Sunday, 2 December 2012

The Angry Young Wofem Legacy



On Saturday while giggling over Phil Jupitus on Live At The Apollo on TV, the commercial break contained an ad that actually made me hold my breath.




In it a young couple, aged about 16 or 17 that it is implied are together, are at a party and the boy takes the girl into a bedroom. She willingly kisses him and then smiles and says "let's go downstairs". He however has one thing on his mind and without violence but with force, pulls her down on to the bed and climbs on top of her. She says clearly she doesn't want to but he irritably whispers "stop being weird!" while unbuttoning her jeans. He then proceeds to shag her while she quietly weeps. We cut to a shot of someone watching the situation through a huge pane of glass who is the same lad's conscience/ alter ego. He bangs on the window, screaming "stop, she doesn't want to!" looking visibly upset and uncomfortable. The words then appear on screen "If you could see yourself, would you see rape? Sex with someone who doesn't want to is rape."

The ad is just over a minute in total but in over 25 years I have never seen something on British telly that handled this subject with maturity, depth and above all perspective.

I was at college in the late 80s and university in the early 90s. Back then trying to have a reasoned debate on rape with anyone without a dick was like trying to nail marmite to the ceiling. One day in A level Law we were split into 2 groups and told by the teacher to debate the following:

" You are in a nuclear shelter after a war. Someone steals food who is the only person who can maintain the generator. Supplies are finite and cannot be replaced. Someone commits a rape who is nobody important to the group as a whole. What punishment should both receive? Discuss"

Predictably the conversation was like this:

Middle class, 18 year old feminist: "Castrate the rapist!"

Me: "Who's going to do that?"

MC18F: "The doctor".

Me: "How do you know we've got one? And what if he or she objects on humanitarian grounds and won't do it?"

MC18F: "Castrate the rapist! MAKE the doctor do it!"

Me: "You deaf?!! You can't force someone to cut someone else's balls off. Would you be willing to do it?"

MC18F: (after a long pause) "You don't know what it's like to be raped. You're not a woman!"

Me: "As if you fucking do!"

etc.

In about 1992 there was a famous case of a male student accused of rape.

At a Rocky Horror Picture Show party in the Student Union a woman the lad knew, was coming on to him all night and witnesses say he clearly wasn't that interested. As she was drunk and wearing lingerie with little else, he walked her back to her halls of residence to keep her safe (apparently at her request) and she continued trying to seduce him in her room including going down on him. He then had sex with her, but she passed out either during or just before. She then woke up, screamed "what have you done?!!" and ran out the room. A few days later he found she'd reported him to the university authorities who told him he would have to face internal disciplinary enquiries over this. Believing he wouldn't get a fair hearing he then went to the police himself to present them with what he was accused of and they arrested and charged him. (Read that last line back to yourself SLOWLY). 

He was acquitted at court and later gave media interviews where he said that had he been found guilty he would have killed himself. He also stated how unfair the system was and that it was clearly weighted into believing he was a rapist. Only his own courage got the situation in the public eye and dealt with in a way fairer that an internal enquiry.

The case was later hilariously lampooned in adult humour magazine Viz in the strip Student Grant.




The kind of angry young wofems that were in the Students Union wearing No Means No t-shirts and Doctor Marten boots in the early 90s had a double headed axe to grind. They were pissed off with the rape laws as they stood and the assumption, which had been around for years that women were "asking for it" or had done something to attract the evil lust of the rapist. The Women's Officer at my uni, UCLan was notoriously mean spirited when it came to men's issues around gender. One of her more notable outbursts was to state that male rape on men was a totally different thing to female rape. She wouldn't involve it in discussions. She wouldn't debate it when discussing why rape happened. This was around the time that gangs of muggers in London were going around robbing and then bumming male victims. The fact that a lot of these guys were later found to be heterosexual still didn't put a dent in her dungarees. The UCLan Women's Officer was angry, very angry. With men.

Rape as I understood it was based on power and control. Not lust or passion. Problem was that the furious feminists from the 90s insisted on clumping everything under one umbrella. At Uni I put it to one woman on my Law degree course, that a woman who changes her mind just at the moment that her long term boyfriend is on top of her with an erection and she has her legs open...is different to a bloke wearing a balaclava who hides behind a bush with a knife to snare a victim. 

"NO!" she seethed with pursed lips. When I asked why she replied tersely "because rape is rape is rape!"

It's now 22 years and change since I went to Uni (ugh!) and in that time the angry people have now reached 40+ and some of them are now in Government, be it local or national. The domestic violence literature and media you see in 95% of public view are weighted to imply that only women suffer from this. In truth around 20% of victims are men abused by women...but the guys weren't angry enough to get the rules changed around media representation of the issue.

In the 2 decades since I sat squabbling in seminar rooms with the No Means No brigade, the situation has mutated and become a lot worse than it was before the 1990s. Back before then, the woman might not be believed. Might have to give evidence before her alleged attacker. Might be cross examined about previous sexual partners by a cunning and cold hearted barrister. This led to much stricter controls and rules. A rape accuser is granted anonymity in the Press, even if the accused is later acquitted. The accused however, is named straight away and this was brought home in the case in February 1995 of actor Craig Charles. He spent months on remand in a cell, too afraid to go down for meals due to death threats. He was acquitted at court and a few days after his release he was interviewed on Channel 4's The Word looking skinny and disheveled  He was practically seething with rage and bitterness, talking about shitting in a bucket and getting locked up for 23 hours per day in his cell. He thanked the TV show Red Dwarf for sticking by him until the verdict was reached. He also added that all other offers of work had dried up due to the false accusations. He mainly lamented however that his accuser was a liar but he would be in contempt of court if he named her live on air as she still had her anonymity.




The implication with many cases of men acquitted of rape is that they have "got away with it" and NOT that they are innocent.

For too long it has been a case of "you MUST have done this, why would she say you had if you hadn't?!!"

Disturbing in the extreme however was the belief that all types of non consensual sex are as bad as each other. This is the same state we are currently at with racism. It is apparently as serious to be Nick Griffin of the BNP as it is to leave a racist remark on Twitter (unless you're that fat cow MP Diane Abbott from the Labour party. But then she only racially insulted white people on Twitter so an apology will suffice).

But I digress.

The main problem is that in the last 20+ years, people especially teenagers have tried to come to terms with what rape actually is. Because of the blurred distinctions the collective consciousness formed the opinion that you had to be violent to be a rapist as rape was perceived as an act that had no grey areas and therefore must be as evil as you could possibly get. Pain, humiliation, the possibility of AIDS and maybe fear of being murdered. Knowing full well the ramifications of reporting someone for rape, people downgraded what had happened to make out that it wasn't as bad as they'd been told it was or that they'd thought it was, either at the time or the next day. A young girl whose boyfriend wouldn't take no for an answer might acknowledge that there was no way she'd led him on BUT he was a nice guy and maybe she'd just kept him waiting for too long. Knowing the consequences of reporting him for this she kept quiet. NOT through fear of not being believed, but aware of the shit storm this would cause once the powers-that-be moved in to deal with it.

This ad has finally come up with very clear, unambiguous imagery that is shocking but makes it clear that rape can be a question of perspective and you have to make certain the other person wants to. The lad in the video isn't a cunt, but he is a twat. An insensitive, possibly drunken lustful oaf with no empathy who thinks the girl's reluctance is mere stubborness. The wonderful thing about this ad is that it makes it clear that the lad himself might hate what he is doing...if only he could see himself doing it.

3 comments:

  1. Well written and insightful piece, Lance. So what's your take on those who knowingly make false accusations? Should they be punished? Named and shamed?

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  2. Yep. And rape accused should be anonymous unless they are found guilty. Twist on this in certain states in the US is that an accuser (especially if it's a child) can give evidence in a written statement only. Cough!

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  3. Why not look at the cases of R v Blackwell and R v Donnellan? Christ you civilian plod are thick.

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