7 Jul 2008

I was reading The Daily Mail today....

...and I should know better. The excuse that, in the cafe I like to frequent on my lunch-breaks, it's a choice between that and The Sun, probably isn't going to wash with any smart girls and boys. I think my only reason for inflicting its woman-hating spew upon myself is to know what I'm up against. The tabloids aren't exactly subtle in displaying what they think about wimmin, but the Mail and its sister paper The Express manage to disguise their misogyny from an unsuspecting readership by masquerading as respectable quasi-broadsheets. This, to my mind, makes them all the more dangerous. An intelligent person interested in current affairs, likely to use their vote, and concerned about more than football results, isn't going to be seen dead reading The Sun/Mirror/New of The World. However, the same shame doesn't apply to the not-quite-tabloid, not-quite-broadsheet, entirely racist, sexist and homophobic hybrid papers. And what vile muck were they flinging today?

Well, firstly, as a reader of this blog beat me to the punch in pointing out, they reminded the first UK winner of Wimbledon junior female championship, that even when you've kicked arse on tennis courts across the world, all that really matters is what you're wearing. Their words were something along the lines of 'Never mind the fact she's the first British girl to win Wimbledon since the 1980s, the real challenge facing her will be deciding what dress to wear to the post-tournament ball!'. Believe me when I say there wasn't a trace of irony employed in delivering this crucial piece of news. I don't think The Mail have ever used irony, or really know what it is.

Secondly, they outlined the story of the woman who has accused several England rubgy players of rape in an Antipodean hotel following a party. The article neglected to mention anything about the accused, focusing solely on the woman's immediate attempts to defend her character. It quoted her spokesman describing her good character, respectable job and professionalism. The Mail promptly shot this down in flames with the snippy retort 'A description at odds with accounts of the alleged victim seen flirting and lap dancing with the players all evening'. It was a mercifully small article, quite right considering it was about nothing at all except a blatant attempt to defame the alleged victim before the case even reaches court. I never know quite how to interpret the age old 'Hey, you were dressed fancy/smiling/dancing/flirting/stripping, so, y'know, how can we really believe a word you say, you calculating slut?' line that is trotted out in so many cases of rape, especially when the accused are famous, powerful men. I mean, forget the fact that the accused men are not subject to any character assassination (because god knows a job that largely entails wrestling in mud with other men followed by a healthy consumption of alcohol makes you a moral paragon compared to the rest of the nation). What I can't figure out is, are they implying 'Oh, she was a bit of a slapper so the sex was probably consensual and now she's trying to make money by crying rape', or more frighteningly, do they actually think 'Oh, she was a bit of a slapper so she pretty much deserved it if someone 'got the wrong idea' and forced themselves on her'? One viewpoint requires a denial of the crime - the other an acceptance that it took place, but a total refusal to condemn the perpetrator or really admit that it is, in fact, a crime. I don't know which is more terrifying.

Anyone who's done even the slightest bit of reading into the law on rape and the chances of securing a conviction knows that these chances are practically destroyed from the start if the victim had been drinking, was dressed even slightly seductively, knew her attacker, or had a sexual history of several partners. Actually, scratch that - ANY sexual history seems to give a court carte blanche to paint you as an open-legged jezebel. Being a virgin might get you a conviction, but by god you'd better have some wounds to show you fought to the death, and have been wearing a burka, and not have touched any intoxicating fluids pretty much ever. And even if you have been beaten black and blue, hey! they'll just make out you 'liked it rough!'. 

What I'm driving at is, do those who attempt to discredit women genuinely think rape can't take place, that it's all about slutty women having next-morning regrets and 'crying rape' (I hate to even use that phrase, as I believe it exists solely to discredit any woman brave enough to take on a legal system that has it in for her from the start). Or, more horrifying than that, do they know full well that men force themselves on women every day knowing they are pretty much guaranteed no legal comeback, but they just don't care? The painting of rape as a 'woman's problem' neatly removes responsibility from the hands of men, and implies it is something only women can stop or control. But nothing could be further from the truth. Only men can stop rape. People are slowly wising up to this (see the excellent www.mencanstoprape.org), but for every person who realises that there is No Such Thing As A Rapeable Offence (i.e., to put it crudely, even if you're a prostitue porn star stripper crack head who's slept with 15,000 men, if number 15,001 tries to violate you, they're as guilty of rape as if you were a Mormon virgin), there's the likes of the Mail.

Which leads me onto article 2 - a piece on the alleged gang rape of a woman on holiday in a popular resort. [I should stop and mention here that only yesterday I was told a joke about gang rape by a male friend who really should have known better, but who was taking that cute male delight in winding up a woman with a sprinkle of casual misogyny. Cos boy, do we all find THAT adorable! Probably more depressing was the fact I'd already heard the joke, from a somewhat sad guy I met once at a dinner party who was clearly suffering from serious post-breakup self-esteem issues, and had decided to relieve his pain by telling jokes about rape and domestic violence. To women. Wonder if he's managed to get laid since?Anyway, girls, consider yourself warned - allegedly smart, educated young men think this is funny. God only help the less-educated men.] Back to the article - three men have been arrested in connection with the alleged attack - great, the police actually seem to be taking the case seriously. But we all know the Mail can't let it end there, They punctuated the article with the utterly irrelevant piece of 'information' (speculation, I think we'll find) that the tourist resort in question was famed for 'drinking and casual sex'. SO WHAT?!?! Even if there are figures to prove this (which I seriously doubt there are), what on earth does that have to do with a rape? Sadly, we know straight away what the Mail thinks the relevance is. She was probably drunk. She probably slept with three men every day whilst she was on holiday. And regretted it, and accused the poor innocents of violating her. Because, as we know, when it comes to violence against a particular sex, it's really men who are the victims of all this female viciousness, isn't it?

If perhaps I thought that for a second, the Mail gave us this information to make us think that perhaps a culture of binge drinking and promiscuity is turning men into violent misogynists who think they have a claim to any female body on the horizon, I'd applaud them. Sadly, I know what this 'newspaper' is like. Again, I can't decide if they're trying to persuade us to dimiss the woman's claim altogether, or if they're appealing to the sadistic cruelty dwelling in far too many human beings that makes them say 'pah, she got raped and she asked for it'. I've never been on an 18-30 holiday, never ever wanted to, but I've done my fair share of drinking, pretty much all of it was in the context of university. Sometimes I was the casualty, more often the nursemaid, to other intoxicated girls or boys. Not once did I ever think any of them were 'asking for' any imaginable violation. Incidentally, the only rape that occurred on the campus was of a sober, casually attired foreign student walking from one halls of residence to another. The university had covered up a previous sexual assault on the same path a few weeks prior - had they publicised it, there was little chance she would have walked there. As well as being raped she was beaten badly enough to warrant a lengthy hospital stay. We never heard if there was a conviction - the university seemed to take the incident as an attempt to stain its reputation, and was very tight-lipped about it. But it was easy for everyone to instantly condemn that crime. I wonder how vociferous people would have been if she had been extremely drunk and in a short skirt (and white, rather than oriental, because the stereotype of the timid asian woman makes it easier to think she was an 'innocent', than if she was a hard-drinking British girl).

Since I first started learning about these harrowing but all too topical issues, the question has run through my mind so many times - what did women DO that we are so hated? That people would either passively dismiss, or actively wish, such acts of hateful, vicious violation upon us? It frightens me to the bone.

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