On Sexual Violence, Institutionalised Misogyny and Rape Culture

The following is a longer form version of my mic check to Bourke St Mall from Saturday. It was distributed amongst Occupiers of Melbourne and members of the general public. It belongs to me, and was written by me, and is reproduced here with my permission.

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People of Melbourne,

On Tuesday December 6th, a terrible act of sexual violence occurred in our great city. In full public view and in broad daylight, a young woman was surrounded by a group of adults much older than her, held in place, and had her clothing brutally cut from her body using a knife. The things she was wearing were then torn away from her body and taken away from her. The people that did this left her laying on the grass in only her underwear, and they walked away with nary a glance in her direction.

The people that did this? Sworn officers of the Victoria Police, and employees of the City of Melbourne.

I’m not writing this to talk about what happened to our Occupy Melbourne sister Sara yesterday. I’m writing this because I want to talk about institutionalised sexual violence, misogyny and the rape culture we live in.

Rape culture is defined by Wikipedia as:

“a culture in which rape and sexual violence against women are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices and media condone, normalise, excuse or tolerate sexual violence against women.” 1

The rape culture we live in showed itself on Tuesday morning in the Flagstaff Gardens. The group of police and council who assaulted Sara was made up of men and women. It was a woman who cut the tent off her. Commenters around the internet have asked incredulously why the female police officers and council workers would have consented to such an operation, or why they didn’t offer Sara a coat or a blanket or something to cover herself with. The answer to that question is two words: Rape Culture.

In 2008, the Herald Sun reported that 23 percent of the Victoria Police were female.2 I’m going to let that hang in the air for a moment, so we can consider that (admittedly outdated, I couldn’t find anything more recent in the limited time I have had to write this article) statistic. In 2008, 77% of the Victoria Police were men.

For a woman in a male-dominated environment, the challenge is fitting in. Often, fitting into a male-dominated environment means having to tolerate the “old boys club” feel of the place. A woman must become less sensitive, must learn to brush off sexist jokes and jabs about her sex life, appearance, femininity. She must become “one of the boys” so that she will fit into the environment in which she finds herself.

If she finds herself in the “old boys club” because of her freely chosen line employment, the need to adjust her behaviour in order to fit in becomes doubly important. She cannot afford to lose her job and her means of living because she was too sensitive about some “good natured teasing” (read: sexually inappropriate comments) or some “harmless decorations” (read: nudie calendar).

So she desensitises herself. Things that she may have previously found objectionable she lets slide, or writes off as “boys will be boys” or ignores because “it’s not harming me directly”. But what she doesn’t understand is that every time she lets something slide, or ignores something that niggles at her, or writes something off, she contributes to and reinforces the rape culture which places every woman at a disadvantage, even in our privileged Western society.

A 2003 article in The Age on the topic of sexism on the Victoria Police quotes former police office Narell McKenna. She left the Victoria Police after winning a harassment case against the Police in 1998. Ms McKenna described the police culture as a “boy’s club” and went on to say:

“The girls have to be even more blokey than the boys to survive. Young men these days aren’t like that. But the women have to be.” 3

The article continues:

Another policewoman friend [of Ms McKenna] had recently experienced discrimination but had not complained. “She said ‘It’s not worth it.’ She said you can’t say anything or you end up, like me, without a career.” 4

So sure, one of the policewomen present on Tuesday could have spoken up. She could have gone against the grain and said that what they were doing was wrong. She could have proposed a different way of doing it. She could have said stop, or voiced her opposition. But maybe she was afraid, like Ms McKenna’s friend. Perhaps she has a large mortgage, or two kids in school, or an ailing elderly parent. Perhaps she’s a single mother and she needs her job to put food on the table.

A man could have spoken up too. He could have seen something of his mother, his wife, his sister or his daughter in Sara, and seen that what he was doing was wrong. But perhaps he needed his job too. Perhaps he felt like he was doing absolutely the wrong thing, but couldn’t speak up because he was behind on his water bill, or his daughter’s school fees.

When you are afraid you’ll lose your job, or your status, or your income because you speak out against a violent act being committed against a woman, you demonstrate how present and all-encompassing the rape culture is in our daily life.

And so that’s what led to what happened to our sister Sara on Tuesday. The rape culture perpetrated the crime that was committed against her. The rape culture supported the police and council while they committed this crime, and the rape culture will protect them from retribution. They were just doing their jobs, after all.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can stand up and say “NO MORE!” We can stand alongside our sister Sara and support her. We can learn to recognise the rape culture that is enshrined in our way of life and we can start to fight back against it. Rape culture doesn’t only diminish and disadvantage women. It diminishes and disadvantages men too. It positions men as sexual predators, as insatiable creatures who only exist to pursue their basest desires, to leer and jeer at women on the street, as creatures who can only see women as prizes to be won. It positions the woman as the prey and the man as the hunter, and gives no consideration to anyone who is outside of the heteronormative paradigm.

Men of Melbourne, I know you are not like this. Maybe you live with a woman. Maybe you’re related to a woman. Maybe you work with a woman you respect. Maybe you make love with a woman who rocks your world. Wouldn’t you like to live in a world where you’re not seen as an insatiable predator?

We can all do this. Occupiers, non-occupiers, police, citizens, politicians, men, woman, public servants, nurses, council workers, teachers, doctors, employed, un-employed, old, young. We are all responsible for this. It’s incumbent on all of us to combat the rape culture, and we can start right now. Next time you hear someone make an off-colour rape joke, call him or her out on it. Next time you see an advertisement that treats a woman as a sex object or a man as a predator, write a complaint. And next time you see sexual violence committed in Melbourne by an institution originally formed to protect Victorian people, you’ll be able to recognise and understand the mechanisms that allow such a thing to happen.

And only through this understanding can we ALL truly find our freedom.

Written by Erin, Occupy Melbourne First Aid and Care Team.
December 7th, 2011.

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References

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One thought on “On Sexual Violence, Institutionalised Misogyny and Rape Culture

  1. Pingback: Gentlemen: This Is Your Rape Culture | fatandsassyblog

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