29/04/2012

Rape Culture and Street Harassment

TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of rape culture. 

RAPE CULTURE -  a term which describes a culture in which rape and sexual violence (usually against women) are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media condone, normalize, excuse, or encourage sexualised violence.

As I bought lunch in a coffee shop the other day, I heard a discussion on the radio about a campaign that Mumsnet have started called 'We Believe You' which aims to show how many lives have been blighted by sexual violence.  I thought I was going to throw up when I heard the someone on the radio ask women to come forward with why they didn't speak out, but somehow, I managed to muster up the courage to research it online at the same sort of time that two hashtags began trending on twitter #webelieveyou and #ididnotreport.

Considering we live in a culture where those opinions are the norm - they are normal in our culture, our media, our teachers, our politicians, our doctors, our police officers - it's appalling that those same people criticise victims that don't speak up. From a young age, you're taught that if you obey those rules, you won't be raped. Don't go out late at night, don't wear a short skirt, don't talk to strangers, don't look like you're the 'wrong sort of girl'. There's a sinister implication sometimes in society that you were raped because you broke the rules that society has constructed for you.

I am a city girl. I have been raised to be wary of strangers, to avoid certain routes home, to sit next to non-threatening kindly old ladies on the tube. I have been harassed on the street before. But last week, I had an encounter that freaked me out so much that when I got into school, I just burst into tears because of it. Every time I've brought it up in class, the girls around me join in with their experiences, like 'oh yeah someone tried to follow me home last week’ or ‘someone stopped their car in a busy road to shout lewd comments at me’ - we understand the seriousness and the danger of it, but it occurs so often that it's making us desensitized to it as it's such a 'normal thing' to occur.

We're asked questions like: 'Why do you leave the house looking good then? Why did you wear that skirt?'

What's they're really asking is 'How dare you have the audacity to wear something you like and expect not to be harassed for it? Don't you know you're a sexual object? Jeez, get with the patriarchy already!'

I've been harassed wearing a leather mini-skirt, yes - but it's happened when I've been wearing my utterly grim and dull school uniform. It's happened when I've been wearing jeans and a jumper without wearing any make up or when I've left the house looking like a budget Helena Bonham Carter with lots of unruly hair and eyeliner everywhere.

'Don't you see, love? IT'S A COMPLIMENT WHEN I OBJECTIFY YOU IN THE STREET, AND THEN CONDEMN YOU FOR HAVING CONFIDENCE IN YOURSELF AS A SEXUAL BEING.'

It’s a 'compliment’ if it feels good. The men that have leered at me on the street aren't complimenting me. It's done to intimidate, making me a sexual object. Being harassed in the street by someone who refuses to take no for an answer makes you feel threatened and scared - and you've got to be nice to them too, no matter how uncomfortable they're making you, because who knows how it'll end? As much as you'd like to tell them to go fuck themselves, you've got to pretend that you're really flattered and all but you've got to leave now.

The whole idea that 'women love it really' takes up a chapter - probably an entire volume - of Rape Culture 101. Despite what the Daily Mail may want you to think, I do not want any man that says 'darling' to be thrown into prison - I just want to be able to walk the streets without feeling threatened.

I am sick to death of living in a world where rape culture prevails and shames people into silence with dangerous myths that make excuses for the attacker and blame the victim ('only strangers rape' 'it's not rape if it's within a relationship' 'she didn't fight back really' 'she's a slut, she was asking for it' 'if she's consented to one sexual act, that how can she say no to another' 'he couldn't stop himself, she was too tempting' 'well, just look at what she was wearing!'). I am tired of hearing rape and sexual assault being used as 'banter' and that I am an unfunny 'wench' for being triggered by it. I am tired of hearing about case where an abused woman was prosecuted for withdrawing her rape accusation despite suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I am tired of this rape culture, which blames us for something that was beyond our control.

This is why if you make an ignorant, uninformed, sexist, misogynistic victim blaming, or a generally fucked up comment around me, I am going to confront you. This is your culture, my culture, our culture. It wasn't anyone's fault except the perpetrator and I will not apologise for calling you out on your uninformed bullshit.

5 comments:

  1. I feel exactly the same way. Very well written!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic post, couldn't have said it better. Interestingly, I find that I get street harassed most the younger I look; I'm in my late 20s but on a jeans and trainers day look younger, and it's immensely creepy how looking like a teenager encourages men to dole out the 'compliments' on an epic scale.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Funnily enough, whenever I 'politely' point out that I'm seventeen, it doesn't seem to faze the people leering at me or groping my thigh on the tube who are probably older than my own father.

      Delete
  3. great post! i think it also maybe stems from men feeling like the awkward party, if they notice a young woman who clearly isn't noticing them; when they shout/leer and make us feel awkward instead, they feel like they regain some sort of arsehole power. anyone who says it's a compliment is usually a creep or a moron or both! x

    ReplyDelete