A few weeks ago the national news covered the story of the rape of a fourteen year old boy, who was attacked in a toilet in a city centre department store in Manchester by two men. I hope sincerely that the men who attacked this young man are caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Nothing I am about to say is meant in any way as a qualification of that assertion, and I fully acknowledge that rape is equally traumatic for both men and women, and should be treated as such.
That’s primarily because rape is no laughing matter. And as such, so far I haven’t heard people wishing to discuss at length whether or not this attack might be on some level, quite funny. Male comedians aren’t lining up to say, ‘Yes, rape’s a bit rubbish, but there’s got to be a joke in there somewhere.’
No American congressmen have waded in to talk about the ‘realness’ of the rape, the fact that the rape wasn’t as ‘real’ as other rape because it carries no threat of pregnancy, or to attribute magical rape fighting qualities to the male anus.
We have no idea what the boy was wearing. Or if he had been drinking.
The police have been investigating this case for two months before appealing to the public for help; I doubt if any of their work has centred around the sexual history of this young man.
The overriding feeling from the police and public is horror that this young person was raped, and that his attackers were able to march him through a busy city centre without fear of intervention. It is taken for granted that he must have been scared out of his wits by these two men to have complied with their orders and walked to the place where he was attacked without trying to attract anyone’s attention.
Nobody has asked where this young man’s parents were, why he didn’t just shout for help, fight back, run away.
Child protection services haven’t suggested to his parents that he is a prostitute, or making a lifestyle choice to be abused by older men.
Nobody has seen the need to name him on Twitter, and if his attackers are caught it is doubtful that their friends and family will dispute the verdict, call him a liar and bandy his name across the internet in defiant defence of his rapists.
There have been no titillating reports despairing of young men dressed sexily and giving out the wrong impression whilst consorting with older men.
No police force in the land would take this as an opportunity to issue advice on ‘how not to get raped’ for young men.
The mood is of horror and repulsion at the rapists, and deep sympathy (and sadly for too many, empathy) for the young man who was attacked. People have been throwing up their hands in despair asking what has become of us that this can happen to a fourteen year old boy in broad daylight.
What I would really like to know is, was there ever a time in our history when the rape of a young woman would be seen as so unnatural, so abhorrent, that nobody would think to make a joke about it? That nobody would think that the young woman had brought it upon herself by her dress, her manner, her sexual history, her previous consent to sex, her stupidity not to know the rules that prevent rape.
I’m writing this because yesterday a male ‘comedian’ (I’m really not a fan of inverted commas, but in this case they are needed) published an article with the title ‘Are women less funny than rape,’ with content as vile as that question suggests. He’s claiming it is satire. It’s not. Satire is about exposing the rot at the heart of our society; all this article exposes is the writer’s need for fame and his willingness to chase that need using whatever cheap gag happens to be to hand. But even if it were, it would still be relying on cultural shorthand and stereotypes that we all understand and accept (to differing degrees), which have at their heart one terrifying self-fulfilling prophesy. Women get raped, ergo the rape of women is just part of our society.
I would like to live in a society where this cultural norm made no sense. Where we hadn’t mistaken the normalisation of the rape of women for the normality of the rape of women.
Instead I live in a society that all but ignores the fact that thousands upon thousands of women and girls are raped in their own homes, or the homes of their friends, or at parties, by people that they know, have loved, or have chosen to have sex with on previous occasions. A society that all but ignores the fact that women and girls in conflict zones are systematically raped every day in the name of war. Their attackers march their victims away in broad daylight, and they are the lucky ones. The rest are raped in front of their partners, parents, their children, the people they have gone to school with and called friends. Sometimes that is who is raping them. Women the world over live in shame that they have been raped, hiding the evidence of their attack because they know they will be judged or ostracised by their communities.
The rape of women and girls is not a natural part of life, and just because its frequency the world over means that we are no longer shocked by it, it does not mean that it is not every bit as abhorrent as the rape of a fourteen year old boy out shopping on a Saturday afternoon. It’s time we remembered that. The consequences of forgetting are no laughing matter for millions of women.