The Problem with the Patriarchal Construction of Consent

I’ve been trying to clarify my thoughts on consent and the remarkable problems some men seem to be having with the issue [see every nincompoop supporting the convicted rapist Ched Evans]. This was written by my dear friend Basil on the I Believe Her: Supporting the Innocent Victim of Ched Evans FB page. Basil says it so much better than I could:

I think there is an enormous confusion over consent and what it means and that consent in itself, is a very loaded and problematic term. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have never consented to sex in my life; when I have sex, I actively participate in the process, I don’t just passively consent to the process being done to me. I think this is where the problem lies; historically, men made the laws and men got to define what sex means and they defined it as something which men do to women; men’s sexuality was said to be active while women’s was passive.

The rape laws we have inherited, although they have been tweaked and modified a bit, still rest on this fundamentally wrong, misogynist assumption that came from a time when the idea of women’s active sexuality was horrifying to the men who got to make the laws. Let’s face it, rapists got to define what rape was and seeing as how most rapists don’t consider themselves rapists, it’s no wonder that a lot of men with confused and abusive attitudes to women, get themselves in a muddle when confronted by rape. We live in a society which constantly tells women that they aren’t being raped when they are; Hence the 85% non-reporting rate when women are raped – most rape victims know that they will be told that they haven’t been raped when they have and many of them actually manage to convince themselves that they haven’t been raped, “because he didn’t beat me up” or “I didn’t fight him off” or “he didn’t use any other violence” etc. This is what happens, when men get to define what sex and rape are, in a society with the historical baggage our one has.

Basil also tweeted this: Consent: a concept invented by men to give themselves permission to rape women then get to call it something other than rape.

I usually say this: If you don’t understand the legal definition of consent, you shouldn’t be having sex because there’s a pretty good chance you’re a rapist.


Lt Eve Dallas: A Feminist Heroine

J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series are some of the most popular mystery novels and regularly make the New York Times Bestsellers List. Their popularity is partly because Robb [a pseudonym for Nora Roberts] is a brilliant writer and partly of the because of the romance. What differentiates them from “normal” romance/ detective series like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is the way Robb treats the issue of Violence against Women.

Robb doesn’t treat Violence against women and children as voyeuristic plot device. Instead, she writes about VAW as systemic and endemic; it is constant, continuous with consequences rippling through families and communities. Women and children are victims of homicide, rape and torture because of the institutional misogyny which treats women as subhuman. They are victims because they have “no” value in a society which values masculinity above all else. The main character is Lieutenant Eve Dallas: a woman who became a police officer as a way to heal after systematic physical, emotional and sexual abuse by her father which culminated in her killing him at the age of 8. It’s not uncommon to have female leads in detective novels who are “unusual” but one who is a victim as well as a survivor and a strong, intelligent, compassionate woman fighting for justice for other women is different. She is heroine not because she is violent but because she is real; a real woman struggling to rebuild her life and learning to love and care for other women in a way that the patriarchy loathes.

The only other fictional books that I have come across which have treated VAW as systemic and endemic are the Shakespeare books by Charlaine Harris. The main character in those is Lily Bard and she is the victim of a serious gang-rape. Her healing involves strengthening her body through martial arts but she also heals by helping other women. Harris’ most famous creation are the True Blood books and they are very definitely feminist. They are also a searing critique of the misogyny, racism, homophobia and disabilism rife in society and the hypocrisy of those who use “manners” and “tradition” to cover up their destructive and violent behaviour.

Obviously, Marilyn French’s The Women’s Room, amongst many others, also write about VAW as it actually exists within the patriarchy. The difference with Robb and Harris’s books are that they are mass market fiction and they reach an audience that feminist literature simply never attracts. Robb and Harris are also incredibly sympathetic and supportive of the women in their books. They both write very triggering stories but they are necessary stories. We need more women writers discussing VAW as systematic, systemic and continuous. We need more women writers not using serial killers as plot devices because they are “abnormal”. We need more women writers using strong, intelligent female characters. Male violence against women is not abnormal. It is daily. It is everywhere and it is committed by normal men. I have no idea if Robb intended this to be the effect of her books but they have brought the issue of VAW into the public sphere in a non-confrontational manner that has, hopefully, made more women cognisant of its destructive consequences.

‘Fun Feminism’: In Defence of Radical Feminism

I love Julie Bindel. I don’t always agree with everything she says but she makes me think which is a precious gift in a society driven by Patriarchal media-soundbites which erase the voices of those who don’t conform and labels them stupid to boot. Bindel, along with Bidisha, Cath Elliot, and Samira Ahmed are some of my favourite journalists because they don’t play the Handmaiden game.

Not everyone feels quite the same love I do as evidenced by this article in the New Stateman making the rounds on Twitter. Again. It is simply a brief outline of the difference between Second Wave Radical Feminism and the, unfortunately, increasingly popular “fun feminism”, otherwise known as Third Wave Feminism. The difference being, according to Bindel, that the former is a:

A political movement to overthrow male supremacy, according to us radicals. These days, however, young women (and men) are increasingly fed the line from “fun feminists” that it is about individual power, rather than a collective movement.

Radical Feminism is anti-porn not anti-sex as the Third Wavers dismissively suggest. We do not believe that women’s liberation is about “choice” and that individual “choices” must be respected irregardless of the harm they cause other women. The “choice” to do Burlesque only exists if you have the education and status to be “risque”. Burlesque isn’t a “risque” activity though. It is one that clearly has negative consequences for women who work in the sex industry due to poverty, addiction, and lack of alternate possibilities. Radical Feminism is about freeing women from male oppression and violence. Lap-dancing isn’t a route to women’s liberation; neither is prostitution. These are lies perpetuated by The Patriarchy. We are not man-haters. If anything, Radical Feminists are the ones who believe that men are actually capable of empathy and humanity and aren’t just animals ruled by their cocks.

“Fun Feminism” is why Terri White wound up as an assistant editor at Nuts magazine rating young women, barely into adulthood, on their breasts without any consideration to the harm she was perpetuating. “Fun Feminism” is why Caitlin Moran can claim, without even the barest hint of irony, that “beauty regimes” and housework aren’t Feminist issues. “Fun Feminism” is the reason why we are required to preface any discussion of violence against women with the statement “obviously all men aren’t rapists or abusers or porn-users” [although, considering porn is the most financially successful industry in the world, a seriously large number of men have to be consuming it to make it profitable]. “Fun Feminism” is why ageing female journalists are slowly being erased from the media. “Fun Feminism” is the reason our daughter’s are being taught that the only power they have is their sexuality and that being physically attractive is the most important thing in the world. Ever. We need more Radical Feminists like Julie Bindel being controversial and being heard. We need more Radical Feminists asking questions and demanding real answers and not the minimising bullshit the BBC comes out with when questioned why their children’s programming features more boys than girls than any of the commercial channels manage. We need more Radical Feminist voices loudly critiquing the “Sex-industry” and challenging pornographers and those who deny the damage done by prostitution.

UPDATE: Bindel on Brooke Magnati’s new book in the Guardian and here on the Myth of the Violent Lesbian.


UPDATE 2: Bindel’s article spawned quite a large discussion on Mumsnet. My dear friend KRITIQ had some quite interesting things to say about labelling movements. I’m going to copy some of those statements here since they pushed me out of my comfort zone in a positive manner [which is a particularly lovely gift KRITIQ has]:

[l] don’t like the term “fun fem” and still think there’s a risk it can be used just to dismiss and silence those who don’t meet some arbitrary standard of feminist values. I’d rather see arguments against the perpetuation of specific beliefs and practices rather than a list of “things that aren’t really feminist,” which will probably get lots of things tacked on the end and there will never be any agreement on. 

For what it’s worth, discussion of sexual oppression IS going to be scary, regardless of how it’s done. It’s impossible to keep the political from being personal and vice versa, so people will have strong feelings and use strong language in articulating these. Perhaps one needs a strong stomach to engage in discussions here and elsewhere on feminism. Being just a textual medium, perhaps we would all benefit from remembering how easy it is to misunderstand and be misunderstood. But, I would never want folks to feel they need to sanitise their experience or views to be more palatable. The experience of being at the sharp end of misogyny, whether individually or collectively, isn’t something that should be sugar-coated, imho. … 

Regardless of the origins of the term “fun fem,” … I still don’t think it’s a helpful term. That was the point I was making. It’s too porous to have a useful definition and like “politically correct” can be easily used as or experienced as just a throw away “slur.” I’d prefer to get beyond what could be seen as just name calling to actually challenging and questioning people about those specific points about prostitution, sexualisation of children, pornography, collusion with rape, etc.
Equally, I despise the term “sex positive feminism.” It suggests that those who don’t think prostitution, porn, stripping, etc. are tickity boo are “negative” about sex, which ain’t the case. Similarly, I don’t like the term “pro life” for those who oppose a woman’s right to choose. Advocates of reproductive rights and choice aren’t anti-life, fgs

These are some of my favourite Radical Feminist blogs, websites and organisations [well, not all will identify as Radical Feminist but they are all women who actively challenge The Patriarchy and are people whose work I admire tremendously]:

Julie Bindel

Bidisha

Andrea Dworkin

Stop Porn Culture

Kate Smurthwaite

RadFem Hub

RadFem Reader

Feminist Reprise

Sisterhood is Powerful


Rebecca Mott

Finn Mackay and her reprint of Sheila Jeffrey’s speech: The need for Revolutionary Feminism.