Armchair activism is all very well but…

… if something is worth saying then it’s worth saying to the people who need to hear it.

If you’ve been checking in here at soisaystoher on any kind of semi-regular basis then you’ll have gathered I’m particularly interested in talking about the deeply ingrained sexism in the attitude that women who have been drinking alcohol are in some way responsible for their own rape. I don’t wish to oversimplify an exploration of how men and women keep themselves safe when they’re out and drinking to a point where their ability to make decisions that are in their best interests could be compromised. For example I like the Belfast City Council’s ‘Get Home Safe’ campaign as it isn’t gender specific and it deals with the range of risks that exist when you’re not attending to your personal safety. However, a man forcing sex on a woman where she feels threatened/ he is overpowering her/ she is not physically able to express her ‘NO’ or fight him off because she’s on the verge of passing out, constitutes rape. This is something that I know, I’m assuming you know, the law is very clear about, but unfortunately not everyone who is currently out in Belfast city centre on their 8th pint of the night as they try to survive the annual Chrismas work do, is fully aware of.

Not only is the law clear that a woman who is drunk should not be considered fair game or someone to be taken advantage of but also that men who force sex because they are drunk should not be treated any differently than sober rapists. It’s encouraging to know that in response to the obvious failings in the reporting and conviction rates in rape cases in the UK, the government has commissioned an independent review to figure out how everyone involved in that process is getting it so terribly wrong for women. Today the Guardian reported that the review, headed by Lady Stern, has plenty to say about the use of alcohol in rape cases, both to discredit female victims and excuse male perpetrators. It makes for hopeful reading.

Here’s the thing. I’m getting a little frustrated with just spouting off online and am absolutely itching to DO something to help bring these important developments right to the frontline. With another rape in East Belfast at the weekend a couple of hundred yards from my house I’m more aware than ever that we have a responsibility to take action.

So what I’m proposing is this: a night of flyering in Belfast. Hitting the pubs around Botanic and Shaftsbury Square and taking the message that no Christmas night out should end with rape and the responsibility to make sure that doesn’t happen lies with the blokes. We can tell women to watch their backs till the cows come home but it won’t change the fact that there are men out there who believe they are entitled to sex with or without consent. I was reading this horrific story today about a school in California where an 8th grader pinned a 7th grader up against a wall in the stairway and raped her while other students were all around. Thankfully, in this case, some of them intervened and others went to get help. I noticed this quote from the local police:

El Cerrito police Chief Scott Kirkland said. “It is interesting, the criminal mind. When a situation like this occurs, to actually do something like this … you have to be a little sick.”

and I thought, ‘see, this is why they don’t quite get it.’ Because the problem is you don’t have to be ‘sick’ to rape somebody, you just have to have an inherent belief that you have more of a right to use their body and sexuality than they have to deny you. And the justifications that perfectly unsick men can find to tilt that balance in their favour include things as innocuous as the amount of legs and boob she was showing, the way she was dancing, the fact that she snogged you in the club and let you have a grope, her willingness to let you buy her drinks all night or the fact that she’s probably too drunk to really put up much of a fight. None of which equate to consent but are often taken to mean as much.

I have 2 flyers in mind, the first being the one produced by NIO which clearly outlines the legal definition of consent and the changes to the law which mean a man has to prove consent was obtained. This is the one I enquired about getting copies of but couldn’t so I’m going to get a bunch printed up. If you think this is a message worth getting out in the public domain please think about doing the same. Secondly, I’m putting together a short postcard sized flyer that will say the following:

“She’s clearly up for it dressed like that.”

“She’s been drinking with me all night and now she’s inviting me back to her’s.”

“She’s so drunk she won’t even remember this in the morning.”

None of these mean she’s consenting to sex.

“ A person consents if she/he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” Sexual Offences Order, Article 3

Forcing sex on someone who doesn’t want it is rape. Taking advantage of someone is a crime that you’ll have to wake up to the morning after.

Any feedback? I’m designing it at the minute so am very open to suggestions.

I’ll post more details on when the first Soisaystoher Night of Action will occur. Please let me know if you’d like to join in and we’ll work on getting a night that suits most people.

I’m not proposing we go up to randomers and put flyers in their hands – more just wander round the pubs and distribute them around tables, toilets and the like. And maybe have a drink or two while we’re at it. If you need any encouragement I’ll leave you with this: When I was waiting for my slot on Seven Days on Radio Ulster to begin on Sunday, one of the other panelists asked me with a grin “So are you a balanced feminist or a stir-it feminist?” to which I replied “Well, I don’t think feminism would exist if there wasn’t something that needed stirring.”


1 Response to “Armchair activism is all very well but…”

  1. 1 Cazi December 16, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Great idea Kel. And another well written post. I would love to join you for distributing – just give me a shout. One thing though – the third person singular feminine possessive pronoun is hers (no apostrophe). Forgive me, but you know my mother is an English teacher!

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