I had never really engaged with Twitter before I started this blog. Being a chronic over-elaborator, I never really saw the benefits of being restricted to 140 characters at a time. However, after setting up an account to engage in some useful debate and promote my young blog, I have certainly become enlightened to the potential of this short and snappy mode of global communication, even in these short few weeks. By following people with whom I share a point of view and who are active in the conversations I want to be a part of, I have been both encouraged by those out there campaigning or actively supporting the changes we need to see in our society, as well as totally flabbergasted at the sheer idiocy of others (“flabbergasted” being an example of a word I do not have room for often on twitter). I think I have now seen first-hand what the kids call “trolling”, or as I like to call it, just plain verbal abuse.
A lot of this vitriol I have seen directed at the blogger Jean Hatchet, initiator of a petition urging Sheffield United not to re-sign the former professional footballer Ched Evans after his recent release from serving half of a five year prison sentence for rape. I admire how this person manages the abuse she receives with logic, humour and grace. I hope someday I learn these skills, rather than the reactionary fury I am accustomed to. Of course, many others have received similar reactions. The athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill has recently received her very own rape threat after stating that she would have her name removed from a stand at Sheffield United if they re-sign Evans. Along with others in a conversation thread, I was myself lucky enough to be invited to a Sheffield United match, and reassured about the cold conditions:
These vile reactions to those taking a stand against a culture which normalises rape are abhorrent. We all have a responsibility to send clear messages that this is a heinous crime, the blame for which rests solely on the culprit. Especially at a time when we are increasingly seeing those in authority admitting their failure to treat crimes of this nature with the attention and severity they merit. But rather than getting bogged down in explaining why threatening people with sexual violence is wrong (for further information, please see “The Law”), I would rather like to focus on some of the claims directed at myself and others in the last week while trying to explain why we think putting a convicted rapist on a pedestal is morally bankrupt.
After careful investigation using a blindfold and spinning in a circle while pointing at my computer screen at random, I found that a lot of these odd reactions are coming from “Blades” fans themselves. The recurring theme seems to be that feminism is now just trying to target their club in general, and Ched Evans in particular, because of some sort of underlying resentment. Alas, it is time to finally admit it. We tried to cleverly conceal the truth, but it has been uncovered – we really just hate Sheffield United. I hate everything about the club, I have done for a number of years. I am not quite sure from where my detestation for Sheffield United came, I just know it runs deep and that under the surface I have been waiting for a chance to attack. We all have.
In fact, one week at Feminism HQ (after misandry class) we were all called together by Jessica Ennis-Hill to form a strategy about how to once and for all put an end to Sheffield United. We tried backing other football teams, going to matches and the like, but we couldn’t stomach being so close to all of the men (because we hate them so much, naturally). So you can imagine my sheer delight when one of their players got convicted of rape. The elation was unimaginable. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, instead of the club disowning him completely like we thought any organisation with an ounce of morality would do, they let him back to train while they make up their minds about whether to re-sign him (or check to see if he’s actually any good at football anymore). Either way it was like all our Christmases and International Women’s Days had come at once. How we celebrated, how we rejoiced, how we dined and drank organically, singing along to Alanis Morisette and watching Girl Interrupted until the sun came up. Good times.
The source of our hatred towards Ched Evans is probably easier to pinpoint. It is the same reason feminists criticise any man in the public eye, or anywhere else in fact. It is, of course, because we all tried it on with him at different points in our lives and were cruelly rejected. The pain of which still haunts us. We are even too sad to shave our armpits. Every day is a battle. So yes, this whole campaign has emerged out of a deep-seated hatred towards Sheffield United in general, and Ched Evans in particular.
No. Not really. Rape, I hate rape.
Perhaps feminists should assume some of the responsibility for these reactions. It could partly be because we forgot to say we were annoyed about all of the other rapists as well. We made the mistake of assuming that was implied. So just to be clear, I condemn all rape, wherever it happens, whoever it is happening to. I am also aware that other terrible things are happening in the world, and it would be great to be able to tackle them all in one omnipotent swoop. But as it stands, there is now an opportunity for a professional football club to send a clear message that rape is a serious crime, that there are myths surrounding it, and that those myths are wrong. That you cannot rape someone, show no remorse for it, and then continue in a career that will have your actions influence the minds of young people. In this short window of time, we have an opportunity to encourage Sheffield United to do this.
Whether you have accepted the guilty verdict of a unanimous jury in Evans’ trial, which is what most people do every single day after thousands of trials for many different crimes, or whether you are doubtful about the verdict, perhaps now is a time to question why we are finding this so difficult to grasp? Why the confusion? If grown adults who are debating this case on television, on the radio, in newspapers, and on social media cannot agree on whether this woman was actually raped (by the way, no one is asking you to, a jury already did that), or whether it was serious enough to prevent Evan’s becoming a role model, then how do we expect young people to fully understand consent in a meaningful way? It would be reductive to say that all rational people understand sexual consent, who can give it, what it means, and that anyone who doesn’t is a blithering idiot. Quite clearly, a lot of people do not have a clear understanding of what rape actually is. This can hardly be surprising in a country which only made marital rape illegal in the 90’s. As adults, we have a responsibility to talk about sex and consent in a consistent way. We need structured sex and relationship education, so that the children today don’t pay the price for our negligence in the future.
Now, just to be clear ( because if Twitter has taught me anything so far, it’s that 140 characters allows for a magnitude of misinterpretation), I do not believe that education will solve the problem of rape in it’s entirety. Rape is largely about power and control, and I do not believe that perpetrators can simply be “educated” out of using rape to control women, to assert power, or to get what they want. However, I do not think we can ignore the fact that there are a lot of young people who are learning attitudes around rape which are false. It is the reason that a lot of victims do not report the crime, believing that they were somehow at fault. Socialisation has also contributed to some young boys growing up with a sense of entitlement to women and their bodies. Look around. We live in a world where women’s bodies are offered for consumption in media and advertising everyday. Where women are taught to believe that their appearance is the most important thing about themselves because this is how we compete with each other to please men. We live in a world where some young men feel justified in acts of sexual assault and violence, and even in acts of rape. We do not have a criminal and justice system which is effective enough in punishing rape and sexual assault. Similarly, we do not have an education system which is effective enough in teaching young people about sex and consent, about relationships, about respecting and valuing women – not because they are your mothers, your sisters and your wives – but because they are human beings.
This is much bigger than Ched Evans and Sheffield United. Both of whom, for the record, I did not have even the slightest problem with before one of them raped someone and the other now verges on sending yet another mixed message to many young men and women, who’s perceptions of rape are become more skewed by the day. But if this example shows us anything, it is that there are so many out there willing to defend and justify rapists in circumstances that are not of the back alley variety. We need to challenge these perceptions, we need to teach our young people that rape myths are wrong, and we definitely need more than 140 characters. It is clear that we still have a long way to go to be understood.