Week Woman

A Pox on the Patriarchy

The Threat Of Rape – Why Tosh and Sarkeesian’s Trolls Mustn’t Silence Women

- Caroline Criado-Perez

So there I was, absent-mindedly flicking my way through twitter, on what was meant to be my promised day off from blogging – maybe tomorrow – when I caught sight of a tweet from Jessica Luther that read as follows:

I think most cis men would be shocked to learn how much time in each woman’s life she spends worrying about being raped.


I imagine that she wrote that tweet in response to the huge media storm over the past week that has arisen in response to the Daniel Tosh story. Short précis for those who’ve missed it, Tosh made a rape joke at a comedy club. A woman objected. He then mused that it would be terribly funny if said woman were to right then and there be gang-raped – hilarious. Following on from this, women who have held up the woman’s complaint have been subjected to a similar type of abuse, with Karen Elson being told pretty much the same thing on her twitter account.

This comes only weeks after – or really, since it’s on-going, at the same times as – the tidal wave of misogynistic bile hitting Anita Sarkeesian, which includes a charming game in which if one wishes – and apparently lots of us do – we can beat her to a bloody bruised pulp. All for setting up a Kickstarter account to raise money for a series of videos investigating female stereotypes in video-games. Clearly, she was asking for it.

Now, what these two things have in common is of course clear – the idea that violence against women is acceptable – or even funny.

And together with Jessica Luther’s tweet, it reminded me of an unpleasant experience of my own, that I now want to share with you.

I was walking along the streets of Walthamstow, to my boyfriend’s house. I became aware that a man on a bike was cycling along near me – too near. It was getting dark, the streets were deserted, and I felt uncomfortable. Like the English woman I am, I was immediately faced with the perennial dilemma: do I try to avoid him and potentially insult someone who has no idea of hurting me, or do I take no evasive action and end up getting assaulted or even raped?

I decided not to look at him and slowed down. So did he. Whatever pace I set, he matched it, and clearly enjoying the game, he came closer and closer to me, staring at me relentlessly.

Inside I was furious – how dare this man do this to me? – and determined not to let him know I was scared. But I was terrified. Even now, writing this, I can feel the blood rise to my face and my heart pumping with the adrenaline. And this was five years ago.

I stopped faux-casually, and looked in my handbag, as if I had suddenly remembered something. And my tail stopped too. I didn’t want to take my phone out and call anyone, because I thought that was probably asking to be mugged, and in any case, as I mentioned before, I was embarrassed that this was happening to me. Me, a ‘strong, independent woman’. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

I turned around and started walking towards the main street – needless to say, he followed me.

Losing all sense of pride, I started to run, and ran as fast as I could, managing to reach a shop before he managed to catch me, where I burst into tears, told the shop owner what had happened and asked if I could stay till the man, who was now hovering around outside the shop, had gone. I waited for about an hour – in which time the man rode over to his friends and got them to all hang out with him, waiting for me to emerge, clearly enjoying their power, and the terror they were able to inflict on me.

So the outcome is clear – nothing happened to me. And really, in retrospect, I doubt that it would have – although of course I can’t be sure, so I’m glad I ran.

But what I feel this story has in common with the Daniel Tosh and Anita Sarkeesian episodes is the idea that any of this was funny. I am almost totally sure, that what this man, and later his friends, were doing, was showing me that they had power over me. That they could scare me. And that they found this highly amusing and entertaining.

Nearly half of young women in London were sexually harassed in public last year. Some of this is ‘serious’ – groping, indecent exposure (as happened to a friend of mine on the tube) – and some of it is ‘not so serious’ – cat-calls, wolf-whistles etc.

But what those who defend the right for men to publicly treat women as sex-objects in the street forget, is that women don’t just live with lewd comments, which can perhaps be shrugged off, they live with the real threat of sexual violence. Every day. And sometimes it really is hard to tell the difference between the two.

Another story: I was in Walthamstow (again) and I walked passed a group of young men, who started wolf-whistling, cat-calling and suggesting I take off my jacket and do a twirl for them. When I failed to respond they started shouting out at me ‘Hey’, ‘Hello?’. I quickened my pace and luckily they didn’t pursue me. But how was I meant to respond in that situation? I really didn’t know. Ignoring makes them feel they’ve won. But responding dismissively increases the chance that they’ll attack you.

So like so many other women, I walked away in silence, feeling just that little bit more defeated.

And this is why Tosh’s rape jokes and the Sarkeesian trolling really need addressing. Because it’s not fair that women who stand up to this kind of sexual abuse should be silenced. It’s not funny. And it must stop.

*   *   *   *   *

This article has now been republished in the New Statesman – do feel free to comment there too!

23 comments on “The Threat Of Rape – Why Tosh and Sarkeesian’s Trolls Mustn’t Silence Women

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  4. bewarethebelievers
    July 28, 2012

    I don’t think there’s a woman alive who’s not felt that adrenaline rush of fear caused by a threatening man in a dangerous spot! The anger is enough to choke a person & it’s NEVER forgotten! Excellent blog posts! :-)

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  7. Jeremiah
    July 16, 2012

    If you feel anxiety about being raped, stop allowing yourself to be oppressed. Do yourself and the rest of society a favor, by a gun, learn to use it and stop assuming every guy who smiles or says hi to you has the intention if doing you harm. I am a country boy raised with home town values and am tired of being treated like an animal who at the drop of a hat is going to return to primal instincts and rape or do harm to someone

    • Week Woman
      July 16, 2012

      Don’t be so utterly ridiculous – did you see any mention of smiling in the article? By all means smile – I welcome smiles and smile back. That’s *slightly* different to following and intimidating someone. If you’re getting a bad reaction I very much doubt you’re just smiling. As for guns – yes, that’s exactly what we need – more idiots with the power to kill. Though since I state I’m English and the experiences were in Walthamstow, I imagine you can’t actually have read the article – guns are illegal here.

    • Travis Higgins
      June 26, 2013

      Oh Jeremy, you’re an idiot. No explanation needed on my end.

  8. RCG
    July 15, 2012

    I don’t think any comedian will ever say something that would be funny on this particular subject. I’ve never been a fan of Tosh and never will. I’m a guy and weary of this sort of thing happening to my wife. So help me God, if someone ever lays a hand on her–they will wish they had never been born!

    • Week Woman
      July 16, 2012

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on this – nice to hear the male viewpoint too.

  9. FrauDoktorDoctor
    July 15, 2012

    I once read a really excellent Racialicious column that explained why women should not be flattered to be cat-called: because women do not exist to please men. No, she will not “Smile, baby;” she is not walking down the street to look pretty for you. I tried to find the piece I remember but couldn’t; anyway, the site has a number of similar ones that take race and poverty into account as well as gender. Thank you for writing this, too. Change.org has a petition asking Comedy Central to take Tosh.0 off the air: http://www.change.org/petitions/ceo-comedy-central-take-daniel-tosh-off-the-air .

    • Week Woman
      July 15, 2012

      Thanks for commenting and thanks for the pointer – looks interesting

  10. Ray Arias
    July 14, 2012

    Wow! What total a$$holes that guy and his stupid friends were! Even though I’m a guy, I have felt followed by people from time to time, but I have never experienced harassment to that degree!

    • Week Woman
      July 14, 2012

      Thanks for reading and commenting. Sadly though, my story is by no means unusual.

  11. Thank you for the writing. I’m sitting here thinking about how I’d like to share this with my 13 year old daughter…and not. I’m thinking about how disturbing a relatively non-graphic rape scene was in a blockbuster movie I viewed years ago, and how a choking feeling arises when I reflect on that. I’m thinking about several “near misses” of my own, and the “what ifs” that still haunt me.

    But, strangely perhaps, I’m thinking about the paradoxical (to me) popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey with its largely women readers. I’ve heard it billed “Mommy porn,” and I’ve read a comedic/disgusting parody of it in a Cdn newsmagazine, and – in curiosity, since my preferred reading stack doesn’t include junk literature or erotica – I’ve read reviews defending it as a wildly successful publishing embarrassment and as justifiable female humiliation since the kinky sex in it is consensual. I just have to ask myself if we, as a gender (and, in concert with commercial entities capitalizing on our female tastes) don’t send out a mixed message: “Respect that I want it how I want it, when I want it…but I really want it.” You decide what the “it” is.

    Frankly, I find us confusing and would love to be set straight.

    • Week Woman
      July 14, 2012

      Hmmm yes that is interesting. But I think that the mixed messages perhaps have more to do with the huge pressure exerted by society on women to be sexualised – and it’s hard to resist. For a depressing example of how internalised this can become, see the latest post on A Confederacy of Spinsters – a teenage girl who finds a rape in a film ‘gross’ because the woman was ‘ugly’.

    • iamkarenw
      August 1, 2012

      You’re absolutely right about the mix messages. I had this discussion with my husband on the media influence over how we think and react as a society. He pointed out, “Why is it okay for woman to whistle over movies like Magic Mike, but it becomes inappropriate if a man makes any type of sexual comment?” He is right. Although I cannot say all women or men behave this way, the pop culture has certainly sent out some conflicting messages.

      I know how it feels to be objectify by men and women (long story). It is a very degrading feeling. What’s worse is it doesn’t matter if you confront them or not, either way they would receive pleasure out of the reaction you’re projecting.

      So how do we address this issue without being classified as, “bra burners?”

      • Week Woman
        August 1, 2012

        Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think the main thing is to reject the contemporary misconception of feminism that seems to preponderate at the moment – see here for my thoughts on this. At the moment, almost any instance of a woman standing up for herself has her undermined and dismissed as a ‘feminazi’, which is a mythical creature invented by those who are hostile to the feminist message. And yes, the media have a huge and damaging role to play in all of this. Education is key, and the media need to step up.

  12. Emily January
    July 14, 2012

    It isn’t funny at all. Your experience caused me anxiety just reading it. On another blog I follow, A Confederacy of Spinsters, a recent post talked about how the writer overheard a teenage girl saying that a rape scene in a movie was gross because the woman being raped was ugly. The ensuing conversation about this girl’s wrongheaded thoughts was fascinating. You might appreciate it given this post, which is great, by the way.

    • Week Woman
      July 14, 2012

      Thank you very much – and for the recommendation; I’ll take a look. Sounds disturbing and worrying.

  13. stefla
    July 14, 2012

    Jezebel.com had a great piece called “How to Make a Rape Joke,” which discussed the relationship between comedian and audience. Comedians are lashing out against the outcry following Tosh’s ridiculously offensive joke, calling on “freedom of speech,” saying that comedians need to be allowed to make light of touchy subjects, and that if people don’t want to be offended they shouldn’t go to comedy clubs. This article, however, states that the audience counts as much as the joke itself, and if the audience doesn’t like something, it means the joke isn’t working. This is my favorite quote from it: “If people don’t want to be offended, they shouldn’t go to comedy clubs? Maybe. But if you don’t want people to react to your jokes, you shouldn’t get on stage and tell your jokes to people.”

    • Week Woman
      July 14, 2012

      Thanks for the pointer – and that *is* a fantastic quote – beautifully balanced apart from anything else.

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