Source: Our annual reminder
Earlier this year, I wrote about Beyoncé’s politically charged Super Bowl performance, and the scandal that arose in its wake. Half the world praised her for giving Black empowerment a moment in the media, while the other half branded her a racist and threatened to boycott her music.
Beyoncé made no apologies, and paid no heed to the angry mob. Instead, she later followed up the performance with the release of Lemonade. Since its release, the album has inspired critical acclaim, a whole new host of pop culture references… and the witch hunt for one very elusive “Becky”.
In her song Sorry, Beyoncé stated:
He only want me when I’m not there
He better call Becky with the good hair
Brilliantly Bad Decision
In hopes of capitalizing on the spotlight thrown on Beyoncé yet again, two staffers of Glamour devised a brilliantly terrible plan. They fired back at Beyoncé’s Becky with…
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My boyfriend’s got a new radio, and we’ve got into the habit of listening to it as we drift off to sleep. The other night we picked a station that was just talking, but unfortunately the DJ’s views were so bigoted that I was kept awake by irritation. One of the things he said was that Nicola Sturgeon was ‘only given the job of leader of the SNP because of reverse sexism’.
I don’t claim to know anything about Nicola Sturgeon, or her ability to do her job, but I found this statement particularly galling not only because of what was said but because of who it was that was saying it and how he had decided to express it. Firstly, it’s ‘positive discrimination’, not ‘reverse sexism’. If he REALLY means ‘reverse sexism’ he’s saying that a woman having a position of power is sexist to men… REALLY?
It reminds me of a Ted talk by Michael Kimmel in which he describes being on a show called ‘A Black Woman Stole My Job’, in which several angry white men spoke about situations in which they went for jobs they were qualified for that in the end were given to someone else. When it was his turn to speak, he questioned a word in the title of the show: ‘my’, and asked ‘Where did you get the idea it was your job?’
He goes on to say that
‘White men… are the beneficiaries of the single greatest affirmative action programme in the history of the world, it is called… The history of the world.’
Ian Collins is a radio DJ, who happens to be white and male. I say ‘happens’, but really, his kind are grossly over represented in the media, so you could say, it’s not a co-incidence. You could say, he got the job because of patriarchy; because of actual discrimination and actual sexism. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, but here he is, throwing stones. I have no wish to hate on white males, some of my best friends are white males, but if you’re going to be completely oblivious to the obvious benefits of the system you receive and then go even further and act so definitively entitled to them to the extent that you’re claiming anyone NOT like you shouldn’t really be there, then I have a problem with that. In fact, I already hate you.
I went to the LBC website to look at their presenters. There were 19 in all, and only 4 of those were women. Of those 4 women, only 1 had more than 1 slot a week: the other 3 had only a 2 or 3 hour show. In a week. That means, that female DJs make up only 21% of their on-air staff, but if you work it out in hours, in the 168hrs that there are in the week, only 21 are hosted by women. That makes 12.5%.
12.5% representation is terrible. But sadly, normal.
London is one of the most racially diverse cities in the world, and London based LBC which claims to be ‘Leading Britain’s Conversation’ has only one presenter who isn’t white – Maajid Nawaz, who is British, born to a British Pakistani family. He is on air for 6hrs a week, or just 3.5% of the time. That leaves 84% of the airtime to white men. In the 2011 census, the white population of London was recorded as just 44%. If we said half of those were men (despite statistics showing women outnumber men by almost 1 million) that would be 22%. So even though white men make up only (at most) 22% of London’s population, LBC gives them 84% of the airtime. So you can see why Ian Collins’ claim that Nicola Sturgeon only got her job because of sexism pissed me off.
And while I usually notice these things and feel disappointed, I don’t feel the need to point out the privilege of the presenters until they go onto the glass roof of their stupid glass house and start throwing bricks around.
Deborah Frances-White in her podcast The Guilty Feminist says:
‘If you were an alien in space watching television trying to learn about the human race, you would make an assumption… that 98.5% of the human race were straight white men – that would be a reasonable assumption, and then there were some stranger outliers who were allowed to sit and watch and laugh at those straight white men’s jokes, occasionally punctuating… Now here’s the reality though. Women are over 50% of the population, and of men, there are men of colour and LGBT. So, white straight men are a minority… And it’s great that that minority is given so much air time. No, that’s lovely, because they are a minority, and it’s important to put minorities on the television. But maybe, sometimes, it would also be nice to perhaps have people on the television that reflected the whole audience… the majority, it would be nice if the majority were allowed on television.’ (Episode 9, Representation)
In a world where 84% of the heard voice is a white man’s, White Man (and the non represented others) begin to see his voice as the default, the only one of value, the most important, the entitled to speak. Studies show that even though women speak less in group discussions, we think they speak more. Somaya Chemaly writes that ‘we are socialized to think women talk more. Listener bias results in most people thinking that women are hogging the floor when men are actually dominating.‘ It is women who are seen to be prattlers, chatterboxes and gossips (an effective way to silence this group).
I’ve noticed a backlash against this new focus on straight white men, as if this sudden spotlight were a cruel attack. ‘NOT ALL MEN!’ after all, are responsible for their voice being the loudest. Ian Collins himself says you can’t be a straight white man these days – they’re the ones these days who are ridiculed and disrespected. A consequence of White Man being the usual/normal voice, it feels like bullying when it is pointed out, injustice when it is taken away, or when steps are made to equalise the playing field. What have white men ever done to you!?
‘When you have privilege, equality feels like oppression’
It isn’t a cruel attack, it isn’t bullying. Nobody hates white men. It would be impossible to hate them, they’re everywhere. They are hosting our talk shows and panel shows and news broadcasts. They are managing our big companies and leading our countries. They are starring in our films and the main characters in all our stories. They are our Robin Williamses and our Steve Martins. Our Brad Pitts and our George Clooneys. Our Dr Who’s, Sherlock Holmes, our Monty Pythons and South Park characters and creators. And they have 84% of airtime on LBC. We love these white men, but we don’t need to see them as white men. Because their voice is the standard one we just see them as people, humans, heroes. Did anyone notice the sexes of the original Ghostbusters until it was decided to make a new one with an all female cast? Michael Kimmel uses an example. When he looks in the mirror, he sees a person. When a woman looks in the mirror, she sees a woman. When a black woman looks in the mirror, she sees a black woman, because ‘privilege is invisible to those that have it.’
It is a privilege to not have to see yourself in the category society has ascribed to you.
So, it is not an attack on white men. It is mere pointing out of gender and colour, as our gender/ethnicity has been continually pointed out to those of us who aren’t white or male.
Michael Kimmel says
‘making gender visible to men is the first step to engaging men to support gender equality’
I remember a comedy audition I went to. My male friends had been given the job (without auditioning), and they were now looking for women (which is at least a start). After the audition the producer looked at us and said ‘but what have you got to say about being women?’ He went on to say that while men were able to talk about politics and philosophy and current affairs etc, the thing we could add was our experience as women. This is all too common a trap – we had gone up acting as humans, believing, arrogantly, that we were complex human beings capable of delivering rounded characters, but what he really wanted was for us to do was perform as women. The only arena available to us was womanhood, as that was the only arena the men hadn’t already got covered. We didn’t get the job, but if you are a white man, consider; would you want the job if the only thing you were allowed to talk about was your experience specifically of being a white man? What if the main voice in our society was a black woman’s, and there were TV shows where incredulous black women ranted about white men like you that had ‘stolen’ their jobs? Wouldn’t it make you angry?
‘without confronting men’s sense of entitlement I don’t think we’ll ever understand why so many men resist gender equality’
So, Ian Collins, I hope you get my point. I don’t care that you are a straight, white man, though it disappoints me that the world is inflicted with your narrow-mindedness. What I want you to see is how ridiculous you look in your little glass house, mouthing off about Nicola Sturgeon getting the job because of sexism, without once realising how hypocritical that makes you.
Sturgeon is the 14th Leader of the SNP and the only ever female to have got the job. She is the fifth First Minister of Scotland, and the only ever female to have got the job. You, on the other hand, are amongst the over represented 84%.
Let me ask you this: do you think you would have your job if you were not white? Do you think you would have your job if you were a woman? And what if you were a woman of colour? You would be the first one on LBC. Don’t you think you would have to have been impossibly impressive in interview? Do you even think you would have got to the interview stage? Nope, me neither.
If I had to guess who got their job fairly, based on merit and nothing else, I’d wager it was her, not you.
When Amber Heard filed for divorce against husband of 17 months, Johnny Depp, citing domestic abuse, I was interested. My first thought was that whether the allegations were true or not, it was a very bold move. Depp must be one of the most celebrated and revered actors of my lifetime – he’s had unmitigated success and been a constant presence in film throughout his career. He’s succeeded in portraying both Tim Burton’s weird outsiders and also conventional hunky roles. He’s one of the people everyone more or less likes, and loads of people love.
So regardless of whether there was truth in Heard’s allegations or not, the one thing she could count on would be a severe backlash from his adoring fans. Which made me consider that perhaps they were more likely to be true, since the effort of launching these proceedings was sure to be high, take a huge emotional toll and follow her for the rest of her life, possibly damaging her career in the process.
A few days later a friend asked me if I’d heard about Amber Heard, that it was in the news, Amber was making everything up and trying to blackmail Depp. I wasn’t convinced. Actually, this is what I had been expecting people to say. It’s what famous men who have expensive lawyers and huge fan-bases always say. It’s the only thing they can say, but surprisingly effective, for no reason that makes sense. Cosby victims count over 50 women claiming to have been drugged, raped and discarded. Reading their stories individually is harrowing, but together they form a united, devastating picture that is impossible to disbelieve. Except that they were disbelieved, over and over again by huge numbers of people. Some people still believe Cosby over these 50 survivors, despite the uncanny similarities in their stories, despite even, the fact that Cosby himself admitted to procuring Qualudes in order to give them to young women he wanted to have sex with. But no, they were obviously just after money. Despite the fact that they didn’t ask for, or receive, any money.
(Heard has given all of the $7million settlement from the divorce to charity).
I looked up the Depp case online and found the story my friend was talking about. Doug something, a comedian a friend of Depp’s had come out and defended him under the headline ‘Johnny Depp is being blackmailed by Amber Heard – here’s how I know’.
There follows an account of how he went to Johnny’s house on the ‘alleged day of the assault’ and Johnny was in a bad mood and told him that Amber was about to leave him and that she had said she would do everything she could to blacken his name.
That was it – the extent of his evidence… Hmm. Even with my limited (but not negligible) experience and understanding of domestic abuse it seems obvious to me that perpetrators of this crime don’t freely admit what they are/have done. They are often manipulative – uniquely qualified in the skills of emotional blackmail and gaslighting, as well as covering up their true nature in front of others. This is one way abuse works: convincing the victim they are isolated and no one will believe them, so much more available an option for huge stars like Depp and Cosby.
It would stand to reason then, that were Depp aware that Heard was leaving him, he could guess that she’d be open about any abuse, and the most convincing thing he could say to his friends is that she was planning to make up stories about him. That’s not evidence that she’s blackmailing him. That’s evidence he said she was blackmailing him. Doug Something needs to do some research on domestic abuse. His account is incredibly misleading on a subject he can’t know anything about. How does he know his friend is telling the truth? Of course we all want to believe our friends are in the right, that’s obvious. But to come out and declare that he knows based on his friend telling him: that’s not ‘evidence’.
We all want to think that the people we get on with, love, have fun with are the ‘good guys’. We are told that killers, rapists and pedophiles are sad loners who cannot adjust to real life. But the truth is they are among us, they are us. Like many abusive partners there is evidence Depp is mortified by his behaviour, things he committed when intoxicated and later regretted. His assistant allegedly sent a text to Heard claiming Johnny cried when he learnt that he had kicked her. Many people don’t believe victims because they think they would have just left if they were treated badly, but the truth is these relationships are far more complex. There is love is involved, and not only love but obligation and guilt, a desire to save the person you can see is good within.
Now a video of Johnny has surfaced. Drunk and aggressive, he violently smashes kitchen cabinets and yells at Amber before snatching the phone she was secretly filming him on – reacting angrily and abusively. I’m pleased that this has come out, and I’m curious as to how Doug Something is responding to this new information. Hopefully he’ll be forced to realise his error. I hope he’ll have to rethink his ideas about domestic abuse, and recognise the damage he’s done to not only Heard but other victims by claiming she was lying.
Being an abusive partner doesn’t mean you cannot be charming, talented, friendly generous or ‘kind to animals’ (Johnny’s ex-wife’s character defence of him). In fact, these things are likely characteristics of abusive people since they thrive on manipulating one relationship through a show of power, perhaps to qualify feelings of insecurity and inferiority.
A priest who worked at my school is now in prison for possessing child pornography. But he wasn’t a sinister loner with a scar on his face who lurked in changing rooms. He was funny and cool and charismatic. He seemed moral and friendly and nice. Probably many of the children and staff would have said he was their favourite teacher. He always gave the best assemblies and he knew how to communicate with people on their level. There weren’t many people who didn’t like him; no mean feat for an adult working in a school. And I don’t now think of him as an evil person – I don’t hate him despite condemning what he did. But I also don’t go defending him to people, just because I only ever saw him be a ‘nice guy’. These character statements are completely misleading: they perpetuate the idea that the two things cannot be simultaneously true. That ‘nice guy’ cancels out the truth of abuse. They are not mutually exclusive ideas: it can be true that Depp has only ever been ‘sweet’, ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ to Paul Bettany, a colleague, work associate or friend, and also that he has been abusive to his wife.
I can understand the desire to defend people you are close to, but please don’t assume to know how people treat their partners behind closed doors.
Last week Martin Brunt made a ridiculous report for Sky News about terrorism that looked like it came straight out of Brasseye:
Jonny and I responded with our own report, a homage to Martin’s original:
Today I should be working, but last night I read about the sexual assault trial of Brock Allen Turner, and now I am finding it hard to think about anything else.
The first thing I saw was the headline: ‘Ex Stanford swimmer raped unconscious girl behind dumpster’
What strikes me is the curious disconnect between what the judge, father and rapist seem to think occurred, and what actually happened. Unlike many rape cases, that rely on one person’s word against another’s, it’s not that the details of the crime are disputed: at a party, Turner digitally raped the victim behind a dumpster while she was fully unconscious, was caught attempting to rape her further and tried to run away. But the story that the three men are telling, which focuses on the criminal and the tragedy of his lost future, does not meet the victim’s: though they agree on the details, they misunderstand the meaning of the crime.
We have always had two stories. There is the first story which is of the rape the victim describes, we are familiar with the effects this tragedy can have on a person’s body, soul, humanity. We sympathise, we understand. An unconscious victim is preyed upon, that is rape. It is committed by a stranger lurking in the dark. They may be an outsider, have mental health issues, or are ‘Mexican’ (Donald Trump).
Then there is the second story which is of the American Pie university experience, or school, or the workplace, or a friend’s party. There is ‘drinking culture’. There are lads, encouraged by everyone to see their sexual needs as a priority, who have never had to question their entitlement to women’s bodies. There is laughter and alcohol and people going a bit far. Crazy partying. There is a drunk college student, a star athlete, with good grades and lots of friends, who takes a girl he has kissed behind a dumpster even though she is so drunk she passes out. She is drunk, she can’t remember anything, we are made to question it – that, is that really rape? Isn’t it just a bit of fun?
We need to stop believing and perpetuating the idea that these two stories are somehow separate. We need to bridge the gap between these two ideas, which are inextricable from each other, and we need to judge the crime from the victim’s perspective, as every other crime is judged. This case exposes a reality that rape survivors have been telling us all along: this is not a minor indiscretion that one can simply brush under the carpet, it is a ‘lifelong sentence’. The victim’s statement in this case is not necessarily unusual in it’s description of the impact of the violation, the effect it had on her, but only in the fact that we have the chance to read it at all.
Despite hearing her account, the judge decided that Brock, because of his lost future and the ‘severe impact’ jail would have on him, should receive a lenient sentence – as Jessica Valenti puts it, this trial exposes a ‘culture that bends over backwards to humanize rapists while demonizing their victims’. The victim asks, what if her rapist was not a star athlete, would he somehow then be less culpable?
It reminds me of a Guardian article I read a while ago about drug crime – I was surprised to learn that black men stopped and searched for drugs in the UK are far less likely to have anything on them than white men, but far more likely to be charged if they do. This prejudice feeds itself – if more black men are charged we have statistically more black criminals than we would have if things were more fairly judged. This mimics my life experience: a black friend caught with a small amount of weed was charged, my white brother who was caught smoking a spliff in public was only given a warning. Later when he applied to work in America this distinction became pertinent: had he had a drug record he would not have been able to get a work visa and his life now would be very different.
It’s not as simple as saying that the police are racist, though undoubtedly some of them are. The problem is more ingrained. In culture we are fed images of criminals, and they are not typically white. Black actors tell me they are rarely offered roles that aren’t violent, and/or criminal – they get ‘gang member’ and ‘thug with knife’. The need to accept work means that they inadvertently perpetuate the stereotype. They are ‘the face’ of crime. So when someone with an expensive education and a white face is caught committing a crime it’s seen somehow as a mistake, a misdemeanour, a strange diversion from the norm of their usual conduct. When a black man is caught it’s seen as symptomatic, natural, ongoing behaviour. Brock Turner, with his whiteness, his record of achievement, his golden boy status and the pervasive rape culture of university campuses (all over the world) had at no point to interrogate the idea that what he was doing was not only morally wrong, but criminal, and could potentially have a lasting, devastating effect on his victim. That what he was taking was so much more than what they have conceded. I wonder if a Mexican man would have been afforded the same luxury.
The victim’s statement does acknowledge the effect the trial will have on Brock’s life. While she is stoic she questions the idea that he has merely slipped up and been punished enough for this ’20 minutes of action’. The message it sends out, she claims, is that we can let perpetrators learn the lesson that rape is wrong through trial and error -how many rape victims must be discarded along the way for that lesson to be mastered?
I think of my own life, the countless times I have been touched inappropriately, been followed home, had my drink spiked, been groped on public transport, had my mood ruined by negging or harassment. The measures I’ve had to take to avoid these things happening: being alert, holding keys in my hand as I walked home, ignoring or smiling at advances because I didn’t know how a rejection would turn out, dressing down to avoid looking like I was ‘asking for’ attention, changing my route or walking ‘like a man’ to fend off confrontation. Normal experiences for anyone female anywhere in the world. And the times I’ve been drunk, too drunk to know what was happening or protect myself if anything were to.
I think of the accounts I have from friends of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, marital rape. Committed not just by strangers, but by uncles, friends, teachers, husbands and brothers. One girl I met in Thailand had been sold into a rich family as a sex slave at age 6. One girl had grown up in a cult where adults were encouraged to rape and sexually abuse children. Those are recognised as rape in the first story sense, happening to an innocent somewhere else and committed by people with another skin colour or religious beliefs. But by far the most common accounts of assault I have heard are the ones that Brock Allen Turner committed – where the violence was covered by a veil of ‘drinking culture’ and ‘promiscuity’, where the victim knew his/her rapist and couldn’t tell anyone because they felt confused by friendship, intoxication and the fear of not being believed.
Al Vernaccio in his TED talk explains why he thinks the metaphor we have for sex is wrong. We use baseball, he says, and it should be pizza. In baseball it’s all about competing, one (male) player getting to certain bases, winning over another. We need to wake up, he says, to how this metaphor detrimentally affects women, gay people, trans people. This metaphor supports rape culture, a culture that encourages young men to see women as conquests, as demonstrated in the tweet:
We need to wake up to how this culture values men over women. The patriarchal figures in this trial (judge, father and rapist) hold the entitlement to that sexual gratification. As the victim describes, they have the voice in this scenario. They wrote a second story of the tragedy from Brock’s perspective – the clean college boy who drank too much, caused a felony and now might have his life ruined, the subtle implication being that it is the victim who is ruining it. By bringing these things into the light she is bringing up nastiness that will stay with him his whole life. If only she could just be silent.
If it weren’t for her candid and eloquent account, it is likely that many would have understood it in the same way, though Brock’s eyes – but her point is undeniable: yes, he has ruined his life. This trial will ruin his life in many ways. And that is how law works. And it should have, because that should be a consequence of taking it upon yourself to do something to another person that may conceivably ruin their life. At no point should we consider the criminal as somehow MORE valuable than the victim, which is what is happening when we say that because the rapist is ‘no longer his happy go lucky self’ or can no longer ‘enjoy steaks’ he should get a lenient sentence, or because he will no longer be able to live the life he hoped to. What you are really saying is that he is more valuable, not only than the victim, a woman, but also than other, less privileged and therefore less high flying, college students. He is white, after all, it is an indiscretion. He has great swimming times, after all. He has a good education, after all, so doesn’t he deserve to be given special treatment?
This attitude has pervaded for so long that we believe the story we are handed. Many victims don’t get the voice. In most cases we are left holding only the facts from the defence: she was flirtatious on the phone to her boyfriend so may have been horny and may have led him on. She was drunk and kissed him. She was drunk. She can’t remember what happened (implying not only that she may have consented, but also that the act wouldn’t really affect her that much). But her account gives voice to the reality. The things I remember are the little details. The beige cardigan she was wearing. The fact that she didn’t even want to go to the party. The guilt of her sister, the abrasions and dirt left inside her vagina and the pine needles in her hair. The knowledge of the best places to cry without being caught in the building she worked. The terrifying feeling of not wanting her own body, and the loss of a part of herself that she can never reclaim.
While I do think the rapist is reprehensible, not only in his crime but in his arrogant and sickening inability to recognise the extent of it or admit his guilt, I cannot find him to be the only one to blame. A culture of silencing victims and writing the second story as somehow separate from the first allows rapists to excuse their actions as something other than rape. One of his character references, Leslie Rasmussen highlights a common misconception when she says
‘This is completely different to a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she walks to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists’.
Her argument is that rapists are ‘monsters’ and Brock is not a monster and therefore cannot be a rapist. She is wrong.
What is poignantly explained in the victim’s account is that that IS rape. That is what it is. The fact that it can be committed by a drunk ‘nice guy’ does in no way diminish the fact that this rape that happened, the ‘20 minutes of action’ that had such a devastating effect on the victim IS THE SAME RAPE that was committed by Brock, a ‘nice’, clean-cut, successful athlete.
If he had not been stopped and run away she would still have woken up or been found in the same state. She would have gone through the same questions. With her underwear ripped off and the same violence remaining inside her vagina. She would have had to decide whether to go to the hospital and or police. The result for her would have operated on a similar plain of guilt, confusion, shame and violation. He would have gone home, woken up with a hangover, remembered or not remembered the incident, potentially without needing to focus too much on it, and carried on with his life.
What strikes me about my own experience is that often when I have felt threatened, objectified or violated, the perpetrator may have had no idea that that is how he’s made me feel. At times when I have been outspoken they have sometimes reacted – to my surprise – with surprise. Something I had thought was so obvious – a big man following me on an empty street at night to question (aggressively) why I wouldn’t talk to him was completely unaware that he might be scaring me. He was drunk, he was less aware of my feelings than of his own needs and desires. We are taught: men should try, women should resist. But politely, women should also take care of the feelings of the men in case they are made to feel less manly. On many occasions I have smiled at the person who I felt threatened by in order to get away. That is a common strategy and allows one to continue with the least interruption and risk, though does nothing to stop this behaviour.
I agree that we need to change the metaphor around sex. We can’t continue to teach boys that their manhood is intertwined with conquest and possession. We need to teach boys the consequences of their actions and the limits to their entitlement. We need to stop valuing male futures over female ones. We all need to know that that IS rape. That is exactly what it is. There is no second story.