Saturday, 16 March 2013

Rape Myths: what are they good for?

In the light of the BBC's recent helpful reminder to the rest of us that men's reputations matter more than women's safety - the DPP announced that false accusations of rape are actually quite rare, the Beeb reported this by yowling and yammering about how awful it is to be accused of rape when you haven't done it. Well, yes it is, though I would venture to say that it's probably a bit less awful than, you know, actually being raped.

Rape myths, however, they can't be that awful, because so many people seem to love them so much. In some cases I can see why: the myths around what kind of women get raped function as a kind of magical talisman to many women. If rapists pick on provocatively dressed, drunk, flirty women who walk home alone, the fairytale goes, then by staying sober, covering up and never going out unaccompanied by your male owner, you will be protected from rape. It's understandable to want to believe that if you are Good and Careful and Obedient, bad shit won't happen to you, but unfortunately it's stupid and wrong. Bad shit happens to Nice Girls all the time. Bad shit happens to nice people through no fault of their own, all the time.

The myths surrounding false accusations are a bit more problematic, though. Yes, sure, there are cases of mistaken identity, when the attacker was a stranger and the police pick up someone of a similar physical appearance, or when the victim is too frightened of the real assailant to name him and therefore accuses someone else. Being falsely accused of a crime is a dreadful thing to experience, especially if the crime is an unusually nasty one, to the extent that being accused of it puts you at risk of vengeance from the victim, the victim's family or indeed the local self-righteous hate mob. People wrongly accused of crimes have every right to battle for a public acknowledgement of their innocence, no problem with that. But this insistence that women are always, or at least nearly always, or at least loads and loads of times, really lying about rape, that's a bit more worrying. 

Sometimes, no one wants to believe a man's a rapist because he's Such A Wonderful Man. Charming, friendly, good-looking, wealthy... Does a lot for charity. Give me a J, give me an I, give me a double M - you can see where that one's going, can't you? I think that sometimes people who want to believe that a woman accusing a popular, successful man of rape must be lying are simply not wanting to doubt their own judgement. They like or even love the man, they would have known if he was a rapist, how could they be wrong about him? Underlying this is also, perhaps, the unspoken assumption that a Wonderful Man is actually entitled to have sex on whoever or whatever he wants, because he is important, and the victims are less so, with the real bottom line being that they are only women, after all. They must be jealous, or mad, or money-hungry, or something else wicked.

The nastier myth is that women accuse men of rape after sex because they are stupid, vengeful or don't know their own minds. A woman will claim to have been raped if the man didn't want to see her again, or went back to his wife, or didn't give her an orgasm, or because she doesn't want people to think she's a slut, or because she was drunk and now she's thinking it wasn't such a good idea to have sex with him - so goes this myth. And it's entirely misogynistic, because it portrays women as desperate, spiteful idiots who are incapable of having sex for the sheer enjoyment of it but use it as a form of currency and then want the equivalent of their money's worth. The thing is, women generally know the difference between crap sex and rape. We've often had crap sex with men - sometimes he promised undying love right up until the moment he took the condom off and then all of a sudden he wanted to go home, sometimes we did get a bit pissed and shag the bloke from the kebab shop when we shouldn't have, sometimes he was just a really rubbish shag and farted all the way through the performance while calling us Mummy or something. But that's just crap sex, we shrug it off, learn from it if necessary and move on. It just seems very likely indeed that the sort of men who insist that women are lying about rape because they can't tell the difference between assault and unsatisfactory sex are the men who are actually raping women and don't see why they should be held accountable for doing so.

(I haven't put any pictures on this one. Maybe you'd like to find yourself some Lolcats or something to lighten the mood a little, the Interweb is not short of them...)

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