and their actions reflected back at them by Stranger and mending their ways. A dream of a shift in the dialogue around rape away from the victim and onto the perpetrator.

We cannot however divorce the dream presented in this telling from the patriarchy and privilege of which it is infused. For it is it’s resonance as a document and exemplification of the intersection of Privilege & Patriarchy with Rape & Reconciliation that has in my view played a large part in its success.

This is rape and reconciliation through the lens of patriarchy and desirable outcomes for the abuser:

The victim forgives her abuser

They become friends, even collaborators, business associates

The abuser suffers no legal consequences for his actions

The abuser profits from admission and remorse with a book deal, Ted talk, Speaking Tour, Brand building celebrity/Cultural capital/Prestigious platforms etc.

Viewing the story through this lens I feel it is hard to argue that beyond the possibility of his victim never contacting him at all there could be a more desirable outcome for the rapist.

As well as this the talk introduces the harmful idea of forgiveness being upheld as an ideal for victims of sexual violence. Elva has become a powerful symbol of ‘the woman who forgave her rapist’. How long before that message seeps into popular culture becoming the benchmark other victims will be held up to?

The value of this idea to a patriarchal culture should not be underestimated. The idea of the woman who forgives her rapist and not only that goes on tour with him is an almost impossibly high expectation to make of most rape victims. It is wonderful for Elva that she found such a deep level of peace with what Stranger did to her and that she was able to move on in a healthy way with her life. But for us to set this up as an ideal, or even as a possibility for other rape victims is to set most of us to fail.

The reconciliation utopia Elva and Stranger are selling us can only be accessed by those with   enough intersecting privileges; white privilege, class privilege, economic privilege, health privilege, celebrity privilege.

The requirement of so many  intersecting privileges demonstrates the remoteness of the dream being sold here from the overwhelming majority of women and rape victims/survivors who do not share them.

The essential message of the talk is a man who claims he didn’t really realise he had raped a woman finally admitting; in public that he raped a woman. This is a man who will never experience any legal consequences for his crime as it is now outside the timeframe of the statute of limitations in Iceland. Added to this, this man has and will continue to profit (financially and in status and celebrity) from his admission of rape.

Wilfully or not, Stranger has found a way to capitalise from raping a woman.

And all those who grant him a stage aid him in doing this.

 

The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

The Dark, Lurking Horror of Parenting Girls

 

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Here’s some common rape – prevention tips  “Don’t drink too much”, “Don’t wear anything too revealing”, “Text a friend  to let them know your plans”, “Hold your keys in between your fingers” and of course “Never, ever walk down a darkened alleyway”.  These are the things young women are being told by parents, teachers and society. I understand that the reason people are saying these things to women and girls is because they don’t want anything bad to happen to them. But do they actually prevent women from being sexually assaulted?

In the majority of cases I don’t believe they do.

All these rape-prevention tips are attempts to keep away the monstrous stranger. But as statistics collected by R.A.I.N.N show 3 out of 4 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim.

So, with this in mind what are we teaching girls about that? Are we telling them to watch out for the man who lives next door/the older cousin/the guy you’ve been dating for 6 months/his best friend? Are we teaching them that 1 in 4 relationships are abusive and that you need to know the signs of abuse before embarking on one? Are we teaching them how to spot the signs of an entitled person? How to spot status seekers?  How to rid their lives of anyone who treats them with disrespect? Are these things fundamental to every parenting book/school class room?

I wonder also why most campaigns focus on women, putting the onus on them not to get raped or be assaulted. Violence against women seems to be the one area where the focus is on potential victims to take responsibility for decreasing their chances of being attacked. I’ve never seen a poster giving tips to stop me being potentially run over by a motorist , or a poster  warning me on the dangers of being in the presence of someone smoking. So why in this one area of violence against women, are poster and ad campaigns directed at potential victims? Another issue with these campaigns  is that most of the campaigns I’m aware of seem to promote the idea that sexual assault occurs between strangers. I’m yet to see a campaign that aims to impart the knowledge that 75% of assaults happen between people who know each other. Why are most campaigns ignoring the statistics on this? And where are all the campaigns reaching out to the perpetrators of these crimes?

According  to the UN It is estimated that “35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime”. So, if you’re a woman or a girl you’ve got a 35 – 70% chance of being sexually or physically abused by a man. And these statistics are not taking into account other forms of abuse – verbal, emotional/psychological, financial abuse and cyber abuse (unsolicited dick pic anyone?)

I don’t know ONE WOMAN who has not been subjected to something on this list of awful. Not one. That’s 100% of the women I know who have been abused in some form by a man. I can hear the ‘not all men’ brigade jumping in at this point, and I want to say – Sure, not ALL men, just  enough that 35 – 70% of ALL women will experience abuse or assault.  Plus these statistics are based on reported incidents of crimes against women. And many women do not report.  If I had of reported every assault against me I would have spent most of my 20’s and 30’s in copshops and courtrooms.

I have lost count of the amount of times I have been harassed online or physically/sexually/verbally/emotionally or financially abused by men. At a rough guess I’d say maybe 200 men have combined to abuse, denigrate, assault or intimidate me over the course of my life. 200 DIFFERENT men that is.

I did a rough survey of women’s experiences on a few women-only groups that I’m part of on Facebook, to find out if my experience was unusual. Women shared having experienced varying degrees of abuse and assault with a couple of women saying they also felt it would be up to 200 men who had been abusive to them in their lifetimes. Other women said they had had one bad experience only. It was by no means a scientific study but it gave me a slightly broader view on what was happening outside of my circle.

I can’t help but wonder what the statistics would be if there was an official system in place for reporting crimes against women – one where women could share their experience regardless of if they want to pursue anything legally (if they are fortunate enough to live in a country where the crimes against them are considered to BE crimes that is). Or even something like the Everyday Sexism site, which collects and collates women’s experiences from around the globe.

Every time I read official statistics on rape and sexual assault I feel angry that none of my experiences are counted in those statistics. And it is too late for me to report them now, the first time I was raped was 20 years ago and in another country. Plus being a witness at a rape trial when I was 17 significantly deterred me from reporting any of the crimes committed against me.  I know I am not alone in that most women do not report this kind of crime, especially when they know the person who has committed it, which as we know is in 75% of cases.

The dark, lurking horror for me as a parent of two girls is that I know there is little chance they will escape this. I know in my woman’s heart what most likely waits for them.  It is frighteningly likely that at some point a man is going to try and hurt my daughters.

Given all I know about abuse and assault I feel that it is my job to prepare my daughter’s for the likely possibility of being assaulted or abused. Of course I never tell them that I think they might be assaulted, instead I teach them about consent and boundaries, so they know what is and isn’t ok. I teach them about respecting their own and other’s bodies. I want the lines to be SO clear for my beautiful girls. I want no doubt in their minds when someone crosses a line. I want them to KNOW it is wrong.

I teach them what I was never taught, to be fierce. To be so fierce that they feel comfortable yelling and shouting at anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable or wrong. I want them to know how to scream and what to scream.

I practice scenarios with my teenage daughter, “A guy does this to you, what do you do?”  I say, “You need to scream as loud as you can for help.” I teach them that no matter how well they know the person that they should act like he is a stranger because people are more likely to help a woman who is being accosted by a stranger than get involved with a ‘domestic’.

I teach them emotional intelligence, so they can articulate what happens to them. I teach them resilience so, if they need it, they can heal. So if it happens my girls will be strong within, are less likely to fall to pieces, or to lose weight, friends and jobs because of what has happened to them.  Alongside of all of this I’m trying to teach my daughters that there are also lovely men out there, that they can trust, men who are allies, men who are respectful and that hopefully these will be the majority of the men they encounter. And while I’m doing this a little voice inside me is saying  “it just takes one.” One man to hurt my child.

And while I’m teaching my girls all the things no one ever taught me and I wish they did, I’m thinking “Fuck this awful world, that is making me teach my daughters to prepare for what feels like their inevitable assault. Fuck this.” And I’m getting angry about it, so fucking angry.

Because I know that this could all change in one generation. If we were all teaching our sons to be respectful to women (and each other) this would change. If there were actual consequences for being disrespectful towards women – this would change. If men were speaking out to other men, calling them on their sexist bullshit – this would change. If society actually gave a shit about women – this would change.

Because who wants to live in a world where parents have to prepare their daughters for abuse by men?

Not me.

 

Taryn Gleeson  red web

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educatorhttps://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting