By Clara Doña
Spending a great deal of our time in social networking has consequences. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – they all allow us to conceal different topics, opinions and feelings with one move of the finger; simply scroll down to your own personalised kaleidoscopic view of the world. On the other hand, a melting pot of news, other people’s lives and opinions, shared/re-shared memes and clips, and general cacophony often taps in to our empathy and even our own anxieties. This article is a result of the author’s own kaleidoscope of the current affairs on women in an attempt to gather all under the same question: Why are we women still made responsible for what is done to us?
These past weeks have been intense in Hollywood. The Western media has been in revolt against the Harvey Weinstein case (and the multitude of related ones that have started to pile up), placing #consent in the centre of attention, raising a chorus of voices that had previously been silent. But whilst Rose McGowan’s speech calls for a feminist revolution, the dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale speaks to everyone’s preoccupations about the roles of women in society, and London’s TFL puts up posters with a help number to report harassment on the tube. Given this somewhat fragmented context, I need to go back to the feminist author Virginie Despentes in her recent interview for ID when she argues that “rape is always a women’s subject’’.
‘’I want to see men gathering and, please, try to understand what’s wrong with you, how can you be a rapist.”
Virginie Despentes, 2017
While the discourses on persistence, struggle and objectification circulate implicitly and explicitly (through almost every feminist utterance) around the female collective, I do ask myself if us women haven’t spoken enough about rape. Understandably, shouldn’t the discourses on feminism be directed more thoroughly to men? And most importantly, shouldn’t be rape mainly a masculine subject?
Recent weeks have also been tumultuous in Spain due to the trial that will take place to judge the five members of “La Manada” (which I could translate accurately as “the gang”, even more accurately as “the mob” or, relating them to animals, as “the pack”). They are being prosecuted for raping an 18 year old woman last July during the celebration of San Fermín, in the Spanish city of Pamplona. Strikingly, the defence of the accused hired a private detective to follow the victim and found her to have a teenage routine that is unremarkable, in which she hung out with friends, went to lessons and smiled. As insane as this may sound, that was proposed to be used against the victim’s credibility. Many voices in Spain are rising up against this, with the claim that “now to be believed as a victim, you need to act as a victim.” Meanwhile, the news keeps acting as a death knell, with almost a victim to women’s violence per news programme.
Coming back to Despentes’ interview, she proposes the question of how giving women the power to kill their rapists would change the power dynamics of the act itself: “I don’t hate them [men], but I like to treat men like we are treated most of the time,” she says. In her magnum opus, King Kong Theory, Despentes also delves into the masculine culture of violence as having been constructed in a way that legitimises the idea that “men’s desire is stronger than him, he is unable to dominate it.” She goes on to say that “We still understand too often that ‘thanks to prostitution there is less rape’, as if men couldn’t control themselves, as if they had to discharge elsewhere.” In saying that there is no real correlation between testosterone and rape, Despentes implies that the cultural construction of gender roles and their continuous reinforcement is to be blamed for the issue in our hands. This is an idea that needs to be talked about more thoroughly; that rape and violence against women are not some sort of biological inevitability, but that they are rooted and sustained in the social – binary gender constructions, heteronormativity, and cultures of masculinity (and indeed femininity).
The construction of ‘women’ is ubiquitous in Western culture and the same attitudes, expectations and normative values are placed upon women again and again. In the most recent campaign by a well-known shoe designer for example, the model Cara Delevigne walks around a city at night. As classically frivolous and entertaining as the ad may be (groovy music, colourful photography and the joyful walk of a young woman in the city), it also shows the gaze and reaction of men to her sparkly shoes (and a bit more as the camera shows a shot broad enough to contain much more than her shoes). The ad seems to disguise those harassing gazes as the model responds to them playfully, whereas in realty, most of us would be unbothered or angry or even scared – it is rare that unsolicited male gaze is exciting or intoxicating as the ad seems to imply. The problem with this representation is that it sends the message that in response to a random ‘compliment’ from a stranger, a woman needs to smile, feel sexy, and almost thankful that someone is noticing her. And a heterosexual man needs to pay attention to the way a women looks, compliment her and follow her with his eyes as she walks away. This is just one example of women’s bodies are framed as willing recipients of the male gaze, but other instances abound, as I’m sure readers will agree.
Against the backdrop of a masculine culture of violence that Despentes argues against and the women blamed for the crimes committed against them, the gender divisive culture stands strong as ever, and the voice can become our best weapon to tear it down. I started this article by saying that social networking has consequences; perhaps those networks could be the microphone to make our voices finally heard.
About the author
Clara Doña is a Spanish recent graduate of an MA in Comparative Literature at UCL. Her interests move from gender issues to philosophy, by way of Judith Butler and women’s poetry. She dearly appreciates reading in the early morning and writing late at night.
Artist unknown. Via feministartwork