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How not to rape in one easy step

Well here we are again, and it’s always such a pleasure, as the song goes. Maybe one day I will write when I’m not feeling sick and angry, but so far, I suppose I will be grateful I haven’t already forgotten that I have this blog.

Just about everyone in Sweden will know what this is about, I think, but for the sake of those who might not know what almighty fuckery is going down here right now, I will explain. A 15-year-old girl was raped by six boys around her own age. They took her clothes and hid her phone, they locked the door to the room. And they are now freed because the law at the time of the crime was formulated in such a way that it was decided that according to it… she wasn’t helpless enough. Because she wasn’t drunk out of her mind, or asleep, or injured, or mentally ill, or underage according to Swedish law, it wasn’t rape. Because being one person against six, in a locked room, without her phone or her clothes, is practically the same as wanting it.

Even though she said no. Even though four of the attackers have admitted to having sex with her. Even though the court has ruled her story to be believable, and even though her attackers changed their stories in the beginning, and there were things that didn’t match there… it’s not rape.

It’s not rape. Why? Because it’s ‘understandable’ that the attackers changed their stories in the beginning, because they were frightened. Because it’s not clear beyond any doubt that she had reason to be afraid of retribution if she said no (even though she did, and was ignored). Because the room was dark, so that means she probably couldn’t tell properly if she really was raped, I guess.

This reminds me of something. It reminds me of the Bible. You know, the part that says that if a married/betrothed woman is raped out in the country, she is free from guilt, because no one could hear her scream. But if she’s raped in the city, she should be judged in the same way as the rapist, because she didn’t scream loud enough. That’s Deutoronomy 22:23-27, right before the part that says that a man who rapes an unbetrothed virgin should marry her and pay her father, and that makes it all alright. One of those parts of the Bible that all sane Christians agree are antiquated and, not to put too fine a point to it, full of bullshit.

Have we really come no further than that? The answer appears to be, not much.

(As a by the way, this is why I always grit my teeth every time I hear that Sweden is such a great country, that there are barely any injustices left here, that we’re so much better than this or that country. This is a great country, and there are things that are better here. But if we just sit on our asses and pat ourselves on our backs and pretend that there is nothing more to be done… then 15-year-old girls will continue to get raped while their attackers go free.)

I’m so angry right now that if the text medium was adequate to express incoherent screaming and crying, it’s possible I would just leave it at that. But all in all that is not very constructive, so I will attempt reason instead. Again, these are things that have been said before, and by people far more eloquent than I could ever hope to be, but since it seems that so many still aren’t listening, it can’t hurt that one more person raises their voice.

As the relatively old (but still relevant) Swedish feminist song says: Vi måste höja våra röster för att höras. We must raise our voices to be heard.

So I will say this: This is yet another reason upon thousands and tens of thousands more to why we must teach young men not to rape. Not just to be generally nice and respectful of women; we must explicitly teach them to not commit sexual assault.

People say, but we don’t explicitly teach people not to murder, so why this?

Why? Because this argument would only be relevant if people seriously started questioning murder victims. If it was taken into consideration whether the murder victim was drunk, or if they said no or not, or if they’d tried to kill themselves before, or if they had been wearing or saying or doing something that might have provoked the murderer. Not just in some freak cases, but in all cases.

If murders were freed on a regular basis because it wasn’t clear beyond any doubt that the murder victim didn’t want to die, I would say this argument was relevant. But it’s not. This kid of rhetoric is almost never used when you talk about other crimes. No one frees a bank robber because the person at checkout didn’t say no or stop, or a burglar because the person who owns the house was drunk or asleep when it happened. Unless someone explicitly says “Yes, please take all of my money, I want you to have it” while clearly not intoxicated or mentally ill, and then preferably actively participates in the giving of said money, taking it is theft. And we all know that if you kill someone, then a person is dead and it can never be taken back, and it doesn’t matter what the person did or said or if they had a history of repeated suicide, or even if they have killed someone, because murder is murder.

Society teaches us this. We all know that no matter the circumstances, hurting someone or stealing something is indisputably a crime.

But when it comes to women’s right to their own bodies, suddenly all these things that seem so obvious suddenly fall into a hole.

And that is why the argument doesn’t work, and why we need to teach boys and men not to rape. This isn’t the same as assuming that all boys and men are rapists. This is acknowledging the fact that today, society is not actively teaching them not to do this, and that this needs to change. To assume that all men are rapists is to assume that if a girl says the wrong thing, or does the wrong thing, or wears the wrong thing, she will automatically get raped, and this is the kind of thinking that teaching men not to rape will prevent.

I’m not saying it would do away with rape completely, because as with every crime, it is entirely possible for the perpetrator to know that what they’re doing is a crime and simply not care. Murder still happens, and so will rape. But what it will do, with time, is change the way we view rape as a society. It will teach us not to blame the victim for the crime committed against them. It will stop us from assuming that rape happens because the attacker thinks that the victim actually wants it; that unless she is attacked by a stranger in the park, it’s just a sad misunderstanding and no one is to blame (and even if she is, it’s her fault for being alone in the park). It will teach us that rape isn’t about the attacker getting carried away because boys only have one thing on their mind, and all about control. We teach boys being in control of everything and everyone around them is what being a man is all about. All we really have to do is stop.

It’s so simple. If you’re a parent, tell your son this: Ask her if she wants to have sex. If she says no, don’t. If she can’t answer, don’t. If she seems afraid or upset, don’t. If she doesn’t seem to understand the question for some reason, don’t. If she says yes, go ahead. If she says yes and then changes her mind later, stop. If she says yes and then passes out, or seems scared/upset, or in a lot of pain, stop. Don’t start again unless you have her explicit consent.

I promise you it won’t hurt your son to hear this. Explain that you’re not accusing or attacking, just informing. Answer his questions. Be as kind and open as every parent should be, but be firm. Explain this like you would explain why you don’t leave a burning candle unattended, or why you should always stop teasing someone if they get upset, even if you were only joking. You don’t say things like that because you think your son wants to burn your flat down, or because you think he’s a bully. You’re saying it because it’s your duty as a parent to educate him.

Your son will not suffer because you told him. But I will tell you what does cause suffering:

Being told not to go out when it’s dark. Being told not to walk through the park, or close to the park, or walking at all without a friend, or while drunk. Not to wear headphones at night. Not to get drunk, not to leave your drink unattended, not to take drinks from strangers, not to drink from an opened beverage. Not to wear short skirts, not to wear a dress, not to show too much cleavage, not to let your bra show, not to wear high heels. Not to dance in a certain way, not to dance with strangers, not to ever get away from your friends, not to laugh too much, not to flirt too much, not to kiss if you don’t want to do more than kissing. Not to accept when someone offers to buy you a drink, not to accept if someone offers you a place to crash, not to let a stranger walk you home. To always wear shoes you can run in, to hold your keys in your hand so you can use them as a weapon, to go for the crotch, to not go for the crotch but for the eyes instead, to always carry mace or a rape alarm, to scream as loud as you can.

To be told to always expect rape, always be afraid of rape, and that if rape happens to you, your life might as well be over.

I know all of these things are said because you care about your daughter, because you love her and you don’t want her to come to harm. But what you actually do is build her a cage. A cage of constant fear of anxiety, a cage of endless fear of rape, of never feeling really safe. She will curl up this cage and cry when she gets home at night because a man walked behind her on the way there and she was scared the entire time. She will carry this cage with her on her way to work early in the morning, jumping at shadows. When that guy she’s met once and is really interested in asks her to dance, the cage will close around her and tell her she shouldn’t, that maybe he’ll want more and if she doesn’t it’ll be her fault for leading him on.

And even worse, if she actually is raped, it’s a cage that will keep her from telling anyone about it. Because she shouldn’t have been so drunk, because she shouldn’t have smiled at him, because she shouldn’t have worn that skirt, because she should’ve fought back more. And even if she does tell, even if she breaks free, society will tell her to get back in her cage. The police and the law and the press and the youtube comments and the facebook updates and the tweets and the blogs will tell her she’s a liar, and that even if she’s not, she it was probably her fault anyway. And because she’s been trained to think that way, it’ll be so very easy to believe that they’re right. That she deserved it, and that she now is worth nothing because she let it happen.

Telling your daughter all these things doesn’t make her safe from rape. If it did, I imagine there are very few girls who ever would be raped. It doesn’t just happen to bad women, or careless women, or ‘slutty’ women. It can happen in your daughter’s own home, or at her boyfriend’s house. It can happen when she’s hanging out with the neighbour’s boy, the boy you can remember when he was two and ran around without pants on. It can happen in the bed she shares with her husband every night.

Don’t tell your daughter that she’s responsible for being assaulted. Tell your children, male or female, to be careful. Tell them not to get so drunk they don’t know where they are, because it’s not good for them, because they can get hurt. Tell them to not walk around alone in unsafe neighborhoods. Tell them to keep an eye on their buddies at parties. Be sensible. But don’t add the threat of rape.

Don’t tell your daughter not to be raped. She doesn’t want to be, that’s the whole point. If she wants it to happen, it’s not rape.

Tell your son not to rape.

Lastly, I am perfectly aware that it happens that women rape men too. That it’s been hard to get women convicted for this for pretty much the same reason. If he can get it up, he must want it, right? Besides, men always want sex, right? But this happens because we still believe that women don’t have autonomy of their own bodies, and that everything that happens to them is on the terms of the man involved. It’s the same way of thinking, the same sickness, and the cure is still the same.

Trying to teach your daughter not to be raped by caging her, by blaming her, is not the same thing as talking to her about consent. Talk to her about it too! No matter their sex and/or gender identity, teach your children how important it is, and that unless they have given it, no matter the circumstance, no one has any right to do anything with their bodies – and that in turn, if they haven’t received it, they have no right to anyone else’s. Teach them that this is always true, no matter who they end up loving and/or living together with. It doesn’t matter if you’re a woman living with a woman, or a man living with a man, or a woman living with several men. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for years, or if you just met. Clear consent and participation in’t only a necessity, it’s sexy too. I personally would prefer a sexual partner to be screaming “Yes! YES!” rather than saying “No!” or “Don’t!” or nothing at all.

Wouldn’t you?


No G-rated version of homophobia

Well, this is what happens when I try to keep a blog. I apparently need something to set fire to my brain to be able write, so maybe it’s just as well that today has been a non-stop downpour of mental kerosene and then a constant bombardment of the Molotov coctails of hatred. So here we go.

Even though I’m single, and even though I have no stable income, and even though I am still not sure I know how to take care of myself, and in my current state should definitely not be given the responsibility over anything more complicated than a cat… one day, sometime in the future when my life has shaped up, I think I want to have kids. (Not that you necessarily need to have a partner to be a parent, of course, but I’m about as cut out for single parenthood as most mollusks are suited for jobs in accountancy.)

But at the same time, I know that from the first moment my child opens their eyes and becomes the single most important thing in my life, I will lie awake each night in dread of the day when I have to sit hir down and have a Talk. It will probably be quite early, possibly because of something ze has heard some other kid or their parent say. I am going to have to look into my child’s eyes and explain that just like there are people in the world who are absolutely awesome, there are also unfortunately people who are less awesome. And one of the ways that people have of being less awesome and spreading suck in the world, is by thinking that there’s something wrong with people like me, people who fall in love with others of the same sex. This is called homophobia. Homophobes usually also think there’s something wrong with people who fall in love with both boys and girls and everything in between and beyond, and with people who might have been born with a boy’s body, but really feel like they’re a girl inside, or vice versa.

But there, even as I play out the scene in my head, I stop and flounder helplessly, because where are the words to explain everything else that comes with homophobia? There is no child-friendly way of saying that in fact, this means that there are a lot of people out there who hate hir mothers without even having met them. That there are people out there who think being gay, bi/pan or trans* means that you don’t deserve to live, that you are less than human, that god hates you, that you’re not entitled to such basic things as respect or compassion.

How do you explain to a child that there are many, many places in the world where it’s not safe for hir parents to show that they’re in love? That we have to think very carefully about where we go on holiday because it’s quite hard to hide that you’re a couple when you have kids together, and we’re deadly afraid of what hateful people might do to us, or even worse, to our child? How do you find the words? How do you let that kind of fear into the life of your own child?

Truth to be told, I wouldn’t want to. But it’s not optional. Homophobia and transphobia is still something that can be found just about everywhere in the world, and if I ever find a woman I want to have kids with, it will not only affect the two of us, but our children as well. And some would say that this is a reason why homosexual couples shouldn’t have kids, but that’s like telling someone that they shouldn’t have kids because the world is full of small-minded, hateful idiots. That’s true for everyone, gay or straight, and just because these idiots keep telling you that you don’t have the same rights as they do, that doesn’t mean that you should listen.

Maybe, I sometimes think hopefully, the world will have changed by the time I am able to settle down and have a family. Maybe I’ll never have to actively add to the monsters under my child’s bed and the terrors in hir dreams. But sadly, I can be fairly certain that no matter how valiantly we fight for our right to be seen as equal, as human, as something more than just walking sexualities; no matter how big the changes we manage to make… homophobia in some form or other will still be around even if I wait until I’m forty. That doesn’t mean that every single thing we achieve isn’t important, that every single mind changed about this isn’t something to strive for, or that every single voice raised against hatred and fear in all its forms isn’t something to cherish. Of course not. There are no words for how important the struggle for equality for all is and has always been. It’s important not to lose sight of that.

But every day I see evidence of that age-old hatred still. Maybe it’s regurgitated by some right-wing extremist in the news, or thrown around on some internet forum, or maybe it’s just some kids giggling and pointing and sneering because I wear a rainbow pin on my bag. And sometimes it makes me want to scream and burn the world down, but it also makes me wonder if I’m really strong enough to bring a child into this world and protect hir from the people who hate me for simply being who I am. But of course, there is only one answer to that, isn’t there? If I do have children, I’m going to have to be strong enough, that’s all there is to it.  It’s not my fault that there are people out there who think different is the same as wrong, and it’s not my fault that they think that who I love somehow makes me a bad person. But it’s every parent’s job to make sure that those bastards end up hurting their child as little as possible, and it’s every parent’s responsibility to make sure their child knows that no matter who they grow up to be – gay or straight, cis or trans*, autistic or neurotypical, introvert or extrovert – that they will always love them and be there for them. Every parent who manages this is a hero – because heroism is sometimes just doing what you should do and doing it right – and if I’m ever to become a parent it is as a hero too or not at all.

I still wish there was a better world to hand to my future children, and I still wish that I would never have to explain that some people define themselves through their hatred of others as much as most do through love. But what I can do is hand them a promise that I will never stop trying to make this better world a reality, and that is really the very best thing I can offer them.

The romance in abuse and rape

At four in the morning here in Stockholm, I become unreasonably annoyed, and I sit down to write. This might be a fruitless endeavour, since I was never good at maintaining this sort of thing, but it’s something I can do to feel less like a tool, getting angry about the world at fuck-me-o-clock in the morning and going to bed with my anger.

There is a song in Swedish that I can’t deny that I actually like. I’m a sucker for ballads, and it has a catchy tune, and in concerts it’s a great song for everyone to sing along to. The title is Vargaflicka – more or less Wolf Girl – and I’m going to talk about it a bit, but mostly about feminism.

The song goes, a wolf and a girl fall in love. I am just going to sidestep the whole bestiality part, that the song helpfully leaves no doubt about since sex is described as it happens. This is in magical fairytale land where wolves can talk and we try not to think about what this would be like in real life, for the sake of our sanity.

The point is, the girl falls out of love, and she leaves the wolf to find a human man. The wolf… doesn’t take it very well. That is to say he attacks the village and kills her new man, and the girl in desperation torches the entire village since wolves are supposed to be afraid of fire. But the wolf doesn’t flee, they both burn to death together, she realizes that she loved him all along, and it’s very romantic.

Okay, no, in real life this would in fact NOT be very romantic, not even a little. But it’s just a song and you sing along because you like the melody and the camaraderie of the very own little subculture which the song belongs in.

The point I am getting to – and yes, there is one – is that once on an internet forum I saw a guy expressing that this was the best analogy for how men and women work together ever. Because men just give everything to women, and then they grow bored and dump them like the hoors they all are. He seemed to think that the wolf was completely in the right.

And this man was obviously an idiot, but this is hardly an isolated incident. I remember a friend once sighing after listening to Phantom of the Opera an lamenting that Christine was such an IDIOT to go with boring Raoul, when she could have the passionate Phantom. And when I a bit incredulously demanded, “Well, what about the whole abducting and acting like a total creep and trying to control her whole life thing?”, she just looked at me like I was the most boring person in the history of boring and went, “Yes, but she would have the ~music~!”

Now I might indeed be boring, but for all that the Phantom’s backstory breaks my heart, that is when my bullshit-o-meter goes off. Let’s look at the facts. On one hand, a nice, sweet guy who seems to adore her; maybe not a musical genius or the most liberal thinker, but a good guy who respects her within the parameters of a rather oppressive society. On the other, a severely mentally disturbed man who lives in a basement, calls himself an angel, kills people, appears to repeatedly hypnotize the girl and others, and when confronted reacts in true “nice guy” fashion by going IT’S BECAUSE I’M UGLY YOU DON’T LOVE ME, ISN’T IT, YOU SHALLOW BITCH?

Call me crazy, but I’d pick Raoul any day.

And it just got me thinking about how we, that is to say society as a whole, often romanticizes things which in real life would be creepy, uncomfortable and often illegal. All too often a character, or the plot as a whole, gets away with murder because it’s so ~exciting and romantic~. I know this has been brought up before, and by people more apt at expressing themselves than I am even when it’s not 4 am. But I suddenly found myself so very frustrated with this, which seems to permeate so much of culture, media, art and the collective consciousness.

I’m not saying that people are not allowed their own fantasies. But when it’s something that is so widespread, so built into how we think and act and the expectations we have, then it becomes something else entirely.

It all boils down to those words again. Rape culture. To some it’s a red flag, a cue to shout “FEMINAZI” and run for the hills. To me, it’s a fact, and it has nothing to do with demonizing or hating men – if anything, I think that’s what rape culture does. And this is just an example, because rape is literally in our culture. And it feeds us made-up stories that we might KNOW are not for real and not to be taken seriously, but which still contain the premise that we should feel that sometimes, acting in a way which is hurtful to the one you love is ~romantic~.

Let’s take an example from that series of books that everyone loves to hate, the Twilight saga. I should start off with a disclaimer that I don’t actually hate Twilight to the completely – to me – irrational point that some people seem to take it. Yes, out of a feminist perspective, a lot of things are horrendous. But at the same time, people who never lift an eyebrow at the presence of rape culture in media and art, and who don’t react at all to examples just as bad in other works of fiction, start frothing at the mouth with apparent feminist indignation at the very mention of these books. And we all know why that is. It’s because the vampires sparkle, because it’s not “real fantasy” at all, because it is not exactly brilliantly written, and because teenage girls like it.

But on we go with the actual examples. We have heard them before. Edward staring at Bella while she sleeps, Edward ripping the motor out of her car so that she can’t go see Jakob, her father cheering Jakob on when he kisses her against her will. And yet it’s supposed to be romantic because they both ~love her~.

It’s not, of course.

But I am genuinely shocked that so many can’t contain their indignation that young women get exposed to this particular book, when the fact is that that Twilight or not, we see it all the time. Being a controlling douchebag, being abusive in one way or other, assaulting someone, all of this is romanticized ALL THE TIME. We are indoctrinated with it. I’m not saying that it makes it okay when Twilight does it, heavens no, but it amazes me that people can sit with straight faces and excuse other similar works with that it’s fiction, it’s obviously not meant to be taken seriously.

As if a book about sparkly vampires is.

Because rape culture is something we’re born into, it’s present in our day-to-day lives in a million little things, and it creates expectations about sex as something violent and volatile when done right. Edward doesn’t want to fuck Bella while she’s human because he can’t allow himself to “lose control” with her, because his vampire strength and hardness – for realz yo – might harm her then. And all I can think is, “then don’t lose control”. If it’s just a matter of the missionary position not being ideal when your bf is made of living, super-strong marble, Jesus bellydancing Christ, what is wrong with oral? What is wrong with a bit of cowgirl? But the issue isn’t Edwards lack of sexual creativity so much as the offhand assumption that while having sex, your body is somehow acting on its own volition and you have no say in what it does.

I know sex can be powerful, but I have been in a stable relationship with a very healthy sex life, and not even once during that time was I ever so swept up that I couldn’t control my actions or stop them from being harmful. I even felt self-conscious about the fact that even during the very best sex, I could still think things like “errr, how am I supposed to move my hips here, it’s a bit awkward…” or “shit shit shit my foot is falling asleep” or even “I really need to not fart right now”. I felt like I was never as swept up and as mindblown by it as I should be, and I know I’m not the only one. But I have no doubt that some people will think that I’m just boring, frigid, sexually repressed, etc ad nauseum, when they read this. That I just don’t understand how a little roughness and force can be sexy. This is untrue. I’m somewhat of a masochist myself, but the very thing I find sexy about BDSM is the control, the trust, the knowledge that your partner knows exactly what they’re doing and that they will never take it too far. That the reason that they find causing you pain a turn-on is because it turns you on too.

But is it that surprising? When we are repeatedly told that sex is a zone where you are “out of control”, that love is some kind get out of jail card for unhealthy, codependent behavior – we are made to feel prosaic and unromantic when we actually THINK about it and go “wow, that’s kind of incredibly fucked up”. And in that spirit, a friend of mine got told by a male friend while they were discussing having sex that she should think very carefully about if she wanted to or not, because once they started he couldn’t guarantee that he’d be able to stop even if she changed her mind. He probably thought that he was being CONSIDERATE as he casually told her that he would rape her, like it was no big thing. A guy that I had trusted, REALLY trusted, before that.

And so where does that leave us? For me, it means a higher awareness of what the things we take for granted every day are actually telling us – not just when it appears in Twilight because it’s hilariously silly and lots of women like it, but everywhere. All the time. Even at what is now 5 am, going on 6. Every time coercion is sold as seduction, violence as foreplay, intoxication as a means to get sex as something to be played for laughs – to remember the expectations we are being fed, and to break the pattern they create.

Good night – okay, morning – everyone.