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Sex and Drugs and Rock and roll – The real threats of the invasion of rape culture -PART 1

By Lizzie Soden –

Featured image above – self portrait from 1978 aged 17 wearing my Ian Dury badge. 

1. How we frame certain activities in terms of what lense we view them from, necessitates how we react to and see those activities. If we are told at a certain formative time in our life that something is wrong, and we are made to feel scared of doing it, that can inform how we deal with it in the future.

2. If we change the definition of a verb to encapsulate a wider range of activities, there will automatically be more of those activities occurring. e.g. if the meaning ‘to run’ is broadened to include fast walking, skipping and jogging, there will be more cases of running going on.

3. We have to be able to experiment and take risks in order to acquire wisdom. We learn from our experience, especially our mistakes.

Straight Women and Straight Sex

I am an artist-filmmaker whose formative years fire-hosed that gentle meandering stream left by the 60’s sexual revolution. As the punk generation we pissed a lot of adults off by our supposed lack of morality regarding, amongst other things, our attitude to sex and gender. Every generation has it’s fair share of those who are comfortable only when they are standing fair and square on a chosen moral high-ground. I want to get down to the nitty gritty of today’s ‘new and improved’ fear-mongering about the sexual activities of young people. I have been thinking a lot about the current zeitgeist’s emerging and quite prevalent attitude to women, sexual consent, sexual assault and rape.

It’s not often that I get shocked by anything. We live in a liberal democracy in a post-internet age and are lucky to have pretty extensive access to every conceivable viewpoint. We can read or hear people saying stuff we find totally abhorrent as well as stuff we agree with. Coming across seriously obnoxious viewpoints and having to acknowledge, sadly, that some people in our liberal democracy are seemingly totally reactionary and ridiculous,  is a price we pay for a free-speech society. Whatever side our view-point may come down on regarding the complex subject matter of how sex should be perceived and what we should or shouldn’t approve of,  it is wise to remember that really, on the whole, other peoples sex-lives are none of our business. We are all fascinated by them though because they link to our pleasure seeking synapses. This generally creates fun yet trivial shock horror type gossip on the one hand, or some smug moral judgement on the other. It can also lead to some over the top and unwanted interference in people’s private lives. The fact is, in 2016 many sexual practices that were previously off limits are now rampant. We have a freedom to explore our sexuality which is almost without boundaries. There are no finite positions on how to view sexual relations. There are merely trade-offs in terms of moral and ethical questions that may need careful consideration.

However, recently  I have been shocked.  There seems to be a propensity to a sort of hysterical new thinking around the notion of what constitutes sexual assault and rape.  What should we do to protect women (and it is aimed at women not men,) from non-consensual sex? We are now being informed by the great and the good that we are living in a ‘rape culture’.

Alot of people don’t seem to question this. They are obviously alarmed by it. Obviously addressing the issue of ensuring consent is obtained before a sexual encounter, and protecting women from being raped, is a good thing and something by far the majority of people would be behind, Bothe men and women. However, some are advocating some extremely heavy handed approaches. Are things really as bad as they are being made out to be or is it all just a reflection of some strange disturbing blind faith and questionable victim creating agendas? There is some irony that the new thinking seems to be quite loudly and vocally expressed by women who define themselves as mostly feminists campaigning around women’s issues. Their views are permeating into the mainstream and are mindlessly being adopted by plenty; from various celebrity stooges and Loose Women to the beloved and the ever patronising and infantalising Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.

I am finding it hard to accept that their narratives are doing anything other than resurrecting extremely backward-looking and infantalising attitudes to women and gender stereotypes that most of us have rejected. Bear with me on this. It may seem counter-intuitive but when you look at where their thought processes lead it is no wonder that the likes of the Daily Mail and the Express are also creaming themselves over them. They love a good old dose of double standards.  They also seem to love blindly wandering back into advocating control of young peoples sex-lives. We’ve been here before.

To challenge this perplexing thinking typically entails running the gauntlet of shaming and vitriol, and the ensuing silencing of any alternative viewpoints. In fact many in the rape culture awareness movement demonise some common sense viewpoints by calling them rape apologies. No-one wants to be called a rape apologist or be accused of blaming a potential victim so they are hesitant to stand up for common sense. The shamers are using the same techniques as the mainstream Conservative politicians that they seemingly despise. If you disagree with us or are critical of us, we will demonise you and label you as someone the world must despise. I am no doubt potentially a Stalinist commie bastard rape apologist victim blamer, on this thinking. For some reason the proponents of this new thinking around this issue are so fired up about it that they are essentially wanting to censor any dissent. I think that shows signs of deep insecurity so I do feel a bit sorry for them in that regard.

I personally  don’t care what I am called because trying to censor my freedom of speech by shaming me really is something that won’t wash with me. Throughout my life when trying to challenge accepted thinking to move things forward and change things for what I believe to be the better, I have had people trying to shut me up on a number of occasions. I believe we either persuade people to our viewpoint by debate and discussion or we don’t. Discussion has obviously persuaded me to change my own mind on numerous occasions. Because I don’t have a career in the public spotlight that could be ruined, I am happy stating that things are complicated, and every case should be looked at differently for example. Remember that poor Judy Finnegan? She got twitter-stormed and consequently media shamed (due to the abundance of lazy journalism in the press) for talking common sense. Her words were ridiculously misrepresented in 140 characters or less. She was forced to apologise and assure everyone that she (like any reasonable human being) seriously thought rape and sexual assault was really bad

Could we be spreading the message that sexual experimentation and possibly fucking-up is harmful, disgusting and shameful for women? Are we saying that women are not conscious, salient beings who should take responsibility for their actions? Are we saying they are merely passive victims? It is obvious this is all complicated stuff. The default mode today by the extremely vocal and somewhat paranoid minority however is that we need to adopt the belief that it’s all very simple:

  • We are living in a dangerous rape culture in the UK and in North America.
  • The definition of sexual assault and rape needs to be broadened to include any sexual activity that is not preceded by affirmative consent.
  • Affirmative consent should be given by the woman at each stage of the sexual encounter. This view is gaining traction and has just been passed as law in California, for example.
  • The young man in the sexual encounter is wholly responsible for obtaining positive consent in the form of a repeated question and answer ritual. (male – “Are you sure?” female – “Yes.”)
  • All sexual assault ‘as defined by law’ is equally traumatic and totally ruins lives.
  • All rapes ‘as defined by law’ are equally traumatic and totally ruin lives.
  • We need to enlighten women that this is the case as they do not realise it.
  • The reason there are not more sexually related crime convictions is because young women in particular are not always aware that some of their (arguably regretted) sexual encounters should be perceived as abusive, disgusting, traumatic  and very damaging.
  • We need more sex-crime convictions to prove we are living in a rape culture because a large amount of male perpetrators are getting away with their crimes.
  • Regarding the plight of individuals who have experienced sexual assault or rape, if you are a female victim, you are obviously less resilient or able to cope than if you are a male victim.
  • Young women have no responsibility and are always victims even in the cases where 2 people were drunk or off their head and jumped into bed and there was regret by both in the morning.
  • If you believe women should know what they are doing and it takes two to tango you are victim blaming.

To me this seems to be seriously patronising and infantalising our young women. For one thing isn’t this actually redefining sexual assault and rape as being synonymous with any regretted sex or drunk miscommunication that happens to women? And why only women?  Why do we think women can’t cope with these things? Are they delicate little flowers? Are women always the victims and therefore never responsible in any way for their actions?

Go gender equality! (Isn’t this also undermining the seriousness of the real potential violence inflicted by sexual assault and rape?)

The more we wrap people in cotton wool, the less equipped they are to cope when it’s taken away. Traumatic experiences are part of life and no-one escapes them. We can all, however, get over them and put them behind us and it’s true some need more help than others in doing that. It is also true we may be left with some scars. Being able to process your emotions in a healthy way in order to discover your own particular coping strategies is intrinsically tied up with your self-image. Are you going to allow yourself to be a victim for the rest of your life, or are you going to be a survivor?

It has always been in certain people’s interests to perpetrate the myth that trauma ruins lives and you are always a permanent victim of whatever happened to you. In their view, you can never put anything behind you or recover. You can’t agree with common sense. Even young women who had their bum pinched by an over familiar dickish DJ back in the day are persuaded that an incident like this has some kind of permanent deep psychologically damaging effect equilalent to a sustained and unprovoked serious sexual assault or rape. You can bet your bottom dollar that those advocating this narrative have a lot to gain from it: Money or moral superiority.

Call me a cynic but in the current zeitgeist it seems to be mostly lawyers and newspapers feigning moral superiority, who know the monetary value of suing rich famous people. I don’t think they’d be so concerned with pursuing a case against Tommy Jones from a council estate who grabbed someone’s arse whilst pissed at a school disco in 1972. It is astounding to think that a young woman who experienced that would have the rest of her life plunged into some kind of existential crisis. But if it’s a celebrity, everyone just accepts this astonishing claim. Although the assault claim is also an unprovable accusation, Tommy Jones could have his life ruined by potentially having to serve a custodial sentence and being put on the sex-offenders register 35 years later.

The New Religious Thinking

In the Western secular age less of us, in our supposedly liberal and progressive post-enlightenment society, derive our views on morality from ancient religious scriptures. Arguably, this has left many with a lot of  existential angst. Consequently amongst those that reject historical religions there seems to still be a propensity to develop new versions of religious scriptures not dictated by the word of God, but by contemporary ideologies, in this case 4th wave feminism. We like to adopt simplistic beliefs and explanations in order calm our minds from constant rumination. Imposed belief ‘systems’ which are inevitably black and white and dictatorial, leave little room for the right to chose and make our own decisions and mistakes.

If you happen to hold the set of beliefs that are currently prevalent in the zeitgeist, you may experience cognitive dissonance when thinking about other explanations and ways to think about the subject of rape and sexual assault today. It is hard to accept things are complicated and that’s OK. As Frantz Fanon tells us:

Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is very uncomfortable called cognitive dissonance. Because it is so important to protect that core belief, they will rationalise it, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.

Sexual activity has always traditionally been embedded in the moral codes of the day. In every generation, there has been fear about the sexual activity of the young. This is not something new. Sadly the reasons for this fear are not new either. Nor is the fact that it seems to be a vocal self-appointed minority that are crusading for everyone else’s sake. The reasons are entrenched in a fear of losing social control and a fear of young women being harmed in any way as they are frail and can’t really handle interfacing with male sexuality.

As I said today’s moral crusaders believe they are liberating and progressive types who are fighting the sexual exploitation and oppression of young women. That is not to say that there are no sensible facts and even warnings we should share with young people. They’re on a learning curve into adulthood. However, there is a type of person who has always had a tendency to panic about sex. This panic typically says more about their paranoia, fear and resulting beliefs, than it does about the actual reality of the psychological and possible physical harm done to those exploring and embarking on their sex-lives.

If we want to ensure that young women, in particular, know that it is pretty important to think about what they are doing before entering into sexual activity, we need to talk about it. That makes sense. However it doesn’t follow that the conversation should be simple. There are a lot of grey areas in sexual negotiations. There can be regretted encounters. There can be stupid mistakes. We have all probably had “unwanted ” sex, when we weren’t really in the mood to please and be nice to our partners. It’s not always a big deal because on the whole, sex isn’t always a big deal. Its just one of life’s special treats.

The above video was doing the rounds on the internet and I can’t say it shouldn’t be there, or that people won’t think about the subject matter after watching it. The problem is the tone misses the mark for me on the irony versus patronising line. It doesn’t seem useful to advocate consent to sex as being synonymous to saying yes or no to a cup of tea. Ok, nowadays let’s face it, we sometimes think tea is on par or even better than sex in terms of pleasure (as in the infamous words of Boy George) but it’s still a completely different ball-game. A yes or no answer with some changing of mind suffices when offered an inanimate object filled with soothing steaming liquid. A conversation about whether or not you want sex is more like a negotiated, complicated dance with another human and involves non-verbal communication, teasing, flirting, and saying things you don’t really mean to generate interest and excitement. You don’t really say ‘maybe’ to a cup of tea and enjoy being persuaded to partake. With sex, this is quite common. There can even be elements of ‘playing hard to get,’ or ‘treating them mean to keep them keen’ which add to the sexual excitement of consensual sex. That is part of the game. There is a lot of guessing going on. Do they want to? Are they interested? Like any conversation there is always room for misunderstanding or a clumsy use of language or wrong translations. It takes practice to get right, and young people are practicing, like they would for any new activity or language.

Historical Context.

Let’s take a historical perspective. Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is how people have always made new people. It’s only recently that we can effectively stop the ‘making new people’ bit happening due to the advent of contraception, especially the pill 55 years ago in our more liberal and secular society. This had a dramatic impact on our attitudes to female sexuality.

Today, within a number of religions we shouldn’t forget, contraception is still frowned upon. This seems to be something we should be challenging if we champion women’s rights in particular, but we still adopt a social etiquette which makes religion something we should respect, and if we don’t respect it, we are demonised. It’s bizarre. Any way, that’s another article in itself.

We have a base-brain drive to fuck like we do. Our bodies evolved to have sex that is great fun and pleasurable because that makes us want to do it. It starts with foreplay’ (remember, play is fun) and it wouldn’t be something you’d be inclined to engage in if you took the pleasure bit away. It would just be weird and messy. Humans like to get rewards for doing the right thing. We also love to push the boundaries and do the wrong thing. This is how societal attitudes evolve.

It had became obvious as we got more enlightened, that for the progression of a more evolved and civilised society, heterosexual people shouldn’t just sleep around and have offspring popping up all over the place. It was practical to partner-up with one person to raise your young. When partnering up it became sensible not to breed too much. This was true even with the high child mortality rate, as food would be stretched and children would likely not thrive and survive. Those tasked to manipulate and socially engineer these new structures of society had to persuade people to stand back from their base brain urges and take control of their impulse to pursue sexual pleasure. They had to persuade people to give up that pleasure by getting them to see sex as wrong. I am always confused as to why they came down so hard on same-sex couplings. In many ancient civilisations, homosexuality was a way of keeping down the birth rate. Maybe they thought if we can’t have it, they didn’t want anyone else to either.

Anyway the best way for those social engineers to do this was to use that tried and tested form of social control, ‘The Fear of God.’ Sex for pleasure was branded by the latter day equivalent of Madmen as dirty, sinful and disgusting. Anyone who engaged in it out of marriage, or in marriage for any other reason than procreation, was going to burn in a fire for eternity. No messing. God’s word told us that lustful men were monsters; synonymous with the devil himself, while sex of any sort was an abusive evil act on poor, delicate women. Women who enjoyed it were possessed by the devil.

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People, naturally, were shitting themselves. The pleasure of sex had become shameful and forbidden. There was a new etiquette: You should never talk about that side of it. It should remain a mystery. Young women were “ruined” by it if they indulged out of wedlock, so they had to be protected. Unmarried mothers were shunned by society, babies taken at birth, and any chance of having a future adult, loving relationship was damaged. Unbelievable cruelty was handed out as casually as many engage in sex today. Sex was a hush hush subject.

I hit puberty in the early 1970’s. We had no sex education, no internet, no access to porn, so were ridiculously naive about sex and relied on peer group hearsay and an accumulation of strange myths.

donny_osmond-too_youngI used to enjoy a bit of rough and tumble. I was told though not to fight with the boys. Scraps could lead to the boys becoming sexually excited. If that happened  they would not be able to control themselves as boys were like animals. I had no idea how that lack of control would manifest itself. I imagined a boy collapsing into a heap and convulsing all over the place. The responsibility was generally placed on the girls not to titillate the boys. Luckily this has changed somewhat.

We were so naive and ignorant about the ways and wherefores of sexual activity, but nonetheless our hormones and our base-brain were producing lots of very strong, strange and sensual desires as they do in all young people. Conversely, and more disturbingly, we were told that sex for fun was bad and dirty, something that would hurt and damage you. If you ‘survived’ a purely non-romantic sexual encounter, you were told you would be left feeling shame, however much you thought you enjoyed it. Whether you liked it or not, you were engaging in a disgusting act.

In the UK, Mary Whitehouse was on the warpath. She was the self-appointed voice of the so-called majority and an English social activist. Known for her strong opposition to social liberalism and the mainstream British media, both of which she accused of encouraging a more permissive society, her motivation derived from her traditional Christian beliefs, her hatred of the rapid social and political changes in British society of the 1960s, and her work as a teacher of sex education, crusading to stop sex from being portrayed as anything but filth on television. She was a highly censorious figure and her traditional moral convictions bought her into conflict with advocates of the sexual revolution, feminism and gay-rights. Her line, in a nut-shell was:

  1. Ban-this-filthSex is very dangerous.
  2. Sex is disgusting and dirty.
  3. Young women should be scared of young men.
  4. Young men are disgusting and dirty because they are sex maniacs.
  5. Young women who partake in regretted sexual acts are ruined for the rest of their life.
  6. Young women are not resilient and very emotional.
  7. Unwanted sex doesn’t bother young men. They are not so emotional.
  8. Young men will try and have their way with any young woman whenever they have the chance.
  9. Young women have to be persuaded to have sex as they do not enjoy it.
  10. Young women need protecting.

Consequently at the time of this sexual awakening, we were told it was best to cover-up our female bodies for our own safety. If you chose not to do this, if you rolled up your school skirt into a mini, pulled your socks up to over your knees to express your totally natural urges to attract the opposite sex, you would likely be labelled ‘boy mad.’ Alternatively you might be called a slag, slut or whore, and be made to sit at the front of the class. For some, that could bring on an insatiable curiosity as to why those in authority were trying to control us. We would be compelled to find out why, and no doubt would quite soon become a ‘boy-mad’ convert when we found out it was pretty much lots of fun.

However, here’s the thing. For others of us, being made to sit in front of the class could scare and shame us. We might trust and accept the ‘responsible, morally superior’ adult party line. We might be mortified about getting into trouble. The ‘virgin until marriage’ fairytale was being aspired to by many well-behaved teenage girls. We all have different temperaments. Some could be traumatised, and some not give a fuck about the same incident. Some could be made to feel fearful of the opposite sex and of having sex, whereas some could feel excited and rebellious because they could see through it all. Humans are all different. We all deal with things in different ways. Some can’t cope with things other people find really easy. Some are scared of things other people aren’t. We have each suffered trauma from incidents that others would never even bother about. I didn’t fear sex though. I was fascinated and curious about it because it was a mystery.

Young men were obviously not exempt from the harmful effects of these early 70’s attitudes. They were also confused and just as many were troubled by it all in different ways. Their burgoning sexual desire was seen as something dirty and threatening to the weaker sex, which they needed to suppress. They were not to be trusted. To be good they had to suppress their natural urges, even when alone. Masturbation for boys was still a sin in polite society. Girls never did it, supposedly.

The reality is everyone is different. Some girls had greater urges than some boys and vice versa, but you wouldn’t have thought so. Both sexes were supposed to suppress their urges but for different reasons. But by far, the majority of people had no intention whatsoever of forcing anything onto someone who don’t want it, because psychologically healthy humans generally don’t wish to hurt others.

Read Part 2 Here 

 

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