Rape culture and Jane Austen

Another study has shown what many feminists and progressive activists have known for a while: that for a lot of very normal people, there’s a lot of confusion about what “rape” really is.

The survey found 31.7 percent of men said they would act on “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if they could get away with it, but just 13.6 percent said they had “intentions to rape a woman” if there weren’t any consequences.

The authors of this study note the difference relies on whether or not they described what constitutes sexual assault, versus whether they simply called it rape. For this study, the researchers defined rape as “intercourse by use of force or threat of force against a victim’s wishes.”

When combined with what the study’s authors described as “callous sexual attitudes,” the results suggest a man with a hostile attitude toward women may view “forced intercourse as an achievement,” and a woman saying “no” could be “perceived as a token resistance consistent with stereotypical gender norms.”

This part of what’s called “rape culture”, a term almost instinctively pooh-poohed by some people who consider it completely ridiculous to suggest our culture has a persistent, entrenched set of attitudes which mean some sexual violence is taken less seriously; which assumes women (especially women of colour, trans women and other marginalized groups) don’t really mean “no” and don’t need to say “yes”; which assumes that the fault for rape lies with the survivors of rape, not the perpetrators; which says some assaults aren’t even assaults at all.

And, sadly, that these attitudes go well beyond sexual violence, feeding a whole system of attitudes and narratives which keep women oppressed.

The funny thing is how much that last paragraph above reminded me of a classic piece of English literature …

“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins, with a formal wave of the hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favour; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am therefore by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”

“Upon my word, sir,” cried Elizabeth, “your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies (if such young ladies there are) who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world who would make you so. Nay, were your friend Lady Catherine to know me, I am persuaded she would find me in every respect ill qualified for the situation.”

“Were it certain that Lady Catherine would think so,” said Mr. Collins very gravely — “but I cannot imagine that her ladyship would at all disapprove of you. And you may be certain that when I have the honour of seeing her again, I shall speak in the highest terms of your modesty, economy, and other amiable qualifications.”

“Indeed, Mr. Collins, all praise of me will be unnecessary. You must give me leave to judge for myself, and pay me the compliment of believing what I say. I wish you very happy and very rich, and by refusing your hand, do all in my power to prevent your being otherwise. In making me the offer, you must have satisfied the delicacy of your feelings with regard to my family, and may take possession of Longbourn estate whenever it falls, without any self-reproach. This matter may be considered, therefore, as finally settled.” And rising as she thus spoke, she would have quitted the room, had not Mr. Collins thus addressed her —

“When I do myself the honour of speaking to you next on this subject, I shall hope to receive a more favourable answer than you have now given me; though I am far from accusing you of cruelty at present, because I know it to be the established custom of your sex to reject a man on the first application, and perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character.”

“Really, Mr. Collins,” cried Elizabeth with some warmth, “you puzzle me exceedingly. If what I have hitherto said can appear to you in the form of encouragement, I know not how to express my refusal in such a way as may convince you of its being one.”

– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, 1813.

To appreciate the full creepiness check out David Bamber’s wonderfully slimy performance.

QOTD: What do words even mean?

Quote of the day, from Every Internet Conversation With Dudes, Ever:

Woman: Let’s talk about consent.
Dude: What does “consent” mean? What do words mean? “Yes?” “No?” What does anything mean? I’m not a word genius.

Oh, if only I had a dollar for every political argument that ends up in a death-spiral of “but if we re-interpret these very simple words in a completely bizarre way they mean something different!”

(And don’t worry, men, it’s not just/all dudes who do it. But … it is a lot of you.)

Good old-fashioned Kiwi values

[Content warning: contains links to and quotes from violent and anti-Muslim hate speech.]

David Farrar has some … interesting ideas about how to tighten up immigration policy in the wake of the Sydney “siege”.

I think countries such as Australia, and NZ, need to have much more stringent immigration criteria – I don’t mean banning people on the basis of their religion, but asking prospective migrants a detailed set of questions to ascertain if they hold extreme views, and would be happy living in a secular country.

When pushed on exactly how this process would work:

His ideas are obviously silly flamebait designed to feed the residents of his “cleaned up” comments section who enjoy saying things like “I hope that when they shoot the hostage takers they bury them wrapped in a pig skin and fill the hole in with dead dogs and pig shit” and literally threatening to shoot people who downvote their comments.

But he does highlight some interesting aspects of the “values” discussion.

People love to talk about values, left and right. It’s a call to a shared set of ideals which we’re assured are What Built Our Great Community. It’s a signal to display our solidarity against whatever external forces or threats the person talking about them is trying to warn us about.

It’s also a bit of a load of crap.

Take a look at one of the so-called values which David Farrar assures us “95%” of New Zealanders would ascribe to:

The progressive response is an instinctive “lolwut?” followed by joking (wishing) we could apply that “get in line or go home” approach to people we’re stuck with, like Colin Craig or Bob McCoskrie. A more academic response might note that:

… or critique the idea of getting extremists to tick a box saying “I promise I am not an extremist” only works in towns called Christmas.

But I suggest that we take David Farrar at his word and acknowledge that he has a tiny point: the vast majority of people probably would say “yes, I agree men and women should be equal under the law”.

Case closed, right? Voila, values.

Except it’s really, really vague, and that’s the whole point of this kind of values talk. It’s actually totally meaningless; like Bella Swan, it’s an empty vessel for the readers and viewers to pour their own assumptions into.

Anyone will agree with a bland proposition like that. It’s what comes after that divides us.

“I agree men and women should be equal under the law – that’s why we must stop women’s scholarships to university!”

“I agree men and women should be equal under the law – so we should cut funding to women’s organisations like Rape Crisis!”

“I agree men and women should be equal under the law – but we have to remember men and women are very different!”

And there are people out there who honestly do believe that they support “equality” between men and women. It’s just the kind of equality which involves keeping up the sexist traditions of the past which rob women of any real power or agency.

The key thing is this: talk of “values” is the domain of religious zealots and warmongers. The pretence that us “normal” people (white, English-speaking, heterosexual cis men) are united in a “normal” worldview (capitalist, individual, xenophobic) is pushed by the powerful to reinforce their power. In the wake of events like Sydney it’s used to push even more draconian, illiberal laws which only generate more conflict.

David Farrar can dress it up as a reasonable, moderate, proportionate response as much as he likes, but look to his commenters: there’s the true face of “Kiwi values”.

(Repost) Informed consent: As simple as asking?

This post originally appeared at On The Left.

The experience of a woman who had an IUCD inserted without her knowledge shows that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to informed consent in New Zealand.

The intrauterine contraceptive device was inserted when the woman went to Epsom Day Unit to have an abortion in 2010. She had not consented to having it and it was only in 2013 that she discovered it, after unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant.

An investigation by the Health and Disability Commissioner found the doctor mistakenly “assumed” the woman wanted the contraceptive device after seeing it on a hospital trolley.

There’s a lot of deep, serious stuff you can get into about informed consent – an issue with a dark history in New Zealand. Sandra Coney’s book recounting the Unfortunate Experiment at National Women’s Hospital in Auckland was one of the first “feminist” books I read, and even though I wasn’t old enough to really understand all the issues (certainly not the science) one thing was really, horribly impressed on me: that patients have the right to know what’s happening to them. And they must be allowed to make their own choices. And cis women (and, I’d learn as my feminism developed, trans women, people of colour, people with disabilities, people in every marginalized group and especially people in more than one) were frequently, automatically, denied that choice.

It raises a lot of questions about the assumptions we make (doctors are demigods, patients aren’t rational, science is unbiased) and the systems and structures we have around medical care, which feed in turn into questions about how our society regards certain people (e.g. husbands having the power to commit their wives to mental institutions). Those are big, meaty ideas which could require a lot of soul-searching and discussion.

But in this case – based on nothing more than reading the Stuff article quoted above – it seems that the woman’s trauma could have been entirely avoided just by a surgeon bothering to ask, “Hey, is this IUCD for you, or another patient?”

Add in the fact that Auckland District Health Board initially refused to acknowledge that anything was wrong with depriving someone of the ability to have children for three years, and this seems to be much less about serious ethical considerations about informed consent, and more about sheer arrogance and lack of concern about people’s wellbeing.

So what do we do to change that? In this case it’s good that the Health and Disability Commissioner has taken action to make it very clear that this kind of thing simply cannot happen. Auckland District Health Board has been “recommended” to do a spot review of patient records to make sure this hasn’t happened multiple times. We need to pay close attention to make sure that they actually change the way they do things to stop it happening again.

(I’ve tried to use gender-neutral language where appropriate in this article. Not all people who become pregnant/get abortions/have IUDs are women, and not all women can get pregnant. But I think the medical establishment, like society, still groups all people who are assumed to have uteri and assumed to be able to get pregnant under the heading of “women”, and the second-class status of that group is a contributing factor to this particular case.)

Louise Upston and beauty pageants

There’s a lot to unpack in our Minister of Women’s Affairs comments on beauty pageants and feminism, as reported in Stuff.

She praises beauty pageants for giving young women (sorry, “young girls”) confidence in their abilities- as though contestants like Louise Nelson, an RNZAF helicopter crewmember, couldn’t possibly find confidence in her abilities from anywhere else in her life.

Jack Yan, who I now regret giving my number 3 preference to in local body elections, says the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant is totally modern and cool these days – why, they don’t even have a swimsuit section! What they do have, though, is a fairly un-modern list of criteria for contestants:

  • You must be between 18 and 27 years old
  • You must “be female”, or if you were not “born female” you must have undergone surgery and be “legally certified” as a woman
  • You must not be married, and never have given birth to a child.

And, so obvious it doesn’t even need to be written down: you must be thin, and conventionally attractive. It’s still a goddamn beauty pageant after all.

Ms Upston then talks a bit about what feminism means to her, and why she isn’t a feminist. My interpretation of her comments is below.

I’m not interested in being a flag-waver
Because feminists are angry scary people who make a fuss!

I’m not interested in having colleagues who get there because they’re a woman, and they’re the token one.
Feminism is all about promoting women just because they’re women! I’m not one of Those Women!

Upston was a fan of old-fashioned chivalry, such as men opening doors for women
Look! I’m one of the cool chicks! I’m unthreatening! I understand women traditionally lack the skills to open doors!

It bothers me greatly that in 2014, the top career choices for girls continue to be hairdressers and air hostesses.
This obviously has nothing to do with us still expecting women to ~gain confidence~ by participating in beauty pageants!

Upston’s priorities include … promoting women to positions of leadership
But in a totally different way from that tokenistic feminist promotion of women!

I will give Louise Upston a bit of credit: another of her priorities is about ending domestic and sexual violence against women. But she apparently proposes to do that while ignoring root causes like “women are still treated like their value is derived from their physical attractiveness”, or having a good think about why “chivalry” is coded as  “men opening doors for women”. For all that feminism routinely gets criticised for focusing too much on different expectations of men and women, the anti-feminist crowd sure do like to reinforce the gender divide.

The chief problem is this: by waving a big friendly “I’m not one of those scary feminists” flag of her own, Upston signals she wants to write off the movement which has done all the hard work of identifying and challenging these issues. She only wants to do things which aren’t going to upset the status quo too much. So it’s probably another three years of “look how many women like Paula Rebstock and Margaret Bazley we’ve managed to appoint to boards! Progress!”

Ending sexual violence and gender discrimination isn’t something we can do by leaning in or talking about individual women gaining confidence. There are big, scary structural issues in play. Those issues are only reinforced by outdated rubbish like beauty pageants, and overturning them requires far more radical action than I think Louise Upston, or anyone in the National government, is capable of.