Saturday, 26 January 2013

Get drunk and get raped - thanks Joanna Lumley

Yet again this week we got the message that women who drink too much and dress too little are inviting rape. This time it came from a surprising source - the actor-turned-campaigner Joanna Lumley, someone who should know better.

Lumley is known for being extremely posh and extremely elegant - not the kind of woman to be caught flashing her crotch coming out of a nightclub. But the role Lumley is best known for is Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. Patsy is exactly the kind of woman to do this kind of thing.

In an interview in the Women's Life section of the Telegraph, Lumley says: "Don’t be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home, because somebody will take advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you."

I'm not advocating that women/girls do these things. She's right - it's not a good look. And I can see that she's trying to encourage young women to protect themselves.

But in doing this she suggests that getting raped is women's fault, something that women need to guard themselves against, and that women don't have the same freedoms that men have, to behave as they wish. Lumley doesn't exhort men and boys to avoid these kinds of behaviour. And isn't it equally unpleasant having shouty vomity lads staggering around the streets as shouty vomity ladettes?

Maybe Lumley is just trying to advise and protect, but she should know better. She could have encouraged both sexes to not get drunk and disgrace themselves. By putting it on women she places the responsibility for rape at the victim's door, not the rapist's. This is not on.

As one of my wise Facebook friends said this week: "Alcohol and short dresses don't mean people get raped, rapists' decisions mean people get raped."

Should Patsy be raped?
Lumley's character, Patsy, is a drunken, lecherous old sot, who expects to live the high life but give nothing in return. She deserves a lot of things, but she doesn't deserve to be raped. Patsy is sick in the gutter, on herself and on other people, she wouldn't be seen dead in anything that wasn't a "silly dress" and she never has ready money for anything, not least getting a taxi home.

According to Lumley's description, Patsy would indeed be raped, knocked on the head or robbed, probably all three if you take into account the regularity with which she does these things.

Excusing rape
In telling people that rape is a consequence of skimpy clothing, we give rapists and potential rapists an excuse. We encourage them to go ahead, because she's asking for it, in that dress.

Rape is not a passive activity. You cannot accidentally rape someone. Rape is a deliberate, violent and intentional act of abuse inflicted on one person by another. There really is no other way about it. Society needs to accept that the responsibility for rape lies firmly at the door of the rapist.

Role models like Joanna Lumley may think they're trying to protect young women, but by not thinking their advice through before doling it out so publicly, they are giving rapists an excuse and putting the responsibility for this horrible, abusive act onto the very people they are trying to protect.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Men who hate women and women who hate men

The anti-feminists 

There is a movement (I hope it's not a growing movement) of Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), men who campaign for the rights of men, who feel that feminism has gone too far and men are now being attacked from all sides. One particular man has started a pro-men party to try and redress the balance: The Pro-Men Party (this is a really entertaining article about it).

I’m not sure why these guys are so scared of women, after all, we're not trying to deny them the vote, take away their reproductive rights and sentence them to a live of domestic slavery.

These men aren’t so much anti-feminists as misogynists. The sub-text (sometimes just the text) of their argument is that women should relinquish the vote, get back in the kitchen and stop whinging. I don’t want to do that. I'd be terrible at it. I can promise you that I'm a far more useful member of society going out to work than I would be mooning over the kitchen sink or whatever. Those web pages aren't going to write themselves you know.

Radical feminists v fun feminists

And then there are the radical feminists, worrying that feminism is becoming a bit too fluffy. They cite a brand of 'fun feminism' advocated by people like Caitlin Moran, who invite men to join them in striving for and celebrating equality between the sexes.

Anti 'fun feminist' Julie Bindel writes in the New Statesman: "If men like a particular brand of feminism, it means it is not working." She argues that "fun feminists", like Moran, ignore hardcore feminist issues such as rape and female genital mutilation (FGM), in favour of a more socially acceptable brand of feminism.

I don't think we should ignore these issues - I think feminism needs to tackle them head on. But I also think it's time for feminists to realise that women no longer have the monopoly on feminism. I know that sounds a bit insane, but I think if men like feminism, it's probably because it's working. It means we're winning the argument and convincing men that equality between the sexes is the way to go. High five sisters.

Radical feminists who try and alienate men are doing far more damage to the cause than the fun feminists like Moran. Feminists such as Bindel give rise to the kind of man-hating stereotype beloved of the Men’s Rights Activists that I talked about at the beginning. To my mind, the radical feminists, who hate men, and the MRAs, who hate women, are two sides of the same coin. It's like the point where communism and fascism come full circle and end up being the same, so beautifully demonstrated in George Orwell's Animal Farm.

Men aren't the enemy (and neither are women)

So there are men who hate women, and women who hate men, and then there are the rest of us.

Men have done some terrible things to women in the past, but women have also done some terrible things to women. Why should right-thinking men today pay for things that men have done in the past to restrict the freedoms of women? It wasn't their fault.

Without ignoring this issues at the centre of radical feminism, such as oppression, subjection and violence against women, I think feminism should be able to include men. If men like it, that doesn't mean feminism has sold out. It can mean it's won them over, and that's pretty amazing.

Instead of trying to exclude them, the next step on the feminist agenda should be to encourage men to join the fight for sexual equality, so there are even more people fighting to stop the suppression and mistreatment of women all over the world.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Five reasons why we still need feminism

Yesterday my orchestra, the Oriflamme Ensemble, held a concert to raise money for the Mid-Warwickshire branch of Amnesty International. You probably already know that Amnesty is a campaigning organisation which works to protect people around the world, lobbying to change attitudes, prevent injustice and release people who have been unfairly incarcerated.

This concert takes place every year, and before we start to play the audience is given a short round-up of what Amnesty has been focussing on most recently. Women’s rights was given as one of their big concerns this year.

I wondered how my playing various tunes by Verdi, Debussy and friends might be contributing, in a very small way, to promoting and protecting women’s rights. A glance at some of the details of their recent campaigns shows that the need for feminism, to give women equal rights and status to women, is still huge.

Five reasons why we still need feminism 

  1. Nicaragua: two-thirds of reported rapes are against girls under age 17. The victim and not the abuser is often blamed, and failures in the justice system mean cases often collapse and attackers walk free. Abortion is a crime, even where the woman's health and life is in danger, or she is the victim of rape or incest. 
  2. Afghanistan: after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, women in Afghanistan have been able to gradually claim basic human rights, such as being able to work, get an education and vote. These rights are being attacked again, as the Afghan government enter into discussions with the Taliban. 
  3. Egypt: adultery is defined differently for men and women, with men receiving more lenient punishment. Men and women still do not have equal rights when entering or dissolving a marriage. Sexual harass
  4. Indonesia: unmarried women and girls can have difficult accessing contraception, putting them at risk of unwanted pregnancies and, sexually transmitted diseases. If they do become pregnant they often seek unsafe abortions, putting them at risk of serious health problems, or even death. 
  5. Sierra Leone: one in eight women risks dying during pregnancy or childbirth, usually because they can’t afford proper maternal care. Less than half of deliveries are attended by a skilled birth attendant and less than one in five are carried out in health facilities. Every year, thousands of women bleed to death after giving birth.