Writer, journalist, social commentator
Ape Culture: Time to Move On from the Stone Age
Rape culture is a term much in use nowadays, but we tend to disregard how far back it goes. It’s too easy to peg it to the present day.
I was a seventies teenager – the decade that constituted a gloomier follow-up to the sixties, often due to the power cuts. We visualise the sixties still as the ‘summer of love’, an era when everyone grew their hair in order to let it down, smoked anything they could roll, and lived in communes with mauve walls and lava lamps, talking about peace and eating marijuana fudge. By the next decade, the permissive society was entrenched, we were all on the Pill, the economy was a busted flush and the summer of love eventually mutated into the winter of discontent, only with more sex. It was supposed to be a sexual free-for-all – but you can’t change the thinking of centuries in a few sweet years. And now – right now, here in the wonderful twenty-first century – it’s important to be aware that for many people IT HASN’T CHANGED AT ALL.
Sexual freedom is interpreted far too often as sexual entitlement, invariably on the part of the boys. And that becomes sexual bullying. Especially in schools. The guy who sleeps around is still ‘a bit of a lad’, the girl who does the same is a slag. The labelling is Victorian, the attitudes go back to the Stone Age. Recently, numerous cases in America have highlighted this. Brock Turner, the swimming champ who got a mere three months for raping an unconscious girl; the Steubenville affair in 2012, where several boys assaulted an underage girl and posted their antics on social media; the suicides of Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott after they were gang-raped, photographed, and ridiculed. In addition to the rapes, girls have been pissed on and had insults written all over their bodies in indelible ink. Terry Pratchett has said all evil starts with treating people as things: what clearer example is there than this? These girls are not treated as humans but as objects, toys to play with, break, discard – and the perpetrators are often little more than children themselves, spoiled, destructive children who have never learned empathy or respect for their fellows. Media reaction has been divided between indignation at light or nonexistent sentences and sympathy for the rapists: poor things, they had a ‘lapse’, let’s not damage their future, although they have ruined the future for their victims.
Firstly, it’s time to investigate the parents, and find out how far they have cultivated this moral blindness and sense of entitlement on the part of their offspring. If an underage boy commits a crime of this magnitude we should examine his home life and see to what extent it contributed to his behaviour. If you think this unjust, read Brock Turner’s father, who pleaded that his son should not have to pay a high price for ‘twenty minutes of action’, as he characterised the rape. And the girl is always blamed: she was reckless, careless, promiscuous, asking for it. Vulnerable. (Remember, girls, it’s a crime to be vulnerable.) Parents create the environment in which their children grow: if we are going to postulate that youth mitigates the crime, then the parents should be held at least partly responsible.
Secondly, we need to face the fact that although in the west we have a sexually liberal culture, we don’t have the core attitudes to go with it. Too many of us still think like the Edwardians, like the Victorians – like the Puritans, like mediaeval clerics – petrified in the mindset of past millennia. If boys get drunk, it’s part of the growing-up process, they’re just kicking up their heels; whatever they do is simply youthful high spirits and feeling their oats. If girls get drunk, they’re graceless, immoral, unintelligent; anything that happens as a result is their fault. Girls who get pissed, who show too much leg or too much cleavage, who sleep with their boyfriends – these are still the brazen hussies of the nineteenth century. And the men protect their own. In school rape cases, teachers and coaches are often involved in subsequent cover-ups, excusing the boys on the grounds of their sporting excellence, or perhaps out of a deep-seated envy.
We can’t talk about sexual freedom when 50% of the population doesn’t have it. A sexually free society would give men and women (boys and girls) the same rights, the same choices, the same responsibilities – and the same respect. Until we yank our minds free of the prison of the past, with its double standards, its narrowness, its hypocrisy, rape culture will always be with us. We still haven’t left the ape behind.
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