It has been less than twelve months since Michael Sanguinetti told a group of high school students “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised”. Have we learnt anything from this? Or from the backlash that he suffered after? Good came out of the ignorant policeman’s comment and that was Slutwalk, an attempt by strong, confident and intelligent women to reclaim a word placed on our gender by a patriarchal society and to make sure that same society is aware that blame should be placed on the rapist and not the victims.
I asked several men what they thought of Slutwalk and the comments that had caused it. Two men of an older generation believed to an extent that if you’re walking home in a dangerous area, you might be hassled more if you’re in a short skirt. I do get yelled at more when I’m walking into town for drinks in a body con dress than I do in dirty jeans and a parka. However, these were not the comments Michael Sanguinetti made. He was not talking about a few wolf whistles or a guy who grabs you in a club. He was talking about men who will force themselves on an innocent woman and scar them for life, both physically and emotionally. His comment is an affront to all as he is negating the responsibility of the rapist with the implied “he couldn’t help himself” argument and suggesting that all men have not evolved past our early days as cave dwellers and that they are still simple primal beings that have to have sex with anything that is wearing a short skirt whether the woman consents or not.
This is my main problem not only with Sanguinetti’s comments but also with the website Unilad. They both made heinous remarks about rape, but for different motives. Sanguinetti believed he was giving sound advice on how to protect yourself even though the comments were stupid, misinformed and wrongly put. Unilad however is branding their comments as humour or more commonly known in their world as “banter” and their reply to every intelligent person who objects to their comments is that person is a dyke or a man with a tiny penis who no woman wants to fuck/pussywhipped. These are just some of the gems I found on the comment section of Unilad’s belated apology. So have we really become a better society in England in the last 50 years?
And my answer is that we have not progressed as much as we’d like to think. We’re arrogant in England. We believe that we are part of the civilized world; we can look down on other countries and their customs but look at us over the last year. Our Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke made the comment distinguishing certain “types” of rape claiming that some were more “serious” than others during a live interview with a caller at BBC Radio 5. When complaints rolled in he clarified and said he’d mistaken date rape for statutory rape (that is sex with a consenting partner but one who is under age thereby negating their decision). So despite the fact he did not even apologise for his comments he also admitted to not being well enough informed on such a problematic topic. And this coming from a man who used to be a QC and is now one of the highest members of Parliament is terrifying to me. He is the one who is supposed to be standing up and protecting the victims of this crime that in a 2007 government survey in the UK was discovered that anywhere between 75 and 95% of go unreported.
And now back to our main target; Unilad, who came up with this:
“If the girl you’ve taken for a drink… won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds. Uni Lad does not condone rape without saying ‘surprise’.”
Now here’s a game if you care to make this an interactive article, how many times can you be offended when reading these comments? I can find six possibilities, I win! I recently took part in a survey that wanted to assess jury’s views of rape victims depending on whether the victim was drinking, was a university student, knew their attacker, victim’s sexual experience and even physical attractiveness. And shockingly all of these were factors in a jury’s decision as told in a psychological study by Hubert S. Field in 1979. And isn’t this what Unilad is partly doing with their comments? Continuing these stupid stereotypes and notions that perhaps is what makes it difficult for victims to report the crime and difficult for justice to happen. So what if a man takes you out for a drink, he’s buying you a 25ml shot of alcohol mixed with some lemonade and that’s supposed to make us what, swoon? Allow them to engage in an activity that let’s face it, they might not be that great at? Excellent so £2.50 will now, according to Unilad, buy a guy a fake orgasm. And not only condoning forcing yourself onto a woman who could be intoxicated but also giving them an out for a crime that is already difficult to convict. Excellent, I’m glad that a university education can teach you all you like about your specialist subject in History or Maths but there doesn’t seem to be a mandatory class in common decency and the difference between a yes and a no that by the sounds of this is necessary.
And here’s where I get into trouble. I can read everything out there and come up with an argument as to why our Secretary of Justice should have probably resigned once he realised that he was failing to protect half of his nation. However after I decided to read actual survivor’s stories all logical arguments go out of the window and I just feel a bit sad. I can’t understand how a group of well-educated people from our generation, one that is supposedly liberal and progressive, can hide behind this notion of “banter” and make statements that are so obviously offensive. However it is not only this one upman-ship game of “banter” that worries me, it is more that we are desensitising the generation that can start doing something. By making these jokes, by perpetuating this myth of the girl who either deserves to be raped or of the frigid girl we are making it easier for that 89% to remain a nameless, faceless statistic, we are pushing it under the carpet and making rape which is a crime that affects it’s victims for the rest of their lives even if they survive their attack, something that is not considered that serious or one that someone else will solve. This is not just worrying, it is dangerous, especially when one considers that in 2006 one in every 200 women in the UK was a victim of rape or attempted rape and in that same year only 800 people were convicted of rape.
The backlash towards Unilad, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Sanguinetti is brilliant. It just goes to show that there’s a huge collection of voices who are outraged at these kind of statistics and these kind of comments. However it is the fact that we have not educated all of our society in the ideas of equality, justice and just plain decency yet that is what’s truly offensive about all the comments made. We can’t just say we’ve progressed, we need to make sure that we educate this generation and the next one in that the Unilad culture where women are not people but rather simply fit into the categories of sluts or frigid, and men are either those who can have sex with a woman or can’t, is just pathetically backwards. Gloria Steinem said that the “first problem is to…unlearn” and that is true here, we need to unlearn the meanings to these words used in society to keep victims schtum and the “banter” flowing so I’ve left you with an example;
1. A beautiful, confident, sexually liberated woman who does not care about breaking taboos, who stands up for herself and who wears whatever the damn hell she pleases
finally grab it back from the pathetic aspects of our society who says we ask for rape, nay deserve it and hopefully that 89% will decrease as it should. We need to start punishing all aspects of society for perpetrating this myth and changing it.