August 24, 2013
Rape threats on Twitter should force us to re-think rape myths
Let’s say you are a man and you spot a woman in the media getting a little too big for her boots, proposing outlandish things such as Jane Austen on the UK ten-pound note. You feel that this woman (journalist and feminist Caroline Criado-Perez) ought to be put in her place. You (and many other men in the same position) wonder how this might be achieved. Your resolve to threaten her with rape seems the most appropriate given the circumstances, choosing Twitter as the best medium for your threat. Or perhaps you are casually seeing what is “trending” on Twitter:
“KISS YOUR PUSSY GOODBYE AS WE BREAK IT IRREPARABLY”. (Note correct spelling of “irreparably”, certainly not a Daily Mail reader…)
“This Perez one just needs a good smashing up the arse and she’ll be fine.”
You figure that, much like a petition, many threats of rape are better than a few. So you add your own, in between playing World of warcraft and telling your Mum not to come into your bedroom without knocking. Maybe you do it because you feel that, on the internet, you can do it with impunity. Like those who looted during the 2011 London riots, maybe you do it just because you can (or think you can). Maybe you do it because you are bored. Or maybe you are consciously aware of your desire to undermine a feminist with a reminder that, even a powerful, successful woman is vulnerable to rape from the weakest, most pathetic man. You seek to redress the power dynamic that a feminist sought to equalise.
And guess what?
It doesn’t work. Not only does it not work, it backfires completely. The trouble with feminists is that they don’t just shut up when you tell them to. This seems like an obvious thing to say because feminists, by definition, won’t take shit from men. They actually do the opposite to what you intended. They stand up, speak out, and speak up! And then you really look like the cowardly excuse for a man that spends his evenings masturbating furiously in his bedroom while his Mum makes his tea downstairs.
Something good came out of this horrific episode: we decided that, as a society, we are not going to tolerate these threats. Many studies of rape have concluded that what really makes a difference to incidents of rape is the way rape is viewed in a society.
Jill Filopovic wrote a brilliant piece in the Guardian last year stating that: “Researches have found that cultural opposition to rape myths makes men less likely to commit assault, and acceptance of those myths makes sexual assault more likely.” Some examples of rape myths are: women lie about rape, there are sometimes “mixed signals” or a grey area of consent, or a woman’s behaviour was partly to blame for the rape.
In other words, the way that we as a society react to these rape threats will have a direct effect on the number of incidents of rape. These threats are not something that should be dismissed as an “occupational hazard” of using Twitter, and thankfully, it seems as if they will not be. But Twitter needs to (wo)man up and take some responsibility; they only acted after a petition of 11,000 signatures put pressure on them to include a ‘report abuse’ button on every tweet.
God knows what Jane Austen would have thought of this. I’m sure, however, that she could have expressed it in 140 characters.
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