Politicians and Rape: For Once, Good News

This made my day. Tory leader David Cameron is proposing broad educational and service-based responses to sexual assault:

He pledged longer-term funding for rape crisis centres, to change attitudes towards rape through sex education and announced a Tory review of sentencing.

The government says it has taken action to improve conviction rates.

In a speech at the Conservative Women’s Organisation conference, Mr Cameron said: “Studies have shown that as many as one in two young men believe there are some circumstances when it’s okay to force a woman to have sex.

“To my mind, this is an example of moral collapse.”

He called for “widespread cultural change” and warned that society has become increasingly “sexualised” over the past decade, during which time treating women as sex objects has become viewed as “cool”.

He also called for compulsory sex education in schools to drive home the message that sex without consent is a criminal offence.

The whole “sexualization causes rape” thing frustrates me, but otherwise he’s right on the money. I’m especially pleased to see that he’s promoting a comprehensive approach to lowering the sexual assault rate, which includes resources for survivors as well as education for men. Acquaintance rape can be a tricky issue, because “no means no” just doesn’t jibe with all of the other messages that men and women received. The sexual power game puts a lot of women on a tightrope between virgin and whore; there’s pressure to have sex, messages that nice girls say no at least once or twice, imaging of sex as domination, assumptions that women will be the “brakes,” shame in giving an enthusiastic “yes” under certain circumstances. Men see the same thing — and they internalize the idea that “no” might mean “yes,” that women get off on being “ravished” and want men to take complete sexual control, that if a woman is in your bed it means she’s consented to doing pretty much whatever you want, that women exist largely for male pleasure.

“Teaching men not to rape” sounds like a silly proposition if your understanding of rape is limited to stranger attacks; it’s not nearly so silly when you recognize that there are men out there who genuinely don’t get it, and are thoroughly socialized into believing that forcible sex is not only “not rape,” but is fully acceptable and even normal. Education, coupled with broader measures to empower women to feel like they have the right to say no (and the right to say yes without shame), can go a long way in turning that around.

Thanks to Cecily for sending this on.


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17 comments for “Politicians and Rape: For Once, Good News

  1. Bruce
    November 13, 2007 at 8:24 am

    I think a lot may depend on how one spins the term “sexualization.” To conceive of someone as a sexual object, a thing, as opposed to a human being who as a human being has a sexual nature, contributes to a culture of sexual predation.

    As far as the “sexualization” of the culture, it would probably be more accurate to say that the culture has been depravedly commercialized through bunk bullshit fraud conceptions of sexuality and gender identity, starting with a contempt for and hatred of women (misogyny.) Sex is human and, at its best, extremely humane; commercialized bunk versions of “sex” are inhuman, inhumane, and treat women (and, I would suggest, men) with less respect than one would likely treat a paper plate.

  2. November 13, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Although I agree that we do need a society where young men [no make that ALL men] are taught that they are the ones[mostly] doing the raping and so the responsibility lies with them and not with women [to not walk alone late at night, to not wear promiscious clothing, to not get drunk] I am inclined to believe that David Cameron is promising everything but will deliver nothing. Our politicians this side of the pond are all too similar to their american cohorts when it comes to campaign showboating. His call for this kind of action, although welcome and needed would still not sway my vote towards The Conservative Party.

  3. November 13, 2007 at 8:51 am

    it’s not like we have fallen from some exalted past where women were respected and men had a better moral sense. as far back as i remember, which is about forty years, both women and men believed there was such a thing as ‘justifiable rape’.
    we have to get past thinking that the basic regard we would want in other relationships doesn’t apply to sexual relationships.

  4. November 13, 2007 at 8:56 am

    I really hope this doesn’t devolve into point-scoring – a bipartisan push on sex education, including education about consent and about how abuse occurs and what its effects are, would be a wonderful thing and could even defeat the might of the right-wing tabloids. Fingers crossed that everyone will work together on this. That it’s started from the right could even be a good sign in that regard.

  5. kali
    November 13, 2007 at 9:08 am

    Sweet Jesus, that’s scary. Every now and then David Cameron says something so sensible that I think “I could see myself voting for him.” And he’s a Tory. And there’s every probability he’d do a George W. Bush once elected (in administering a different agenda than he campaigned on I mean; I know “doing a George W. Bush” is hardly an unambiguous reference. ) But I honestly think that proposal of his might push me over the edge into voting Tory– thankfully I am not registered to vote in the UK any more so I won’t have to risk living with the shame of being a Tory voter.

    Tories are evil. This I know. It is good that David Cameron has said this, by any measure at all, except that it is wrecking my head!

  6. November 13, 2007 at 9:17 am

    I sometimes wonder if we’re on the verge of a reversal of political positions similar to that which happened in the USA (as I understand the history of American party politics) with the rise of FDR: the Democrats, once the preserve of landowning Southerners became the champions of the working classes while the Republicans, once standing for civil rights, became the conservative ones.

    If the Tories do move to the left to outflank New Labour, that would be so disrupting to my system. Of course, I suspect, just like kali, that New Labour mean what they say; the Tories don’t mean what they say. And, whatever Mr. Cameron might be like, the rest of his party is still full of the right wing bigots, racists, sexists and brutes.

  7. Marle
    November 13, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Acquaintance rape can be a tricky issue, because “no means no” just doesn’t jibe with all of the other messages that men and women received. The sexual power game puts a lot of women on a tightrope between virgin and whore; there’s pressure to have sex, messages that nice girls say no at least once or twice, imaging of sex as domination, assumptions that women will be the “brakes,” shame in giving an enthusiastic “yes” under certain circumstances. Men see the same thing — and they internalize the idea that “no” might mean “yes,” that women get off on being “ravished” and want men to take complete sexual control, that if a woman is in your bed it means she’s consented to doing pretty much whatever you want, that women exist largely for male pleasure.

    See, I think this is exactly why “No means No” needs to be stressed. One of the most important lessons to teach men to stop raping is that they don’t need to have sex every time they possibly can. If a woman says “no” and means “yes”, is sex really worth that headgame? Of course it isn’t. The whole “no means yes” thing is absolutely craaazzy and needs to be stopped.

  8. November 13, 2007 at 10:07 am

    I agree, Marle, but the argument I’m making is that men don’t internalize that message when it comes up against the rest of their life experience. I think we need to recognize that a lot of women don’t feel empowered to say yes, and we need to give them that power. And we need to teach men that “no means no,” but it needs to be coupled with other messages about women’s rights and bodily autonomy if it’s going to be meaningful.

  9. November 13, 2007 at 10:25 am

    Good point about teaching men not to rape. I do an exercise in my WMST class where I ask my female students how many of them have been taught how to avoid being raped. Most of them raise their hnds, and we go on to make a list of all the things they’ve learned about protecting themselves: don’t go out aone after dark, carry cab money on dates, cover their drinks, etc. Then I ask the men how many have been taught how not to rape. There is usually an awkward silence, broken by uncomfortable laughter — the idea can’t find anything to hold onto. The only exception is that sometimes some of the athletes will have taken the sexual harassment workshop our athletics department requires, which has a section that defines rape — I’m not sure how much they focus on men’s responsibilities, but it’s something. (And of course it’s based on the stereotype that campus rapists are all jocks and frat boys, which isn’t helpful either since it leaves all the other guys off the hook).

  10. November 13, 2007 at 11:15 am

    If a woman says “no” and means “yes”, is sex really worth that headgame? Of course it isn’t. The whole “no means yes” thing is absolutely craaazzy and needs to be stopped.

    As someone into BDSM, I know that there are times when “no, please, stop” actually means, “Oh, God, yes, harder!” And that headgame is not only worth it, it’s a part of the enjoyment for both the man and the woman.

    But when “no” doesn’t mean “no”, you need some other word that really and unequivocally means “no” (sometimes people use the traffic-light scheme, so that “red” means “no”). The thing is, that’s the sort of thing that you can only establish by talking things over beforehand and acquiring full and explicit consent to that arrangement.

    I think, in some ways, that flags up a different problem:

    It’s not that “‘no’ means ‘no'” is so hard to understand. Instead, the failure is to understand that “not saying ‘no’, doesn’t mean ‘yes'”.

    The lesson to send to all the men out there is rather, “If she doesn’t say ‘yes’, then the answer is ‘no'”. And, furthermore, that a gentleman would realise that, “Oh, okay then” is not the same as “yes”.

  11. Peter
    November 13, 2007 at 11:22 am

    If we (big challenge, admittedly) do focus on the men, and successfully convince men that “no means no” in all cases, then it will eventually and inevitably follow that women who mean yes will have to say yes, and that whatever shame their might be with doing so has to get balanced against never getting any if they wait to be ravished.

    I don’t see any down-side in this case on absolutely focusing on teaching the men.

    After all, culturally (and it is deeply wrong, but largely true) men currently have the freedom to pursue sexual activities when they want them. It therefore goes hand in hand that they need to pick up much more of the responsibility for making sure that it is welcome. The freedom to pursue without the responsibility to back off when told creates the entitled sexual children (and rapists) we see all around us.

  12. Josh Jasper
    November 13, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    “Teaching men not to rape” sounds like a silly proposition if your understanding of rape is limited to stranger attacks; it’s not nearly so silly when you recognize that there are men out there who genuinely don’t get it, and are thoroughly socialized into believing that forcible sex is not only “not rape,” but is fully acceptable and even normal.

    We need to start off in grade school on this, and include it in comprehensive sex ed, and continue teaching it through college.

  13. November 13, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Sweet Jesus, that’s scary. Every now and then David Cameron says something so sensible that I think “I could see myself voting for him.” And he’s a Tory.

    Oh, I so know what you mean here.

    I read about policies like these and find myself agreeing with them, and then I realise I’m nodding my head along to the Tories. These are the guys who, last election, based a much-publicized part of their campaign strategy on the phrase “I’m not racist, but…”

    I’m inclined to believe that it’s all spin. As New Labour appear to have lost direction, edging towards the right and no longer seeming to have any definite direction or basis for their policies, the Tories are taking advantage. They don’t actually mean what they say, but they clearly took note of the large proportion of disaffected voters who went for the Green Party or Liberal Democrats and are trying to garner favour with that crowd.

    Of course, once they’re in power, it’ll all go out the window. I’d like to believe the Tories really would focus on education and rape counselling, etc. I’d like to believe that any of the major players in our political system would… but I can’t see it happening any time soon.

  14. Miss Sarajevo
    November 13, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Sweet Jesus, that’s scary. Every now and then David Cameron says something so sensible that I think “I could see myself voting for him.” And he’s a Tory. And there’s every probability he’d do a George W. Bush once elected (in administering a different agenda than he campaigned on I mean; I know “doing a George W. Bush” is hardly an unambiguous reference. ) But I honestly think that proposal of his might push me over the edge into voting Tory– thankfully I am not registered to vote in the UK any more so I won’t have to risk living with the shame of being a Tory voter.

    Tories are evil. This I know. It is good that David Cameron has said this, by any measure at all, except that it is wrecking my head!

    LOL, I feel ya. I’m not British, but a lot of my friends are, and I follow British politics pretty closely.

    As someone somewhere closer in the Green Party end of the spectrum, I freak myself out when I read something David Cameron said and think, “Hmmm, that *doesn’t* sound so completely freakin nuts… BUT he’s a Tory!!!”

    Then again, I don’t have to agree with Cameron on most social or any economic issues to think he’s a generally decent human being, or, at the very least, not evil. He’s like that slightly right-wing guy friend you fight with all the time, but still hang out with a lot. : /

    Oh, and if you transplanted all Democratic elected officials to the UK, most would be Tories. Conversely, if you transplanted the Tories to the US, I can’t imagine any of them being Republicans.

    OK, I need to lie down now.

  15. November 13, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    Oh, and if you transplanted all Democratic elected officials to the UK, most would be Tories. Conversely, if you transplanted the Tories to the US, I can’t imagine any of them being Republicans.

    Oh, definitely. (with a likely exception for Ann Widdecombe, if the Republicans would have her… I think a handful of Democrats might not be Torylike if they were free of the need to appeal to religiosity – not many though). Though the party lines operate on different litmus tests in the UK – it wouldn’t be unusual for a very economically right-wing Tory to be pro-choice, utterly secular and secretly still pining for their long-ago female leader, for instance. Iraq, abortion, and the doomed search for national identity are all cross-party issues.

    I’m inclined to believe that it’s all spin. As New Labour appear to have lost direction, edging towards the right and no longer seeming to have any definite direction or basis for their policies, the Tories are taking advantage. They don’t actually mean what they say, but they clearly took note of the large proportion of disaffected voters who went for the Green Party or Liberal Democrats and are trying to garner favour with that crowd.

    I think that’s both unfair and a bit of a dead end. If we’re not going to judge who to vote for on the basis of their manifestos, if we’re going to play hunches instead or be suspicious of politicians because of things their party did years before they even joined, we may as well quit discussing their views entirely. It’s true that we can judge Brown’s words over the short-term better than we can Cameron’s, but if that was a reason to write someone off we may as well just declare Brown Dictator For Life right now.

    I still hope this gets picked up cross-party, because these proposals cannot wait til the next election – we’ve needed them for too long. If they do get picked up and put in place by the Brown government, would that give you any more faith in Cameron? ‘Cause personally, I’m not going to simply froth at the sight of a blue rosette – I’d rather listen and keep talking about this stuff.

  16. yesbut
    November 14, 2007 at 12:07 am

    Respect to SnowdropExplodes.

    Although I agree that, generally, work still needs to be done in getting the “No means no” message taken seriously, we also need to see how damn problematic that whole approach is. Among other things, it still accepts the woman-as-gatekeeper mentality. “No” isn’t the only thing that can mean no.

    A better long-term approach, I think, is to encourage open communication about sex between (potential) partners. People of all genders share a responsibility to ensure that their partners are consenting – it’s not just a matter of respecting a “no” when you hear it, it’s about seeking your partner’s comfort (even in deliberately ‘uncomfortable’ practices – BDSM crowd, you know what I mean).

    I think most people can understand this and support it on a basic level – that checking in with your sexual partner is part of a basic level of care. Also, as mentioned above, it leads to more open sexual communication in general.

    PS: ^ this process can be sexy as hell

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