Saturday, March 30, 2013

George Foulkes was wrong, but all political parties need to do more to tackle rape culture

Yesterday, George Foulkes caused a bit of a stooshie with this tweet:

Now, one of these three events is very different from the others. Yes, we need to confidence in what our school kids eat. Yes, anyone facing the threat of losing their job is pretty awful. But the brutal assault of a child in a public place is too horrific for casual political banter. There are limits, and he crossed the line.

As mother of an almost 14 year old, I winced when I read his tweet and replied to him:

What I took back from him is I think as close as an admission from him that he understands the point I was making as we're ever likely to get:

Of course, Nationalists on Twitter were not chuffed. Foulkes, of course, loves winding them up, much more than is helpful to the debate to be honest. They didn't help themselves when they started bandying around crime stats, though. I doubt the numbers game matter one tiny bit to that poor wee girl and her family.

I would probably elbow my way past George Foulkes to accuse the Nats of failing to meet people's needs now. In fact, I wrote a bit about it on Lib Dem Voice the other day, linking to Christine Jardine's article saying the same thing. They do need to get a grip of the here and now and not just ignore it and blame all failings on the fact that they don't have the powers to do stuff. Most of the time, they do.

I got to thinking, though, that maybe we should start to talk - that's talk, not throw political brickbats about - about what we can do about the sort of culture we have, how it demeans women and how we can change things. To do so we need to listen to some of the people who are out there working with young people. Or we can have a look around social media and find some of the terrible sexism and misogyny around. Chris Glendinning has a point about what we need to do here:
If we want to actually to tackle rape, then we can’t do this just by improving the legal process for complainers. Education also has a crucial role to play. When the Scottish Youth Parliament’s Education and Equalities Committees consulted young people on PSE in schools, the results were startling. When we surveyed young people on the issue of consent to sex and relationships in February this year, 63% of respondents said that there schools didn’t do enough to teach them about the importance of consent. If we want to tackle rape as an issue, we’ve got to simply stop saying to women “don’t do these things that could get you raped” (such as dress provocatively, get drunk, show consent to any sexual conduct with a man etc.) because firstly it is simply wrong: no-one is to blame for rape but the rapist themselves; and secondly because it does nothing to tackle the rape problem structurally, and do more to say to men “don’t rape”. Campaigns, such as “This is not an invitation to rape me” by Rape Crisis Scotland and the “We can stop it” by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland are fantastic, but they need to be rolled out on a much more widespread basis in schools, colleges and universities if we are to actually change social attitudes for the better.
There's a few things I'd like to add to Chris's suggestions. The effects of exposure to easily available internet porn which portrays women as receptacles rather than as equal participants in a relationship are being noticed by those who work with young people and in the UK Government's own review of sexualisation of young people. These articles by Ann Czernik in the Guardian also make scary reading.

We also need to look at the effects of the way women are treated in the mainstream media.Why, for example, are we still willing to put up with women's breasts being all over a national newspaper? What about the effect of pressure to conform to certain body types and an increasingly narrow definition of beauty? How does that impact on girls' and boys' expectations as they grow up?

As I say, no political party either gives tackling our victim blaming, misogynist rape cultre enough priority or tackles it properly. If we take anything from the furore over George Foulkes' tweet, it should be a determination to remedy that.

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