Tag Archives: feminism

Cybersexism is out now!

It’s out! It’s out!

Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on The Internet, my new book for Bloomsbury, is out now. You can buy it here. If you don’t have an e-reader, you can download a free Kindle reader for your computer, phone, or really any other device. 

The book features interviews with Clay Shirky, Helen Lewis, Maha Atal, Leigh Alexander, William Gibson and other folks who ought to know about how gender is working on the internet right now. It’s about fucking, feminism, gifs, trolling, the roots of geek misogyny and the future of sex. It’s a timely ebook extract from my bigger book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, which will hit shops next year.

I’m in Sweden right now, for a digital media conference, where I spoke with Kate Miltner and Anita Sarkeesian about online harassment- what it is, how it works and why it lowers visions. You can watch the videos from that here, but they come with a trigger warning, particularly the last one, which is where the audience started tearing up.

On bomb threats and boredom.

Last night I went for dinner with a friend, M, who is one of those women who can’t walk down a street without being hassled by men: cat-calling, making bizarre animal noises at her, professing undying love or threatening rape. This is a daily reality for many of us, but with M it’s on a whole other level of threat awareness. Just strolling home with her feels like walking through an enemy camp. We were talking, naturally, about the situation for women who have an online presence in the UK right now, and how frightening and relentless the sexist bullying is getting, and M asked me how I manage to continue to write, given that I’ve been dealing with all this bullshit for more than three years now. I asked her: how do you continue to walk down pavements in public? The answer is: M walks with her hips swaying and her head held high. Because she knows she has a right to the street.

On Monday, I received a bomb threat. This has been happening to several prominent British women journalists and politicians recently, and I suppose it’s some sort of dubious distinction, but it didn’t make it any less frightening and enraging to have to call the police and then find somewhere else to stay for the night. I’m lucky in that I live alone and have relatively little trouble grabbing my go-bag and sleeping on a strange sofa; I know that at least one of the other women who received these threats has a disabled child, and I can only imagine the hassle and stress she went through.

I have a few friends who live nearby, but for some reason, the person I called instantly was somebody I know from online dating, somebody I used to sleep with casually and don’t anymore. He was out with his new girlfriend that night, so offered me his room. I knew instantly that that was where I wanted to be, by myself; it’s a room I used to feel very safe in, where nothing was ever demanded of me except what I wanted to give. His housemate let me in, and I rushed upstairs, shut the door, and took the enormous Jedi-warrior bathrobe that I used to mock so horribly off the hook. I made tea, took off my clothes, wrapped myself in the Jedi robe and sat cross-legged on the bed. I wrote the column I had due for the next day. I felt like nothing could touch me. 

Right now it’s pretty scary to be a woman who makes a public spectacle of herself in Britain. By ‘making a spectacle’, I mean ‘daring to have an opinion in public’; the piece I wrote in 2011 about a woman’s opinion functioning as the mini-skirt of the internet is relevant here. Twitter is also in total meltdown as various camps of campaigners tear chunks out of each other, and it’s upsetting to see. One of the bizarrely modern headaches I’ve had lately is the ongoing, extremely public feud between my current editor and my ex-girlfriend over intersectionality issues, a fight which I’ve had to scramble to avoid because it’s a huge helping of fuck no. There is a deep well of unkindness, of recrimination and refusal to listen, bubbling up online right now in my communities. It is disturbing, and it’s exhausting.

When I’d finished my column, my eyes swimming with tiredness, I posted on Facebook: I need clear space to write. The past two years have been a litany of online attacks and British media bearpit bollocks and the energy I’ve wasted on the mental overheads has been enormous. I don’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to be a writer and a campaigner, I didn’t ask to be a scapegoat and a target, and I didn’t expect it. It’s a curious lonely place to be in and there’s nothing anyone can really do. I’m still here and still fighting but I don’t want to have to fight like this. It’s boring.

Not giving up comes at a cost. I haven’t yet flounced off Twitter or made any sort of dramatic, public exit from the spaces in which I work and receive abuse, because I don’t think that my doing so would help anyone. That doesn’t mean I haven’t seriously considered just kicking it in for the good of my mental health. Imagine that you’re a professional dancer and you have to dance down a street where men are screaming abuse at you, throwing things, leering, sending threats. Do you stop dancing, even if you know a little part of your soul will die if you do? No, fuck that. You keep on dancing; even when your bones ache and your head rings from the relentless cunt bitch stupid girl attention seeker sellout whore. You keep on dancing, but there’s a cost. Don’t ever imagine there’s not a cost

I don’t make it easy for myself. I know that. Not only have I not shut up about women’s rights over the past three years like people want me to, I’m in the middle of writing a book which talks openly about sex, including my own experiences. Part of the reason I’m doing this is that I’ve a slightly adventurous sexual history and am an active member of the queer and poly community in London and elsewhere, and I know that those who are seeking to attack me are probably going to find that out at some point; I’ve been threatened before by people who wanted to release details and/or pictures of me as a half-naked teenager, and I know it’s going to come out at some point; I want to be in control of when and how that happens. I’m not ashamed in any way, not of my life choices and not of my decision to keep on talking. 

But the energy it takes to carry on is enormous, and becomes self-reflexive: you write and speak just in order to keep on writing and speaking in adversity. This is no way to be creative; it is no way to sustain a writing life. It makes me angry, and I want it to stop so I can get on with all the other work I want to do. I do not want to be known as the girl who gets a ton of flak for speaking up; I want to carry on saying things that have relevance, even if only to a handful of readers scattered across the world. I’m bored of this, and I’m angry, and I want it to stop. Also I am considering buying my own Jedi robe to wear whenever I open Twitter. That’s all.

On Feminism, Transphobia and Free Speech

This weekend, columnist Julie Burchill used her platform in the Observer to launch what may be the most disgusting piece of hate-speech printed in a liberal newspaper in recent years. I’m not the only reader who was shocked to the core at smug attack transsexual women as ‘screaming mimis in bad wigs,’ ‘a bunch of dicks in chicks’ clothing,’ and other playground insults too vile to repeat. Burchill claimed to be protecting a friend, which is a noble thing to do, but I suspect that the friend in question, the writer Suzanne Moore, would rather she hadn’t been associated with this the popping of this particular pustule of prejudice.

Burchill’s article is an embarrassment to the British press, an embarrassment to feminist writing and a shameful abuse of a public platform to abuse a vulnerable minority. The Observer has now issued an apology, and rightly so, although I believe the decision to depublish the piece is not wrong so much as bizarre, since Google Cache never forgets. It’s even more dispiriting to see other mainstream media outlets, including the Telegraph, rally around Burchill’s ignorant screed as a ‘free speech’ issue, as if the right to free speech and the right to publication in a major national newspaper were the same thing at all in the age of Tumblr. That’s why, after a lot of thought, I’ve taken the decision to publish this article independently, on this blog. I don’t want it to become part of the symbolic face-off going on between British press outlets this week. I want us to get back to the issues.

I’m partly writing this piece out of selfishness. I want to make it clear to the readers around the world who were rightly disgusted by the Observer column that Burchill and Moore do not speak for all British feminists, and that not every British columnist is prepared to rally the coaches around bigotry. A young, powerful feminist movement with transsexual and queer people at the heart of the debate is gathering in strength in this country and across the world, and we know that gender essentialism and bigotry hurt all of us, cis and trans, men and women.  

Transphobic men and women who promote prejudice in the name of feminism, including writers like Sheila Jeffreys, Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and now Julie Burchill, are on the wrong side of history. For far too long, a small, vocal cadre of the women’s movement has claimed that transsexuals, and in particular transsexual women, are not just irrelevant to feminism but actively damaging to the cause of women’s liberation. Their arguments are illogical, divisive and hateful, and sometimes just plain bonkers. I’ve been to meetings where transphobic feminists have argued that if they don’t keep a lookout, horrible sexist men will try to sneak into their meetings, marches and seminars in disguise in order to disrupt proceedings. 

What precise form the disruption is supposed to take has not been explained, partly because it has never happened, ever. If Jeremy Clarkson ever decides to try it, I can assure you that he will be spotted and stopped – but right now, the feminist movement needs no help from fictional men in petticoats to damage our hopes of winning the wider war on women’s freedom. Far more insidious is the insistence by some feminists on mocking transsexual women and denying their existence.

The word that annoys these so-called feminists most is ‘cis’, or ‘cissexual’. This is a term coined in recent years to refer to people who are not transsexual. The response is instant and vicious: “we’re not cissexual, we’re normal – we don’t want to be associated with you freaks!” Funnily enough, that’s just the kind of pissing and whining that a lot of straight people came out with when the term ‘heterosexual’ first began to be used as an antonym of ‘homosexual.’  Don’t call us ‘heterosexuals’, they said – we’re normal, and you don’t belong.

To learn that the world is not divided into ‘normal’ people and ‘freaks’ with you on the safe side is uncomfortable. To admit that gender identity, like sexual orientation, exists on a spectrum, and not as a binary, is to challenge every social stereotype about men and women and their roles in society. Good. Those stereotypes need to be challenged. That’s why the trans movement is so important for feminism today.

Thanks to a global surge in acceptance and discussion of a spectrum of gender identity, trans people are becoming more and more visible, more angry, and more open about their experiences. The world is changing, and those of us fortunate enough to be born in a body that suits our felt gender identity are going to have to accept that being cissexual, just like being heterosexual, isn’t ‘normal’, merely common.

Transphobic articles in high-profile publications are not harmless. They cause active, quantifiable damage. They justify the ongoing persecution of transsexual people by the medical and legal establishment; they destroy solidarity within political and social circles; they hurt people who are used to hearing such slurs shouted at them in the street, and do not need to hear them from so-called progressives. Worse, they make it seem to the average reader, who might be a friend or relative of a trans person, that the rights of transsexual people to be treated in a humane way are still a subject for reasonable debate. 

Some conservative feminists claim that arguing about trans issues is counter-productive to the wider struggle against austerity and sexual violence. They are right about that. Feminism is meant to be about defending women against violence, prejudice and structural, economic disadvantage –  all women, not just the ones self-appointed spokespeople decide count, and at this time of crisis, we need to be standing together to defend women who are poor, marginalised and live in fear of violence. We cannot do that if we exclude trans and queer women, who are more than usually vulnerable to gendered violence and discrimination. Entry to feminist spaces should not be conditional on having one’s genitals checked over by Julie Burchill, Julie Bindel or their representatives. If it were, though, it might explain the decline in popularity of the movement in recent years.

It comes down to essentialism, and essentialism, as Suzanne Moore rightly pointed out in a recent Guardian column, is always conservative. Stubborn gender essentialism – the belief that your body and your hormones should define everything about your life – is what women have been fighting since the first suffragettes unrolled their green and purple sashes. For transphobic feminists, though, it all seems to boil down to an obsession with what precisely is inside a person’s underpants, which is at best intellectually vapid and at worst rather creepy, unless you happen to be into that sort of thing. 

In fact, nobody on this planet is born a woman. Julie Burchill was not born a woman, unless her mother is a hitherto unheralded miracle of medical science. Just over half of us grow up to become women, and the process is a muddle of blood and hormones and angst and pressure and pain and contradiction. Transsexual women know just as well, and sometimes better than cissexual women what it is to be punished for your felt and lived gender, what it is to fear violence and rape, to be reduced to your body, to be made to feel ashamed, to have to put up with prejudice and lazy stereotypes.

Personally, if I thought that my vagina, which I’ve had since I was born, was my most important feminist accessory, I would let it speak for itself. Unfortunately it hasn’t read much feminist history, and neither, it seems, have transphobic bigots. If they had, they’d understand that taking a stand against violence and gender essentialism is what feminism is all about, and that’s precisely why solidarity with trans women should be the radical heart of the modern women’s movement.

A tipping point has been reached. All over the world, online and in local communities, transsexual men and women are finding their voices, and finding each other. Their struggle for acceptance in a society that still hates and fears those who are different, those who don’t follow the rules of gender and sexuality, is vital to the modern feminist movement. Young activists understand that that’s what feminism is all about, for all of us, men and women, cissexual, transsexual and genderqueer: the fight for equality and freedom of expression in a society that still believes that the arrangement of your genitals at birth should dictate the course of your life. It’s time for cissexual feminists to put hate aside and stand with transsexual women in solidarity. 

THINGS FOR EYES 05/01/2013

2013 being the year in which the world is not ending for at least the foreseeable future, I thought I’d make a real effort to keep this blog lively. For a long time I’ve been meaning to start a list of recommendations, things I’m reading and watching and loving and working on, and this seemed like a great week to start, because it’s been full of energising words. Let’s start with some of the best essays on the internet…
ARTICLES OF INTEREST:

Girl Geeks and Boy Kings, by Melissa Gira Grant at Dissent Magazine. The new issue of Dissent, put together by the powerhouse that is Sarah Leonard, came out this week, and it’s full of anti-capitalist feminism, net theory, gender trouble and basically all the things that give me an unhealthy pallor from too much time adventuring on the internet. It’s all great – Sarah Jaffe’s piece on Trickle-Down Feminism is worthy of mention and not just because she quotes me in it, but this was the essay that really got me squealing and linkspamming. MGG weaves an astute analysis of online identity production as a new ‘second shift’ of feminine and feminised labour into a review of Katherine Losse’s 2012 memoir of her time as an early employee of Facebook. 

On the theme of the feminisation of labour, imprecarity and identity,  this essay by Paul Myerscough at the London Review of Books is all about why Pret A Manger’s union-busting employment policies are fucked up and bullshit. It goes into the eye-watering details of precisely how wide Pret Staff are expected to smile if they want those seven and a half pounds an hour. Great read, with a bonus mention of…..

…Novara, the radio show on Resonance FM, which Myerscough credits as a “ gratifyingly apocalyptic counterweight to a BBC political news operation.” It’s  weekly hour of anarchy and erudite thinking around topics you won’t hear covered on NPR, it’s all archived online, and I happen to be on the show next week (at 2pm GMT on Tuesday). Novara is presented by my friends and fellow travellers, Aaron Peters, James Butler and, occasionally, by Dr Nina Power…
….who wrote this brilliant piece on A World Without Work for Comment Is Free. A timely analysis that really shouldn’t be as controversial as it is, Power’s piece went viral for good reason, and it tied in nicely with my other reading.



THIS WEEK’S BOOKLIST:

I was interviewed by Book Trust all about my favourite books growing up, as a teenager and right now, as well as the future of publishing and its interaction with journalism, which is as good a way to kick off a reading list as any.

This week I’ve also been reading The Problem With Work, by Kathi Weeks, a vital book that knits feminism, Marxism and anti-work theory into one complicated crochet that might be worn to a squat party by a semi-fashionable anarcho-hipster. Seriously, it’s important, which is why I’m reading it slowly and carefully, although the prose does have the annoying academic’s habit of telling you precisely what it’s about to say several times before it says it, which sometimes makes me want to put my forehead through the page.

AND, the collected stories of Colette, per Molly Crabapple’s recommendation, which have given me fantasies about becoming a 19th-century French courtesan, a vocation to which I am not at all suited. 
Yesterday after finishing work I got greedy in a bookshop and bought another pile of Science Fiction I can’t really afford, one of which was the Hugo and Nebula-Winning Among Others, by Jo Walton. I’ve only just started it, and I already know that this is going to be something I’ll savour and come back to. “I can bear anything as long as there are books.” (C1).
Also out this week is Gun Machine, by Warren Ellis. I got to read it a few months ago because Warren Ellis is my evil internet uncle, and it’s a great deal of goddamn fun. Go and buy it. The man has an expensive waistcoat habit to maintain.
If you’re not convinced yet, check out the SUPER INCREDIBLY AWESOME AMAZING GUN MACHINE TRAILER VIDEO OMG YOU GUYS by the very talented Jim Batt (@battsignal), of whose stop-motion work I’ve been a fan for some time, so this video for me is rather like David Bowie making a teaser for for Yorkshire Tea, except significantly less evilly capitalist. The fact that Bowie already does adverts is something I’ve deliberately chosen not to remember.
ALSO, I WROTE WORDS:
I’m now into book-writing territory on the Tome That Is Demanded, and I feel a little like Frodo going to Mordor, in that I’m increasingly unsure what the fuck I’m doing but charging in anyway. I’m finding time to cram in regular columning and essaying around the side, and my New Statesman column on rape myths went down particularly well.
 – A Note on the Nice Guys of OKCupid is still being shared around and responded to, and it contains some formulations on love, justice and the nature of the cruel and inscrutable Hive Vagina with which I’m moderately pleased.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Stavvers and I went to see the Death exhibition at the Wellcome collection in London, and felt moderately gothic, and I finally decided to furnish my room like an adult, which involved a harrowing trip to Ikea Wembley. The place is a living nightmare of labyrinthine furniture displays, futuristic bottom-simulation chair-stress devices in glass cases and babies killing time before they too get old enough to shop there. Deliver us from flat-pack furniture.

It’s Trigger Warning Week

This post comes with a trigger warning for rape and sexual assault that should be visible from space. 


*

Rape. From the Latin, ‘rapere,’ to take or snatch. Usual meaning: to penetrate another person’s body sexually without their consent. From the Sexual Offences Act, 2003: “A is guilty of rape when A intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of B (the complainant) with his penis; B does not consent to the penetration; and A does not reasonably believe that B consents.” It’s such a small, simple, violent word, and right now, thanks to Julian Assange, George Galloway and Todd Akin, the entire internet and substantial portions of the internot are arguing over what it means. 

Over the past few days of following the Assange case, standing in the crowd to hear him deliver his Evita speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy, debating with men and women online, I’ve heard a great many people from all sides of the political spectrum tell me that the women who accused the Wikileaks founder of sexual assault were lying, or they were duped, or they were ‘honey traps’, or, most worryingly and increasingly often, that their definition of rape is inaccurate. The people saying this are not all prize bellends like Galloway or frothing wingnuts like Akin and other prominent Republicans who seem to want abortion to be available only to virgins, a position that seems curiously and specifically unChristian. Some of them are just everyday internet idiots who happen to believe that if a man who you have previously consented to sex with holds you down and fucks you, that isn’t rape. If you were wearing a short skirt and flirting, that isn’t rape. If a man penetrates you without a condom while you’re asleep, against your will, that isn’t rape, not, in Akin’s words, “legitimate rape”. 

Old, white, powerful men know what rape is, much better, it seems, than rape victims. They are lining up to inform us that women – the discussion has centred around women and their lies even though 9% of rape victims are men* – do not need “to be asked prior to each insertion”. Thanks for that, George, not that it’s just you. There’s an army of commentators who also believe that “that’s not real rape” is both a valid, useful defence of a specific political asylum seeker and objective truth. Women lie, they say. Women lie about rape, about sexual assault, they do it because they’re stupid or wicked or attention-seeking or deluded. The fact that the rate of fraud in rape cases remains as low as the rate of fraud in any other criminal allegation – between two and four per cent – does not impact. Women lie, and they do it to ruin men in positions of power. We shall henceforth call this ‘The Reddit Defence.’

This is not an article about Julian Assange. I’ve already written one of those, as, it seems, has everyone with keyboard and opinion. This is about rape, and what it means, and what we think it means. As a culture, we still refuse collectively to accept that most rapes are committed by ordinary men, men who have friends and families, men who may even have done great or admirable things with their lives. We refuse to accept that nice guys rape, and they do it often. Part of the reason we haven’t accepted it is that it’s a fucking painful thing to contemplate – far easier to keep on believing that only evil men rape, only violent, psychotic men lurking in alleyways with pantomime-villain moustaches and knives, than to consider that rape might be something that ordinary men do. Men who might be our friends or colleagues or people we look up to. We don’t want that to be the case. Hell, I don’t want that to be the case. So, we all pretend it isn’t. Justice, see?

Actually, rape is very common. Ninety thousand people reported rape in the United States in 2008 alone**, and it is estimated that over half of rape victims never go to the police, making the true figure close to two hundred thousand. Between ten and twenty percent of women have experienced rape or sexual assault. It’s so common that when someone reports an allegation of rape in the press, I often hear friends tell me: ‘that sounds like my rape.’ Not: ‘I was raped, too.’ ‘That sounds like my rape.’ Being assaulted or fucked without consent is so common that it’s more noteworthy if you happen to recognise similar specific circumstances. It’s so common that – sorry if this hurts to hear – there’s a good chance you know somebody who might have raped someone else. There’s a good chance I do. And there’s more than a small chance that he doesn’t even think he did anything wrong, that he believes that what he did wasn’t rape, couldn’t be rape, because after all, he’s not a bad guy. 

The man who raped me wasn’t a bad guy. He was in his early thirties, a well-liked and well-respected member of a social circle of which I am no longer a part,  a fun-loving, left-leaning chap who was friends with a number of strong, feminist women I admired. I was nineteen. I admired him too.

One night, a group of my friends held a big party in a hotel. Afterwards, a few of the older guests, including this man, invited me up to the room they had rented. I knew that some drinking and kissing and groping might happen. I started to feel ill, and asked if It would be alright if I went to sleep in the room – and I felt safe, because other people were still there. I wasn’t planning to have sex with this man or with anyone else that night, but if I had been, that wouldn’t have made it okay for him to push his penis inside me without a condom or my consent.

The next thing I remember is waking up to find myself being penetrated, and realising that my body wasn’t doing what I told it to. Either I was being held down or – more likely – I was too sick to move. I’ve never been great at drinking, which is why I don’t really do it any more, but this feeling was more profound, and to this day I don’t know if somebody put something in my drink that night. I was horrified at the way his face looked, fucking me, contorted and sweating. My head span. I couldn’t move. I was frightened, but he was already inside me, and I decided it was simplest to turn my face away and let him finish. When he did, I crawled to the corner of the enormous bed and lay there until the sun came up.

In the morning I got up, feeling sick and hurting inside, and took a long, long shower in the hotel’s fancy bathroom. The man who had fucked me without my consent was awake when I came out. He tried to push me down on the bed for oral, but I stood up quickly and put on my dress and shoes. I asked him if he had used a condom. He told me that he ‘wasn’t into latex’, and asked if I was on the pill. I don’t remember thinking ‘I have just been raped’. After all, this guy wasn’t behaving in the manner I had learned to associate with rapists. Rapists are evil people. They’re not nice blokes who everybody respects who simply happen to think it’s ok to stick your dick in a teenager who’s sleeping in the same bed as you, without a condom. This guy seemed, if anything, confused as to why I was scrabbling for my things and bolting out the door. He even sent me an email a few days later, chiding me for being rude.

When I walked home, it didn’t occur to me that I had been raped. The next day, when I told a mutual friend what had happened, the girl who had introduced me to the man in question, I didn’t use that word. By that time, I was in some pain between my legs, a different sort of pain, and I was terrified that I had AIDS. I had to wait two weeks for test results which showed that the man who raped me had given me a curable infection. I told my friend that I felt dirty and ashamed of myself. She said she was sorry I felt that way. Everybody else in that social circle seemed to agree that by going to that hotel room and taking off my nice lace dress I had asked for whatever happened next, and so I dropped the issue. They were right and I was wrong. The man that we all knew and liked would never take advantage of anyone,  and suggesting such a thing made me a liar and a slag. Did I go to the police? Did I hell***. I thought it was my fault.

My experience was common enough, and it was also six years ago. Looking back, being raped wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to me, although the experience of speaking out and not being believed, the experience of feeling so ashamed and alone, stayed with me for a long time, and changed how I relate to other humans. But I got over it. I rarely think about it. For some people, though, experiencing rape is a life-changing trauma. 

Yes, even when it’s not “legitimate” rape. Being raped by a man who you liked and trusted, even loved – thirty percent of rape victims are attacked by a boyfriend, husband or lover –  is an entirely different experience from being raped by a stranger in an alley, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less damaging. Particularly not if others go on to tell you you’re a lying bitch. Sorry if that hurts to hear.

You know what also hurts to hear? People telling you that your experience didn’t happen, that you asked for it. That you have no right to be angry or hurt. That you should shut up. That you hate men. That you’re against freedom of speech. That’s what hundreds of thousands of women all over the world are hearing when they hear respected commentators (I’m not talking here about Galloway or Alvin, although I’m sure there are a great many people who respect their opinions, god help them) saying that the allegations made against Julian Assange “aren’t really rape.” 

The idea that fucking a woman in her sleep, without a condom, or holding a woman down and shoving your cock inside her after a previous instance of consensual sex, is just “bad bedroom etiquette” – thanks again, George – the idea that  good guys don’t rape, that idea has two effects. One: it fosters the fantasy that there’s only one kind of rape, and it happens in the proverbial alley with the perennial knife and certainly not to anyone you know. That’s what’s most disturbing about the discussion going on right now. There are millions of men, some of them very young, most of them extremely well-meaning, all of them with their own unique sexual histories trying to figure out a way to negotiate boundaries without hurting themselves or others, and those men are being told that sometimes women say things are rape when they aren’t really. That people who say that consent is really very important indeed are probably on the same side as conniving governments who want to suppress freedom of speech and punish whistleblowers and truth-seekers.

Two: it makes any man or woman who has ever been raped by a nice guy suspect, yet again, that it’s all their fault, that they let it happen. It makes rape victims less likely to come forward and report. I didn’t report my rape. It took me months even to understand it as rape. I stopped talking about it, because I was sick of being called a liar, and I got the shut-up message fairly fast. I tried to stop thinking about it. 

But this week brought it all up again. The vitriol being spewed across the internet, the discussions in every car and cafe I’ve stepped into about what rape really means, the acknowledgement that yes, lots of women do lie and exaggerate, they’ve made me feel infected all over again. Another friend told me she felt “psychologically poisoned, sick more than angry,” I’m definitely not the only one who’s been revisiting those scenes in my head, playing them over like old CCTV footage. I’m probably not the only one, either, who went quietly back to a few friends from the old days to talk again about what happened, to clear things up. And what one of those former friends told me was: I wish I’d taken you more seriously, because I think it happened again, to somebody else.

That was yesterday. And that’s why I’m writing this post now. I’ve actually written it three times, and deleted it twice, and I’ve decided to bite my lip and click ‘publish’, because this vicious drift towards victim-blaming must stop. It’s not about Julian Assange, not really, not any more. It’s becoming an excuse to wrench the definition of rape back to a time when consent was unimportant, just when some of us had begun to speak up, and it’s happening right now, and  what’s worse, what’s so, so much worse, is that it’s happening in the name of truth and justice, in the name of freedom of speech.

If those principles are to mean anything, this vitriol, this rape-redefining in the name of conscience and whistleblowing and Wikileaks and Julian Assange, it has to stop. It has to stop now. Non-consensual sex is rape, real rape, and good guys do it too, all the time, every day. Sorry if that hurts to hear, but you’ve heard it now, and there are things that hurt much more, and for longer, and for lifetimes. Those things need to stop. Together, if we’re brave enough to keep on speaking out even we’re told to shut up, told we’re liars and bitches and we asked for it, we can make them stop. There aren’t many situations where all it takes to change the world is a lot of people standing together and refusing to be silenced, but this might be one of them. 


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*this figure, along with the overall rape statistics, is far, far higher in the United States if prison rape is taken into account, which it rarely is.

**I have used figures for the United States throughout this article – more information for the UK can be found at www.rapecrisis.org.uk

***I still haven’t, and I haven’t named any names or included any identifying information in this article, and that’s my choice, and I’d like you to respect that, because I thought long and hard about putting this out there, and now I don’t want to think about it any more. Thank you.