BBC Moral Maze

// 28 February 2008

In a week where Levi Bellfield, Stephen Wright and Mark Dixie were sentences for the rapes and murders of women – an extreme version of the rampant misogyny in society – the BBC seems to have taken a rather odd turn.

First off there is 1extra News’s offering of a “documentary” on women who “cry rape”. Now whilst I wholeheartedly believe that false accusation of any crime is abhorrent this notion of “crying rape” is a rather contentious one and tends to be used to cover a whole host of disparate issues from malicious accusations to the idea that women “change their minds” and call consensual sex rape after the fact* to saying any case which doesn’t result in conviction is a false accusation. Needless to say they all need some unpicking – for example truly malevolent accusations without basis are rare, and yet here is 1Extra News presenting them as if this isn’t the case. The most scary and ill-informed part of this is the “talking heads” section asking random women why think think other women might “cry rape” – it’s such a ridiculous set-up as to be absurd. On the whole the documentary isn’t bad, but the timing still stinks. 1extra did do a documentary on rape a while ago but as the comments to that show, it was not well received, for example Paul W said that “Until the point of penetration or any force is used – the woman has the right to say no.” (obviously if the glans pass the inner labia we then give up our right to want the activity to cease and desist!). This documentary is actually much worse than the other one – the talking heads section at the start is victim blaming and using the words “cry rape” rather than “rape allegations”. Such indiscriminate usage of such a perjorative term is worrying.

Add to that the Moral Maze on prostitution including the prize line by Michael Portillo to Finn Mackey asking whether her interest wasn’t just to “criminalize men”. Nice to see a gay/bi man having a misogynistic go at a woman there (his identification is hazy, he’s admitted to having gay sex in the past but is rather less up-front about now). Sebastien Horsley’s claim that “a woman who moralises in invariably plain” – no amazingly stupid generalisation there. I mean, I’m sorry, how does a woman’s perceived physical attractiveness affect her ability to consider ethical issues?

Additionally, although not immediately gender relevant (I’ll get to why it is relevant later) is this advert for a coming BBC series.

Now I have many problems with this – firstly it represents “white working class” as male (see I said I’d get round to the relevance). Second it equates racism with working class cultures and places the “white working class” in competition with black and minority ethnic groups. Associating white working class populations with racism hides the fact that racism is classless – there are racist people in all social classes and groups.

Plus it presumes and reinforces the idea that black and minority ethnic groups sit outside of society and are therefore “classless” (women experience the same exclusion from social structures). To argue that black and minority ethnic groups are not classed, in the same way as “white” populations, by demeaning black and minority ethnic economic successes.

Thirdly it presupposed that “white” is a homogenous category which it isn’t – “white” is a position of privilege constructed precisely to other groups on the basis of their skin colour. “White” is an exclusionary category which at different times and in different locations has also excluded groups of lighter skin tones (from Jewish populations to Hugenot weavers to Eastern European Accession State Migrants). What is precisely missing is any concept that “white” is an unstable category which also takes the male experience as it’s basis – the “white” person in the advert was a man, many of the hands shown (although I guess not all) were also male.

And if anyone needs reminding of how racism and gender interlink see this video of white university students in South Africa protesting about integration of student halls of residence by tricking their cleaners (three out of four of whom are women) into eating dog food, raw garlic and urine “stew”.

Anyway in summation – did the BBC run a competition I missed to handover content decisions to right-wing reactionaries?

* I find this idea kind of fascinating – as if a woman should at the time of her assault be shouting that it’s rape in some rational way. Any traumatic event usually leads to our language skills being lessened because our body is focussing elsewhere on adrenal and cortisol changes. But apparently if a women doesn’t (or can’t) immediately say it’s rape then it isn’t – I can’t think of another case where failure to immediately and correctly name the crime means the crime hasn’t happened.

Comments From You

EBaeza Chavez // Posted 28 February 2008 at 6:26 pm

Good point Louise re: the naming of rape at the time of assault.

I don’t know of another heinous crime where consent is a defence either. You can’t consent to be murdered, you can’t consent to a battery or grevious bodily harm (unless it has direct benefits to you, i,e surgery in the medical context) and expect your consent to free the perpetrators and this idea that once a man is inside you, you’ve lost all rights to refuse is ridiculous in the extreme.

Its a good analysis of the stupidity of using the “white” label (as is using “black” to describe a multitude of races, ethnicities and cultures) aswell.

Legible Susan // Posted 28 February 2008 at 8:45 pm

I’ve been bothered by the trails for that “White” season. I’m thinking: Yes TV is made by a bunch of middle-class poseurs, working-class people mostly appear on-screen as the enemy (“anti-social behaviour”) or objects of study, not speaking for themselves – is this going to be any different? Why does the neglect of working-class experience only matter when it’s the white working class? “White people” are not the under-represented group … anywhere in the mainstream British media (or a lot of other places either). It is, as Louise says, far too broad a term.

The first of the trailers I saw was somebody saying (IIRC) “We’re becoming a forgotten people” – bollocks! Derided as chavs, maybe; patronised, probably; forgotten, no way. My reaction was “Who the hell are they giving a platform to now?” Later reaction: I ought to wait and watch the season and see if it’s really that bad … But life’s too short not to judge a series by its publicity.

Mike Power // Posted 19 March 2008 at 9:23 pm

**…for example Paul W said that “Until the point of penetration or any force is used – the woman has the right to say no.” (obviously if the glans pass the inner labia we then give up our right to want the activity to cease and desist!).**

Even though I realise you are being facetious that real point about the statement above is that *if the glans passes the inner labia* without consent it would, at that moment, constitute rape. That’s a slightly different take on the original comment, I think you’ll agree.

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