Monthly Archives: April 2012

Lush and the instrumentalisation of violence against women

Another day, another oppressive ad campaign. This time, soap-merchants Lush decided to “raise awareness” about animal testing by putting on an “art performance” wherein a woman was tortured by a man. Graphically. In a shop window.

Now, this isn’t the first time women have been instrumentalised and objectified in an ad campaign, and certainly won’t be the last. What is interesting about this particular stunt, though, is that Lush clearly put some thought into it (unlike PETA, who tend towards the “let’s stick in a naked lady, and we’ll get more attention”). Unfortunately, their thought process was this:

It was a performance of violence (not violence against women) where – unsurprisingly – the oppressor was male and the abused was vulnerable and scared. We felt it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman.

This line of argument is summarised quite nicely by @NadiaKamil: “it wasn’t misogynist but -unsurprisingly- we had to use misogyny”. Both sentences appear to be diametrically opposed to one another, to boot. The first seemingly argues that the “performance” definitely was not gendered, which some defenders of the campaign have also been using. The second states that it definitely was.

And it was gendered; it doesn’t matter if the performer was playing the role of an animal. Violence against women is something that happens, and happens a lot. Each day, women are injured, raped and murdered. I don’t believe this is in any way the same as animal testing, but even if one does, this is not how one would raise awareness.

It is somewhat comparable to the awful adverts targeted at “raising awareness” of rape, which feature graphic depictions of violence which will somehow magically end rape. Such campaigns are triggering for the sadly vast number of people who have had similar experiences. The same goes for a performance involving the torture of a woman by a man in a shop window.

Lush’s stated aim of this action is to raise awareness of animal testing, because they’re very against that. Defenders of Lush have argued they do very good work to make sure that no animals were harmed in the making of their products. By raising awareness, then, Lush are implicitly inviting consumers to purchase more of their own products.

In other words, Lush are instrumentalising violence against women to generate profit for themselves. This may be entirely well-intentioned, but it probably isn’t, as Lush are a commercial company whose ultimate motivation is to turn a profit. They are capitalising on depicting a violent, every day occurrence.

There is also an issue of class here. Lush is a fairly expensive shop, charging ludicrous sums for a small phial of bubble bath. Maybe they are more ethical than other cosmetics companies, but few people can afford to purchase their products. The effect here may therefore be that many people, upon feeling shocked and triggered by the instrumentalisation of violence of women, feel a sense of guilt that they cannot reconcile as they cannot fork out a small fortune for something which is sold as more ethical.

Whatever the intentions here, there are some unpleasant effects from the campaign that must be examined and cannot be excused. Lush have used violence against women to promote their own products. This is never acceptable and ultimately serves to perpetuate the context in which this occurs.

 


Chodes, weeping, syphilis, &c., &c.: in which Brendan O’Neill attempts faux-feminism.

Trigger warning: This post discusses rape apologism. It also quotes Brendan O’Neill.

We all know by now that Brendan O’Neill is a weeping syphilitic chode. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that his latest chancre-ooze pertains to the Ched Evans case and he is wrong wrong and wrong again. 

Now, there’s a pleasant surprise in the article–if, by pleasant surprise you were expecting someone to shit into your mouth when they merely piss in your eyes–Brendan O’Neill doesn’t just come out and say “I HATE WOMEN I HATE WOMEN I HATE WOMEN” (or some variant thereof; the chode is a known rape apologist). Instead, he chooses to focus largely on anonymity of survivors in rape cases. Naturally, he’s against that, comparing it to being exactly the same as people tweeting about the Ryan Giggs superinjunction.

Anyone who is above penes-wider-than-they-are-long-so-infected-with-the-Great-Pox-they-drip-pus-everywhere in the evolutionary scale will recognise that a footballer trying to cover up the fact he put his dick somewhere he shouldn’t is rather different from throwing the survivor of a traumatic crime into a torrent of the abuse inherent in rape apologism. Brendan O’Neill, of course, isn’t.

His first two arguments for abolishing anonymity in rape cases are the standard ones which system justifiers will trot out to appear reasonable, and are essentially cramming the tongue deep into the ringpiece of archaic statutes. They are therefore too tedious to repeat. What is more interesting is chode-face’s final argument:

And thirdly, and worst of all, having anonymity for rape complainants contributes to the idea that women who have been raped have something to be ashamed of. It actually adds to the stigma attached to being a rape victim.

[irrelevant example snipped]

But women who have been raped have nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of. They are simply victims of a terrible crime, not stigmatised individuals whose names must never be spoken in polite conversation. The women’s rights activists who defend anonymity for rape complainants are giving credence to the idea that rape victims must be treated as uniquely damaged individuals who must remain hidden behind a permanent veil of anonymity.

Brendan O’Neill is concern-trolling, pretending to have the interests of women firmly at heart. Nadine Dorries often utilises a similar approach when she claims to be “pro-woman” rather than “pro-life”.

And it is entirely false. Anonymity in rape cases is an option, and, given the reaction towards women who have the misfortune of being raped by someone well-liked, it is an option many choose to hold on to. It enables survivors to report their rapes without the fear of abuse and humiliation. There is a stigma surrounding rape, but that is absolutely nothing to do with anonymity for the proportionally microscopic number of cases that make it to court; it is everything to do with rape apologism and rape culture.

Couching the position in false concern is at best completely misguided, and, being familiar with O’Neill’s drippings, more likely highly disingenuous. To remove this protection for survivors would serve only rapists, who can sleep a little safer in the knowledge that people will be less likely to report and their cheerleaders will tear any who do to shreds.

 


On rape apologism apologism

Trigger warning: this post discusses rape apologism and cites examples.

Yesterday I blogged about what rape apologism looks like. Within minutes of tweeting it, rape apologists began crawling out of the woodwork, and soon the comments thread was riddled with rape apologists (and some absolutely brilliant commenters taking them down).

It was around then that I noticed a weird form of meta-rape apologism forming. Many of these rape apologists were vehemently defending their right to rape apologism: they were engaging in apologism for rape apologism (while, simultaneously, performing their own rape apologism). It is a curious higher level of the perpetuation of rape culture. This is what rape apologism apologism looks like.

Tone-policing

Apparently, I wasn’t very nice to the poor precious rape apologists in my original post. Take poor little @lewisskinner, who reckons I should be a lot nicer:

I didn’t say it was ok, & I don’t think it’s ok. But shouty indignation & name-calling is not a clever way to make your point.

He then continued with this:

Incidentally, “rape apologism” is a very loaded term don’t you think?

That’s right. Apparently “rape apologism” is a bit loaded, and therefore, presumably, might somehow damage our argument.

You know what’s worse than being called a rape apologist? Rape.

It did get me thinking, though. “Rape apologism” is a fairly benign term for the consequences of the action. Perhaps “rape facilitation” is more appropriate.

The “being nice” line crops up again and again as a silencing tactic against women calling out bullshit from an oppressive system. As this amazing post (which you should read through) points out, it is merely a way of shoving us back into our appropriate gender roles and ultimately preventing us from changing anything.

“You’re trying to shut down debate”

This red herring tends to rear its head whenever someone has lost an argument and the other party doesn’t really care to engage. It is hardly surprising that this one keeps appearing when people try to justify rape apologism. This one seems to be most popular with the conspiracy theorist-type rape apologists, like Assange fanboy JB_Scott:

Your article seems to have a big fuck off brush and quite of a lot of tar to paint everyone with who has an opinion on the particular case or the subject of “rape” itself. Oh & Assange??? PMSL That wasn’t serious was it???? You really don’t have a clue [smh]. And by disagreeing with your points, I’ll automatically be adjudged to be a quote “rape apologist”? LOL Get a grip…

Like Islamaphobia, your “rape apologsts” term is a complete nonsense and unhelpful, particularly in debating the issues.

Here, JB expresses a completely daft argument that there is somehow a “debate” about consent (hint: there isn’t, unless you’re a rapist), and that I’ll just try and silence his right to type poorly-punctuated comments by calling him a rape apologist. Well, JB, you’re a rape apologist. I put your comment up, and the internet thinks that not only are you a rape apologist, but you’re also an oozing ballsack.

See also dear old @lewisskinner, with whom I engaged and gave curt answers to his stupid questions:

not baiting,but debating. Well trying, but @stavvers will not engage. Refusing a platform to those you disagree with = #fascist?

Apparently, pointing out that rape apologism is A Bad Thing is akin to stomping around in jackboots oppressing women.

What function does rape apologism apologism serve?

Rape apologism itself is a vital component in maintaining a system wherein rape is possible. Many people benefit from this belief system existing. Many more have internalised this ideology, parroting it and desperately trying to believe the world is fair and right.

Defensiveness kicks in when it is pointed out to people that what they believe is not only untrue, but also actively harmful. They fight tooth and nail to maintain their self-image as a decent human being. They want to continue parroting rape culture, and rape apologism apologism never comes without rape apologism. @lewisskinner started frantically tweeting me single newspaper stories which he believed showed that women often falsely accuse men of rape. Commenter David Walsh gave this particular gem:

 So I hope I won’t be considered a “rape apologist” for suggesting that while all rapes are abhorrent, perhaps some are more abhorrent than others.

Ultimately, it’s a similar linguistic trick to “I’m not racist, but…”: the individual is attempting to separate from being part of an oppressive culture.

But they aren’t. They are part of the problem, and the more they deny it, the worse it will get.


The anatomy of rape apologism

Trigger warning: This post discusses rape, rape apologism and quotes some utterly hideous examples of rape apologism.

A footballer named Ched Evans has been convicted of raping a young woman who was too drunk to give consent. What has followed is, of course, the foul chorus of rape apologism which ignites in an ugly crescendo every single fucking time. Each time this happens, the same set of tropes are trotted out as a means for somehow excusing the crime.

Victim-blaming

This is the first port of call for the rape apologist, and the prop on which all rape apologism ultimately rests. Here, rape apologists will do whatever they can to imply that the survivor somehow deserved what happened to them. Maybe they were too drunk, or wearing the wrong length of skirt. Whatever it is, apparently their actions somehow imply consent, as tweeter and repulsive shitstain @JosephWestley suggests:

In a Premier Inn with 2 footballers after a night out. Expecting tiddlywinks? And ruin a poor blokes life?!

Here, it is implied that being in a hotel room with some men is exactly the same as consent. Which it definitely isn’t.

“It wasn’t really rape”

With the survivor sufficiently blamed, it is time to move into suggesting that whatever happened, it definitely wasn’t rape. Sometimes, this can come from a risibly faux-naif pretence of not understanding the difference between non-consensual sex and rape, such as this from @jonnypotter:

Curious to find out more about the #chedevans rape conviction. Not premeditated but locked away for 5 years for lack of consent

Now, I’m sure most of us can explain to Jonny that lack of consent is rape, and that’s how he got convicted of rape for raping someone.

As the Ched Evans case involved a woman who had drunk too much alcohol (and, is, therefore, entirely responsible for everything that happens to her), this is also seen as “definitely not rape” in the eyes of rape apologists. They consider it ludicrous to suggest that alcohol could possibly impede consent, as  @IchWillNichts, who probably thinks he’s very funny, tweets:

Cops are busy tomorrow: hungover women who can’t remember how they got home will claim kidnapping against their taxi drivers.

Yes, Anthony. When drunk, the worst thing that can ever happen to you is a bit of confusion and regret.

Finally, there’s the distinction between “rape-rape” and not-actually-rape-due-to-lack-of-stranger-in-a-balaclava-leaping-out-of-a-bush. This can come in many guises, always with a hearty dash of misogyny. Sometimes, it can run concurrently with threats of violence against women, as evidenced by this thoroughly charming tweet from @BenWhitehorne:

 I hope that silly tamp gets properly raped one day

I literally have no words for someone who thinks that one rape is not enough, and wants to see the job done in a way which better fits his construction of rape.

Victim-smearing

Perhaps simply blaming the survivor isn’t enough, as those awful politically correct bra-burners are making some headway in pointing out that victim blaming simply doesn’t fly in 2012. The rape apologists therefore scramble all over themselves to make out that the survivor is an evil person with evil, evil ulterior motives. The most egregious example of this comes from a team-mate of the convicted rapist, who declared that the whole thing must be due to the survivor being a “money-grabbing little tramp“. In a two-for-one special, he also offers us a hefty dose of victim-blaming and a truckload of overt misogyny:

“If ur a slag ur a slag don’t try get money from being a slag (sic) … Stupid girls… I feel sick.”

The rape apologists have ran with this rather peculiar suggestion that somehow the woman got raped for money, despite none being able to offer any sort of coherent explanation as to how rape could possibly be lucrative.

Without a leg to stand on in this respect, the rape apologists decided nonetheless to name the survivor and set up a fake twitter account where “the survivor” boasted of getting lots of money and going on a lovely holiday.

Naming the survivor is a disgusting tactic. They may claim that it’s because it’s somehow unfair that rapists get named publicly while the survivors do not, but ultimately it is down to one thing: revenge. Because they believe it is all the survivor’s fault, they believe that somehow their football-playing hero is completely innocent and it’s time for some vigilante justice. They cast themselves as heroes, crusaders for truth, rather than the nasty little abject turds that they are.

The conspiracy theory

For some rape apologists, the outright misogyny is somewhat unpalatable, and so they take a different tack by theorising about some sort of stitch-up. In the Ched Evans case, they have fixated upon the fact that only one of the two accused footballers was convicted. Somehow, believing themselves to know more than the jury who heard all the evidence, they believe that some sort of miscarriage of justice has occurred, as suggested by Stuart Marshall:

Well,it’s a right hornets nest this one….I’ve been careful not to stigmatise the young lady in question but merely ask the question about how one guy walks,the other gets 5 ???? As for fb etc etc comments…well,I give up.THE JUDGE SAID SHE WASN’T “FIT” TO GRANT SEXUAL CONSENT.So,she’s sober one minute and it’s ok…..but then for his mate it’s not ok ? Get a life.

Often, they use the “I’m just asking these very reasonable questions” approach, though sometimes they will throw in a bit of victim blaming on top of it, like @Thomaskingsley:

To drunk to consent to #ChedEvans yet perfectly able to let Clayton McDonald smash you? Id like to see how the courts came to that decision?

Apparently, possible consent with one man is definite consent with all men.

These tropes of rape apologism happen every time. In the Roman Polanski case, the biggest focus was on how it definitely wasn’t rape, while with the Julian Assange case, all of the above applies in sickening great dollops.

And it’s not all right. None of it is. Looking at these comments, we see rape culture laid bare, all of its feeble excuses and nasty tricks converging simply because a woman had the gall to be raped by someone popular.


Fifty Shades Of Grey is probably shit, Kate Roiphe is wrong, and we need to discuss submission

There has been a lot of guff surrounding ascended Twilight fanfic Fifty Shades of Grey. For those of you living under rocks, this work of “literature” tells the story of Bella Swan Ana Steele, an ordinary high school girl college graduate, who meets the mysterious, brooding vampire businessman Edward Cullen Christian Grey and her world changes forever her world changes forever. The only thing that sets it apart from Twilight is the sex scenes, which are, apparently, terribly-written. Oh, and there’s BDSM. Lots and lots of BDSM. The sex in question, apparently, consists entirely of a dominant Christian and a submissive Ana, as apparently Ana isn’t actually all that into the kinky bits, and just goes along with it because she loves Christian.

I use the word “apparently” a lot here because I absolutely flat-out refuse to read the fucking thing.

Anyway, the entire premise sounds problematic as fuck, and not at all in keeping with the spirit of BDSM.

Enter Kate Roiphe, an alleged academic who once wrote a book about how feminism is spreading a fear of female sexuality, based on an experience she had in 1986. Roiphe has decided to lay out an argument suggesting that women are turned on by submitting to a man because we have too much free will these days and that’s “a burden”. Oh, and that feminists (presumably this same bunch of sex-catastrophisers from 1986, who definitely existed and are definitely the same as all feminists) are against the idea of submission and kink.

For an academic, Roiphe seems strangely coy about referencing any of the “facts” and “studies” which back up her own argument. Here’s a particularly egregious example:

Over the years researchers and psychologists have theorized that women harbor elaborate fantasies about sexual submission because they feel guilty or skittish about claiming responsibility for their own desires [citation needed]: they are more comfortable being wanted than wanting, in other words. But more recent studies [citation needed] show that the women who fantasize about being forced to have sex are actually less prone to guilt than those who don’t. In any event, that theory seems too simple or at least too 19th-century an answer for the modern woman: it is not as much guilt over sex but rather something more basically liberating about being overcome or overpowered.[citation needed]

Perhaps this plethora of unreferenced evidence really does back up her argument, but somehow I doubt it, as Roiphe’s theory seems distinctly unparsimonious.

See, there’s a much easier explanation for the rise in mainstream depictions of female submission in BDSM, and the number of women who admit to entertaining submissive fantasies and/or practice; an explanation that can be summed up in a single word: socialisation.

Let us remember that we inhabit a world wherein the fight for women’s sexual agency is only just beginning. While women are starting to view themselves–and be viewed–as active participants in sex rather than passive to the whims of a man. Heterosexism and patriarchy intersect to provide this set of conditions, and while it is subsiding, we’ve some way to go in overturning this culture. Everyone is socialised in this climate and internalises such beliefs to some extent or another. It is hardly surprising, then, that the first kink to “go mainstream” is one which fits most comfortably with existing attitudes: submissive woman, dominant man (it is worth noting that this set of attitudes equally permeates the kink scene: because I am a woman, I am often automatically assumed to be a sub by men).

So women, when asked about their fantasies–a deeply personal question which is charged with all sorts of social expectations–are far more likely to give the more “socially acceptable” answer. And the mainstream media is bound to crawl all over the things that are a little bit steamy, but close enough to “normal” to comprehend easily.

This is not to say, of course, that these women aren’t really into submission: most probably are, unlike the poor main character in Fifty Shades Of Arse-dripping Fuck-bollocks. What is missing, though, is the acknowledgement of the rainbow of sexuality, of kinks and quirks which are less congruent with heterosexist patriarchy. We have a hell of a long way to go before we get to this point: right now, female submission to men can be a choice, freely chosen, but the rest of the boundless possibilities are less easy to access, experience and even know of their existence. I have experienced precisely this shift myself. I started out subbing to men as it was the only option available. Gradually, with experience and meeting the right people, I evolved and discovered all sorts of delightfully sinful pleasures. This doesn’t dampen my enjoyment of occasionally subbing to men.

Ultimately, the discussion around female submission should not be whether it’s right or wrong: it’s sex, and the only time sex can be wrong is with a lack of enthusiastic consent. Instead, we ought to acknowledge the context and work to build an environment wherein sexual liberation and sexual choice–glorious, abundant choice–is genuinely, completely available.



The US Army, branding, and institutional prejudice

The mantra for the US Army personal appearance has always been “neat, conservative and discreet”, of which only the second word tends to apply to the institution’s actual behaviour. It seems, though, that soldiers are not being neat, conservative and discreet enough, as they have seen fit to update their regulations. The official article on this is utterly fascinating, and there is plenty to unpick, all pointing in the direction of an institution riddled with prejudice.

First of all, the changes. The poor sods are no longer allowed to get their combat uniforms commercially pressed, instead having to take time out of murdering and oppressing to hand iron their garments. They are also banned from “eating, drinking, smoking and talking on cellphones while walking”. Visible tattoos are not allowed. Body piercings are not allowed on duty. For men, they are not allowed at any time. Likewise, men are banned from wearing any cosmetics. Women, meanwhile, are only permitted to wear “natural” make-up. Gold teeth are verboten for all. Men are allowed to carry black umbrellas (though women are not). Many of these changes also apply when in civilian dress.

Within these new regulations hangs a crackdown on indicators of queer culture–to add a little context, recall that last year Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was officially repealed, and therefore queer people are now allowed to die in pointless wars while openly queer. The sexism in the umbrella issue is also apparent: presumably women soldiers can just stand under one carried by a man. Furthermore, gold teeth are typically associated with African American culture, suggesting a degree of racism which crops up again in an example given to clarify the new regulations:

Other changes are easier to define. Chandler gave an example of a senior sergeant major who dyed her eyebrows blond. She was black, and this was clearly not her natural hair color.

The weird thing here is, I read the existing regulations. Hair can be dyed natural colour. It doesn’t specify how plausibly natural the colour can be on a specific individual, and besides, being of colour does not mean one will necessarily never have blond hair.

The justification for these changes is particularly interesting (emphasis mine):

The new rules are neither a part of drawdown nor a tool of attrition, the sergeant major said. Instead, this is a concerted effort to project professionalism in the Army uniform and brand, and give soldiers the tools they need to educate troops and enforce the standards.

Branding is everything these days. From numerous stories of employees being sacked for dyeing hair to London turning into an authoritarian dystopia to protect the Olympic brand, corporate appearance has become an obsession for those in power. What they do is irrelevant, it’s what they look like that counts.

There is a further, and equally unpleasant reason behind the new Army dress codes:

“The uniformed services, we all generally look the same. Now, if you have a tattoo that draws attention to yourself, you have to ask the question, are you a person who is committed to the Army? Because the Army says you are part of the same organization. We all generally look the same. And we do not want you to stand out from the rest of the Army. Yes, we want you to set yourself apart and do great things and so on, but that does not mean tattooing yourself or doing other extreme things that draw attention to you, the individual. You are part of something larger.”

That’s right. The classic subsuming of the individual for the good of the Party brand. The military thrives on deindividuation. If people started appearing as individuals they might–God forbid–start to act like individuals.

Their deindividuation tactics and branding, though, all hinge on a certain type of appearance, and that appearance is the complete removal of any markers of any culture that represents The Other. To all look the same, they must all look as white, heterosexual and cis as they possibly can. Any deviation towards The Other will be punished.

Of course, almost all professional dress codes have this exact purpose. In a way, we should feel relieved that finally one brand has been reasonably open about this.


Some people are weeping syphilitic chodes. Don’t get over it.

In the wake of fuckwittery surrounding the Christian ‘gay cure’ bus ads, it is hardly surprising that the story caught the single, chancred, dripping eye of chode Brendan O’Neill.

Brendan has taken this opportunity to remind us that actually the Christians are more progressive than gays, because they think being gay isn’t a genetic trait.

It is, as always, an abominable torture of reality, and it is no different from O’Neill’s typical contrarian wordspunk.

As usual, it makes no goddamn sense whatsoever. The weeping syphilitic chode rather unsurprisingly fails to understand the meaning of the word ‘progressive’, thinking that seeking to ungay people in a homophobic environment is somehow A Good Thing and laudable.

It goes without saying that this is a profoundly stupid point, whether being queer is genetic, a choice, or somewhere in between. Maintaining the status quo by conforming to the hegemonic ideal is inherently, at best, conservative.

O’Neill isn’t even trying any more. He forgot to scream about political correctness or blame a shadowy cabal of queers and hummus munchers.

I think I need a worthier nemesis.


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