17 Nov 2008

Women vs Women vs The Daily Ms vs A Dame

The Daily Mail. I shouldn't go anywhere near it, but it's an insidious and pernicious influence that manages to pervade too many aspects of my daily life to be properly ignored. Today, along with some shameless scare-mongering about the state of social services in Haringey (no, I don't know what to think about the Baby P story either, but I'm pretty sure calling for all social workers to be shot isn't going ot help me arrive at my conclusion) is a curiously large headline re: Dame Helen Mirren's views on the treatment rape victims receive in court. What is shocking enough to make the front page (although the meat of the story is tantalisingly reserved for page 7) is that Ms Mirren believes women jurors give female rape complainants a much harder time. Female jurors are more likely to decide that a victim 'asked for it', take the victim to task, and ultimately acquit the suspected rapist, she states. She posits the theory that this almost calculated disloyalty to one's own sex may be borned out of 'sexual jealousy' - I'm guessing she means the constant competitions women are pitted against each other in, to be the prettiest/thinnest/sexiest/most desired. That, I suppose, we can only conjecture about, but the initial matter of female jurors being more sceptical than male towards rape victims - well, there may be just be something in it.

A male friend of mine recently served on a jury for a sexual assault case. It bore many of the marks of the untangleable mire that most rape cases seem to begin and end in - the defendant and the complainant were known to each other, had previously shared 'a cuddle', there was drink involved on both sides, and the complainant was in a vulnerable mental state, having recently attempted suicide. Like the majority of these cases, it was going to come down to one person's word against the other's, and a jury left to decide who they believed. My friend openly admitted how shocked he was to see that it was the female jurors who repeatedly questioned the credibility of the alleged victim's testimony, and in several cases phrased their scepticism in terms of, 'If it was me, I would have done X', or 'Why didn't she do X?'. I was depressed but in no way surprised. Why women do this to each other I really can only guess at. Is it, by showing some kind of 'feminine weakness', we feel rape complainants are 'letting the side down'? Do we resent the implied attack on the male sex that a rape prosecution could be seen to imply - i.e. we still want to ingratiate ourselves with the boys, flutter our eyelashes and remind them that hey, we're not all allegation-flinging harpies! I suppose if our sex can be conditioned into paying to mutilating their bodies (including their labia, yes I'm still not over the whole vaginoplasty thing) and injecting poison into their faces, then we can be conditioned to believe that most rape complainants are bitter bitches making false accusations and making the rest of us look bad to the male sex whose attention we so tragically crave.

Gaaah. What's going to become of us? I open my Amnesty International subscription today and read that 46% of students surveyed at Belfast University believed that a woman who flirted was at least partially responsible if she was raped. I suppose we don't know what kind of leading questions or linguistic trickery AI used to produce these shocking results, but even if the figures are exaggerated, it's still a strong indication that education doesn't make you smart. How can young, educated, supposedly liberated men and women really still believe that old crock that anyone 'asks' for sexual violation? My guess is that they only believe it until rape impacts upon their lives - and then they realise, far too late, how their old attitudes are the ones they or their friend, partner, loved one, or themself will be judged and failed by.

Even Dame Helen, in her wisdom, gets it crashingly wrong. As a woman who claims to have been date-raped twice (I say 'claims' to avoid any legal headaches, not because I doubt her), she makes the baffling claim that though a woman has the right to say no up to any point in the bedroom, a woman who has got into bed with a man and engaged in sexual activity can't 'have the man up in court' if she changes her mind and he forces himself on her. More confusingly still, she states this is still rape. So, a crime has been committed, but forget reporting it? Whether she's just ironically reflecting on the current state of affairs - that rape is nigh on impossible to prove or gain a conviction for if a man and a woman have prior sexual knowledge of each other - or is as screwed up as the rest of the country when it comes to looking at rape, I'm not sure. After all, this was a Daily Mail article quoting from another magazine's interview, so was effectively third hand and god knows how it had been conveniently chopped up to make her look a certain way. Perhaps the Mail was trying to make her look as poisonous to her fellow sistas as the female jurors she claims are undermining justice for rape victims. I can't see the Mail actually wanting to give a positive platform to a strong woman for a sensible discussion about rape laws, but I can certainly see them wanting to portray woman as all ultimately competitive and suspicious of each other, and incapable of truly supporting each other.

Well, I think Dame Helen's utterly wrong on her second point, and hopefully any man or woman who is semi-conscious does too. The right to say no does not 'run out' at any point, and any man who behaves as if it does is an evil, woman-hating prick, and deep down we all know it. But sadly too many of us have been conditioned (there's that conditioning again! somebody make the Botox, labiaplasty and Playboy bunny pencilcases stop...) to believe that the male sex drive is uncontrollable, inexplicable, and should never have to answer to anything. Forget the implications of that for women for a sec, and focus on just how insulting that is to men. Last time I checked, men were sentient beings with minds and hearts too. Last time I checked, they were capable of knowing right from wrong. Last time I checked, men were still capable of loving, respecting and cherishing women. Why have we dragged our view of men down to such a frightening low, that we'll believe a man who thinks he's getting sex will refuse to back down because his partner has changed her mind, and that furthermore he can't be legally blamed for doing so? Perhaps the worst thing about Dame Helen's views is not what they say about women. It's what it says about what we now think of men.

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