Rape Apologism and Slut-shaming

3 Feb

I’ve been deliberating on how to approach this subject as it is something which really angers me. I want to put forward my opinions on this matter in a rational and calm way, though I will find it difficult to completely remove my feelings about it – this will no doubt show in the way I write.

Let me start by defining rape apologists and slut-shaming. ‘Rape apologist’ is the term given to rapists and other who doubt the credibility of rape victims and rationalise the assault. For example, it is not uncommon for rape apologists to say, ‘well, if you don’t want to get raped you shouldn’t go out in mini-skirts’, ‘how can it be rape when he’s your boyfriend?’, and my favourite, ‘how can you rape someone who has sex so much as it is?’. Slut-shaming behaviour is often in abundance when a rape apologist makes their case. Slut-shaming is an social norm which has ironically become a part of our hyper-sexualised culture. Though the term ‘slut’ is a subjective, baseless term, I am in no doubt that it has been applied to every woman at one point or another in their lives. In school, if you kissed a boy you are a slut. For young women, you can be a slut if you sleep with your boyfriend too soon, if you date a couple of guys at the same time, or even if you date someone who used to be with someone you know. As you can see, there is no clear line between being a slut and not being a slut. To put it bluntly, no matter what you decide to do with your personal life, there will be someone out there who decides that you are a slut.

I find slut-shaming so ironic because our culture fully encourages women to look sexy. We are told by the media that unless we are sexy, we hold little value. We are taught to wear tight clothes, to starve ourselves, to wear push-up bras and to wear make-up. Even kids are being groomed from a young age to be like this. In a society that expects women to look sexual appealing at all times, how does it make sense to then shame the women who actually enjoy sex?

Is it because we are objects for men to enjoy, and the very thought of us getting any kind of sexual gratification will destroy our male counterpart’s libido? How ironic that men are pressured to be hyper-sexual beings, but women are taught to simultaneously be sex symbols and virgin brides. I duly note the pressure that men are under to live up to the role of the alpha male; I feel as though the pressure to force men to be emotionless, dehumanised and sexually aggressive is equally as harmful to them as the virgin/slut paradox is for women. Gender roles not only prohibit individuals from being comfortable in their own skin, but also creates a dangerous society.

It doesn’t make sense to me that we live in a supposedly progressive society which embraces secularism and has started to accept racial diversity and homosexuality, yet there is still a stigma attached to promiscuity. Never mind the fact that gender roles are still so rigid! Funny, when not many people save sex strictly for procreation!

Applying the virgin/slut paradox to rape, the ‘don’t dress like a slut or you will get raped’ myth is harmful, offensive and utterly ridiculous. For one, rape apologists who choose this as their mantra are defeating their own argument by pretty much saying, ‘all men (and women) are pathological rapists so you must take precautions in order to not set them off.’ So, not only are you implying that all men (and women) are capable of rape, but also that we must tip-toe around them instead of dealing with the actual problem.

There are many studies which show the inaccuracies of this assumption, not to mention statistics. Does that argument apply to women who wear burkas, or elderly women? Or what about the straight men who rape other men, in and outside of prisons? Roy Hazelwood is a leading expert in sex crimes, and he outlined the four categories of rapists. The first, and the most prolific, is the power-assertive rapist. These rapists commit rape as a display of power over their victim. In many of these cases the rapist will not ejaculate, which demonstrates that the rape was not about sexual gratification. The second type is power-reassurance. This kind of rapist will rape a woman in order to feel wanted, and in many of these incidents they will tell their victims to say that they love their rapist, or even pretend to be their wives. One of the more uncommon types of rapist is the sadist; this rapist commits rape in order to see their victim in pain. The final category of rapist is the opportunistic, which accounts for the smallest group of rapist. These rapists will attack their victims because they happen to be there whilst the attacker is committing another crime.

If the ‘don’t dress like a slut or you will get raped’ argument can be applied to any of these categories, it is more likely to apply to the smallest group, the opportunists. As a minority, it does not make sense to hold all victims accountable.

Fundamentally, as a society we should be told, ‘don’t rape’ rather than ‘don’t get raped’. In what way, shape or form can a person be responsible for getting raped – an act which is defined by the unwillingness of a victim? It is stupid to tell women to never leave the house alone, or to stay away from dark alleyways. It is patronising and offensive. The overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, and fairly often in their homes – there are a high number of cases in which women are abducted in shopping car parks. Do we just tell women to stay out of their own homes, never associate with anyone and never go shopping?

The truth is, it is difficult to know what kind of person can be a rapist. So many people are unaware of the warning signs that can indicate whether a person is capable of rape. Fortunately, Pat Craven’s brilliant book named ‘Living With The Dominator’  identifies common traits which exist in abusive people. The book is mainly aimed at women as her work led her to starting a a support group for the victims of domestic abuse. However, those who are being abuse by their gay or female partners should not be excluded from the help she offers. She outlines the different types of abusers (for example, the jailer and the head worker) and she discusses the many different behaviour patterns they exhibit.

I feel as though we, as a society, are in need of a major perspective shake-up. So many changes have happened over the past 60 years, and I have full faith that the issue of slut-shaming and victim-blaming will be a thing of the past one day. All it takes is for individuals to reassess their value and show the same compassion to strangers they show to those they care about. It really does take individuals to create a world-wide change. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Why I am a feminist

28 Jan

Well, if I’m going to start a blog, I may as well jump in at the deep end.

What I would say was the real light bulb moment for me was the first time I ever learned about feminism from an academic viewpoint. When I studied my access to social sciences course, my social policy teacher asked the class if there were any feminists in the room. Not a single person put their hand up. He then asked, ‘so you think women should stay at home with the kids? You think they shouldn’t be allowed to study?’ It then dawned on me that I had never really bothered to find out what it meant. Furthermore I knew that, regardless of what it meant, I would be too ashamed to put my hand up anyway. Why? Because feminism, despite standing for equality and providing me with the right to even be in that classroom with the intention of going to university, has been turned into an ugly word. Feminism has been disassociated with gender revolution and been realigned with female supremacy and misandry. Why? Perhaps because of our patriarchal society. Perhaps because, like all ideologies, feminism has been misrepresented by the media due to extremists claiming the name for their own bidding.

I think I have always been a feminist on some level, even before I knew what it meant. From a young age I was very aware of the social conventions expected of me as a female. As a child, I rarely wore feminine clothes. I detested playing with dolls. I still remember how uncomfortable I felt when I saw my older sister parading around with a plastic doll in her arms, mothering it and ‘feeding’ it. There is something about gender-specific toys, and in particular dolls, which creep me out.

My family are Burmese and have an old-school approach to gender roles. The women in my family have traditionally been raised to be home-makers, to marry men and have children. Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with raising a family or being a stay-at-home mum at ALL – I would just like the choice to do something different. All of the women in my family, excluding my mum and my aunt, are very subservient and submissive females. I have always stuck out like a sore thumb as I have never had much interest in relationships or doing what I’m told! My mum has always been my biggest supporter. Our relatives subscribe to traditional values, which meant that when she was growing up she was told to get a basic job and find a husband – at the expense of her own aspirations and goals. Actually, she left home and went to Cambridge to study French and Spanish and then went on to travel and experience life despite the plans her parents had for her. She has been an avid supporter of my academic goals and a constant source of encouragement. I distinctly recall her telling me on numerous occasions to pursue my goals, which is exactly what I intend to do now.

Now, I am aware that feminism is not synonymous with rejecting gender roles purely for the sake of them being gender roles. What feminism means to me is equality for all genders as it is an egalitarian principle. The prefix ‘fem’ exists because the issue of gender difference was raised by the mistreatment of women. I understand why so many people are quick to dismiss feminism because of this reason, and why they jump to the assumption that feminism aims to give more rights to women than men. I understand why, but I don’t excuse it. It isn’t difficult to do a quick Google search on the definition of feminism. In fact, forming an opinion on a subject without researching it first makes no sense.

Feminism does not dismiss male rights, nor does it trivialise the inequalities men suffer. However, it does focus more on women’s rights as there are more problems to be resolved for us. Like all movements, those represented have been disadvantaged while their counterparts have been privileged. However, I firmly believe that a movement cannot move forward nor hold any kind of credibility unless it applies its principles to everyone and everything.

We are currently in the third wave of feminism. This wave of feminism stands for the rights of women to enjoy sexuality without feeling shame about it. One could also say that this wave accounts for the many different genders emerging in recent years. It looks at trans, gay and bisexual rights as well as exploring infinite lifestyle possibilities including, but not limited to, polyamory. I feel as though feminism can have a seriously positive effect on all of these issues and give individuals the ability to be proud and confident about who they are.

I hate the fact that women’s value is based primarily on their appearance. From a young age we are taught that our bodies are objects for others, and that above anything we must be skinny and pretty – and not even an attainable, human kind of pretty. We are being measured up next to supermodels, A list celebrities who have had just about everything chiselled and reshaped, and possibly the worst of all; women on the front pages of glossy magazines who have been photoshopped to perfection. We can’t possibly compete with a computer generated image made up of 4 different women (yes! Really! they take the best features out of each woman and put them together, like Frankenstein, to create the ‘perfect woman’!) who have been retouched to death, and yet we are still expected to. Is it any wonder that so many girls hate their bodies? And is it really a surprise to see so many young women getting boob jobs? The worst of it is that these unattainable beauty ideals don’t necessarily come from men. They don’t really come from women, either. All it takes is for the media, or a plastic surgeon, to plant a seed of insecurity into our minds (see how successfully they do that through beauty pageants, reality TV modelling contests, music videos, fashion shows) and the next thing you know, we’ve all decided that the natural shape of our palm makes us look too fat and we’re off to get it sucked out.

What is possibly more demoralising are those celebrity gossip magazines. The paparazzi take it upon themselves to invade the sacrosanct personal lives of entertainers and take pictures from impossible angles, angles which would make just about anyone who occupies a three-dimensional space look appalling. The magazine editors, presumably staggeringly beautiful in every possible circumstance, then cruelly circle any slight (though anatomically unavoidable) imperfection, such as a tiny bulge in the stomach of stick-like Cameron Diaz as she reaches down to tie her shoelace.

Some paparazzi are less subtle. It is not uncommon for paparazzi to dive onto the group in front of a female celebrity in order to thrust their camera up her skirt to take pictures. The very next day, images of her underwear will be plastered all over the web with headlines such as, ‘WHAT A TRAMP: FILTHY CELEB WEARS BLACK UNDIES, DESPERATE FOR FAME’. Similarly, a pack of wild paparazzi will ambush a celebrity as she leaves a dark nightclub. As they all start snapping away, lens a mere inch from her face, the countless flashing cameras will cause  her to blink once or twice. When the magazine editors sift through these images, they will find the one which catches her mid-flash. Her headline will be ‘TRASHY CELEB DRUNK AGAIN, CAN BARELY KEEP HER EYES OPEN’. Now, of course this happens to men. It perhaps isn’t the best point to illustrate feminist issues. However, I have a habit to go off-track and, well, it’s done now.

Anyway. I have always resented the fact that men are judged more on their humour, wealth, power and intelligence and are allowed to fit into a range of body types; big, small, short, tall, skinny etc. We can only be skinny. Sitcoms are a particular pet hate of mine for their portrayal of the idealistic family: an overweight, funny husband with a skinny wife who clearly spends five days a week in the gym. However, one could turn the tables and argue that it is unfair for men to be judged on their wealth and power. The underlying issue here is that there are values and expectations assigned to each gender which are both dehumanising and unfair to all.

I find the issues of gender and sexuality extremely important for the well-being and happiness of  individuals everywhere, but I must say that third wave feminism is aimed at dealing with a particularly dark issue: rape, rape apologists and victim-shaming. Though I am dying to dig right into the details now, especially as this has personally affected me, I will wait until a later date so I can really get into it.

So.. I think I have summed up why I became a feminist and what being a feminist means to me – though no doubt this blog is poorly constructed. However, as it is nearing 5am in the morning, I hope my poor sentence structuring will be excused.

More to follow!

Hello world!

28 Jan

Welcome to WordPress.com. After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

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