T/W: Mentions of rape, sexual assault and male violence

Pulling off my muddied shoots and making a cup of tea before falling into bed, having just gotten back from the Brighton protest against the policing bill, is where you can currently imagine me. A little tired but quite satisfied with my attempt to protect our right to protest, something that 2020 and these past few weeks have reiterated the desperate need for. 

For those of you whose social media algorithm hasn’t informed them of the #reclaimthesestreets movement initiated after International Women’s’ day and release of the 97%, I’ll hit you with the keynotes. A UN Women UK survey found that 97% of women in the UK aged 18 – 24 had been sexually harassed and 80% of women of all ages had experienced sexual harassment in a public space. As such, catalysing the executive director of UN Women UK to call a “human rights crisis” in the UK regarding sexual harassment and male violence. You would assume on the hearing of those statistics that there would be an outpouring of empathy and shock from all persons, right? No. 

On the release of the information surrounding normalisation of rape culture and widespread male violence the hashtag that went viral was #notallmen. And shock? No. 97% is an accurate statistic; no women was truly shocked by that. Much like the death of Sarah Everard, there was grief and sadness – but no shock. ‘We are all Sarah Everard, but we made it home’ is probably the best way to sum it up – we accept the reality of Everard’s death every time we walk home alone. It’s a numbers game.

There seems to be confusion around the movement towards the end of male violence and rape culture and, for the most part, the resistance is seeming to come from men. “98.5% of rapists [are] identified as men” and in 2019 “about 85% of people [sentenced for violent crime] were men” – the issue of male violence affects all genders, including men. There is awareness that men experience sexual assault as well as other genders; however, when it’s 1.4 million women to 87,000 men who have experienced rape or assaulted rape according to the ONS in the year ending March 2020, there is going to be a focus on male violence towards women. 

“Not all men”

All men, unless active in challenging the ideology, perpetuate and benefit the reality of rape culture. No, not all men rape but when 97% of women experience sexual harassment and 1.4 million of you have been raped, there is no way for us to differentiate between you too. Therefore, as a safety mechanism we presume it could be any of you (because it could) and act accordingly. Not all men? According to a study of male students attending the University of North Dakota, 1 in 3 men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it. Interestingly the researchers determined this through asking “[would you] force a woman into sexual intercourse if [you] knew you wouldn’t get caught and there wouldn’t be any consequences?”. The interesting-ness comes later, when we find out that only 13% of participants said they would rape if they could get away with it – the explicit use of “rape” reduced the number quite drastically (though 13% is still awfully worryingly high). This semantic difference highlights the reality of rape culture – 20% of men changed their answer when rape was explicitly mentioned because they perceived rape to be wrong, yet the actions of rape (when not defined as rape) were acceptable to them, even normal. No, it isn’t all men; however, it’s a lot of you. Like Daniel Sloss said, if 9 out of 10 men do nothing when they see sexual assault and harassment then they may as well not be there. 

“Men get raped too”

Men do get raped and male rape is just as traumatic as rape on other genders. The bonding factor with rape is that over 80% of all rapists are men. So, the argument “men get raped too” doesn’t actually help – it just furthers rape culture, ends the discussion, creates conflict, all the while male violence remains normal. Male violence is a threat to all genders, including men. The aforementioned fact showing that 1.4 million women have been raped in contrast to the 87, 000 of men though does highlight the need to focus on male sexual violence towards women. Coupled with this, “Men get raped too” implies that women talking on this subject are uneducated on the reality of rape and are under an illusion. What this does is reinforce the infantilization and patronisation of women, suggesting they’re uneducated and invalid on the subject they’re talking about. This contributes to male perception of women that plays a huge part in the normalisation and acceptance of rape culture.

“Boys will be boys” 

This phrase removes any responsibility that men may have for their actions. It suggests that men and women are inherently different in regard to behaviour and actions, which in reality is not true. Through a gendered society (binary) that creates separate spheres for men and women (due to the colonial institution of the gender binary), we (society) perceive men and women to be inherently different and justify unjustifiable actions due to their assigned sex at birth.  The female equivalent of this phrase is “bitches be crazy” – an incredibly sexist phrase that reinforces infantilization and hyper-emotional nature of women. The notion “boys will be boys” reinforces rape culture through the acceptance and normalisation of sexist behaviour directed towards women. Manifestation of this can be seen with the Everyday Sexism research that suggested only 1 in 5 of the 52% of women who experienced sexual harassment at work had reported it. Even worse, out of that ‘1 in 5’, three quarters said nothing changed and 16% said they faced negative repercussions, being treated worse as a result. 

The pyramid of sexual violence was proposed by the University of Alabama and is a great way to visualise and understand how sexist attitudes lead to physical expressions of violence. Slut shaming, strict gender roles, bragging, objectification and ‘locker room banter’ leads to a normalization of violence. This violence being manifested through catcalling, following and non-consensual photo sharing. This then establishes a foundation where groping, stalking and sexual coercion are acceptable. With the established we then see manifestation of these sexist beliefs through physical expressions of violence. Sexual assault, sexual assault and covert condom removal enables the second set of violence (gang rape, murder and femicide). 

When you pair male violence and rape culture together, you see a cyclic nature where rape culture normalises male violence and male perceived ownership of women’s bodies. As a result, legitimizing sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

Now, with all that said I’ll leave you to think on it and start having those awkward conversations with friends and family as you start to notice problematic behaviour that promotes rape culture. Although this is a heavy topic with real-life consequences – this is all fixable! And with that hopeful thought I think it’s time for me to say goodnight (protesting really does take it out of you). 

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