When it comes to violent attacks where the victim is a woman and the man is the perpetrator, in most cases the blame game immediately starts up and blame is shifted to the victim one way or another. Men, who are usually lauded for their sense, reasoning and logic, apparently lose all these qualities when it comes to the (literal) battle of the sexes. Besides being very convenient for the male perpetrator, it means society has to go to extraordinary lengths to prove it is the woman’s fault after all.
Nigella Lawson is grabbed by the throat by her husband and no one intervenes. Following coverage of the incident in the media, a radio presenter suggests we should boycott her TV shows and books. Why boycott her, you ask? It would seem that she’s after all the victim in all this. Moreover, if she has been a victim of domestic violence then surely the last thing she needs now is other people to bully her.
Another example of the blame game was the outburst by TV presenter Nick Ross who decided to pontificate about rape. He claimed that “rape is not always rape” and that “provocatively dressed” women who go out “unescorted” are “akin to a bank storing sacks of cash by the door”. In other words, if our dress is too short and we go out without a man, according to Nick, women lose all their human rights and are fair game to be humiliated, degraded and violated by any passing male. It’s a pity the same attitude doesn’t befall men who insist on wearing their trousers around their knees, as no doubt we’d be relieved of that particular ‘fashion statement’ in one fell swoop.
After all, it does seem a rather excessive penalty for, at worst, bad dress sense and/or having the temerity to live your life whilst not being continuously attached to some male, presumably a boyfriend/husband or family member (ironically from whose number a woman is more likely to be raped).
Rape – and violence against women in general – must be the only crimes where it’s still the behaviour of the victim that comes under scrutiny rather than that of the perpetrator. My two oldest friends are men. I’ve known them both for more than 30 years and I can categorically state that if they saw an unescorted, drunken woman in a short skirt, their first thought wouldn’t be: “I must go and rape her.” Most men don’t think like that. And if someone does then it’s his behaviour and thought processes that should be put under the microscope not the victim’s.
The idea that too much flash of flesh and men are incontrollable beasts is laughable. I realised this at the tender age of 19. Happily smooching away with my then boyfriend, he suddenly realised that Match of the Day was on and that, as they say, was that. Also how many men, in the midst of passion, realising that she was actually a he would think to themselves: well I can’t stop now; and carry on regardless? I’m sure in most cases their ardour would soon find a way of calming down.
And are we really supposed to believe that these men, who supposedly prey on drunk, unescorted women are just ticking, sexually frustrated time bombs who can’t help themselves? Sexually frustrated men don’t go round looking for helpless women to rape. They go and have a wank. I know this, because as a stand up comic, I’ve heard countless (and I mean countless) male stand ups enlighten me on this subject.
And let’s deal with the ‘unescorted’ piece of the puzzle. Historically in most societies women were regarded as property. (Clearly Nick thinks we still should be.) In the days of yore women were considered to first ‘belong’ to their father and then to ‘belong’ to their husband. That’s why it wasn’t illegal for a husband to rape his own wife in England until 1991. Sex was considered to be the price women paid for being married. In fact, traditionally rape of a wife was seen more of a crime against the husband than against the poor woman herself. It’s also why traditionally if a virgin was raped it was seen as a more serious crime. As a non-virgin, the woman was considered to be of no value and to be damaged goods. Even today in several countries around the world women and young girls, some as young as 13, are flogged, hung or even stoned to death for being victims of rape or gang rape. This is the ultimate blame game. Needless to say, the actual culprits are usually not punished.
So in the olden days “decent” i.e. rich women didn’t go out unescorted. It was a very efficient and effective way for men to control women. One of my numerous jobs was to type up correspondence by the founder of the Tyburn Convent, Marie Adele Garnier. She was born in 1838. In one of her letters she explains how she urgently needed to post a letter. However, coming from a respectable family as she did, she couldn’t just walk to the post box without an escort. As no one was at hand, her sister had to dress up as her maid, so with propriety intact she could go out and post the letter. Clearly as a society we have moved on. That is unless while going about her business a woman becomes a victim of an unprovoked attack. Then the fact that she was “unaccompanied” may well be used by some as a means to move responsibility from the perpetrator to the victim.
Now in the modern age it is nigh impossible for women to live their lives constantly in the company of their male relatives/partners. And most of us wouldn’t want to even if we could. However according to Nick, if something were then to befall us, we would only have ourselves to blame. Yes, there are men out there who assume you are fair game if you are out unescorted. However it is their thought processes which are at fault and which need to change rather than a blanket curtailment of women’s freedom of movement. All women out alone will have been hassled at some point – from a car stopping whilst you’re at a bus stop/walking home late at night to being pestered by someone on public transport. I remember whilst studying in the then Soviet Union going for lunch at the well-known Rossiya Restaurant in Moscow. On arrival I was hauled by my arm from one side of the restaurant to the other by one of the fellow patrons. Why? Simply because I and a female friend had decided to eat there. As we had no men with us, he assumed (wrongly) that we were ‘available’. We weren’t. Funnily enough, we’d both gone to the restaurant because it was lunchtime and we were hungry.
Another example of the spuriousness of this “unescorted” argument is another occasion when I was hassled whilst out on my own. This time I was coming back from supermarket shopping at around 4 in the afternoon. I was laden down with bags full of food. In addition, I had no make up on and my hair was in its usual wild women of Wonga hairstyle i.e. I hadn’t bothered to brush it. I clearly was not on the pull! The guy next to me on the bus started knocking my leg with his to grab my attention. I ignored him and carried on listening to my Walkman. When he got off at my stop, I did the old trick of rummaging around in my handbag so he had to move off before I did. Once he passed my street, I headed for home only to turn round and see he had doubled back and was following me. I noticed that in one of the front gardens a woman was doing some gardening. I stopped outside her house, turned round and shouted, admittedly rather aggressively, what the hell are you following me for? The man looked unsure as to what to do next, hesitated and then turned round and walked back up the street. In all honesty, what did he think was really going to happen? I was going to invite him in for hot passionate sex once I’d stowed my frozen food away? Clearly I did nothing wrong. I was just living my life. He’s the one at fault for trying to follow a complete stranger home. Why then would I be somehow culpable if the same scenario happened but a few hours later that evening?
However, Nick’s outburst also feeds into the misogynist and still wildly-held belief that ‘real’ rape is by strangers. Propagating this belief means that with any luck you can abnegate any responsibility from the male perpetrator and blame the victim for causing the poor, helpless man to commit a crime he clearly wouldn’t have committed had he not been “entrapped” by the shameless hussy in the first place.
According to Rape Crisis, 85% of victims know their attacker who is often a partner or ex-partner. This, according to Nick, is presumably not ‘real’ rape. Sadly, many people still think if the victim has already had sex with the guy then what’s her problem. We even have a MP, George Galloway, declare when discussing the Julian Assange case that if there’s already been one “insertion” then “Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion”. Mind you if a boyfriend of mine ever referred to intercourse as an “insertion”, I can safely say all activities would cease forthwith and forever more. Insertion? The term itself epitomises a misogynist view of sexual intercourse. I’m guessing that when it comes to sex most women don’t regard themselves as a mere receptacle for “insertion”. Sex is supposed to be an enjoyable experience for both parties. And no, I don’t think the man needs to give a running Satnav commentary in the midst of cavorting so to speak but at the very minimum the woman should be awake and engaged with what is going on.
However this idea that if a woman knows her attacker then the crime is regarded as less serious seems prevalent whenever the victim of a violent crime is a woman and the perpetrator male. Mick Philpott, who later went on to murder 6 of his own children, stabbed an ex-girlfriend 27 times. His sentence for this crime of attempted murder was 7 years. He actually served just 3 years and 2 months. My guess is if he had stabbed a complete stranger 27 times, he would have got a much longer sentence. It is as if our legal system is saying – and by extension society – that if a man commits a violent act against a woman he knows then invariably the woman is partly to blame for driving him to it in the first place.
Do Nick and his ilk really think that just because you have had sex with a man previously then somehow you won’t mind/be frightened/care if at some later date he chooses to beat you up, threaten you, maybe threaten your children, humiliate you and ultimately rape you? Do they really think Mick Phillpott’s ex, while she was fighting for her life as he repeatedly stabbed her was thinking: well, this could have been a lot worse. It could have been a complete stranger.
The other factor in the blame game is the women’s background. As a rule, how serious society seems to view a violent act against a woman still seems to be proportionate to the “value” of the victim. When young white girls from working class/underclass backgrounds complained to the police that they were being groomed by groups of men for sex, their complaints were ignored. One was even told it was a life style choice. Yes it was but it clearly wasn’t hers. The police chose to ignore them for the very same reason they were targeted by the men in the first place. White, uneducated young girls from the underclass are not empowered or considered to be of value to society. Rather society sees them as worthless and so the fact that they were being abused clearly wasn’t taken seriously. If someone called Daisy or Poppy, whose parents worked in media, had been the complainant I’m guessing her statements would have had more chance of being followed up.
In 2009 3 black men raped a 16 year old black girl with severe learning difficulties for 2 hours. After the prolonged attack, they doused the girl in caustic acid disfiguring her for life. The rapists were given 9, 6 and 8 years respectively. In my opinion, they don’t seem very long sentences given the viciousness of the attack. However, I don’t recall there being much press coverage of the case or of it headlining the news on TV. Now call me a cynic but I’m guessing if the victim had been white and from the ‘right’ social class, it would have been headline news and a massive public outcry would have followed over the apparent lenient sentences. And still in cynic mode, part of me feels that had the victim again been white and from the ‘right’ class, their sentences might have been longer in the first place.
In short, when it comes to violence against women, the blame game is well and truly stacked in favour of men. Women are just as guilty at condemning their fellow women as men though. During TV coverage of the young woman who was savagely gang-raped and murdered on the bus in India, a woman spouted the erroneous rumour, soon spread after the attack, that the victim was a sex worker, as if to excuse the perpetrators of their horrific crimes.
In short, as a society, we need to stop abnegating responsibility from male perpetrators of violent crime and shifting part or all of the blame onto women; whereby we arbitrarily modify the rules depending on the class, colour and the supposed value we, as a society, place on the victim. By continuing to do this not only do we belittle women but in the process we also belittle the vast majority of men.