Reclaim The Night 2013 recap

Trigger warning as this piece references r*, sexual assault and victim blaming.

This year’s Reclaim The Night (RTN) was an inspiring night of rallying, marching and local talent. Last friday night, women-identifying people came together at Queen’s Park to hear speakers turn the tables on victim blaming with tips like “How Not To Rape – men, carry whistles to alert others you’re going to rape! And remember to stay in packs!”.

Hear Kara de Groot explain more about this year’s RTN on 4zzz.fm.

Despite the police weirdly making everyone hurry up through the march (apparently they only had a half an hour window to escort the march…), and a few randoms who decided to walk through the rally, the night was full of both celebration of being women who will not stand for violence in our society and respect and remembrance of those we have lost to sexual violence. We chanted “Blame the system, not the victim”, “Not the Church, Not the State, Let Women Decide Their Fate” and “No means no, it doesn’t mean maybe, don’t touch me I’m not your baby!” down the streets of the CBD to applause from onlookers and touchingly, male allies who welcomed us back to Queen’s Park.  Speakers included those from the RTN Collective, Senator Claire Moore and the UQWC’s own Madeline Price, who shared the following evocative beat poem:

I should not fear
four little words I repeat
backed by blasting dubstep beat
that echoes from the club
that I just left

I should not fear
walking our shared streets
the police on the beat
there to protect me
from your drunken hands
and broken minds

I should not fear
our public places
our private spaces
our university campuses
our schools
our homes
and the willingness of the public
to attribute blame

I should not fear
persecution for walking at night
objectification if my skirts too tight
this slut-shaming
victim-blaming
women-hating
society
that I was born into

I should not fear
that I am seen as a piece of meat
rather than the person within.

A big shout out goes to the Brisbane RTN Collective, who made this year’s rally and march a smash success. The t-shirts and badges made were amazingly designed and the night was well organised.

The UQ Women’s Collective led the march – a spontaneous decision made because we had the largest banner! Below are a few of my photos of the night plus a photo of the t-shirts from the RTN Collective facebook page (please don’t use these pictures without my permission or credit – email uqwnews@gmail.com first.

If you’d like to get involved with next year’s Brisbane Reclaim The Night, you can find out more info here.

~ Emma Di Bernardo

Thanks to Madeline Price and Kara de Groot for sharing their work for this post.

Casual Sexism: Myths, Debunked

Trigger warning for misogynist, homophobic language, discussion of sexual assault.

“Grow some balls!”/”That takes balls.” 

Having balls is a compliment or an insult, depending on how it’s used, but it comes back to the idea that being courageous/brave/forward is a male thing. I’m sure no one doubts that these traits are certainly present in women as well, however the problem here is linking such traits with cis-male genitalia. There’s also a bit of an irony to this saying. Testicles seem to be the most sensitive part on a male body. And yet, ironically, they’ve come to represent toughness.

So far, there’s no problem, really. Where’s the sexism?

The problem is when it’s used to describe a woman. And there are two issues with this. First, cis-women don’t have balls. So substitute balls for ovaries? It doesn’t quite have the same ring. We don’t even have a colloquial word for ovaries in english (in common usage, anyway, Urban Dictionary informs me that the kids are calling them “Os” these days), and yet I can think of numerous slang words for testicles off the top of my head. Balls, nuts, bollocks, crown jewels.

The second problem with this saying is when someone says to a woman “grow some balls”. Meaning get some nerve/drive/courage. It’s reductive because, in light of the fact that women don’t have them, it implies that courage/nerve/the go-getting attitude is A Male Thing. This insult’s close relative, calling someone a “pussy”, perfectly compliments this idea by saying that if you don’t have these things, you are female genitalia.

Finally, this is pretty trans* phobic language. The expression totally adheres to the gender binary, and in doing so, defines internal gender characteristics by reference to physical (external) gender. In this way, gender is represented as a dichotomy rather than a spectrum, and physical and mental manifestations of gender are wrongly conflated.

“You’re such a girl!”

Being a girl in this context is synonymous with being weak, submissive, and crying easily. Of course these traits are feminine, and therefore negative (according to this insult’s logic). The female gender is reduced to an insult. Like it’s the last thing anyone would want to be.

I’ve also noticed people employing this gender essentialist language to describe themselves or others in a positive way. Well in a retro-sexist positive way. Take this for example. “I just love crocheting and baking sponge cakes, I’m such a girl” or this, “my boyfriend eats soo much, he’s such a boy”. In other words “I do [insert gender-essential trait here], therefore I’m such a [insert gender here]“.

Like the “you’re such a girl” line, these expressions reek of gender essentialism. In the world of these expressions all girls wear pink dresses with little bows and like to knit or flower-arrange in their spare time. Likewise, the “boys” don’t show any sort of complex emotion, like “big” things like cars and trucks, and of course have enormous appetites.

“Take it as a compliment!”/”Have a sense of humour”/”Don’t be so serious.”

You know that person who says you look cute when you get angry, or that person who says they’re a feminist and then proceeds to completely objectify you (by being overtly sexual, asking you for naked photos – true story!)? This is one of their favourites.

People like to pull this one out when someone makes a sexist/homophobic joke and you don’t let it slide. If only you’d just stop being such a humourless feminist and appreciate some good old humour! Go on, take those sleazy construction worker catcalls as a compliment! You should like receiving that attention; it means you’re attractive, right?

Just no.

The idea of someone who “wears the pants” in a relationship.

This saying manages to be astoundingly heteronormative, with a generous helping of tired gender roles and gender essentialism.

Re: gender essentialism, first. It’s underscored by the idea that the person who wears the pants is a man (even though women wear pants. Indeed, I’m wearing pants right now). And that this pants-wearing man is the one who wields the power and authority in a relationship. It’s premised on the idea that it’s not fathomable that two people in a relationship, irrespective of their gender, could simply be equal, and that there may actually not be either particular person calling the shots. To think that someone has to be “the one in charge” is just really…weird and paternalistic.

Moving on to the heteronormativity of this. Just…wow. If the saying is based on the idea that one person in a relationship must either be or resemble a man, then what of a relationship where there are no men, more than one party is a man, neither party is a cis-gendered man?

It also assumes that everyone is in a monogamous relationship between two people.

The thing about this saying is that it’s usually aimed at relationships that don’t, or appear not to conform to narrow conceptions of how gender roles should be. Lesbian relationships are frequently targeted by absolutely hilar observers with these sorts of sayings. But even heterosexual relationships, where the female party might be noticeably forward or self-assured, can be targeted. Observers will wryly note, “well she really wears the pants in that relationship”.

“That sucks dick”/”Go suck a dick”.

This saying seems to be underpinned by the conception that fellatio is fundamentally degrading/debasing. Like “sucking a dick” is a really crappy thing to do and should only be reserved for crappy people. Which confuses me because receiving fellatio is like proof that someone’s A Real Man, or just generally awesome. So…it’s a shit thing to do, but if you get it you’re awesome?

Raping/being raped by things.

I’m going to keep writing about this until rape stops being funny to people. But first, let’s go back to a definition of rape, shall we? So (my non-dictionary) definition of rape is non-consensual sexual activity with someone. But it’s more than that. It’s an expression of power over someone, enacted by sexual means.

Rape isn’t just having sex with someone when they weren’t really into it. It goes far deeper than that. So, again, that really difficult exam? That long day at work? That nauseating hangover? That person hacking into your facebook and changing your status? Not rape. Next time you think about using ‘rape’ to describe any of those things, (or basically anything that isn’t non-consensual sexual activity with someone) think about all those sexual assault survivors whose experiences you’re dismissing.

Amen.

~ Rosie Cuppaidge

Slut: A Myth

This article will be featured in Wom*news 9: Myths

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault.

You are fifteen and dislike your crush’s girlfriend. You call her a slut. You are eighteen and about to go out clubbing for the first time. Your mother looks you up and down and says she didn’t raise a slut. You are twenty and the boy you are fucking calls you a slut the one night you refuse to have sex.

Everyone knows that the word “slut” has power, whether we agree with it or not.
It is used to shame and degrade women and, more importantly, to put them in a box with a label that says “you’re not human here” and to make sure they stay there. Whilst there are many different variables in the slut-shaming game, the objective remains the same: to ensure women’s behaviour is deemed “acceptable” by societal terms, and to make sex a source of shame and not power. In a culture that is so concerned with labels and definitions, one has to pose the question: what is a slut? After years of being called a slut, of hearing my friends being called sluts I can only assume that a slut is a woman who doesn’t adhere to every societal expectation heaped upon her. Continue reading

The Problem with Victim-Blaming

by Caitlin Gordon-King

This piece is featured in Wom*news #7: Bodies, out tomorrow!

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence and victim blaming; an example of victim blaming is also quoted within this paper. 

In the following paper I ask the question: ‘Is blaming the victim of sexual assault ever valid and/or justified?’. I conclude that it is neither. Although I in no way intend on awarding credibility to arguments which imply otherwise, it is important to engage with them in order to illuminate their flaws and curtail their popularity. Such engagement could distress or otherwise trigger some readers. I therefore ask you to please read the following with discretion. Given I am writing for a women’s magazine, I will be specifically speaking on female identifying victims.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine posted a link to a news article on his facebook page. The article described a court case in the US, during which a judge told a victim of sexual assault that she should avoid going to dangerous bars in the future. By doing so, the judge insinuated that the woman’s failure to accurately evaluate the consequences of going to a male dominated, ‘dangerous’ bar was partly to blame for her attack. If the judge’s remarks didn’t concern me enough, then people’s defence of them when commenting on the article certainly did the job. These comments demonstrated something which has become increasingly clear to me over recent months; as much as we wish it weren’t true, victim blaming is not restricted to old, uneducated, misogynists living in Texas, but is disturbingly common amongst people we all know.

The apportioning of blame for a woman’s sexual assault onto the woman herself is a trend which permeates the mindsets of both men and women, from a variety of social classes, political inclinations and educational backgrounds.  It is alluded to by politicians, experienced in our judicial system, disclosed in drunken conversations and often contemplated by victims themselves. The problem is so pervasive that often we don’t realise when we are encouraging it ourselves. I’ve had moments when I’ve thought to myself of a friend – ‘What did she think was going to happen?’

Thinking thusly comes naturally, and it is not difficult to see why. The rates of sexual assault seem so overwhelming, and its trauma so great, that it is almost too much to bear to consider that its victims are entirely innocent. For a perpetrator especially, it is easier to imagine that the victim could have avoided the situation had they really wanted; that subsequent psychological distress is not solely one’s own fault. I also attribute the popularity of this mode of thought to the seeming common sense underlying it. Every person who commented on my friend’s post did so intellectually, and more troubling still, posed seemingly plausible arguments as to why victims are partly responsible for their sexual assault if they fail to identify and avoid risky situations or actions.

Such an argument was aptly summarised by Kody:

‘…But I’m also sick of hearing people taking their ‘rights’ to some idealistic fantasy land e.g. ‘I should be able to wear a KKK outfit in a black neighbourhood in the US’. Of course you should… But you have a HUGE chance of being beaten up. What about: ‘I should be able to walk where I want, when I want, dressed how I want’. I totally agree, you SHOULD. However, there is some level of common sense that says if you choose to exercise that right in a fucked up neighbourhood… you are likely to have something bad happen to you… (to play devil’s advocate) perhaps the judge had more info to go on? Perhaps: ‘I just happened to be in a rough bar in the worst part of town, and got assaulted’. That might warrant the judge giving some advice… It seems to me that there is definitely a point (of risk) where a victim starts taking part in the consequences.’

For the remainder of this paper, I will specifically address Kody’s comments, because I feel that they epitomise arguments which attempt to justify victim blaming. Alluring as they might be, these arguments are not logically sound. Further, the consequence of their implementation in real life is, and would be, socially and psychologically damaging.

Firstly, Kody’s argument is invalid because it over-estimates the ability of individuals to avoid particularly ‘risky’ situations. Intuitively, we apportion less blame to a person who suffers the negative consequences of taking a risk the more difficult it was for them to avoid that risk. By claiming that the woman in question was partly responsible, Kody’s comment insinuates that it would have been an easy task for her to avoid the bar. However, saying so ignores the social context in which women make the decision to ‘risk it’. Women are constantly bombarded with the messages:

‘You will have fun if you go out. If you don’t go out and experience the night scene, you are a prig and missing out on lyf.

When you go out, you have to dress provocatively – otherwise you are a prude. You’re worth nothing if you do not look sexually attractive. The way to look sexually attractive is to dress in provocative clothing.

You will only be happy if you find a man. Any man will do. 

You will only get a man if he is sexually attracted to you. And you can find a man when you go out at night.’

Women who dress provocatively to garner sexual attention, and go out to bars full of the kinds of men who will make them feel sexually attractive, aren’t too dumb to evaluate the consequences – they’re products of society. When a girl abides by that society’s rules and does the things she’s been told to do – it tells her that it’s her fault when she is abused.

In the long run, it would be immensely difficult for any woman to avoid ‘risky’ situations, not only because they’re reared to enter them, but also simply because ‘risky’ situations are everywhere and impossible to always avoid. Given the number of dangers faced by women on an everyday basis, they cannot be expected to let such dangers dictate their lives, as doing so would greatly diminish their opportunities and inhibit their happiness. Women cannot and should not be expected to always stay inside and only wear clothing which men deem ‘acceptable’, because fulfilling such expectations would be severely limiting. If I were to always choose the safest option in what is a pretty constantly dangerous environment, I would be choosing to deny myself other desires. The negative consequences of denying myself these desires would accumulate over time. Therefore, ultimately, risking some danger will procure more happiness in the long term than avoiding that danger entirely. Hence, it is not unreasonable for me to go to a bar if I so desire. Having evaluated the consequences, going out and having fun is most likely to make me happy in the long term. It is not my fault if that probability is not realised, because at the time that I made the decision it seemed the best option.

Further still, Kody’s argument splits women into two groups – smart and dumb, suggesting that dumb women get raped. This is clearly an over-simplified, damaging and obviously false suggestion. Individuals who choose to take risks aren’t necessarily flippant or stupid, but do so for a reason. They are dressed a certain way for a reason they deem valid, and are in a certain place for a reason they deem valid. Not only that, but they are simply making choices that most of us would. When faced with the decision as to whether to go out and have fun, or to stay inside to absolutely ensure safety, the average person will choose to go out. We might all acknowledge that this is a more dangerous decision, but given it seems almost impossible to fight the temptation, and the majority of us would succumb to it, is it really anybody’s place to blame a person when they do?

Even if it were a valid point that the risk undertaken by victims somehow makes them responsible for the actions of another, victim blaming is still an unjustifiable and destructive way of thinking.

The moment we lay any blame on the victim of sexual assault is the moment that this blame is detracted from that laid on the perpetrator. It doesn’t matter whether or not the woman is actually, abstractly, in any way responsible; when someone says ‘Well, YOU should have stayed home’, it decreases the guilt felt by men for their actions. Not only will men feel less responsible for crimes committed in the past, but less responsible for their actions in the future. And that will directly affect how they act towards women in the future.

Not only does justification of victim blaming encourage individual crimes, but it solidifies the power structure which greatly limits 51% of the population. Kody’s comments, and any arguments which justify victim blaming, clearly send the message that women should accept that men hold the power in society. If all women take Kody’s advice, not only will they always fear men and stay inside knitting on Friday nights instead of having fun, but society will continue to believe that male aggression is inevitable. Some men will continue to think that it’s their right to sexually harass women because their bodies demand it of them (and that it’s the woman’s fault for provoking their ‘natural’ bodily urges), and others will continue to view women as feeble and in need of their protection.

Failing to challenge, and even endorsing, the status quo = continuation of the status quo. It is akin to racial segregation in the US. I doubt Kody would look back on that period of history and say – ‘If Rosa Parks got beaten up after sitting at the front of the bus, that would partly have been her fault. Therefore, Rosa Parks should have sat at the back of the bus. Rosa, make sure you sit at the back next time.’ Women need to keep going out, to keep entering male dominated spaces and to keep dressing however they please because they must continue to remind men that it is their right to be able to do those things without being harmed.

It is important to spell out plainly and simply what arguments like Kody’s are really saying. What they are saying is that there are public places which women should not enter, times that they should not go out and clothes they should not wear, and that they will be punished by men if they do any of the aforementioned. If the woman is irrational enough to risk this punishment, then she is partly responsible for it – meaning, she deserves what she gets.

To Summarise: Segregation should be continued, for the protection of the oppressed.

Because this is its crux: victim blaming not only has a destructive psychological impact on victims themselves, but on women and society in general. It should therefore never be encouraged or practiced.

If a man attacks a woman, that is the man’s fault. Not hers. Any amendment made to that basic idea – like ‘in some circumstances it’s partly the woman’s fault’ – erodes it. I should feel free to go out at night. Sure, TECHNICALLY I am free to go out by myself. But in reality I’m not. My actions are severely limited because I live in a patriarchal society which says shit like ‘If you go to that place, or if you go out at that time, or if you go out by yourself, it’s your own fault if you get raped.’ For a liberal society, that’s not good enough. It is the basic premise of liberalism that every person is free to act as they best see fit, so long as that action does not harm others. The onus is therefore solely, and should always remain on the perpetrator of sexual assault, not the victim.

 ~ Caitlin Gordon-King

SlutWalking

SlutWalking
by Johanna Qualmann 

Last weekend I marched in Brisbane’s SlutWalk – a rally and march aimed at stopping sexual violence and victim blaming. I’ll have to admit that it was the first rally I’ve actually been able to make since moving to the city, so it was a very exciting thing to be part of. There weren’t as many people as I was expecting (well, what was I expecting for an event run by those dreaded feminazis?), but there was still a nice group of different people – from a dominatrix in leather or latex or whatever it was to men holding signs saying “consent is sexy” to a woman in jeans and a shirt holding a sign saying “this is what I wore when I asked for it.” And of course, our contingent from the UQ Women’s Collective!

People with awesome signs! (Photo by Emma)

I know that SlutWalk is a controversial topic – just last week Noni on the NUS women’s blog wrote about loathing SlutWalk and the blind reclamation fo the word “slut.” And apparently there was a lot of debate about whether it was appropriate to have a dominatrix as one of the speakers at the Brisbane event.

I have to admit that I’m still not totally comfortable with the name SlutWalk, and I don’t like the idea of reclaiming “slut.” It’s not something I feel fits into my identity in any way, and it’s not something I think can ever really be reclaimed positively. There were a few moments where the speakers said things like “make sure you don’t leave any rubbish lying around – good sluts are clean sluts” which made me feel a bit uncomfortable, and I felt a couple of the signs (such as “honk if you like sluts”) weren’t really helping the cause. But overall, I was happy with the way the event was conceptualised – it didn’t seem to degenerate into continuous shouts of “I’m a slut” like other marches I’ve heard about. The emphasis really seemed to be on stopping sexual violence against all sorts of women and ending victim blaming and slut-shaming. I really appreciated the way that the speakers before the march conceptualised the event and were inclusive of women of diverse backgrounds and sexualities, even mentioning asexual people – yay!

It was a pretty awesome experience, and I think the organisers did a pretty good job. The atmosphere was one of solidarity and support. It felt great to be surrounded by people who shared the same passionate stance on sexual violence and victim blaming, who were willing to march through the CBD with signs and posters. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that there are other people out there who will not stand for the kind of hurtful bullshit that society dishes out, rather than feeling like you’re constantly waging a war on your own. While I might not particularly like the name or the word slut, events like this (with the right emphasis) are needed, if only to help one person realise that sexual violence is not ok.

Me, happily marching – banner courtesy of Charlotte (Photo by Emma)

~ Johanna Qualmann
Cross-posted to A Life Unexamined