LETS TALK ABOUT RAPE: HOW GENDER INEQUALITY & TOXIC MASCULINITY CONSPIRE TO KEEP RAPE IN THE DARK AND SURVIVORS UNSUPPORTED

LETS TALK ABOUT RAPE: HOW GENDER INEQUALITY & TOXIC MASCULINITY CONSPIRE TO KEEP RAPE IN THE DARK AND SURVIVORS UNSUPPORTED

“It goes without consequences”. Kissy Fleur (Singer-songwriter, harpist & producer).

As Ripened Fruit, the confrontational debut album about rape by Kissy Fleur enters its last day as our album of the week, we thought it more than appropriate to support her aim to bring the crime out from the shadows and into the spotlight. To this end, we’ve put some pointed thoughts down to keep the conversation going about society’s troubled relationship with rape and how gender inequality and the culture of toxic masculinity serve to do further injury to rape survivors. In case you missed it read our review of Kissy’s record here.

The words above tellingly are the final line repeated four times at the end of ‘Two Teaspoons Of Trouble”, the last track on Ripened Fruit, the debut album and our outgoing album of the week from Sydney artist Kissy Fleur. It’s an album that courageously tells the story of her own horrific rape six years ago at the age of 15. And I say courageous because of the way society avoids the subject leaving survivors alone and often cruelly, ashamed. In the days since I wrote our review of the record, the puzzled looks and raised eyebrows I’ve got from friends and strangers alike when I straight out say the album is about rape says everything about how the crime is seen by wider society. While in the end all were supportive, the initial reaction was a microcosm of the way even the most well meaning in society react to and recoil from the crime. And this attitude has consequences how its survivors process their pain and is a lens into why the crime is still dealt with by so poorly the justice system. Kissy’s line “It goes without consequences” reflects the almost expected, the almost routine failure of the justice system to carry those guilty of sexual violence from report to conviction and the triage of disbelief, numbness and disillusionment felt by survivors as a result.

Words cannot express how inspired by and how much admiration we have here at Indie30 for Kissy and her ultimately cathartic decision to put her own horrific story about a taboo subject out to the world in such a direct and confrontational way. Totally DIY from start to finish, the album’s creative process over six long years and its finished product is a representation of the most painful journey a human being can undertake, trying to heal after being the victim of rape. The fact she created and produced the album completely alone is appropriately reflective of her lonely journey towards recovery without the support of a society caught in the headlights on the subject. Kissy’s multi layered journey has in turn inspired us to write some thoughts down on the subject of rape and sexual assault, the toxic masculinity and gender inequality that fuels it and society’s discomfort and virtual silence on the subject despite it being put front and centre by the #MeToo movement. We also offer some thoughts on the lack of support afforded to women by the justice system and wider society in general for survivors like Kissy and the urgent need for full gender equality and a revolution in how power is exercised and what type of culture that power reflects.

What causes society to withdraw so readily from the subject of rape? Short of aggravated first degree murder, there is nothing worse in this world on a multitude of levels than such a crime. This statement in itself is arguable because at least with murder life for the victim is over. The crime of rape leaves its innocent female survivor with not only pain and a feeling that’s something has been violently stolen from her but also a shame and guilt that is often complete and permanent. That women should experience any shame and guilt in the wake of a crime so violently visited upon them when these feelings should be the sole reserve of the criminal himself is an indictment on society. But this happens so often. In order to understand why this occurs an examination of the bigger picture where the intersections of culture, gender and power meet is essential.

The answers to why this double injustice for women occurs lie in how outdated and incredibly narrow views of and expectations on men and women persist in our culture. And in some quarters they’re actually thriving. They’re like those computer programs that run seemingly innocuously in the background but are crucial to the machine’s overall modus operandi. Those persistent learnt behaviours still results in many parents still bringing their children up reinforcing gender stereotypes that badly disadvantage girls, physically and psychologically. Many in society have also been seduced by the very real progress women have made in the last fifty years and think these views are a thing of the past. That equality is only a matter of time. Yes, progress has occurred and women are much better off than they were half a century ago and many no longer hold to traditional views and values around gender on a conscious level. But the base for women at the start of the 1970s in terms of having rights and freedoms and being valued as a fully participating human being in society was extremely low. And the impact of learned behaviour and cultural mores on the subconscious goes deep. For this is still an incredibly unequal society on so many levels and gender is where that inequality is at its most insidious.

Despite some progress that now allows women into active society, the rules are still such that they can’t participate fully nor can they bring their true selves to the action. Understanding the ongoing and still deep reinforcement of binary views of gender and the role they play in informing the subconscious psyche is essential,  Ours is a society where a culture ridden with toxic, competitive and emotionally immature manifestations of masculinity are held up to be its pinnacle, as the natural order of things, as if human beings are not capable of more than base behaviour. It’s a society which continues to belittle and disparage women and notions of femininity as asides and superfluous to the main game played by men. One which stupidly ignores and excludes the contributions and achievements, voices and viewpoints of half the population making us all lesser in mind and opportunity for it. And because mainstream society is still dominated by this culture and reinforces the view of gender as a binary construct when its actually a fluid spectrum, many still naturally try to denigrate, dismiss as abnormal and suppress any trace of femininity in men. This diminishes and discourages not only women and the men in question but limits the the potential human beings possess where all their ideas and contributions are represented and valued. And this is not to mention the ongoing pain and torment suffered by the LGBTQI+ community so openly seen in last year’s referendum.

Because society’s rules and its social constructs are still based on an economic, political and social system designed by men for men, women are still discriminated against at every turn, their very being and essence second in class and value. Their role has always to be supporters. To use sport as euphemism and metaphor, they have only begrudgingly been allowed to take the field in certain places in the world for the last 40 years out of the 100,000 of human existence. Active life is men on the field and women in the stands. Men make money, men play sport and men have sex. Women are supposed to passively receive these things. Theirs is a different game and if they play it they can expect to be financially poorer and have less power as a result. This serves to limit their choices and opportunities past a certain point in just about every sphere of the economy and has left them underrepresented at the decision making levels of the justice system and overrepresented in others. This is not to mention their underrepresentation on the front lines of law enforcement, another game involving physicality. But this where the crime of rape and sexual assault is investigated and more importantly charges decided. It should be no surprise to anybody then that violence against women is often not reported, hidden away or goes unpunished.

Toxic masculinity also exists within a culture that is still dominated by outdated notions of sexual morality. Ours is a culture that holds women to stiflingly unjust, unnatural and psychologically damaging double standards when it comes to sexual freedom and doesn’t mind the playing the convenient card of victim blaming when it suits. The whole thing boils down to a denial of a place for women in the main arena of power where the so called important things happen. Pardon the pun but when it comes to sex men have their full skin in the game and are allowed virtual free reign and are applauded for their exploits and conquests. Women on the other hand are not even seen as players but as the objects that are played. The moment women muscle in on the game of sex and act with the agency that any human being should have, they are immediately attacked and shunned. Quite simply, in the subconscious societal mind, girls and women are not supposed to be active physically in any serious sense. It sees them as fragile and flighty and men as strong and sensible and believes that’s the natural order of things. And women aren’t in the physical game so they can’t get physically hurt can they? And why should it be surprising that an incredibly narrow and immature culture that still erroneously and damagingly sees men as superior to women and values masculinity over femininity should view and treat the crimes that women experience as either too confronting and serious to talk about (the porcelain doll effect) or not important enough. It’s a sub-conscious belief that because women are sidelined as supporting players they can’t get hurt. And they genuinely can’t handle it when women get hurt because its not in the script. Men are supposed to protect women. The problem with that is women are in the game. The bigger problem is that they’re in the game where the rules are stacked against them leaving them doubly unprotected. And they do get hurt. And often. It’s a crime of the strong over the weak and that’s not supposed to happen. Men aren’t supposed to hit or rape women, are they? Society likes to either exaggerate reality to a level of fantasy (that men protect) or deny reality altogether (that men rape). The more of these questions you pose the more infantile the nature of our culture is revealed to be.

The immaturity of society when it comes to all things sexual and the double standards around it for men and women are still firmly intact. It ridiculously expects a higher moral standard from women compared to men yet encourages the opposite from them in commercial and popular culture. It’s also a society that avoids tackling the hard issues when that double standard results in criminal behaviour. This contradiction leaves society and its institutions silent and unable to deal with anything too confronting around sex, let alone to adequately talk about or deal with a violent sex crime or rape. That’s too real. Until it confronts and tackles a culture that still accepts gender inequality and toxic masculinity as normal or tolerable because its in a state of flux, ends its hold over power and expects fundamental changes from the men who uphold it, women will continue to suffer. All of us will continue to suffer. Those have experienced this crime will continue to be left unsupported and left to cope alone feeling vulnerable and inadequate with a mix of bewilderment, confusion, anger and frustration. When injustice is complete and total and it’s met with silence and avoidance, there is nothing worse.

And that’s notwithstanding a hopelessly inadequate justice system that adds further insult to injury. It’s very essence and modus operandi is almost wholly focused on protections and a fair trial for the perpetrator. Rape is almost exclusively a male crime and women are overwhelmingly its victims.* But because society’s judicial and lawmaking institutions have been male bastions for so long and still are, in the case of rape, men do the crime but still by and large by virtue of their numbers and positions in parliament and government, law enforcement and the legal profession, men are are the ones largely charged with making the laws and then investigating, prosecuting, defending and judging the violation of them. This may be slowly changing but the reality is that women are still left powerless and vulnerable at every turn in the process.

Even with women in positions of power in the legal system, they still work and make decisions inside a system and its law that was invented by men within a male dominated culture and is one women who join are expected to play and fit into. This leaves women to go through the lonely and torturous process of virtually having to prove they were raped and the horror of the process that entails. And all the while trying to recover from the most heinous violation a human being could be subjected to and have to endure. And then after all that the female survivor is often left with a jarring feeling of guilt or inadequacy, that something will always be wrong with her, that normal sexual encounters will always be difficult and worse still, worried about what future male suitors might think of her. That is the insidious nature of societal expectation for women and its relationship to this crime.

Society must be more honest, forthright and open on the subject of sexual assault and rape. It must shine the brightest of lights on the reasons for its occurrence. It must stop painting the men who commit rape as erroneous exceptions who commit their crime in a social void. Rapists are not monsters, they are men. Men who perpetrate sexual crimes and violence against women are only the extreme manifestation of a toxic male culture. They are products of a society that does not give enough respect to or value women or the culture they bring to the table anywhere near enough, let alone as the equals of men. Rapists are only the extremes of a toxic male culture and a society that puts unacceptable pressure on boys and men to shed their true natures and validates them for playing sexist and misogynistic roles long past their use by date instead. Men demanding entitlement, being ultra competitive, fiercely protective and overly selfish – these are seen as strengths in men. The capacity for kindness, caring and empathy constantly displayed by femininity as weaknesses.

Society must also at the very least must give far more support to women who suffer these crimes and stop cowering behind their ugliness. This only exacerbates the woman’s pain and feeling of being alone and unsupported. It must continue to reform the justice system which still puts the onus of proof on women rather than putting it on the law and the system that should be protecting and advocating for them far more effectively. It must also see the damage toxic forms of entitled masculinity continue to do to women and society at large. It must stop excusing as “natural male behaviour” the open denigration and disparagement as well as the over-sexualisation of women and girls by men and boys because it is not natural or innate, it is learned. It must put an end to the narrow view of what it means to be a man, restricting and limiting boys to a pointless, self defeating and unattainable version of masculinity. We already know what can happen when scorned young boys and men feel disempowered. They need to know they were and are being sold a lemon. It must put an end to the higher and double moral standards men subject women to around sex, standards they would never adhere to themselves.

And most of all there must be a revolution in support of true gender equality lest another generation of girls be again limited from achieving in life that which is commensurate with their abilities and being economically poorer and without power, choice and voice because of it. And yes, that means true empowerment of women and true respect and value for femininity where displays of feminine culture as naturally seen for how strong and powerful they are whether it be in women or men. Most importantly, it means economic empowerment for women and affirmative action and quotas in all decision making areas where women are structurally and deliberately underrepresented or excluded. It also means a revolution in the way we value work and what constitutes work and fair and decent renumeration for those in the critically important caring professions for so long denigrated by men as “women’s work”. It also means shifting the paradigm around family and work and incorporating the choice and role of being a parent into working culture so that women are no longer disempowered because they are doing the most important work a human being can do. And crucially, men must be culturally encouraged as fathers to play a much larger role in this and be supported by their workplace to do so.

The crime of rape will stay in shadows and survivors will continue to endure layers of suffering without a fundamental change in how women are viewed by society. They must be empowered, there must be a change in how power occurs and there must significant change in how masculinity manifests itself and how men see it. Quite simply, the toxic male culture that has been given a free pass by a male dominated society must be called out and ended as should male domination period. And it is the men who don’t consciously practice and subscribe to that culture themselves but turn a blind eye to it who must join women and be at the forefront of calling it out and ending it once and for all. Those with power that comes from and is fed by injustice must eschew that power once and for all. Limiting the potential of others is not powerful or strong, its actually weak, counter-productive and ultimately self-injurious. True gender equality and envisaging new ways power can be arranged and exercised is the key. And with all of humanity at the table making decisions, power may finally be geared towards achieving a more caring and supportive society. The women of the world deserve no less.

James Stocker – April 23, 2018.