I read a blog called Seriously Shiny, which you should probably check out, although the writer is an American and so some of her posts are things about which I know nothing and which are not at all relevant to us in the UK. And recently several of her posts have been about an incident at Yale in which frat boys, in some sort of offensive hazing ritual, marched blindfold around a (largely female) hall of residence courtyard shouting obscene things like ‘no means yes, yes means anal’ and others.
Personally I do find this highly offensive, and Shine takes the view that it is completely unacceptable, and in many ways I have to say I agreed with her (I’m not sure if I still do or not) until I read an article on Jezebel to which she linked, with which she did not agree. Shine’s take on this is that the article urges us to ‘Chalk this one up to boys being boys, because they were obviously just trying to get attention’, but I’m not sure that’s what it says at all. The writer of the article, Ms North, clearly thinks what happened was offensive and it’s clearly symptomatic of a deeply disturbing attitude held by many young male American students – but it was also clearly an attention-seeking manouvre and ‘a ridiculous and desperate attempt to bait anyone willing to take it seriously’. Which just means that ‘Yale students…fall into stereotypical campus roles – frat boys say dumb things, feminists get mad, frat boys apologize (we’re sure they’re really sorry), nobody learns’.
The thing is, it’s not things like this that are outrageous. It is, after all, a plea for attention – but it is symptomatic of a far more insidious trend in which rape is treated as something which is humourous, and not just in the way that dead baby jokes are seen as funny. I have no problem with humour which is funny simply because it is deeply politically incorrect. Humour which knows it has leapt well over the line. I can’t possibly say that jokes about dead babies or Madeleine McCann or horrible diseases which I encounter in my textbooks are completely OK, but that jokes made in a similar vein about rape and sexual violence are not acceptable.
This does put me in a position which seems to confuse some men in which certain varieties of rape joke will pass me, completely above board, I’ll laugh, everyone’s happy. And then someone will say something casually like ‘H raped a girl last night’, and that’s not funny. That’s an old example, to anyone who has ever talked to me in real life or heard that tale before, but it’s the clearest example I have to hand. The girl in question turned up at H’s house utterly wasted one night whilst he was entirely sober, and he had sex with her when she really was too drunk to consent or otherwise. And this was seen as hilarious by H’s friends, as well as, presumably, H himself.
To clarify: sex with a girl too drunk to consent was seen, by girls and guys alike, as hilarious, and I find it pretty troubling that everyone thought that was absolutely fine. Because it is surely exactly the same as if someone had given her Rohypnol, and then H had found her passed out due to said Rohypnol and instead of making sure she got home safe or calling an ambulance, he had gone on to have sex with her.
So it’s not that there’s a ‘rape culture’ per se, it’s more almost exactly the opposite. Society’s definition of what constitutes rape is actually getting more and more narrow – and what constitutes ‘informed consent’ is getting broader and broader. No wonder the conviction rate is so low. No wonder so few women even consider pressing charges – it’s not that they don’t think those charges will stick, but that we ourselves as women have such experiences and then chalk them down as being both our fault and entirely regretful but not in any way immoral, let alone criminal, on the part of the man.
And yes, you’re right, C. There is very little way to write about this kind of thing without sounding like a hysterically hairy Scary Feminist, and I am not one of those.
Read this whole post again, and try and imagine a gay man in place of every woman noted here. Or, try and imagine the gender roles reversed. Imagine a drunk friend of mine turned up at my house. Imagine that perhaps subconsciously he does rather like me, and imagine that I don’t like him like that in return, but he turns up at my house drunk, and I invite him in, and instead of allowing him to pass out on the sofa, I take off his clothes and have sex with him (imagine also for a second that biology is an irrelevance – obviously if he was as drunk as this girl apparently was he’d not be able to get an erection). Imagine that, the next day, I joked about the situation with my housemates. How would that not completely outrage you?