Of course I’ve been angry about the stupid comments from George Galloway, Ted Akin and others this week, just as I was with the Ken Clarke comments last year. To me, it’s simple – sex needs to be consensual, anything else is rape. And I’m really not quite sure how that’s a contentious comment.
A lot of great commentators have written about these comments, and so I’m not going to rewrite them here.
These comments were at best misinformed, and people running for office (or sitting on the House of Representatives Science committee FFS) really shouldn’t be so misinformed. I’d go further and say these comments were dangerous – adding justification to any rapists that if they’re not holding a knife to a woman’s throat then what they are doing is ok.
The bit that I find really dangerous is when this kind of speak – from elected representatives – is seen alongside this report about representation in the senior ranks of the Civil Service. I’ve already spoken a lot about how much our politicians are white and male, and they are now ‘rolling this out’ to the civil service. While Gus O’Donnell managed to leave a Civil Service with an equal balance of men and women at the top, a lot of the women have moved on recently, and there’s now a real danger that these top posts will go to men again.
I do understand the arguments against affirmative action – that individual merit should be the most important factor. Except it’s not all about individuals. It’s about the group of people running the country, and them all looking exactly the same. If the criteria that they use to recruit is valuing what they are already good at, then they will keep on recruiting people that look like them. That doesn’t mean that people with different skills are less efficient, it simply means they are different. And that is the problem with crying “affirmative action isn’t fair”. It is fair in the wider sense. It is fair to everyone, rather than just one. And it’s fair in that it forces people not to look for the person most like them (as most recruitment policies do) but to look for people differently.
Please understand my argument before screaming about all the discriminated against white men out there. I’m not saying a lesser-woman should get a role over a better-man. I’m saying that when any organisation becomes so unbalanced that everyone looks the same, they are likely to need to be forced to consider ‘outsiders’. I’m saying that an organisation that has looked exactly the same for hundreds of years is going to need a little encouragement to change. It will need to be persuaded that change is needed and desirable.
And put this against the backdrop we are painting – of politicians who so misunderstand biology that they believe women can’t become pregnant from rape. Of politicians who so misunderstand the law that they claim having sex with a woman who can’t give consent, or proceeding to force someone into another sex act because they’d already agreed to something else, wouldn’t be crimes in the UK. Jonathan Freedland wrote brilliantly in The Guardian on Friday about how these incidents are part of a wider misogyny amongst politicians. And if we were to let our other branches of government, including the Civil Service fall further into the hands of this group of privileged men, we are seriously putting human rights at risk.
Today, the tragic case of a murdered family has been in the news as the trial opens.
Rzeszowski is accused of stabbing his wife, their two children, his wife’s friend and her daughter, and his father-in-law. He tried to enter a plea of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, which was refuted by the prosecution, and rejected by the court.
And yet, the media seem quite happy to blame his wife and imply that this wasn’t really his fault. Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t include either “driven to”, “couldn’t cope with” or “as a result of”? Has anyone seen a report which doesn’t mention that his wife had told him she’d had an affair? Or a report that doesn’t state the actions were as a result of “domestic problems”?
People wonder why so few are willing to report or press charges in cases of domestic violence. Well here’s a clue. Even in this extreme case of a mass-murder, there are strong hints from the media that this was her fault. This mess could all have been avoided if she’d been a better wife.
Even when the courts are pursuing a murder charge and rejecting the plea of diminished responsibility, the media are there to argue “yeah but…”. This reporting is something I’ve mentioned before, and really isn’t a surprise. But it needs to be stated again. Victim blaming isn’t acceptable. Whether Rzeszowski was in control or not, responsible or not is to be determined by the court. But whoever was responsible – it wasn’t the victims.