Category Archives: rape

Rape scenes are usually lazy writing and directing

Content warning: this post discusses rape, sexual violence and media misogyny

Rape scenes are horribly popular in the media, and seldom necessary. With a flicker of hope, I wonder if savvy viewers are finally kicking back against this tedious trope as an opening-night audience booed a completely gratuitous rape scene crowbarred into an opera.

The defences of the scene were the same old tired shit. The director of the Royal Opera House said:

“The production includes a scene which puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during war time, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war,”

while one of the cast said:

“Maybe it went a little longer than it should have, but it happened and I think it’s an element you can use to show just how horrible these people were that were occupying this town,”

while the director of the production said exactly the same thing too:

“If you don’t feel the brutality, the suffering these people have had to face, if you want to hide it, it becomes soft, it becomes for children,”

I often wonder about the existence of this hypothetical audience member who cannot understand that a villain is bad, and conditions are awful for women, without being literally shown a woman being raped. I presume Rossini, who wrote the opera in 1829, didn’t have such a low opinion of those who would appreciate his work, considering he didn’t write that scene in himself–it was added by the director.

I’ve written before about how a competent production doesn’t need to show a rape scene for the audience to grok that this is a bad place full of bad people, comparing the latest Mad Max to Game of Thrones. To me, putting a rape on stage or screen or on the page as a form of scene-setting is the very pinnacle of laziness. A decent writer or director can build up an air of threat, of terror, without having to use salacious violence against women as a shorthand for this. It’s the Michael Bay school of show don’t tell… rather than hinting and using subtlety, they show with a gross insult to the audience’s capacity to think.

Yes, there are times where as rape scene is actually relevant to the plot, but these instances are few: tiny, compared to the number of times such scenes have been smeared in there like shit on a portaloo wall.

People will use the potentially imaginary audience member to excuse what is essentially a failure of men’s skills at writing and directing. I cannot say I have ever met or spoken to–or even had a screeching comment–from somebody who admits that they are incapable of grasping that the situation is dire or the villain is a bad ‘un without having to see somebody being raped.

Perhaps, therefore, audience are smarter than writers and directors think. And this means that they must stop using the same worn-out old excuses to cover for their fatuous productions. In turn, perhaps this means they will finally have to face a challenge of creating something with a little bit of thought behind it.


Mad Max > Game of Thrones IDST

Content warning: This post discusses rape and violence against women, and contains spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road and Game Of Thrones S05E06.

Why yes, this is the second post in a week about what Mad Max: Fury Road is doing right, so right. Or, at least, more right that a hell of a lot of the shite that’s on our screens these days.

Readers of this blog will likely be aware that the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, “Unbroken, Unbowed, Unbent”, featured a rape scene which was not in the books and seemed to serve little purpose (although I’d argue it did serve a function, and a fucking horrid one at that). Defenders of the scene, and defenders of the show’s attitude towards rape in general tend to follow a similar line. “But it’s accurate that in a medieval setting, women would get raped!” “Would you rather they just ignored the issue?”

First of all, the historical accuracy argument is fucking bullshit in a show where dragons and zombies gad about doing dragon and zombie stuff, the climate produces seasons that last for decades, and everybody has a full smile of straight white teeth. Let’s see it instead for what it is: a fantasy setting where, along with all of the above things which didn’t really happen in medieval Europe, it’s also a dystopian world where women are treated as chattel and therefore rape and violence against women is commonplace. Here, the “would you rather they just ignored the issue” argument has slightly more traction.

The thing is, if that is indeed a conscious part of the world that has been built and is being explored in the show, the writers and producers are still doing a fucking terrible job of pulling it off. If they want to explore these issues and show this horrible world they’ve created, they can look to Fury Road to see how it’s done.

Fury Road takes a look at violence against women in a dystopian world, and it does this without a single rape scene–hell, there’s probably only a few seconds of screen time dedicated to showing any violence against women. Instead, they explore it through competent writing, realising that we do not need to be shown these things to appreciate that they are bad and that they are a very real problem for the victims. Instead of being shown women being victimised, we are shown the impact it has on them, their desire to get away. We see instead their feelings, scrawled in paint across the room in which they were kept. We see them angry, we see them sad. We see its perpetrator, and we despise him without having to have every little detail of his violence rubbed in our faces.

It is entirely possible to address and discuss these issues on screen without subjecting the audience to the horrors. In fact, it’s easy to write a blow-by-blow rape scene. It is perhaps more challenging, but infinitely more rewarding for the audience to use some fucking subtlety and actually delve into what this means rather than what happened. Fury Road went to the length of employing a feminist to consult on the handling of violence against women, and it shows, because what emerged was a far better and more nuanced exploration of a world rife with gendered violence than much else.

We live in a ridiculous world full of dreadful writing if I have to call a fucking Mad Max film subtle and nuanced.


In which I review a book that I read: Tiny Pieces of Skull

Content note: This post touches on transmisogyny, rape and sex work, and contains spoilers for Tiny Pieces of Skull.

Roz Kaveney’s at-least-partially-autobiographical novel, Tiny Pieces Of Skull: Or, A Lesson In Manners, was a long time coming. It was mostly written close to the time it was set, in the late 70s, but did not see the light of day until now. Its publication in the present day, perhaps, marks a shift in attitudes creating the social conditions where such a book actually can be published.

Tiny Pieces Of Skull follows Annabelle, a recently-transitioned trans woman, through a pretty eventful period of her life in London and Chicago, including surgery, sex work, rape, drugs and crimes. With themes like this, one would expect a moralistic lecture, or at the very least a misery memoir, yet the book is anything but.

At its heart, Tiny Pieces Of Skull is a book about women and their complex inner lives. It is a story of learning and growth, and a tale of community, the little spaces carved out by the characters in a world that is against them. Terrible things happen to the characters, and it is made all the more shocking by how completely normal this is treated. Annabelle quickly understands the daily battle of survival, and it swiftly becomes almost like background noise. The title quite adequately portrays the content of the novel: Tiny Pieces Of Skull is a starkly violent phrase reflecting the 70s Chicago underground, while A Lesson In Manners describes Annabelle’s coping strategy: using her wits and charm.

Each event in the novel could form fifty thousand words in and of itself, and yet TPoS tears through everything at an alarming pace. We are barely given time to react to and process one thing, when something else happens. Blink, and you might miss something deeply important. Like the protagonist, we must adapt quickly and never get too comfortable.

While TPoS may be mostly thirty years old, I was struck by how much is still relevant to discussions happening today. Its unflinching yet non-judgmental attitudes towards being trans and being a sex worker is a masterclass in writing trans and sex worker characters: their circumstances are important, and yet it is not these things that define them–they are rounded people outside of this. While the word “trans” does not even feature in the novel, it is abundantly apparent that this shapes the characters’ experiences. Instead, the word “sister” is used, because that’s what TPoS is about: sisterhood.

Like with blood sisters, there are bonds between the women, even when they absolutely detest each other. They gossip, they bitch, they cut up faces and yet they are united against external threats: cis men–rapists and the police. They come through for one another in the face of fundamentalist Christians and men who prey on vulnerable women.

While many of the specifics in TPoS have changed over time: the spectre of the AIDS epidemic had yet to rear its head at the time it is set, so it is therefore not a threat to the characters, for example, it is still highly relevant to all women. The villains–cis men with power–remain the same to women of all circumstances even today, yet we must acknowledge that still trans women and sex workers are more at risk from this brutality.

It’s the sort of short novel you can tear through in an afternoon, but it will stay with you. Personally, I’m planning on reading it again pretty damn soon.


An open letter to Rape Crisis South London from a devastated survivor

Content note: This post discusses rape and transmisogyny

Dear Rape Crisis South London,

I’m at work today. I’m supposed to be working, but I can’t. My hands are shaking, and a knot in my guts twists about itself as I veer on the edge of vomiting. My head is full of thoughts of things my rapist said and thought, things I’d worked hard to believe aren’t true about me, things that aren’t true about anyone–or at least shouldn’t be.

Some years ago, you helped me get on top of the violent chattering in my mind and the sickness pervading my body. You were there for me, and you helped it stop hitting me like this.

So it’s horrifically ironic that it’s you, Rape Crisis South London, who are responsible for throwing me right back into this state.

You hit me with a blindside–it feels like it was hours ago, days ago, weeks ago, like I’ve always been like this–a mere half hour ago:

RapeCrisis SthLondon on Twitter   @stavvers Hi Zoe. Have you considered choosing to apologise for this  You can hold yr point   rage   also respect for survivors speaking out

It was in response to a string of tweets of mine from a few days ago. A deeply transmisogynistic article had come out, and I’d spoken out against it as a survivor. I said:

Storify link

After demanding an apology from me, Rape Crisis South London, you decided to pretend like both sides were in the wrong.

RapeCrisis SthLondon on Twitter   @stavvers Hold onto your rage and your point Zoe. Both are important. But all survivors deserve respect. You   Rachel. You have a choice.

Yet I don’t see you going after Rachel Hewitt. I don’t see you demanding an apology from someone who thinks in the same way as my rapist. I only see you going after me, the Bad Survivor.

You’ve made it clear, Rape Crisis South London, who you prioritise in your help, and it’s not women like me. Women like me can be thrown to the wolves to protect the hurt feelings of bigots and transmisogynists. You don’t mind rage of survivors, as long as it’s rage directed at vulnerable women, rather than rage directed at those who exhibit exactly the same pattern of logic as rapists.

I feel myself growing stronger as I write this, because a lot of survivors, trans women and trans women who are survivors (which is a fucking big overlap, if you’ve done your research) have got in touch with me, and they feel the same as me. And the way I deal is I take their pain with mine and I scream and shout about the lies you’re supporting in demanding an apology for me.

Rape is not something that springs into being due to the presence of a penis. It’s a choice a rapist makes. In supporting the transmisogyistic line that a penis is some sort of magically-guided rape missile, you’re letting rapists get away with it. My rapist claimed he couldn’t help it, and you taught me that yes, yes he could. It’s devastating to see you taking a U-turn on this.

Genitals don’t matter, it’s obsessing over others’ genitals that’s creepy. My rapist viewed me as a walking pussy. A lot of other survivors I’ve spoken to have had the same experience. So I find it really disturbing that you are implicitly supporting the transmisogynistic line that genitals should dictate who should and shouldn’t be allowed in women’s space. I don’t want to be around people who are thinking about what’s in my pants. I find it terrifying that you would prioritise having creeps who do in survivors’ spaces over women who are more likely to experience rape and sexual assault.

Our trans sisters need our help. Let’s fucking give it to them if we’re serious about tackling male violence.

Survivors shouldn’t have to apologise for anything. Once again, you taught me this, when I felt bad about feeling angry and upset at seeing my rapist’s reasoning everywhere and reacting to it. Pretending a valid emotional reaction to someone reducing you down to your genitals is something to apologise for is…yep, you’ve guessed it, something my rapist did. So yes, it fucking hurts like fuck to see you turning around on this.

I say these things so they will sink in to me and I can believe them too, after the huge setback you provoked this morning. I know them to be true, and I know they will break through and become truths to me once again as this triggered feeling passes.

Meanwhile, I want something positive to come from this destruction of me this morning. I offer my hand, sincerely, in helping you to avoid hurting survivors in this way again, because it’s not just me who feels this way. I will come in and talk to you, I will work with you on these topics. I offer my hand in friendship, because I feel like you were integral to helping me recover, and I don’t want to see you slip under and become an organisation that does more harm than good.

Before that can happen, I need to know that you’ve read this and understood it. I need to know that you’ve realised you’ve fucked up quite seriously. From there, perhaps we can heal. I’d like for that to happen, because it would help me heal, too.

Update 11.13am 2/3/15: RASASC_London have offered to engage by telephone. I’ve replied that this isn’t possible for me, and asked them to send me an email. I await their response.

13.30 2/3/15: RASASC and I have arranged to discuss this issue this evening by email. I will keep you abreast as to how it goes.

18.30 2/3/15: I was emailed by the tweeter from RASASC opening the lines of communication. She offered a heartfelt apology which I accept. Right now, I’m holding off replying fully because I want my thinking to be clear. I’m also aware I have decentred the issue of transmisogyny in support provision onto myself, and I want to talk to trans women about the problem and what you want to happen. If you’re a trans woman survivor, please email me with your thoughts. Thank you, everyone.

3/3/15, 10.30: I received another email from RASASC which makes me less optimistic, reiterating their demand that I apologise. RASASC also tweeted the text of yesterday’s email, again publicly demanding that I apologise. I have storified my response in tweets to this. I am very disappointed that this has happened, especially given how positive I felt yesterday. I am still clinging on to hope that this can be resolved, and that resolution must include justice for trans women survivors.


Let’s talk about how the front page of The Sun is fucking terrible

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence

Rumours of Page 3’s demise have been premature. This is very good news for The Sun, because it means that everyone is furious about a photo of boobs on the third page, rather than what’s on the front cover. Indeed, most of the outrage over the front cover seems to be about poorly-constructed breast pun rather than the truly terrible thing. Allow me to draw your attention to the headline story–that’s the bit underneath the boob pun and to the right of the other boob pun.

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It might not look it, but that is a report about a woman who was kept as a slave and trafficked to rich and famous friends of her abuser between the ages of 15 and 18. New legal documents have been filed, with more detail, and this is how The Sun have chosen to report it: as a fun little royal romp.

What does this front page teach those who will see it about sexual violence, about abuse, about women? First and foremost, that it’s cheeky and fun. The way it’s presented, it seems as though these traumatic events occurred with a Benny Hill sax parping away merrily in the background. It seems almost glamorous, as well as sexy: orgies and a real live prince!

The word “rape” is unsurprisingly absence from what happened here, as is “coercion” or “trafficking”. A survivor’s search for justice has been turned into lurid, titillating revelations, and given exactly the same editorial treatment as the testimonials of the “kiss and tell girls”. It is calculated to arouse rather than to anger, to excite rather than outrage.

Alongside the frankly horrible article is a picture of the survivor. It’s hardly just The Sun that have violated her privacy, indeed, I commend them ever so slightly for not using her name right there on the front page like many of the headlines about this story have. Nonetheless, each instance that this happens contributes further to a culture wherein we are perfectly happy to parade women who speak out about sexual violence around, to suck away their anonymity.

I’ve spent more time than I ever cared to receiving vile tweets from fans of rapist footballer Ched Evans. They believe it’s perfectly fine to provide private details of rape survivors. They all, also, seem to be labouring under the false impression that sexual violence is sexy and glamorous. With the front page of a national newspaper sending out messages like this, of course they believe these things. It’s all part of the background radiation of rape culture. Headlines like this are not a meaningless bit of fun, they’re teaching people that rape isn’t so bad, and they’re showing the world how survivors should be treated.

It is not enough to remove nipples from the tabloids. The misogyny problem, the rot, goes far beyond that, to far worse places. Over the last week, The Sun has shown clearly its attitude towards consent, and it’s an attitude which matches the logic of many rapists. Sadly, I think they know they can get away with this, that Page 3 will draw the fire of the people who should really be destroying them for a front page like this.

Every single page of The Sun is nasty. The pitiful excuse for a newspaper reflects and magnifies every ugly bigoted thought. The whole rag needs to die; it becomes clear again and again that this is the only solution. Dismantling that foul rag piece by piece would be but a start, but a tiny step along the way, because all news sources contribute to the problem in the same way. So let us see The Sun in flames, and as we dance upon the ashes, let us turn to the other hacks and let it be clear to them that they’re next.


A guide for men who want to avoid getting their lives ruined

Content note: This post discusses rape

At the time of writing, we see another MP add his voice to Nigel “drunken overfamiliarity” Evans (whose own defence argued he was “just” a creep who preyed on much younger men) in making life easier for rapists. Mark Pritchard, who was accused of rape and predictably cleared by policemen, suggests a “review” of anonymity, not making it clear whether he wants anonymity for defendants (stops victims coming forward in cases of repeat offenders) or to end anonymity for victims (I don’t think I need to explain to you how awful an idea this is). The rationale for this defence of rapists? Poor little diddums feels like his life has been ruined. Meanwhile, a chorus of men are continuing to bleat that unless Ched Evans gets to continue an illustrious football career his poor darling life has been ruined forever.

Apparently, being accused of rape ruins men’s lives. So, I present to men a two-word guide in how not to rape.

Don’t rape.

It’s really, really simple. If you don’t want to be accused of rape, don’t rape people.

Unfortunately, even this advice seems too complex for men, whose precious little manbrains cannot seem to comprehend this very basic advice, so allow me to break it down for you.

1. If she’s drunk, don’t have sex with her. Alcohol affects consent. If she’s been drinking a lot, she won’t be able to consent, so having sex with her is rape. Even if she seems like she wants to, hold off. If she’s really into you, she’ll still want to have sex with you when she’s sober. If you don’t think you can get laid unless she’s drunk, the problem lies squarely with you. Yes, you. Sort out your fucking self-esteem and only have sex with sober women.

2. Accept she can change her mind. Sometimes you might have got down to it and you’re really horny and then she changes her mind. Stop. She doesn’t consent to anything else happening. If you continue, that’s rape. And if you can’t control yourself once you’ve got a boner, at best you’re a pretty terrible shag. At worst, you’re a rapist.

3. Consent to one thing isn’t consent to others. So, you’re doing some fun sex things and you’re both enjoying yourselves. That’s great. But wait! You want to do something else, but she isn’t all that keen. Don’t do it, then. If you do, that could be rape. She’s consented to something, but not this other thing. Respect that. Go back to doing the mutually fun sex things.

4. Talking makes you a better lover. “What would you like to do?” is a hot question. It’s also a fucking mandatory question. Ask and listen, lots. This will make you a better lay, and also stop you from raping someone.

5. If in doubt, don’t. If you have the slightest doubt in your mind that she is consenting willingly and completely, don’t have sex. Sex is not a basic human right, not an entitlement. You can do without it. Fucking do without it. The consequences of not doing are far smaller than the consequences of going ahead. I hear it could ruin a man’s life…


2014 in review

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence and police violence

And so we reach the end of the year, and despite promising myself I wouldn’t do this, I am doing one of those icky “look back over the past year” kind of things, I’m doing it anyway (I was also meant to stop smoking this year, and I didn’t).

In truth, it’s been a little difficult to write this because there’s been a huge split between the personal and the political for me in 2014. In my personal life, 2014 has been brilliant. I love, and am loved. I have some financial security for the first time in my life. I managed to get quite a lot of my novel written. Everything’s coming up stavvers. It wasn’t all brilliant, of course. I wounded my fanny and got stalked by trolls.

However, 2014 has been pretty uniformly dire outside of my own personal little bubble, and I’ve had a lot to be pissed off about. Each week since the killing of Michael Brown, US cops have taken another Black life. The situation is also bad in the UK: the same pattern of killing and then lying keeps on and our pigs find ways of murdering without even having to carry guns. I haven’t commented on this much, because it’s not my place as a white woman, but I’ve almost weekly shared some content in my post round-ups which I thoroughly recommend you read. All of it. Take an afternoon.

In the UK, our political situation is looking pretty terrible, and it’s unlikely to change in the near future. With a general election looming in 2015, things are going to become completely insufferable. It’s the media’s fault, of course. The media has a fascination with leaders and white men, so we’ve been presented with two ghastly choices: do want Nigel Farage and fascism, or Russell Brand and the curse of left misogyny, God and some really badly-developed thought? One cannot move without tripping over either of these clowns. Of course, this is a false dichotomy: there’s heaps of possibilities, but a media owned by white men cannot conceptualise something which doesn’t involve dreadful white men flapping their awful mouths off.

The awful people who are already in government are making a right fucking hash of things too. We have Theresa May, determined to murder every single migrant, starting with the most vulnerable, like LGBT women. We have Iain Duncan Smith, who is trying to murder the poor through violently stopping their means of subsistence. They’ve been as nasty as ever this year, but come 2015 we’re unlikely to see any improvement even if the red party get elected.

Meanwhile, men who have been in government are emerging as paedophiles and rapists. A constantly-stalling investigation is ongoing into the child abuse rings at Westminster. Unfortunately, because cops and politicians are in each other’s pockets, corruption keeps cropping up and things grind to a halt again as yet more coverups come to light. I’m also a little concerned about the men who are still in Westminster. Nigel Evans, although cleared, was ruled even by the judge to be a complete fucking creep and were it not for his status, I suspect they may have thrown the book at him.

This has been, overall, a pretty good year for violent misogynists. Rapist Ched Evans waltzed out of prison, and, while Sheffield United chose to do the right thing (eventually) and drop him like the turd he is, it’s still entirely possible he may get to continue his illustrious career at another club, all the while continually proving he has learned nothing about consent. Shia LaBeouf spoke out about his experience of rape… to a near-universal chorus of disbelief from men. These were the sort of men who love to bring up “but men get raped too” when women talk about rape, but nonetheless failed to show any support to a male survivor. We also saw misogynist Elliot Rodger go on a killing spree while men tried to downplay the fact this was directly motivated by misogyny. Meanwhile popular left rag The Morning Star spike an article about violent misogynist Steve Hedley, because the left still hasn’t got its affairs in order there.

2014 has been very bad indeed for those of us with uteruses. In Ireland, many of us heard with horror the story of a dead woman whose body was kept on life support while her family were forced to watch her decompose because she had had the misfortune of dying while pregnant. This ghoulish act of violence was a direct result of Ireland’s absurdly restrictive abortion rights, and the judge only ruled that life support could be turned off because the foetus had no chance of surviving. Meanwhile in the UK, the situation is better, but last month our abortion rights were restricted further as sex-selective abortions were banned.

It was also a pretty bad year for sex workers, with momentum growing for the “Swedish model” which does not do anything to make the lives of sex workers safer, and many sex workers say will make things worse. Transmisogyny, too, continues to run rife, with transmisogynists turning up to picket lesbian pride parades and disrupt feminist conferences.

Alas, feminist movement and resistance is spotty at best. I am hoping, perhaps, that we can get our affairs in order in 2015, because we’re going to need to fight all the harder. For this to happen, we need to drop a lot of the crap we’ve been pulling. We need to inventory ourselves, honestly assessing what we may be doing wrong and where we are complicit in kyriarchical violence. We need to challenge violent thought where we see it, so that we may stand shoulder to shoulder with sisters of all colours, all genders, with our disabled sisters and our queer sisters and our trans sisters. Together, we are many, and we must overcome these divisions in 2015 if we are to stand a chance of winning.


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