Sexual violence: it still matters, even when there isn’t a political agenda.

Trigger warning: this post discusses institutional sexual violence and rape apologism

The revelations surrounding Lord Rennard seem to have brought out the worst in some people. A lot of his friends and political allies have descended into some textbook rape apologism of the “conspiracy theory” variety, along with a stinking heap of trivialisation.

Take, for example, Simon Hughes, who really should have abstained from saying that it was “suspicious” that this didn’t come to light immediately and implied that it must all be some sort of grand plot to scupper the Eastleigh by-election. Given my worthless shitlord of an MP was president of the Lib Dems at the time the allegations came out, I wonder how much his trying to wave his hands round and suggest the allegations are nothing more than suspicious is to avoid any suggestion that perhaps he knew something and did nothing. Which is entirely possible, as I doubt he’s such a useless little turdburger as to be completely ignorant about what is going on in his party.

Worse still, though, is Polly Toynbee, who is again subscribing to the “it’s all a plot to kick the Lib Dems out of Eastleigh” conspiracy theory.  Going beyond this, Toynbee decides to just gleefully trivialise absolutely everything:

But (so far) the Rennard allegations look less than criminal: a grubby pawing of women candidates on a training session is revolting and all too horribly common. Yet this squalid little “not safe in taxis” tale is being bracketed with the serial rape of children in homes and hospitals by Jimmy Savile. It comes packaged with charges that gay-bashing Cardinal O’Brien touched young priests whose future depended entirely on him. Or it’s blended into Cyril Smith’s grotesque abuse of boys in care. Melding all abuse into one syndrome trivialises the truly horrific in order to nail the merely repellent but everyday groping of adults.

Now, I’m not sure if Polly Toynbee knows that actually this everyday groping is criminal and the cops are wading in to clear Rennard’s name thoroughly and fully investigate every aspect of what happened. At any rate, that’s a mighty disingenuous thing to say. As Toynbee plays the Savile card–that yardstick by which all manifestations of rape culture must now be measured–she attempts to show that the accusations against Rennard are not a big deal, and the real tragedy would be if the Lib Dems lost another seat in parliament.

Well, here’s the thing. It is one syndrome. It may look different every time it crops up, but it’s all that same culture which allows sexual violence to go on unchallenged. Yes, Rennard may not have forcibly sodomised children, but that doesn’t make these accusations trivial. To suggest otherwise is to make it easier for other men to get away with it, and stop survivors from coming forward, maintaining this neat little silence which benefits only perpetrators.

Thing is, in their own way, the Rennard cheerleaders have a point. The timing is a bit convenient, and it is surprising to see how much attention has been paid to sexual harassment–something which is usually so ingrained and everyday as to be considered thoroughly unworthy of note by the media.

What they overlooked was that this is also a manifestation of rape culture. Those setting the agenda really don’t give a flying fuck about sexual violence unless it politically benefits them. And in the case of Rennard, there is an opportunity to snaffle a by-election away from the Lib Dems by pointing out that the party has a kind of shitty attitude to sexual harassment.

But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen or that it doesn’t matter. The whole thing shows that tackling rape culture does matter, laying bare a lot of unpleasant underlying beliefs. If we look hard enough, we can work out where to go next.

How to avoid a “sex scandal”: a guide for powerful men

Hello powerful men. Welcome to my blog. I’m not entirely sure why you’re here, since I spend most of my time calling you bellowing ballbags, but hi. I hear you’re interested in avoiding sex scandals.

I can hardly say I’m surprised you’d like a better way of dealing with sex scandals, what with your current methods not working very well at all. Your traditional methods of covering the whole thing up are unravelling at the seams. No matter how many high-up cronies you enlist to make sure nobody knows about your little indiscretions, it always captures the attention of some pesky journalist. And no matter how many people you try to sue, those dogged little gnats on Twitter and things keep tweeting your name, don’t they? Simply put, it’s a hard time to be a powerful man with peccadilloes, isn’t it? This whole thing could ruin a man’s career, couldn’t it?

Well, Auntie Stavvers is here to help. Follow my golden rules, and your career in the party or the church or whatever else you’re famous for will be just fine.

1) Don’t rape anyone. Same goes for sexual abuse, sexual assault or sexual harassment. Those things you call a sex scandal or an indiscretion? That’s what they are. You’re not entitled to sex. Learn some respect, practise enthusiastic consent, and you’ll be fine.

2) There is nothing else to it. Just behave like a decent fucking human being, and you won’t find yourself in these situations.


Things I read this week that I found interesting

Little later than usual, but perhaps Sunday is the better day for these “things I read” roundups, anyway. Here’s some stuff I read that I found interesting, and perhaps you will too. Please drop by in the comments and let me know if there’s anything else I might like.

The Sun: Shocking but not surprising (The Media Blog)- Analysis of last week’s Sun front page wanking over Reeva Steenkamp, and why we’ll be seeing more, not less, of this in the future.

Deep inside: a study of 10000 porn stars (Jon Millward)- Detailed analysis of the profiles of a vast sample of porn actors, examining what they look like physically, what kind of work they do, and even what names they choose. A fascinating read, illustrated by infographics.

Hidden Misogyny: Why the Menimists should take stock (tintinnytins)- Tinny calling other men out on some bullshit and talking about what a male ally should look like.

World’s oldest porn “is bisexual” (Gay Star News)- The title here really sells the content short. The world’s oldest porn is queer as all fuck, and that’s fabulous. Also, bisexual. They use that word a lot. I do not think it means what they think it means.

Sex, friends and strangers: what to expect when you stop shaving (Marie le Conte)- Marie stopped removing her body hair. Here’s a funny, personal account of what happened after that.

A plea for policy based on evidence, not anecdote (itsjustahobby)- Heartfelt plea from Jemima, which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Hilary Mantel v Kate: a story of lazy journalism and raging hypocrisy (Hadley Freeman)- Just about the smartest, best thing I’ve read on this Mantel/Middleton nonsense.

Munchausen by Internet: Current Research and Future Directions (Whitty, Buchanen & Feldman)- Open-source journal article on the phenomenon of “Munchausen by Internet”, where people fake medical conditions in online spaces.

On the composition of lasagna: A caprice on horses, abstraction, and the division of labour (Prolapsarian)- A gallop through why we’re disgusted at eating horse and what it all means. Yes, I made a vague horse pun. No, I’m not ashamed.

Why do women always have to be the condom police, anyway? (xoJane)- Good articulation of how women are expected to be the ones enforcing condom use in heterosex.

Don’t Menshn the Blog: The Unfashionista Train-Wreck (Perestroika)- Louise Mensch has moved into fashion blogging, and it’s predictably very problematic. The brave Perestroika gives us an overview of what’s wrong.

And finally, a short story based on a fair few in-jokes: “The Kernel of Truth”. If more than one thing on the following list amuses you, you’ll probably enjoy it: var of piss, Luke Bozier, Louise Mensch, Milo Yiannopolis’s “trollwatch”, the Guardian.

Sexism from “the left”: why it has to stop

A spectre is haunting the left. The spectre of feminism.

I expect nobody is as annoyed by that opening line as me, but it got stuck in my head and I had to write it down somewhere, and here’s as good a place as any. I’m sorry.

I’m writing this in a fit of fury at the latest manifestation of left sexism, having spent two days in an argument with a left-wing man and a lot of his left-wing mostly male followers where they have been absolutely refusing to see the point I’ve been trying to make. Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, and it certainly won’t be the last unless something absolutely spectacular gives right at this moment. As I can’t hear the sweet sound of kyriarchy falling over and smashing into dust, I can only assume that all of this is going to happen again in due course.

Sexism on the left comes in forms as diverse as the beliefs of those who are lumped under the umbrella term of “the left”. The most overt form, perhaps, is outright sexist language (bitch, etc), and rape apologism (e.g. George Galloway, the SWP), but that’s the tip of a very sexist iceberg. Among the liberals, it often comes as a backlash against calling out sexism and pleas for unity. For some, sexism is a problem to be solved later, and we should, at present, fight the perceived “real enemy”.  Then there’s the manarchists, swinging their dicks as they ignore their female comrades. There’s also those who can say all of the right words, and then their behaviour doesn’t match up at all, and they will defend their behaviour using theory that they learned and are apparently incapable of applying to themselves. Others still think that they’re doing more than enough already to combat sexism. Then there’s the ones who insist that intersectionality is somehow equivalent to identity politics, proving that they are ignorant about what at least one of these things is. This is hardly an exhaustive list. Left sexism manifests in so many ways.

It all has one thing in common: that self-assurance that they are completely right which comes with male privilege.

The impact of sexism from those who are ostensibly on my side is different to that which comes from those who are unequivocally not on my side. While I’ve written about my “oderint dum metuant, fuckers” mentality when it comes to dealing with abuse, it’s much harder when it’s the insidious sexism of the left. It’s more wearing by far, as these are men who genuinely believe they don’t hate women so definitely aren’t sexist, who think they’re doing their bit to fight sexism. So they react defensively when it is called out, and are backed up by other men, who I can only assume are terrified of the creeping feminist threat coming to get them too. It doesn’t help that society–and indeed, the way we organise–immediately constructs “saying something sexist” as “being a bad person who needs to be purged”. This means it’s very difficult to call out dodgy behaviour without it turning into a massive attempt at denial to avoid being lumbered with the identity of “sexist pigdog”.

Let it be known, male comrades, that I’ll probably only think you’re a sexist pigdog if you react badly once the problem’s been called to your attention. Privilege blinds the privileged to its presence, and ignorance is forgivable. Once the curtain has been opened and you have an opportunity to reflect upon your own unexamined privilege, it’s your responsibility to do this.

I tend to be politer when I encounter left sexism than usual, and this is largely because I often have to organise with at least some of these people (although I refuse to organise with some of the worst). It turns out that when I’m polite, it has an incredibly devastating effect on my emotional wellbeing. As you may have noticed, I shout and swear. It’s kind of cathartic for me, rudeness. When I bottle it up, the anger turns inward, leaving me anxious and close to tears with frustration. I dwell, and it’s fucking horrible for me. I’m not quite silenced, but restrained, and it eats away at me.

And often, because of this, I don’t bother challenging it at all, because I know exactly how awful it would be for me. There, I am effectively silenced.

This is exacerbated, at least in part, by a prevalent belief that everything is a matter for debate. This debate ought to be held cordially and civilly, ending with either agreement, or at least by politely agreeing to disagree. For the privileged, it is perfectly easy to view oppressions as a sort of intellectual game and little more than a topic to agree to disagree on. For those who experience these oppressions, it’s not that simple and it’s not a fucking game. And so we’re branded as over-emotional about things which we don’t have the luxury of turning off our emotions on. It’s a thing we face every day, and its very existence is being denied and defended by those who claim to be on our side.

I feel like I’ve written my fingers to the bone on how we really need to get all of the shit out of our back garden before we can get things done, and I can’t believe I’m having to do it again and again. All of this oppression is connected, and all of it needs to be challenged. This time I’m aiming this same argument I’ve put forward a dozen times before at the men on the left who exhibit sexism.

If you want unity on the left, then listen to those you’re (probably inadvertently) shitting all over. Listen up and be an ally. It makes me sad when I feel a bounce of pathetic gratitude when I talk to men who Get It and behave as good allies. That should be the norm, not the exception. That it isn’t is alienating for many, and nothing ruptures a movement more than (probably inadvertently) pissing off more than half of the population.

Men on the left, try to be better. Feminist struggle is not an add-on to class struggle, and sexism is not a small problem, because all of this is intimately connected. If your revolution is one-dimensional, I want no part in it. Be open to being wrong, and be open to being corrected. It will strengthen us, not weaken us. Be reflective and thoughtful, acknowledge and abolish your own blind spots.

I want men on my side who I am proud to call my comrades, and there are far too few of these. I want to see better, and I want you to be better. We have a world to win, and I’d like to be comfortable organising with you. I’m one of those who feels able to say this, yet there are many who cannot, silenced against sexisms on all sides.

In truth, there’s no such thing as doing enough to work against sexism. It’s a vast, structural issue, and, as such, requires vast efforts to bring this system down. I’m not doing enough myself. No matter what anyone is doing, as an individual, it isn’t enough. If you’re a male ally, accept that you won’t be getting pats on the head for your good work, and if you’re doing any of this to get a pat on the head in the first place, fuck right off.

We really, really can win these interconnected battles, though, if only we recognise the connected nature and start to challenge our own privileges and prejudices in the most important place: within ourselves.


Note on terminology: I have come to despise the term “the left”, signifying a diverse range of beliefs and ideologies which share almost nothing but a few common enemies. Often, it feels like I’m not on the same side at all as a lot of those who profess to share enemies with me, since I disagree with many about issues such as tactics, the role of the state and intersectionality. While I don’t feel that “the left” is a particularly meaningful category, I use it here as shorthand for that umbrella term of those opposed to those who definitely aren’t on my side, who are themselves classed as “the right”.

Also, obviously I’m oversimplifying when I say “men” and “women”. These problems also manifest in the form of cissexism and bad assumptions about gender, something which I, as the most cis woman on the planet, am occasionally guilty and am receptive to being called out on. “Men” can be read as “cis men”, and “women” to be “those who they oppress, who are often, due to statistics, cis women, but also covers trans people, intersex folks, genderqueer and non-binary identified”. Come to think of it, women is a terrible term, but I’m leaving the cis privilege I exhibited when writing this intact as I’m crap at rephrasing things effectively. Help appeciated in the comments 🙂

Things I read this week that I found interesting

Yes, it’s that time of the week again. Here’s some things I read this week that I found interesting, and you might find them interesting too. Also, please share more things that may interest me in the comments.

Reeva Steenkamp (Guardian)- you’ve read a lot about Oscar Pistorius. Read about the life of the woman he killed. It sounds like she was an amazing human being.

White Feminists (TM)- Page Three (Funny Grrrl)- a discussion of class and race issues in the No More Page Three campaign. In short, race very absent, and the campaign is really quite classist.

Exposing the sexism on the pages (Squeamish Bikini)- interesting points about how objectification doesn’t have to involve nudity.

Why No More Page Three is a bad idea in almost every way (Hunter not the hunted)- An very thorough analysis of the flaws of the No More Page Three campaign, picking up some stuff I missed.

Men, we need to engage with women (A dragon’s best friend)- A quick call for men to get better, with a few interesting thoughts on political institutions and squeamishness about bodies.

Django deconstructed: returning Tarantino’s “gift” (Justin Struggles)- Justin analysis Django Unchained, and is fairly unhappy with how the film handled race.

Beyond Silk Roads– Analysis of homosexuality in China and Japan, right up until the beginning of the 20th century.

And finally. As you might be able to tell, I’m furious at Murdoch this week. Here’s a video from back in 2011 of me and some mates torching the last issue of News of the World in a mock funeral. I hope we are doing this for the Sun before long. And then the Mail. All the while muttering “you’re next”. Yes, the bearded man is Mediocre Dave, before you ask.