Last year, I wrote about the Slutwalk movement. I was involved in the Birmingham event and wrote a couple of pieces looking at the psychology of victim blaming. It feels like I, like so many of us, have been saying this stuff over and over and over again. Rehashing the same arguments, deconstructing the same weak analogies (leaving the door open, flashing your jewellery – anything that implies rape is to do with an object being left open to theft or damage rather than a process of having power over another human being).
This week has been “concentrated” in terms of the extent to which victim-blaming narratives of rape (and the fight against them) have dominated the media. Over in the US, we’ve seen mainstream politicians talking about rape with the kind of bizarre misunderstanding of biology normally not expected outside of an evangelical Sunday school. Over here, the Assange extradition circus, which has included amongst other things
- Galloway’s disturbing attempts to trivialise the issue of consent by creating the straw man of insertion by insertion requests (amongst other things)
- Assange’s defenders blithely explaining how the whole rape issue has been used to raise emotion, that feminists have been drawn into a smokescreen of sexual politics used to hide the powerful forces trying to bring Assange down, and that if they would just calm down a bit and think rationally about the issues they might make make more sense of it all
For the women and men who have survived rape, it is inevitable that when rape gets opened up for political debate there is a reliving of trauma. Some of the voices we have heard have been the voices of survivors, but the vast majority has been “comment” – political punditry, a sterilised discussion.
This week may have been notable in terms of the volume of rape stories in the media, but it a drop in the ocean in terms of the global shift towards conservatism in terms of women’s rights over their bodies. The comments we have heard from leading politicians have been shocking, but the political arena where these comments have taken place is an increasingly irrational and regressive place, and this is something which has been building and building over time.
The Slutwalk movement felt like the start of a big fight back. It was an incredibly depressing and painful experience to share in so many different stories, to see how so many lives (for some years after assault) were still shaped around survival of the physical and psychological trauma of rape. But it was also uplifting; there was a real sense of power, a global coming together centred around the message (both to rapists and to the culture which excuses and encourages their actions) that we are fighting back.
It is easy to get tired over time in any political movement, particularly when you are faced with a drip-drip cultural feed of messages which disempower – there doesn’t seem to be week that goes past without some Republican politican pronouncing in biblical terms his honourable fight to protect the foetus (whilst simultaneously pledging to take away the health care of the prospective family), or a public official making some dodgy comment about suitable clothing for schoolgirls, or a commentator attempting to distinguish, from his position of enlightenment and reason, the different forms and varying authenticity of different forms of rape.
This week has put rape back on the agenda for public discussion. This has been painful and frustrating for many: discussion is obviously a good thing, but when it is weighted so heavily in terms of power it can feel exhausting to be constantly making the same points – that most rape happens in the home, that most rapists know the people they attack, that rape is just as likely for those who wear the veil as those who wear bikinis, that while we continue to teach our daughter’s “don’t get raped” we continue to obscure the message “don’t rape”.
We are tired, but this week is a wake-up call and an opportunity for discussion, coming together and growth. The political messages, both here and in the US, are a timely reminder of how very fragile our liberty in terms of determining bodily autonomy can be. Time to renew the fight back.
(Previous posts can be found here: