Sexual violence: it still matters, even when there isn’t a political agenda.

Trigger warning: this post discusses institutional sexual violence and rape apologism

The revelations surrounding Lord Rennard seem to have brought out the worst in some people. A lot of his friends and political allies have descended into some textbook rape apologism of the “conspiracy theory” variety, along with a stinking heap of trivialisation.

Take, for example, Simon Hughes, who really should have abstained from saying that it was “suspicious” that this didn’t come to light immediately and implied that it must all be some sort of grand plot to scupper the Eastleigh by-election. Given my worthless shitlord of an MP was president of the Lib Dems at the time the allegations came out, I wonder how much his trying to wave his hands round and suggest the allegations are nothing more than suspicious is to avoid any suggestion that perhaps he knew something and did nothing. Which is entirely possible, as I doubt he’s such a useless little turdburger as to be completely ignorant about what is going on in his party.

Worse still, though, is Polly Toynbee, who is again subscribing to the “it’s all a plot to kick the Lib Dems out of Eastleigh” conspiracy theory.  Going beyond this, Toynbee decides to just gleefully trivialise absolutely everything:

But (so far) the Rennard allegations look less than criminal: a grubby pawing of women candidates on a training session is revolting and all too horribly common. Yet this squalid little “not safe in taxis” tale is being bracketed with the serial rape of children in homes and hospitals by Jimmy Savile. It comes packaged with charges that gay-bashing Cardinal O’Brien touched young priests whose future depended entirely on him. Or it’s blended into Cyril Smith’s grotesque abuse of boys in care. Melding all abuse into one syndrome trivialises the truly horrific in order to nail the merely repellent but everyday groping of adults.

Now, I’m not sure if Polly Toynbee knows that actually this everyday groping is criminal and the cops are wading in to clear Rennard’s name thoroughly and fully investigate every aspect of what happened. At any rate, that’s a mighty disingenuous thing to say. As Toynbee plays the Savile card–that yardstick by which all manifestations of rape culture must now be measured–she attempts to show that the accusations against Rennard are not a big deal, and the real tragedy would be if the Lib Dems lost another seat in parliament.

Well, here’s the thing. It is one syndrome. It may look different every time it crops up, but it’s all that same culture which allows sexual violence to go on unchallenged. Yes, Rennard may not have forcibly sodomised children, but that doesn’t make these accusations trivial. To suggest otherwise is to make it easier for other men to get away with it, and stop survivors from coming forward, maintaining this neat little silence which benefits only perpetrators.

Thing is, in their own way, the Rennard cheerleaders have a point. The timing is a bit convenient, and it is surprising to see how much attention has been paid to sexual harassment–something which is usually so ingrained and everyday as to be considered thoroughly unworthy of note by the media.

What they overlooked was that this is also a manifestation of rape culture. Those setting the agenda really don’t give a flying fuck about sexual violence unless it politically benefits them. And in the case of Rennard, there is an opportunity to snaffle a by-election away from the Lib Dems by pointing out that the party has a kind of shitty attitude to sexual harassment.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t matter. The whole thing shows that tackling rape culture does matter, laying bare a lot of unpleasant underlying beliefs. If we look hard enough, we can work out where to go next.


5 responses to “Sexual violence: it still matters, even when there isn’t a political agenda.

  • CJ

    I fail to grok the insistence that suspicious timing means the news must be untrue or grossly exaggerated in some way. What is it, if not one of the most hideous and common manifestations of rape culture, when sexual assault is taken seriously only when characterised as a deceitful attempt to bring down a man? Phrasing like ‘squalid little tale’ and ‘grubby pawing’ gets my hackles up in ways I can’t fully articulate, possibly due to rage.

  • zorafeldman

    this is interesting, we had the exact same syndrome in germany – one elderly politician of the liberals – that were being bashed all around anyway – had been, ahem, unruly with a journalist. yes, she had approached him in a bar after a press conference, but he made some leery remarks and was generally behaving as the dirty old man in a position to bully young female journalists. yes, she wrote about it at a time when parties are promoting for the next election and a lot of criticism arose from the fact how “convenient” the timing was. and there was a lot of “this is just how men are” and “don’t we have worse trouble than some old man’s lewdness”. it brought up the “sexism debate” to a level where even i was unnerved with it, but then: it brought up the fact that women are putting up with some “minor” stuff almost everyday, which makes it less than minor.
    on a sidenote, of course there were a lot of TV discussions about it, and i almost gave up hope in humankind when this happened: a young actress, daughter of a football trainer and self-professed chauvinist, was taking part in a TV discussion, of course apologising rape culture and saying how sad it’d be if men weren’t able any more to “flirt” with women… *rolleyes* sitting across was another old man saying the same thing, and while he spoke, the young actress did this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcvV-_db-L4
    nothing left to say, is there…?

  • janefae

    I’m glad you ended this as you did, because i had similar thoughts. That there seemed to be a mixing of agendas here and that the response by some correspondents betrayed confusion due to that mixing. Rennard should be investigated and dealt with.End of.

    What is unfortunate (with echoes of the stuff coming out about Peter Tatchell at the infamous Bermondsey bye-election that he lost to Simon Hughes) is the timing. I have not the slightest doubt that Eastleigh did figure in the thought processes of some media peeps, since what more convenient than to attack the Lib Dems for hypocrisy in an area they thought they were marginally better than the other parties in.

    The lesson – or the correct response – is not therefore to spring to the defense of Lord Rennard, but as you do here, to name the hypocrisy of the national press for what it is. They mostly don’t give a damn about rape, unless it is weird or high profile and sells papers.

    To that list, add now political convenience.

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