No, I will not blame it on the Muslims

A video clip emerged online this week. It shows a Muslim woman, Rose Hadid, wearing a t-shirt that says ‘I come in peace,’ being escorted, not politely, from a Donald Trump rally, after making a peaceful protest against his exclusionary policies.

This image comes to mind again and again today as I browse the news. Why? Because I see, from a mix of media outlets, complaint after complaint after complaint that ‘feminists’ and ‘LGBT campaigners’ have not spoken enough about the horrendous attacks against women in Cologne, Germany, that took place on New Years Eve. In fact, that isn’t quite right. The complaints are more specific. The complaints are, in fact, that we are not talking enough about Islam, race, and border controls in relation to the Cologne attacks. 

As you will almost certainly have seen, since it has been the lead-in to nearly all of the Cologne coverage, some of those involved in the attacks may have been asylum seekers (although at the time of writing, the Guardian had reported that no asylum seekers have been confirmed as involved in any of the sexual assaults; only crimes of vandalism and/or theft.)

The clear implication (and in many cases, the outright assertion) made in these opinion pieces, tweets, interviews, and indeed, in many casual conversations, is that feminists should be more outspoken in denouncing immigration in general and Islam in particular. I am cautious to stride into this complex and long-standing debate with anything remotely approaching a tone of presumed authority, but when I see how much racism and anti-Islamic sentiment is being pushed forward in my name, as an English, feminist, queer woman, it leaves me with such a sour taste that I feel the need to say something. 

First, the lazy claim that ‘feminists’ do not speak about the connections between Islam, race, and feminism is very clearly not true. Feminists around the world speak, march, write about these things every day. Salma Yaqoob, Rania Khan, Shireen Ahmed, Sam Ambreen, Shami Chakrabarti, Maya Goodfellow, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Ava Vidal, Shane Thomas, and Musa Okwonga* spring to mind as people who have written about these subjects now or in the past – and as I haven’t exactly pushed the boat out looking for names to add to that list, and this list is by no means extensive, it doesn’t seem to me as if anyone claiming that ‘feminists do not speak about’ this subject is either well-informed, nor particularly adept at research. 

But, of course,  ‘talking about’ these subjects is not what they mean, and we all know it. What they mean is that these knowledgeable, thoughtful, nuanced voices are not saying what they want them to be saying. Why, they say, angrily, are there no experts on this subject who agree with me? This proves that the experts are all wrong, or brainwashed, or lying, or scared of Musim reprisals. Right? I’m reminded of climate change skeptics who complain that the majority of scientists and climatologists believe that climate change is man-made, as if this is evidence of some outrageous bias against their theories, rather than evidence that perhaps their theories are due for a reboot.  

I suspect most of the people asking this hypothetical question ignore the writers I mention because they are not drawing anti-immigration conclusions from attacks like Cologne. These feminist and/or LGBT campaigners are not concluding that we must water down the painfully weak rights that refugees already have in order to protect Western women from foreign misogyny. This is probably because they are feminists, as opposed to racists pretending to be feminists. It is not surprising that feminists or LGBT activists would focus on violence against women and LGBT people, rather than using those topics as a proxy to talk about something else. 

(Incidentally, even if these people outright admitted their complaint is that the ‘liberal left’ never talks about these things from anti-immigration, anti-Islamic perspective, it would be way off the mark. There is a constant stream of casual anti-Muslim sentiment from supposedly liberal, supposedly feminist, supposedly progressive voices – from Kate Smurthwaite, to Richard Dawkins, to Cathy Newman in the UK; from Bill Maher to Hillary Clinton to Sam Harris in America, there is an endless stream of sneering, faux-concern, dog whistle racism, generalisations and assumptions, about the supposedly inherent sexist and homophobic nature of Islam. Even the BBC, the famous UK cornerstone of Political-Correctness-Gone-Mad recently screened a huge show presented by Reggie Yates that focused for an entire episode on the “homophobia problem in the black and Asian communities.” I use this example not as a criticism of Reggie Yates – it is very far from my place to make any such criticism – but rather to show how ridiculous the assertion is that “no-one is talking about” the subject. The portrayal of Muslims in general as sexist or homophobic or both are rife in the media – and not just the famously anti-immigration right-wing papers like the Daily Express, the Daily Mail, and the Sun.

It is not new or surprising that racists use feminism or LGBT rights as a proxy for attacking other minorities. There is, of course, a very long history of using the narrative of protecting white women from sexual violence as a justification for enslaving and murdering black and brown-skinned men. But it is embarrassing – worse than embarrassing; it is disgraceful – that so many white, Western feminists and LGBT people, like myself, have sat comfortably for too long while this is done in our name. 

Two things about this framing of the issue alarm me in particular. The first is the erasure of Muslim women, and Muslim LGBT people. Second and first generation immigrants who are LGBT, refugees who are women – many of them escaping the very brutalities of Isis that get laid at the door of all Muslims. It is surely no coincidence that many of the writers I list above get forgotten when a generalisation is made about what ‘feminists’ write or speak about. Despite being tireless campaigners and spokespeople for women’s rights, in the mainstream press, black and Muslim feminists tend to be seen as Muslim first, feminist second. The concerns raised uniquely by Muslim feminists are boxed away as ‘Muslim issues’, or, perhaps, ‘Muslim women’s issues’, while concerns raised by wealthy, white women like women in boardrooms, breastfeeding in parliament, and even the line of succession in the monarchy are reported as ‘women’s issues,’ that should be important to all women, despite these issues affecting only a tiny minority of women. This allows the dangerous myth to foster in some sections of society that violence against women and girls is predominantly perpetrated against white women by black or Asian men, and, as we have seen repeatedly this can have terrible consequences both in terms of victims that do not fit this narrative being silenced or ignored or disbelieved, and in terms of the issue being exploited by the far right to stir up hatred.   

When anti-Muslim hate crime rises (in the past year, in the UK, it went up by 70 per cent), 60 per cent of the victims are women. This goes largely unseen because in this false dichotomy of ‘Muslims’ versus ‘feminists’, Muslim women are invisible; inconvenient to the narrative. 

The second alarming thing about this dichotomy is the way it makes the rights of immigrants or asylum seekers living in the UK conditional. I despise homophobia and misogyny as much as the next person, but my right to be accepted as a UK citizen is not conditional upon my dislike of bigotry, and nor should it ever be. We should not be telling the immigrant population (perhaps even less so those who seek refuge in the country) that they are welcome, but only as long as they adhere to a value system that is not even shared in full the country’s most honoured institutions, let alone by the whole population. When Prince Philip’s position is conditional upon him subscribing to values of equality for women and queer people, when MPs have to swear an oath of intersectional feminism before taking office, when our greatest educational institutions don’t boast proud and celebratory statues dedicated to slaveowners, then perhaps we can demand to know your views on gay marriage at the border controls before we let you in, but as things stand right now, the idea that it is immigrants, asylum seekers, and Muslims who are keeping the UK away from being a magically progressive utopia is, I promise you, not catching on, not because feminists and LGBT campaigners are cowed by Islam and don’t want to discuss immigration, but because it is frankly ahistorical to the point of total delusion.   

Allowing a disparity in how we measure people’s rights as citizens is profoundly dangerous. Across the Atlantic, we see how conditional rights can look. In the nation that prides itself on being the cradle of freedom, for Sandra Bland, or Tamir Rice, or Trayvon Martin, freedom is not quite the same as other people’s; you are expected to know that don’t have the right to argue with the police, that you don’t, even as a child, have the right to play with a toy gun, that you don’t have the right to walk down the street if everyone knows that some people will find your appearance frightening. You are free but only if you abide by the conditions that have been attached to your humanity. If you break those conditions, then your humanity itself is up for debate.

Muslims living in the UK, whether born here or not, should not be told they have to accept ‘liberal’ values any more forcefully than anybody else is. Immigrants should not have to prove they are twice as patriotic, twice as committed to ‘British values,’ (whatever they are), twice as hard-working as everybody else in order to be welcome. That this is already the case in practice for some first and second generation immigrants is saddening; to demand it be explicitly enforced as government policy is chilling.

And yet these demands that we treat immigrants differently, that we apply different standards to people on the basis of where they were born, is supposed to be feminist, somehow. Open-mouthed people who want to make everything into an argument against immigration stare at women and queer people who do not, and express baffled rants as to our motives. Why do we not care about the women and LGBT victims of Isis, they yell at us. Why do we not show more solidarity with them, by mocking the prophet Mohammed with cartoons, or banning hijabs, or marching against immigration?

Why indeed. Because we do not show support or solidarity with the victims of Islamic terrorism by attacking Muslims, when the people most victimised by Isis are Muslims themselves. We do not show solidarity with gay victims of terror or their families by mocking their religion – we show it by offering them asylum and working to make sure that our LGBT communities are not racist once they are here. We do not show solidarity with women who have been victims of sexual assaults by detaining women and children in centres like Yarls Wood, where rumours persist of sexual assault cover ups – we show it by providing counselling, legal aid, and good quality housing. You do not show solidarity with me, as an LGBT woman, by making the lives of people I know and care about more difficult. You will not turn us against each other, no matter how frustrated you are that not everyone shares your xenophobic interpretation of world events.

So please do not keep asking why feminists aren’t using horrific events like the attacks in Cologne to push an anti-immigration or anti-Islamic agenda. Please do not imagine, not for a moment, that you are protecting me by restricting other people’s rights in my name. It is not in our interests, as women, or as LGBT people, to make our, or anyone else’s humanity conditional. It is so easily done. It is so easily made to feel normal. And what does it look like? To you, I suppose it looks like something foreign, or from the past – a white hood, a pink triangle, a bloodied coat hanger. To me, it looks like something that I see now, that I keep remembering again, and again, and again. It looks like a leading presidential candidate’s henchmen escorting a woman, while she conducts a peaceful protest, from the premises, because of her faith, while the people around her celebrate it as ‘freedom.’

*I am not sure if the latter two identify as ‘feminist’ as such, but Musa Okwonga has written about the Cologne attacks in the New Statesman from the perspective of gender violence and misogyny and both have written about how the two issues intersect, so I’m including them on this list.  

 

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Yes, another blog about rape

I really wish I wasn’t writing yet another blog post about this. I wish we were done with it already. It seems the articles, blogs, diary entries, personal testimonials, criminologists, legal experts, historians, anti rape charities and terrible, tiring, triggering explanations will never be enough. So here. Have another little piece of my energy, another little piece of my mental well being. But can you do one thing for me? Please can you at least try? Can you do that? Please at least just try to let this be about rape survivors, not about you.

It may or may not be news to Richard Dawkins and his Twitter supporters whom he is so uncritically retweeting, but the most central moment in processing your rape for many survivors is nothing to do with deciding to report or obtaining a conviction; obtaining the validation of an external legal system that yes, what happened to you should not have happened, because it happened without your consent. It is a moment that happens within you, yourself, where you first apply the dreadful, enormous, shame-associated, guilt-laden, painful word – ‘rape’ – to that terrifying, traumatic, degrading thing that happened to you.

Many, in fact most, rape survivors never report the incident. Many never tell anyone. Let that be your starting point. Rape is not an abstract concept that becomes something else if we call it something else. If you don’t report it, it didn’t magically never happen. If you don’t have a jury convinced that there is a bit less than 100% absolute absence of reasonable doubt, that doesn’t heal you.

Why, then, are so many people obsessed with the technical legalities and the best criteria for reporting or convicting, when this isn’t what defines a rape? The legal technicality is about whether the rapist will be told and made to accept that they are a rapist, and whether they will get some sort of punishment. The point feminists are making is that the important person, who should be centered in all discussions about rape, is the raped person. How do they feel about what happened to them? What do they need to feel safer in their own skin? How will they best be helped and healed? If you wade into a conversation about rape and your starting point is to tell survivors not to report things, not only are you totally telling them not to do something that statistically they most likely weren’t going to do anyway, you’re also making the conversation about something which is actually kind of besides the point.

Let’s just suppose Dawkins gets his wish and all survivors with memory lapses (which, incidentally, is a pretty common and natural response to trauma, something you’d think a scientist would be aware of) stop reporting rape. What next? You must know that isn’t the end of the matter. The nightmares, the flashbacks, the throwing up, the terrified jumping when somebody fucking sneezes or claps their hands behind you, the terror of closeness and intimacy and trust, these things don’t vanish because there’s no been smartly dressed men validating or refusing to validate what happened to you in a courtroom. Life goes on. It gets light. It gets dark. You have a bitterness in your mouth and a fist in your gut every time somebody innocently barks out the word ‘rape.’ You lie awake at night with your eyes open, staring into nothingness, wishing you could sleep. You bite at your hands or cut quietly at your wrists to try and numb it, or make sense of it. You sneak out to the toilets at work to throw up when your colleague says, ha, we totally raped them with that deal. Your partner brushes against you in the night and you shake in fear before you remember where you are. It gets light. It gets dark. It just goes on, you get older, and you get more and more tired of having to explain to people that whatever you call it, whatever words other people approve of you using, whatever you tell people and whatever you keep silent, whatever words other people understand it as, rape is always, always, always still rape.

The difference between the Richard Dawkinses and feminists isn’t that he isn’t aware of all that and feminists are. It’s that it is irrelevant to him, because those stories, those voices, aren’t what he wants to talk about it. But when you talk about rape, that is what you’re talking about, whether you like it or not. There are some people for whom rape is a subjective term, who believe there is a debate as to whether we can apply it to the above scenarios or not. Then there are people for whom it is not subjective; for whom it is painfully specific. For those people, the above scenarios are not a side consideration, or an exception to a rule. They are the entire point of the entire conversation.

And if rape survivors are not the point of your conversation about rape, then what is?

Quick points on the ‘degrees of rapes’ argument and why it matters


1. “But some rapes are worse than others! It’s a fact! They’re not all the same!”

“Rape is rape” does not mean every single rape in the world is identical. No-one is arguing this. In fact, the whole point is that they are all unique, and traumatic for complicated, individual reasons that go far beyond whether you know your rapist or not. Generalised distinctions don’t just get people emotional because they hurt our little feelings. They get slapped down because they are inaccurate, and painfully simplistic. Grouping together all date rapes, or all stranger rapes, and rating the ‘severity’ based on whichever label they fall into is about as helpful as grouping together all rapes by somebody in a purple jumper and all rapes by somebody in blue trainers. It is unhelpful because it’s simply not the reality of how rape happens or why it is wrong.

The knee jerk assumption that we can measure the severity of the rape by the relationship between the perpetrator and the survivor doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The history of rape as a property crime, a crime against a woman’s sexual innocence or honour, can be seen floating around us all the time like a ghost, in everything from law to public dialogue. We see it every time somebody compares getting raped to having your house burgled, or wearing a miniskirt and getting drunk to leaving a car door open.

Some stabbings are no doubt worse than others for different victims, and no two stabbings are identical. If I stabbed someone I knew, it wouldn’t hurt them less because it was a “friend stabbing” or an “after dinner stabbing.” It’s a stabbing. They’re just as stabbed whether I have dinner with them first or not. Besides, I’d never tell a stabbing victim that their stabbing wasn’t as a bad as someone else’s. Why would I? Who would that help?

The worst thing about obsessing over rape distinctions is that it stops survivors uniting and supporting each other. It ties my hope of justice to proving that your rape wasn’t as bad.

2. “But I’m objective! I’m being logical and you raised your voice, therefore I’m right.”

My favourite thing about this argument is that it’s a massive logical fallacy. Why does getting passionate about a subject make you factually incorrect? If I shout 1+1=2 at the top of my voice, angrily, that doesn’t make it suddenly equal 3.

No-one is truly objective. Everyone has skin in the game. Declaring yourself to be the objective party is not only the height of arrogance, it’s also very often a sign of lack of knowledge. Objectivity, particularly on subjects like violence against women, usually shapes itself into conclusions and opinions, with expertise and experience. Richard Dawkins is not objective about whether God exists. He is not objective about evolutionary biology. He has looked into these things as a scientist and come to conclusions. He is able to be ‘objective’ about rape because, it seems, he is not an expert.

Open your mind to this. If experts in a particular subject repeatedly tell you that you’re wrong and/or offensive, there’s a possibility that the problem doesn’t lie with their inability to understand your highly sophisticated logic, but rather with the logical premise you’re working from in the first place.

Besides, as far as logic goes, no-one ever actually says all rapes are exactly the same. No-one is saying the criminal sentencing for every single rape in the world should always be identical. Bravely knocking down a point no-one has made while ignoring the points people have made is a straw argument. This is not logical.

3. Priorities and tone

So I have a question for Dawkins fans. How come it’s okay for Dawkins to be rude, aggressive, and emotional, but if people respond, even if they respond with facts and reason, they get called hysterical?

Telling rape survivors who feel triggered because you’ve just validated silencing techniques their abusers used against them to “go away and learn how to think” is, apart from anything else, unbelievably rude. It just is. Why do it? What’s the matter with you? Dawkins fanboys always seem to be the first to have tantrums about feminists and other social justice campaigners being rude to them. I was so supportive of feminism, they cry, until you took that tone with me, and, well, if you want to push people away, then this is the right way to go about it. It’s almost as if manners aren’t applicable to everyone in the same way; as if manners are only ever demanded when playing respectability politics to control or silence people.

Dawkins and his fanboys are also very into their priorities. “Is this really the most important thing you have to think about? What about FGM? What about women’s magazines? What about babies starving? What about poverty? What about Westboro Baptist Church? What about everything else except the thing you happen to be discussing right now?”

This crap is always thrown up whenever social justice campaigners say, well, anything. Why are the likes of Dawkins given license to casually throw out cliches about rape to make a hypothetical point? Why is it okay for him to talk about trivial bollocks every day of the week without it undermining anything else he might have to say? Come now, why the double standard?

Babies are starving in the world, Dick! Why are you tweeting about different kinds of rape! Is this really the most important thing you have to think about?

4. “It was an analogy! He wasn’t focusing on rape, he was just using it to make a logical point!”

That’s not better. In fact, that’s kind of the point. He’s using rape as an analogy, to make a hypothetical point, without bothering to understand the context to what he’s saying, without bothering to be respectful to survivors, without bothering to make sure he isn’t perpetuating rape myths that actively hinder justice. Rape is just a word to him, a word like any other, that he drops into his reasoning to make a point about something else, something he actually considers important.

If you don’t want to talk about rape, if you don’t want to listen to, or even be polite to survivors, if you don’t recognise criminologists, lawyers, or sexual violence experts as more knowledgable about this subject than you, then don’t talk about it.

5. “You’re taking it out of context.”

No, actually, you are. I’m taking it in context. Here is my context.

When PETA drew analogies between the Holocaust and the meat trade, they intended it as a simple analogy. But the context to human rights abuses like the Holocaust is that the humans being abused were routinely compared to animals in order to justify it. The analogy may or may not make some logical sense, but the context renders it profoundly unpleasant.

Not everybody noticed why it was problematic at first. Some felt it but couldn’t quite articulate why. It took representatives of the Jewish community to explain that discomfort, because they are experts on the historical and current context.

Rape Crisis know more about why survivors don’t report their rapes than you do. Criminologists know more about the psychology of rape than you do. Feminist historians know more about the historical context to our laws and language than you do. They’re not ‘objective.’ They’re experts.

And rape survivors know more about how painful rape is than you do.

There is more to being an authoritative voice on the world than repeating rudimentary logic from one angle. There’s also history, and context, and just because you’re an expert in one area, like biological science, it doesn’t make you an authority on everything else.

Anyway, failing the ability to grasp all of that, there’s also such a thing as basic human decency. Not so much “go away and learn how to think”‘ as “go away and learn how to be a person.”

Saatchi gallery sale of assault paintings: separating the art from the artist?

Whenever a talented artist turns out to be a supremely terrible human being, we, the consumers of their talent, are always invited to ‘separate the person from the art.’

Sometimes it’s easy enough. You can like Wagner’s music without his anti-semitism getting in the way of the rise and fall of a particular melody. Other times it is less easy. Woody Allen, who has had to deny sexually abusing his stepdaughter Dylan Farrow, has a film advert plastered all over the tube. The title is Fading Gigolo. The tagline is: ‘the worlds oldest profession just got older.’ This feels, well, less than helpful for anyone trying to separate the person from the art, so they can carry on enjoying Allen’s films in peace. And other times, such as the newly revealed paintings on sale via Charles Saatchi’s online gallery, depicting his assault on Nigella Lawson, it is plain impossible.

So what exactly are these distinctions we so judiciously make as we choose what to look at, listen to, or purchase? Chris Brown’s assault on Rihanna prompted a tsunami of panicked debates about the so-called culture of misogyny in hiphop and R&B; I wonder if we will now see a proportionate debate about the culture of misogyny in art?

Damien Udaiyan, one of several artists who painted the assault, says his piece is supposed to be about Saatchi’s assault, but also a “comment about the art market, and how people control it.” Fair enough, although he’s selling it via Saatchi’s site for £5,870 – or, as I call it, 13 months’ rent – and the site gets a 30% commission. Perhaps that’s some other clever comment on the art market and the powerful people who control it.

In fact, artistic markets, critics, and canons alike have long treated women as objects not agents, and the market in general has long treated women as commodities or accessories to split a profit on, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Charles Saatchi, both successful artist and successful capitalist, would be able to profit from the commodification of his own assault on Lawson.

What perhaps should be surprising, though – or at least noteworthy – is that there are people who would purchase these pieces, allowing Saatchi to profit from his actions; indeed, that there are actually people who want to look at those pictures at all. But perhaps they are not for looking at; perhaps they are collectors’ items, to gather dust and financial value. Perhaps they are all about business, and nothing to do with beauty. What, then, is art even for?

At some point, it is not enough to just say that we are separating the art from the person. When somebody is profiting from the art, when it is reflecting a particular world view, when it is explicitly about more than just beauty for its own sake, then at some point we must ask: what is this for? What role does art play in forming our cultural norms, in how we intellectualise beauty?

Richard Dawkins got himself into a bit of a scrap on Twitter recently for disputing whether Shakespeare’s being white and male should be taken into account when weighing up his place in the literary canon. I adore Shakespeare but of course it matters if the art we take for granted as ‘the best’ validates and reflects one dominant experience more so than all others. Art validates our humanity. It tells us who we are.

We are fooling ourselves if we believe we are always able to separate the art from the person. We are fooling ourselves if we think it’s a coincidence that Saatchi is able to profit from his attack on Lawson, that fellow artists have chosen to sell it specifically via his site, that we are meant to feel sympathy for Othello when Desdemona is killed, that we trust Woody Allen’s portrayal of humanity to be objectively truthful. What are we looking at, exactly, when we look at a picture of Lawson’s traumatised, scared face, painted and sold for £5,870? Now: what is the value of it?

 

Michael Fabricant, jokes, political correctness and context

Michael Fabricant, jokes, political correctness and context

Michael Fabricant doesn’t seem to take much seriously. So it’s not surprising to me that he thinks it’s a right old laugh to joke about punching a Muslim woman in the throat if she gets a bit too opinionated for his liking.

As the defenders of ‘political incorrectness’ like to say: context is all. You have to take it in context. Stop being offended, you’re just taking it out of context. So I have to ask: what is the context to this comment?

Last week, a woman was murdered. The police believe it could have been because she was ‘wearing Muslim dress.’ Tell Mama has reported that Muslim women are experiencing ever-higher levels of hate crime, so much so that, according to reports, just going outside means taking an explicit risk.

The context is that hey, feminists are hysterical, and women overreact, so we need not be taken seriously in our outrage. Not so when the Liddles and the Farages of the world get outraged; no, then it must Mean Something. Ah, we need to respond to this! Their outrage shows the alienation of the public from the political class, or the rise of political correctness gone mad!

It’s not like Fabricant’s tweets are never taken seriously. When Fabricant, back in the days when he was party chairman, tweeted something which embarrassed David Cameron, of course, that was an entirely different matter. He was sacked for saying it was ‘about time’ Maria Miller went. But joking about punching a Muslim woman in the throat, in the midst of a climate of rising racism and violence? Cameron backs him up.

Ah, context. When respected, professional men like Michael Fabricant jokily sympathise with somebody wanting to give a woman a punch, she, not he, is the one who is then subject to a heap of abuse. That is the real context to Michael Fabricant’s joke.

The more marginalised you are the more people believe your right to be heard is conditional. The more people believe your right to be heard, the right to your humanity, is conditional, the more disproportionate the reaction you ‘provoke’ will be. The anger expressed to wards Alibhai-Brown or Diane Abbott (or, in America, Michelle Obama or Melissa Harris Perry) never seems proportionate to whatever they have supposedly ‘done’.

Was Yasmin Alibhai-Brown seriously imagined to be somehow more unpleasant than Rod Liddle was, in the interview that so offended Mr Fabricant? Liddle rudely insulted the interviewer and complained – a typical manifestation of the entitlement ingrained in the faux-anti-establishment brigade – that the questions weren’t about the things he fancied talking about. He pretended he didn’t know what Alibhai-Brown was referring to when she mentioned his comments on Stephen Lawrence’s murder – comments that it is extremely hard to believe he had forgotten, given that he was found to have breached a court order over them, and the Spectator was fined. If Liddle, who writes of ‘black savages’ and compares supporting gay marriage as a conservative to endorsing sex with a goat as a conservative, does not provoke an equivalent violent fantasy from the likes of Fabricant, it begs the question: what would a white man actually have to say to provoke one? You don’t even have to agree with Brown or disagree with Liddle to see that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was certainly not being any more provocative that he was.

Provocative is a strangely gendered word. We do not often hear of men being provocative, or at least, when we do, the bar is set so much higher. A man is provocative, for example, if he is seen carrying a weapon, or if he shouts abuse in the street at a stranger, or if he gets drunk and squares up to somebody in a bar. A woman is provocative if she wears a miniskirt or has an opinion or two.

When we talk about context, which is the third magic word that pops up alongside ‘irony’ and ‘intention’, it always seems to be a very specific context that those people are interested in discussing. “You have to take it in context,” cry endless apologists for ‘ironic’ sexism or racism, before innocently asking why they cannot say the N-word, if NWA can, or why they can’t shout ‘bitch’ at women in the street if Beyonce can sing the word in a song about empowering herself.

Reacting to ‘jokes’ like Fabricant’s is not about being offended, and it’s certainly not about being knee-jerk. It’s not even about the individual joke itself. Would Fabricant actually punch Alibhai-Brown in the neck? It’s highly unlikely that he would. (What a thing, though, to be an MP, and have people rounding behind you to assert that you wouldn’t really punch a woman, as if that alone is amazingly high praise that qualifies you to keep your job.) No, much of the reaction to these seemingly silly little incidents is a dispassionate, structural analysis of the context in which those ‘jokes’ sit. The context, not the single incident, is what makes it matter. The context is not just that two women a week die of domestic violence. The context is how many of those women died because they were made to believe it was a little bit their fault, because they were, in some small way, too provocative.

What was wrong with Elliot Rodger? (Short answer: a lot)

Guest post by Emily O’Malley

I read Elliot Rodger‘s whole 140-page manifesto, and have not been able to stop thinking about it all week. From the day it happened, I’ve heard a medley of theories about his pathology. People have blamed mental illness, guns, violent video guns, MRAs, feminists, atheism, racism, and his therapists. Some have taken a leaf out of his own book and faulted women for not dating him. Others have said that no one is responsible but Elliot himself. A guest on Fox News even speculated that he must have been secretly gay and angry with women for taking away the men he desired. After watching his videos and reading his autobiographical screed, I point the (middle) finger at narcissism and misogyny–both his own, and that of the society which fostered it.

Elliot Rodgers was an egomaniacal, emotionally infantile, status-obsessed, classist, racist, sexist, spoiled pig. He demanded that everything be handed to him on a blood diamond-encrusted platter, and for the most part, he got it. His parents bought him everything he could possibly want, along with countless other things he was too ungrateful to appreciate. We’re talking about a guy who went on international vacations nearly every year and always flew first class. He had VIP passes for movie premieres and attended a private Katy Perry concert. He wore Armani and Gucci, ate at five-star restaurants whenever he pleased, and drove a BMW. His dad was friends with Steven Spielberg. Even so, he didn’t believe he was wealthy. He kept pressuring his mom to find a rich husband so he could “be part of a high-class family” in order to feel superior to others. His mom didn’t wish to remarry, but Elliot told her she should sacrifice her own happiness for his sake, because he believed that being rich was the only way he could lose his virginity. He wanted women gifted to him along with all the other status symbols, but found that to be far more of a challenge.

Elliot constantly spoke of being rejected by women, but it was entirely in his own head. From the sound of his manifesto, he never even asked women out. He didn’t approach them. He didn’t flirt. He went out by himself in public and expected women to flock over to him, and felt jilted when they didn’t. How many women are going to approach a man who’s immersed in a book at Barnes & Noble or waiting in front of Domino’s? How many women are going to try to pick up a man they see jogging around in a park? Based on those descriptions, he must have looked busy. He never tried to initiate conversation. There were some encounters in which a woman smiled at him, but he didn’t follow it up by saying hello. He decided she must not be interested because she didn’t fall into his lap right then and there.

The manifesto contained numerous laments about not having friends, but Elliot was the one who drove them away. Whenever he made friends, he became maddeningly jealous of them for attracting women or being charismatic. He snubbed the friendship of anyone he saw as nerdy or unattractive, but felt deeply threatened by attractive and outgoing friends. His jealousy immediately turned to hate. When any of his friends dated or hooked up with women, he assumed they were doing it to spite him. He truly believed that everything they did was directed at him. This wasn’t just his belief about friends; he also applied it to strangers. Elliot thought that every couple out in public was displaying their affection just to make him feel inferior.

Elliot was also racist. He was half-Asian but passed as white, and heaped a generous helping of racial slurs onto black people, Hispanics, and Asians. He seemed to idolize blonde white women as an Aryan ideal, and I doubt it was a coincidence that the majority of his victims were Asian men. He was trying to kill off that part of himself.

His hatred of women burns through the pages, searing anyone who scrolls through. He wanted to own and enslave them. He wanted to establish himself as a godlike dictator, lock women up in concentration camps, and starve them all to death. I’ve heard people ask why no woman ever gave him a chance. After pointing out the fact that he never actually approached any of them, I respond by asking, “Would you?” He was handsome and rich and had myriad Hollywood connections, but clearly that’s not enough to attract someone if you radiate predatory zeal. Clearly you can still scare people, even if you’re good looking and intelligent. Creepiness is a distinct trait that attractive people are not immune from exuding. I strongly suspect that he would have been violent and predatory even if he did have a girlfriend. It was his nature. If somebody can’t handle being denied what they want, they can’t handle it any better from a significant other. With his impossible demands and inability to be satisfied, I also doubt that one girlfriend would have been enough for him. Even if he had managed to win over a woman he viewed as a flawless trophy, he’d be enraged about not being able to date every woman who appealed to him, and he would still feel as if the world were cheating him out of his rightful rewards. The people who blame women for “not giving him a chance” would also blame a woman if she did date him and was murdered. They’d say, “She had to be crazy to say yes!” Either way, Elliot would be absolved of responsibility.

Elliot’s affinity for Men’s Rights Activist websites has caused many to wonder if they fueled his fury toward women. I’d say that was more of a symptom than a cause. He already felt alienated from women and blamed them for his misery, so he sought out an online community with others who shared his grievances. Very few of his partners in commiseration would actually commit murder, but the support he received for his massacre is chilling. Not all MRAs condone Elliot’s actions, of course, but a great deal of them are choosing to derail the topic (or possibly rationalize it) by immediately reverting to, “Well, women kill men, too!” or “There are women who commit domestic violence.” Yes, there are women who domestically abuse men and women who kill male partners. No one is denying those facts or using this tragedy to excuse female-on-male violence. However, we are currently talking about a man who committed a mass shooting based almost entirely on his acrimony towards women, and many MRAs seem unwilling to discuss this without seeking out a way to blame the female gender.

A large portion of Elliot’s alienation from women, and social struggles in general, seemed related to his Asperger’s Syndrome. That being said, Asperger’s alone doesn’t account for his actions. Plenty of people with Asperger’s are able to date and have active social lives. It may take more effort for them than it does for others, but it can be achieved. Elliot’s astounding level of narcissism kept him from finding love and keeping friends. He wanted the world to drop down and worship him, and refused to take responsibility for any of his flaws. That’s not attributed to Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not psychosis, either. One striking aspect of Elliot’s manifesto was its lucidity. His ideas were outrageously inaccurate, but coherent and consistent. He couldn’t relate to others’ joy or connection, so he resolved to destroy it.

I’d diagnose that as bare evil.

Victim-blaming and control – when sexism doesn’t ‘hurt men too’

If rape isn’t a gendered crime, why are women always taught that it is?

Thanks, Slate. Thanks, Cee-Lo Green. Thanks world.  Another spate of victim-blaming articles and debates in which a bunch of lovely, well-intentioned people play devil’s advocate about whether it was your fault you were raped or not. Hypothetically, you see. In the abstract. We’re debating whether women in general could prevent rape by doing x or y. Not you, dear.

The real lived experiences of victim-blaming, though, they are there too, under the surface. It was my fault. I should have done this. I shouldn’t have done that. Self-blame haunts you, but it also protects you. If it was your fault, maybe you can make sure it never happens again. Maybe you can make it something you have control over.

But you can’t. Rapes happen in all sorts of cultures, in all sorts of societies, and the only thing that even appears to consistently correlate with how common rape is in any given society is the treatment of women within that society.

When I say the way women are treated, I don’t just mean officially, but culturally. Is it generally accepted that women are a bit silly, a bit attention-seeking? That the things women care about are a bit trivial? Is it widely believed that women don’t like each other, but pretend that we do? That women lie? Do we let our boundaries get tested, do we accommodate things we’d rather not, are we made to feel guilty if we say no? Is that the culture we live in? Are those things normal? So normal we almost don’t notice them?

Not only do I believe rape itself is about control but I also believe victim-blaming is about control. It is the worst kind of benevolent sexism. The way victim-blaming plays out in practice sums up everything wrong with well-intentioned people kindly explaining to women what is best for us, for our own good. The misogyny of rape isn’t just about the physical act itself. It is about the fear of rape – and what that does to women’s freedoms.

Why is it that we are so quick to remember that men get raped too yet so slow to notice that all the tips, suggestions and instructions on how to avoid it are aimed at women?  If rape isn’t a gendered crime, why are women always taught that it is?

The problem with ‘helpful’ ideas for what women should do to avoid rape isn’t just that they implicitly victim-blame. They also exert control over women – all women. They feed into our cultural norms, into what becomes known as ‘common sense’, providing a drip drip drip of unofficial rules that we must follow, until women have a theoretical right to do all sorts of things, but that theoretical right exists alongside a tacit understanding that walking home late at night, or working in certain professions, or getting in a taxi, or being drunk at a party aren’t things we can reasonably expect to do without violence.

And the truth is, even though most men are not rapists, many perfectly nice non-rapist men still benefit from a culture where women are scared of rape.

Nice Guys who get aggressively upset when you don’t magically suck their dicks in gratitude at their Niceness are the obvious offenders. But there are other guys who benefit – really decent ones, who are just looking out for you. They mean well when they say, don’t go clubbing, don’t drink too much, don’t meet up with strangers, don’t walk home too late, don’t get in a taxi, don’t wear a dress, don’t wear heels, don’t wear things that unzip, don’t laugh, don’t flirt, don’t be timid. They wouldn’t rape you for not doing these things. That would be an offensive suggestion! But other guys – the Bad Ones – they might rape you if you don’t do what they say. So we better do what they say. Because of the threat of violence. But not from them, because they’re not violent.

They don’t have to be.

I’m not saying everyone who issues this kind of advice has the conscious intention of controlling women, or is a misogynist, or is anything other than a perfectly lovely person. What I am saying, though, is that, however well-meaning these suggestions are, the consequence for women is the same: to restrict our liberties, and restrict what we can realistically consider to be our rights.

And for those women who are raped, these ‘helpful’ suggestions make it harder. They make it harder to report anything that happens to us after we break one of these often totally contradictory rules. If we do report such incidents, these rules make it harder for us to get justice.  They make it harder for us to talk to each other and support each other about what happened to us, because we are made to feel our rapes are all different. These rules pit us against each other, and pin our hopes of justice or safety or being taken seriously on our rape being ‘worse’, and by default, other women’s being ‘better’. It stops us uniting. It makes it harder for us to name what happened to us. It makes it harder for us to say the word ‘rape.’

Victim-blaming doesn’t make me angry because it hurts my feelings, or offends me, or makes me feel guilty – even though it does. It makes me angry because it silences. It controls. And silence and control can never help address the problem of rape because they are, whether intentional or not, a direct exertion of power over women. And that, of course, is the entire problem in the first place.

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