Friday, April 03, 2009

Rowan Into Deep Water

Here at Cru-blog we don't like Rowan Pelling. And I'm tempted to write something witty about the fact that I was bewailing her copy in the Daily Mail a few days ago and today she has a piece in The Independent. But I'm going to hold back for the moment and just say:

THIS is probably the most offensive piece you'll read in a long time.

I could very easily line-by-line it as I sometimes do with pieces that really rile me. But I don't want to distract you with some witty remarks about the introduction into missing the piece that really makes my blood boil:

"When a lady says no, she means maybe; when a lady says maybe she means yes; and when a lady says yes, she's no lady."

Yes, that's a direct quote. In The Independent. No means maybe. Maybe means yes. Clearly Pelling's target audience has been found - it's rapists! And notice how there is no option left for the "lady" to say when she means "no, fuck off, you horrible creep or I'll call the police".

This is the same paper that only a few weeks ago was questioning why multiple rapist John Worboys behaved the way he did and why the police had failed to take his early victims complaints seriously and taken him off the streets before he could commit more crimes. I'll tell you why! Because newspapers like yours continue despite years of campaigning from women's groups to put out rubbish like this that effectively tells men it's ok to rape women. Tells men that they don't need explicit consent, that every woman wants to sleep with them and that they can ignore a woman's refusal, however clear and adamant.

Remember that Rowan Pelling's claim to fame and to her spot in the national press is that she is a former editor of a magazine called Erotic Review. I don't find rape very erotic myself. I find it more disgusting and criminal.

A few paragraphs later out of the blue she calls Hillary Clinton a "bitch" and rattles on about how much she prefers Michelle Obama and Sarah Brown - two women without high profile careers. Ironically Rowan herself has a high profile career and uses in her piece offensive language of the very kind she insists "real" ladies don't. So I find it hard to imagine she actually believes a word of it, or if she does she's at risk of being washed out to sea at any moment in a tsunami of hypocrisy.

But that said I'm not that surprised by her saying these things, she's a Daily Mail writer, they love that sort of stuff. I'm surprised and disgusted that no-one on the editorial side at The Independent thought it was worth double-checking the team policy on rape apologists.

And in case you were wondering the address to contact at The Independent to give them a little feedback is


Rosemary Cottage said...

Ffs - I expect (sadly) that kind of thing from the Daily Hate... but my beloved indie? FAIL


Rowan Pelling should read Open Letter to Chris Brown because this male writer knows exactly what goes through the minds of men who choose (yes freely choose - no excuses, no justifications etc.) to rape a woman or women they know.

And we do not live in a rape culture? Pelling is only one of many men and some women too, who believe men should not be held responsible for their sexual behaviour but that women are responsible not only for their behaviour, dress, venturing out in public unaccompanied by a man, etc. But most importantly, women are blamed for men raping them and also women are held responsible for not preventing men from raping them.

Whoever said patriarchy was logical because it is not.

Dominic said...

The gag appears to be that "diplomats" have to be more obliging in speech than in practice (it doesn't do to seem too unaccommodating), and "ladies" have to be more obliging in practice than in speech (it doesn't do to seem too eager). Presumably lady diplomats always say just what they mean - not that StereotypeLand has any lady diplomats, of course.

What's Pelling's game here? I think what she's trying to sell is a persona, a social mask: be sexually aloof (even when you mean "yes", only go so far as "maybe") in order to increase your market value (to distinguish yourself from the common "chavs", "sluts", etc). It's not a million miles away from something like "The Rules", which again is all about selling yourself (but not too cheaply).

The deeply depressing premise is that a woman's value lies in her sexuality, and in particular in her ability to act as gatekeeper controlling men's sexual access to her. It's a sort of ontologisation of prostitution: you are what you sell (what you sell is yourself), and your value is how much you can get for it.

Rape culture kind of falls out of this model, in particular because it implies that women's bodies are always up for barter; this is the assumption in play whenever a male rapist is exonerated because he "misread the signs", an excuse that is only credible if you think that everything a woman says or does in a situation where there is male sexual interest involved is a form of haggling.

Philip Larkin, a gloomy prisoner of the patriarchal worldview, thought it outrageous that one could spend a lot of money taking a woman out to the movies, buying her dinner etc., and still not be "allowed" to fuck her. He settled, with many a groan of resignation, for the consolations of Swedish porn, where you got (even if only in fantasy) what you'd paid for. Today's Nuts-reading date-rapist is less bashful about claiming what he thinks of as his entitlement. All the female "gentility" in the world won't make him feel any less entitled.

butterflywings said...

Well said Kate. Pelling is a sick rape apologist.

I'm not sure I agree with the diplomat quote, either. Sometimes an unequivocal 'no' is required. The ability to be assertive and clear, without offending people, is a skill. Sure, in some cultures a direct 'no' would be seen as rude; even in some situations in western cultures. I mean, you wouldn't say a flat 'no' if your colleagues or friends ask you to go to the pub, would you? It would seem rude. You'd make up another commitment or say you aren't drinking or something. Which, getting back to the subject, is also true of rape. If someone makes it clear they want to have sex with us, we don't flatly say 'NO' but make some excuse about being tired or whatever. Women are often blamed for not saying no clearly enough, but you just don't. Once it gets from 'er, yeah, I'm really tired and have to work in the morning, so another time...' to 'OMG, he isn't stopping although I have asked him five times, he is actually trying to rape me and not just being dense' - and at that point many women may freeze or be too scared to say no directly.
So rather than women always pretending not to want sex they do, which is surely outdated, in reality, I think there is far more pressure on women to say yes - or rather, the assumption that anything short of 'NO!! STOP!!' is a yes - with concurrent pressure not to say yes or no either way unequivocally, because women are meant to be passive in sex and not actors. Sick and bizarre.

Dominic said...

I think the truth of it is that women are supposed to be diplomatic about saying no, and ladylike about saying yes. The scope for direct and honest assertion of sexual interest or non-interest is pretty narrow. People still act shocked if a woman says "actually, I do/don't want to fuck you".

There is something to be said for misdirection in the right circumstances - people play all sorts of games for kicks, and not all of them are malevolent or deceitful - but this requires a fair degree of mutual respect and grown-upness about things. Diplomats negotiating with other diplomats presumably know the score. There are language games in which "yes" does not necessarily mean "yes", and "no" does not necessarily mean "no". But there are also concrete situations in which it matters a lot whether our word can be taken as our bond, and I think negotiating sexual consent is a good example of that kind of situation. (Another would be agreeing to undergo a medical procedure, or signing a legal contract - or a confession. We consider confessions signed under duress to be invalid, whereas when a woman's pressured into sex the assumption tends to be that it was her responsibility to stand up for herself. The consent standard's a bit weak when it comes to this kind of thing - there's a difference between "yes please!" and "oh, all right then...").

I have a fairly low personal tolerance for sexual games-playing - I find "diplomatic" and "ladylike" behaviour equally confusing and distracting - but it's a fairly common pastime, and presumably has some emotional pay-off for its practitioners. I think it would be less of a problem if the ground-rules of respect were more solidly reliable - if everyone involved understood that, joking apart, there is a "no" that isn't a move in a game, that means that the game is at an end and no further moves are allowed. But this requires, amongst other things, empathy and emotional maturity from males. And general social agreement that not understanding what that "no" means is something more serious than an interpretative mis-step.

I thought that Thelma and Louise (which I saw for the first time a month or so ago) put it very well: it's actually not that hard, if you're paying even the slightest attention, to tell when the other person is no longer having a good time...

butterflywings said...

Dominic - I agree, women are generally not expected to say a clear yes *or* no. That is, women are assumed to consent unless they make it sufficiently clear (and 'sufficiently' means screaming no, struggling etc) they don't.
Personally I don't have a lot of time for game playing, either, but yes, there are of course situations where games are played.
And I completely agree that it's not that hard to tell a genuine yes/ no from a move in a game. I love that line in Thelma and Louse, too :-)

manorchurch said...

I like your style some days, but there's days when I like Rowan, too. (Like the piece about the "photo that Cameron should regret"). Rowan writes for an audience, and was most likely thinking of that audience when she said maybe=yes. In another context, she would regret saying such a thing. You took her to task, and that's good. Carry on.