We need to talk about rape culture

It’s been exclusively men, so far, who have been trying to persuade me of my flawed understanding of rape politics since I posted about the issue, and Willie and JT, on Friday. Left wing bloggers Giovanni Tiso and Egonomist just tweeted that I’m ‘crazy’ and my views ‘embarrassing’.

I’ve encountered three types of response.

One lot have attempted to claim I was making a wider point about 'working class values’. In fact I was careful to state plainly that Willie and JT are not representing anyone. The point is that their views are representative not of some or ‘Waitakere Man’, but that their attitudes are shared by large numbers of men in general. More on this in a moment.

Another lot said I should have foreseen, years ago (when stating on TV that he has something to offer) that JT would behave like a jackass in future. There might be something to this, although a prediction that a male politician may one day turn out to be a misogynist sets the prognostication bar so low that the real issue is the question of what to do in response.

It’s this third category - what do you do about it - that is important. 

To reiterate my main point, banning people for attitudes you don’t like takes you down an ugly road very fast. Look how it spreads: My Twitter feed has filled up over the weekend with men saying I shouldn’t be in the Labour Party because I said I don’t support a ban on Willie and JT.

I can’t do better than Tim Watkin’s comprehensive refutation of the call for a ban (in the comments of my blog post, where Andrew Geddis has also drawn the line at banning, and makes the point that big corporates like banks and supermarkets shoudn't be telling us what we can and can't talk about).

The men saying I’m not fit to be in the Labour party because I said a ban is the wrong response need to understand about rape culture.

They behave as if excluding men with backward attitudes was in some way possible.  Yet women understand that every day every one of us has to negotiate streets, workplaces and families where rapists or attitudes than minimise rape are present. 

When I was 19 years old a group of boys, not even shaving yet, surrounded me in a London alley on my way home and threatened to ‘do an A40’ on me. A woman had been raped and murdered only the week before when her car broke down on the A40. The boys in the alley ran away when someone came along. There is nothing extraordinary about that scene. I wouldn’t even have thought to mention it because things like happen when you’re a woman. Most of us have a similar ordinary story.

If a woman cannot go out on the street without being aware of rape, then how much ubiquitous are misogynist attitudes to women and rape?  Anti-women attitudes are so prevalent that it is improbable to deal with the problem by excluding the men who express them. 

I fully understand why a woman might react with revulsion. This is a decision women have to make all the time. But I am less tolerant of men telling me how to react. You could only denounce me for opposing the ban if you are unaware of women’s daily experience of sexism. 

I have spent years alongside women whose men are in jail, sometimes for sexual offences. Those men are not only ‘offenders', they are also husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. Women have to work out how to deal with that. 

This is what a rape culture is: An environment where the attitudes that tolerate rape are so widespread that exclusion seems impossible.

Which is why I think the response to the way Willie and JT conducted their notorious interview is to confront and challenge them. Matt McCarten is right about this. Matt’s never lacked the courage to say uncomfortable things. I am hopeful about the future when men take on the job of challenging each other as both Matt and Matthew Hooton did, despite their political differences.

The way many so-called ‘progressive’ men have reacted amounts to deflection and minimisation, and it actually helps to sustain a rape culture.These are the men who already despise John Tamihere - and, for that matter, me. The latest controversy is merely another exhibit for their wider ideological point. And if you are using this controversy in that way, then you are not actually helping to stop rape; you are using the rape culture to further your own views. But here’s the irony - that is such an everyday behaviour, women are used to it.