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Sex and Drugs and Rock and roll. PART 2

By Lizzie Soden –

The real threats of the invasion of rape culture?

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.

Sexual Freedom and experimentation for women. We learn from our mistakes.

I benefitted from being the second generation of contraceptive pill-takers. Loads of us got given the pill after learning that they were readily handed out, even before the age of 16, if you complained about ‘period pains.’ No questions asked. These gave us freedom our parents didn’t have. We didn’t have to be married to have sex in case we got pregnant. We were on the tail end of the 60’s free-love era, which actually was only experienced by some who had the luxury of being able to ‘drop-out.’ It didn’t really impact on anyone in my neck of the woods, in working class London suburbia.

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The un-wholesome female role-models that were the Slits.

As in most teenage demographic groups, by the time I went  to Art School, aged 16, there were numerous incidences of friends sharing stories of waking-up next to someone they wish they hadn’t, or whose name they didn’t even know. We weren’t interested in following rules. There were times when people couldn’t remember if they’d actually had sex or not. There were traumatic unwanted pregnancies, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases and lots of lessons learnt. There was pain and emotional suffering, broken hearts and jealously. We all went out with a wrong-un along the way. Girls used boys, boys used girls. Sensitive boys were pressured into performing to prove their masculinity, and newly assertive and confident women who got off on being in control egged them on. All of us did things we would not have done if we were sober. We fucked up, we made mistakes, we moved on and built our resilience. Some of it was traumatic and yes, it has affected the person I am now, and no doubt my friends too. However we got through it.

We didn’t see sex as a kind of weapon that could hurt us, but as a conversation that could involve misunderstandings where someone might inadvertently hurt someone else without meaning to (normally ‘under the influence’) and would then feel shit and apologise. We didn’t see girls as being less resilient than boys, or having less of a sex-drive.

We were the Slits generation. It was all very trial and error. We never felt like victims of anything. We felt like the vanguard.

Some pissed up bloke grabbed my tits in a club and I told him to fuck off and he did. Should that guy who clumsily misjudged the situation now be hunted down and put on the sex-offenders register after a custodial sentence? Should I have been traumatised for the rest of my life?

So that was my gang. However, a school friend who had absorbed the sex is ‘dangerous and disgusting’ line was meanwhile studying hard and being compliant. She got offered a place at Oxford. She went to a party, and being unused to alcohol got drunk very quickly, puked up and passed out. She woke up to find a drunk bloke rubbing her breasts as she had fallen asleep on his shoulder. She screamed. He was mortified but he got kicked out of the party. This incident traumatised her for the rest of her time at university. She was scared to go to parties. She never drank alcohol again. She couldn’t trust any boys and didn’t have a proper relationship until she was 25. Was it the perpetrator who hurt her or the moral crusade crowd peddling untruths in order to gain some kind of moral high-ground and superiority? It’s complicated.

Maybe those blindly accepting the rhetoric of Mary Whitehouse should be called to account on their warped world views that caused trauma when maybe it wasn’t warranted. Lots of my friends, male and female, (if we adopt today’s discourse around sexual abuse and rape) were sexually abused and raped. They could have been extremely traumatised but they weren’t because they didn’t see it like that.

Should we now go back and view all those incidents in a new light? Should we ruminate on stuff we can’t change and re-frame it as psychic terror? Some think we should because that would be justice. Their notion of justice, in my view is just a polite smokescreen for revenge. It’s revenge for times of growth and mistakes and learning to navigate confusion and to make better judgements. It’s revenge for learning about engaging in risky behaviour first hand. It’s revenge for laughing at how stupid we were. It’s revenge for thinking we should take responsibility for choosing not to be sensible, at an age when we weren’t wholly ignorant.

It’s OK for men and women to fancy each other. It’s OK to get ready to go out because you want to be fancied/attractive. This OKness should inform and educate the law around sexual crimes.  Common sense attitudes should be part of the picture.

Today’s common sense tells us that just because you fancy someone or feel horny, that doesn’t mean you can ‘take what you want,’ or manipulate that person into giving you what they don’t want to give. You can’t get them into sex by secretly lacing their drink for example, removing their control. Just because you’ve given them money or bought them gifts or even drinks, you have not bought power over them. Today, people understand this is unnacceptable behaviour. In fact, the people who engage in it also understand it’s unacceptable. But here is the bit of common sense we can’t seem to handle today:

Both parties are sometimes responsible when one party victimises another. When you knowingly put yourself in harm’s way, the responsibility of the person doing harm to you doesn’t absolve you of your own responsibility. That’s how life works. By taking responsibility you learn and grow. You are not a passive victim. With sexual freedom comes responsibilities.

Retaining and gaining power using sexual assault and rape.

I did my degree in Coventry in the UK. Whilst there I collaborated with Jerry Dammers (previously founder member of the Specials and two-tone records) and Rhoda Dakar from the Bodysnatchers to direct and produce a low budget promo video shot on 16mm for the extremely controversial song called The Boiler. It was banned by Radio One and most TV. If you listen to it, I suspect you will understand why. The subject was date-rape, and the vile expectation that spending money on someone gives you power over them and entitles you to have sex with them regardless of their wishes. It fed strongly into the woman’s low self-esteem and her feeling of grattitude that someone was even interested in her.

I story-boarded it with Jerry and we both felt very strongly that at the end where the rape occurs, we didn’t want to have the classic man overpowering woman in dark alleyway imagery. It wouldn’t address the basic complexity of power abuse inherent within the act of rape. Rhoda’s lyrics were literally screaming out this viewpoint. This was brave and ground breaking work in the sphere of people challenging prevalent sexual attitudes. We wanted the rape to be contextualised within the culture we were inhabiting. We didn’t want the fashionably tittilating passive, fragile woman versus the tough man myth to be a way of letting our wider society off the hook. This was the amazing and talented Rhoda and Jerry taking big risks and being courageous. There were no trigger warnings issued here. The aim was to give a visceral, disturbing experience. I only have an old VHS copy of this which I digitised before the tape disintegrated.

Enlightened attitudes and useful conversations about combatting rape have been happening for nigh on 40 years. The horror of rape has been understood. If people didn’t have a basic understanding of it’s traumatic impact, rape would not be used as a weapon in war, for example. Young people’s education should absolutely include looking at rape as a social phenomenon. It’s part of the dark side of humanity and the human psyche. Along with war, murder and other criminal acts, rape will tragically always be part of human society, unless we live in a place where there is totalitarian control of all the citizens.

Of course part of growing more civilised is that we learn to be aware of our base brain urges, and aware of the consequences of merely allowing them to rule us. That project was started at the beginning of philosophical thinking by the Ancient Greeks.

As Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything I can only make them think.” Things, in case you haven’t noticed, are much better than they were then.

The fact that things are so much better seems to be wilfully ignored  by the loud vocal minority who are trying to persuade us that things today are as bad or even worse for young women than they were in my day. They are not thinking about the actual repercussions of this agenda. It’s not terribly compatible with gender equality, as they don’t count the unwanted gropes, kisses, and pinches that men receive  at uni. It’s only women, for whom anything “unwanted” gets put in the same categories as rape and sexual assault.

We know we all do things when we are off our head that we wouldn’t do sober. That’s why we enjoy being wrecked. Young people especially know that. To see this, you only have to be on a bus full of young people after a night out, laughing and recounting the adventures of the night before, amidst groans of “I didn’t do that, did I?”

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The shy and retiring Bianca Lake – a contestant on Big Brother 2014

Take instances like this:

Ben and Molly are on a date, having a great time. They are both pissed. They both love partying. They are, by the end of the evening, getting it on in Ben’s bed. Both Ben and Molly are making each other very horny. Molly decides, in the middle of the kissing, that she doesn’t really feel like having sex. However, because she is pissed, she half-heartedly pushes Ben away, saying, “Not tonight” with a smile. Ben replies, “But come on Molly…you know you’ll enjoy it.”

Molly laughs as Ben resumes kissing her. He begins to undress her. She’s still giggling, even though she’s removing his hand from her bra and playfully slapping his face as she repeatedly says, “I’m not in the mood.” Ben laughs playfully and retorts, “Yes, you are” and more determedly kisses her and carries on. Molly quietly says, “No. Not tonight. I’m tired. Really. I’m not in the mood.” But she’s no longer pushing Ben away. 

Because Ben is pissed, he doesn’t understanding what’s going on. He thinks Molly’s lack of resistance is evidence he’s persuaded her that she does want sex after all. If he were sober, he would see that Molly doesn’t really want sex. The last thing Ben would want is to rape Molly. He likes her and wants to continue seeing her. However, Ben is not sober, and so doesn’t understand that he’s about to have non-consensual sex with Molly. 

Once the act is under way, Molly does not protest. They have intercourse, but Molly is not really into it, moving without much enthusiasm. Ben, because he’s pissed, is not reading her ambivalence. He’s only reading that she’s pissed and tired (like he is) and thinks this is the reason for her lack of enthusiasm. If they were not both pissed, he would see the uncomfortableness in Molly and ask her if she’s ok. Because he’s pissed, he continues  believing the two of them are having consensual sex. If Molly were not pissed, she would have been more in control, and able to articulate that she wasn’t that into it more clearly.

It’s important to note you can easily reverse the people involved, and it could be Molly being more enthusiastic than Ben. The common sense of my generation (and society generally) would say this is not a rape that needs to be prosecuted. It’s not a sexual encounter where one party has done something so horrendous to the other party that it warrants the destruction of their lives. This is unwanted and regretted sex because of consuming loads of alcohol and an ensuing lack of communication. Ben had not plied her with drink to get his own way. They were both responsible. These incidents are common. People have many sexual encounters like this. These are pretty horrible experiences obviously, but even then, things are complicated. For many young women, these experiences are not scarring or traumatic. They were just regretted sexual encounters; opportunities to learn and grow. The next day they would talk about it, when they were both sober, and he would no doubt feel embarrassed and mortified. Why would any normal young man want to rape a woman he likes?

The present day ‘women are always victims’ feminist discourse insists Molly and Ben are horribly wrong and delusional. Ben was not merely careless in obtaining Molly’s consent. He should have checked over and over again at each stage of the sex-act, to make sure she repeatedly said yes.  Ben should now be punished, effectively having his life destroyed. He should be on the sex-offenders register and face a custodial sentence. Molly should feel traumatised (even if she wasn’t). Molly was a rape victim. Ben was a rapist as defined by the law. It’s black and white, just like Mary Whitehouse was black and white. And there’s also an added bonus for advocates of the rape culture theory. If all these incidences of miscommunication are now considered rape, then rape is more common than we thought it was.

How do we get the balance right in terms of accepting that both parties have responsibility, and punishing someone who really did force someone to have sex, by getting them drunk?

Moral posturing

One thing we can be sure of today is that the pleasurable side of sex is not hush hush or a mystery. Anyone, including teenagers can easily access whatever fantasy, fetish or perversion they would care to imagine. They can read about them, watch videos of them or direct performances of them via web-cam. Many sex acts they hadn’t even imagined get shown to them by their mates. I wonder how this changes things in terms of sexual negotiations. Sex is still sex in the age of the internet, but there is more of an abundance of confusing and conflicting messages and warnings out there. Some of these I thought we’d left behind in the dark ages my 70s youth. Like the Christians of the past, today’s feminists are warning us that unless we protect young girls from sex, they will have the rest of their lives ruined. In their view todays culture is not a sinful culture, it is a rape culture. I do not believe they are motivated by anything but a passion to do good and a belief that they are doing the right thing.

However, they overlook that young people in trouble tend to lie. Apparently, females are good and tell the truth (made of sugar and spice and all things nice). This is puzzlingly linked to the fact that women are ‘still oppressed.’ Males are bad and lie (made of snakes and snails and puppy dogs tails) because they are ‘still oppressors.’ Isn’t that explanation seriously fucking patronising? Like more old-fashioned sexists, it treats one sex as though it’s inferior to the other. It treats males not as individuals, but as representatives of an inferior sex.

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The Geordie Shore Girls – The party animal sexually liberated female role-model.

If we don’t want to be sexists, we can’t be selective about equality. Women are equally likely to be mean, nasty, lying, abusive, manipulative, competitive and revengeful because they are human beings.

If that is not true we are attributing some kind of selective unequal character virtues by virtue of a woman’s biology. No gender has a monopoly on nastiness. Or even false accusations. If we assume otherwise, there’s no point in promoting gender equality. There’s no equality to promote. Men are just the inferior gender; the gender you can’t trust.

We still have the issue of whose telling the truth about what happened if a rape has been reported and there are no witnesses. These situations can be tricky. We have to look at individual cases and scrutinise them as we do in all criminal cases. The onus is on innocent until proven guilty and therefore, it is just a horrible fact of life that some rapists will get away with it.

Moreover, we are not talking enough about how today’s rape culture proponents impact young men. It still seems they don’t matter because  by virtue of having a penis and they are all sex-mad predators who can’t control themselves ( just like Mrs Whitehouse said). I also wonder if these people have not watched Love Island or Geordie Shore. Have they not hung out with young women who love Tinder and who love to go out and have casual sex, as part of a fun night out? It seems not, as the shrill voices shouting the loudest about this stuff, are predominantly nice and ‘far too easily shockable’ people with a certain kind of middle-class value set. They are entrenched in a kind of superior but totally naive, cosseted world of stringent social etiquette. These aren’t just concerned parents. These are the kids that have had an inevitably cosseted upbringing that encourages them to adhere to social conventions. Apparently some student unions are advocating that it should be mandatory that students attend sexual consent and rape classes. The narrative of many of these classes is (surprise surprise) based on the assumption that the boys are the predators and need to learn how to control their impulses, while the girls need protecting from the boys.

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 The Elephant in the Room.

In the public discourse the innocent till proven guilty right of law, central to our liberal democratic institutions, is being seemingly abandoned in the sphere of sex-crime. The apparent justification for this is the collective existential angst about the fact that a number of high profile public figures got away with heinous sexually predatory acts of assault and rape in the 70s. It seems to me that we emotionally feel, in order to atone for the historical shortcomings of our system, that we must swing the pendulum in the other direction and abandon the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ core of our legal system. This is disturbing. However this is a very difficult thing to talk about in the public sphere due to the threat of being attacked by an angry Twitter mob who can’t differentiate between questioning things and being dangerous misogynists.

People keep silent to avoid hatred and vitriol being slung at them by people who just emotionally react instead of standing back and really thinking about the issues being raised.

Voicing dissent regarding current social etiquette around sex-crimes is being slowly and surely censored.

Some people just don’t necessarily agree with always prosecuting in situations where legal definitions of rape have been satisfied. It’s because although they have been in those situations, it really didn’t bother them. The inference of the ‘rape-culture’ school of thought is that it SHOULD bother them and the great and the good should tell them that.

So by perpetrating the false perception that we are now living in a rape culture, it seems we are back to the messages of my youth. Mary Whitehouse will be clapping her hands in glee if she were alive. She’d be skipping around with today’s Feminists. Is this really what you need to know kids? Many of us fought long and hard to challenge those myths but yet again we are being told:

  1. Sex 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.

Sounds familiar?




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