14 June, 2011
Making a mountain out of a pokie
So what is the cause of this outbreak of righteous worldwide outrage?
On January 24, 2011 Constable Michael Sanguinetti was a speaker at a York University [Toronto, Canada] safety forum, where he was addressing the issue of crime prevention. It was in this context that he commented: "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized."
"Victimized" is a rather broad and unexpected term. Perhaps it is a technical term of crime prevention. Or perhaps it was intended as a euphemism or polite generalism. It seems to connote a potentially broad range of offences and insults. Given that Canada is one of the most assiduously "politically correct" countries in the world, such a term might well cover everything from a passing wolf whistle to a full-on leap-out-of-the-undergrowth stranger rape. Hard to say; perhaps there is clarification available out there.
What is clear is that in statements by Slutwalk organizers and promoters and in general supportive commentary in the media and on the web, the word has predominantly if not exclusively been interpreted as meaning "rape". This is dishonest and, as I shall suggest below, possibly dangerous.
It is dishonest because it has been used to promote the view that Constable Sanguinetti and by extension the police, the public authorities and males in general, blame women for "causing" rape. The reading is "By dressing attractively, women provoke men into losing control." I don't think that is fair and I don't think that is what Sanguinetti was suggesting.
Let's put a bit of distance between us and the thorny subject of sex in the hope of gaining some perspective. Suppose I have a T-shirt printed, displaying a particularly offensive caricature of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI with the corresponding caption, "Does the Pope shit in the woods?" Now I might think that a jolly jape and my friends may well agree. They might indeed talk of having a companion shirt printed showing a bear in cardinal's vestments giving a benediction.
Suppose I now decide to exercise my right to do what the fuck I please by walking through a militantly Catholic district, let's say along the Falls Road in Belfast at the height of the marching season, wearing my jolly amusing t-shirt. Hey, it's my human right, innit? A friendly PSNI officer suggests that this course of action might be unwise and might invite at best adverse comment and at worst a violent attack.
Is the policeman thereby endorsing sectarian violence? No, he is dealing with practicalities, while, one would hope, simultaneously condemning and prosecuting sectarian violence.
Take another example. Crime prevention advice suggests that it is wise to lock one's doors when going out and leaving the house empty. Should I claim in response that this practice effectively legitimizes burglary and insist on leaving my front door ajar, railing at the police for any unwelcome consequence?
This, I think, is the context in which Sanguinetti's remarks need to be taken. How you behave sends signals, sometimes unintended ones. You may not like it. You might work to change attitudes, but you also have to deal with the reailty as you encounter it.
And that reality is that you can't always wear what you damned well please without consideration of the reactions of others, be that a microskirt so short that it not only reveals that your legs go all the way up but also confirms that they meet at the top, or be it a crapping Pope t-shirt. Do so if you wish, but if you attract the attentions of an enthusiastic and insistent lothario or an indignant gentleman who removes his left foot from his shovel so that he might more conveniently swing said shovel at your head, then so it goes.
So grow up, girls.
I suggested above that the tendency of the Slutwalkers (and others) to describe all sexual "victimization" as rape was actually dangerous. By that I mean that they are devaluing the force of the word "rape". Ordinary people understand rape to mean forced penetrative sexual intercourse, achieved or attempted. We might distinguish, as Ken Clarke bumblingly indicated, between stranger rape, which is seen as a public outrage, and, say, an estranged husband or partner exacting what he sees as his conjugal rights. I suspect most people would see the latter as a form of extreme domestic violence, different in character to true stranger rape. Nonetheless, both offences would be regarded very seriously.
But what is increasingly happening, not just in the Slutwalk episode but in the broader ongoing debate on the punishment of rape, is category creep. With the enthusiastic support of the misandrist wing of feminism, as typified by the unlamented Harman, we are inching toward the situation, if we are not there already, where a woman can wake up the following morning and think, "Christ Almighty, if I hadn't been so rat-arsed last night I would never have shagged that smelly minger", then retrospectively withdraw consent and accuse him of rape.
That trivializes rape, potentially to the extent that people cease to take any rape seriously.
Let's face it, if you can be convicted of "indecent exposure" for taking a discreet leak down a dark alley, you might as well just piss on a copper's boots instead.
Now, when's the next flight to Belfast?