News Round Up – ridiculous ideas of the day

// 18 November 2008

This might get long….

I have to join the calls for Helen Mirren to stop spouting on rape. It goes against the grain for me to want to silence a woman but sometimes speech can be deadlier than, well, pretty much anything else (I speak from experience as a student of mine did recently use the “But Helen Mirren said so…” line). Mirren’s latest? Women jurors find men not guilty of rape because they are sexually jealous of the victim. No that wasn’t a typo – that was the argument she was making. And apparently this is because we’re “animalistic” or still deeply embedded in “tribalism”. Ms Mirren also decided that the jury which convicted Mike Tyson was wrong and that no rape had taken place. Helen – if you are in the pay of anti-women groups please come clean. Otherwise, as Jess said last time: “her statement that date rape shouldn’t, in effect, be illegal, is dangerous and wrong. In reality, in this country, right now, men can rape with impunity. And in this country, right now, rapists are getting away with it because of woman-blaming attitudes.”

Vera Baird, Solicitor General, has described the comments as “ignorant, absurd and dangerous comments”.

Vera Baird QC pointed out that juries are selected at random and neither defence nor prosecution has the power to handpick a jury based on their suitability for the trial. “This is just such an ignorant thing to say, to suggest that the defence or prosecution have any involvement in the selection of a jury. It’s just absurd. First of all, it’s completely factually incorrect. It shows an absolute lack of knowledge about the way the criminal justice system works. I do not know what she is talking about, women hating women. This is a vast generalisation based on nothing, but unfortunately it is likely to have a deterrent effect. It’s such a shame that a person who has a high profile feels qualified and able to put forward this nonsense. It’s capable of being quite dangerous because someone in that position saying that sort of thing, suggesting that she knows more than she actually does. It’s hard enough for victims who often feel guilt and shame to come forward in the first place. But to put forward this false idea that some covert conspiracy exists in the criminal justice system is very ignorant and totally and utterly wrong.”

Also in absurd assertions is this widely reported archaelogical find of skeletal remains buried in family groups. The evidence shows a shift from communal graves to familial or single graves but really evidence of being “nuclear families”. That’s not really that new but reporters are claiming this is evidence of early “nuclear families”. Say what? The parents and children were buried together where they died in a violent attack is understandable but equating this to be evidence that they lived together with no extended family is absurd. What did reporters think families did in the past – but their kids in 24 hour childcare? Live in single-sex accomodation?

It’s almost as ridiculous as Iain Duncan-Smith’s idea that had the mother of Baby P been married to her boyfriend the child wouldn’t have been murdered. IDS manages to completely misunderstand (or misuse for ideological purposes is more likely) statistics to argue that abuse happens more often in “dysfunctional families”. Becuase obviously abuse isn’t a reason for categorising a family as “dysfunctional” is it? No, wait, doh maybe it is….

IDS then conflates “dysfunctional”/”abusive” with “single parent” completely therefore ignoring the high levels of abuse which occur in dual-partner or married families. Apparently policy should focus on forcing “dysfunctional” (for which read abusive) relationships to stay together. ‘Cos that’ll help prevent child and spousal abuse won’t it?

And I bring all this analysis to you in support of this critique by This is What a Feminist Blog Looks Like debunking the idea that women are better at storytelling than analytical thinking.

Despite the condescending nature of the captions The Guardian is at least foregrounding women war correspondents photographs.

Photographing conflict is a dangerous job, and women are now increasingly at the forefront of this important documentation process, despite the barriers they face.

Comments From You

Harpymarx // Posted 18 November 2008 at 10:34 am

The Tories don’t need much of an excuse to peddle their crappy ideology about the family. Does IDS seriously believe that abuse, neglect and murder doesn’t happen in a so-called “respectable nice middle class married hetero nuke family”? It does..IDS, it most certainly does…

I dunno, I get kinda depressed when I read the latest comments on rape from Helen Mirren as I used to really admire the woman.

Qubit // Posted 18 November 2008 at 11:09 am

I believe Helen Mirren is right that women are less likely to convict a man of rape than other men. I have heard this before numerous time. I don’t think it is likely to be due to sexual jealousy though.

I’d speculate it is because women have been fed the message they shouldn’t have been drinking, wearing so little, walking home alone etc so are more likely so see the victim to blame. Numerous men I have talked to fail to understand this argument to the point they don’t believe it exists. While I believe a woman has every right to drink, wear what she wants, walk home alone I think women are often told they don’t and internalise this message then apply it to other people. I don’t think they can be blamed for that but we should try to re-educate people.

I was reading a women’s magazine article the other day about someone who was raped on holiday after accepting a lift from a stranger. In discussing the case it commented that “she had already learnt to accept some responsibility …” or something similar, the tone was condescending and almost implied that the woman in question was being unrealistic in refusing to accept full responsibility.

I think women are more likely to give men the benefit of the doubt as well. We are often fed messages of cruel vindictive women who aim to get revenge on men and I think this can often be played out in the juries head.

I think Helen Mirren is often being taken out of context and specifically with the date rape comments was reflecting reality (that in the majority of cases you can’t bring a date rapist to justice) rather than believing date rape isn’t a crime. I might be wrong on this point that is just how I see it.

Kez // Posted 18 November 2008 at 11:14 am

I’m outraged (if somewhat unsurprised) by IDS’s comments. How dare he try to use this terrible tragedy to make a stupid (and wrong) political point about the superiority of marriage. Being a single or cohabiting parent does not make a family “dysfunctional”. The perpetration of horrific abuse, however, clearly does.

He should be ashamed of himself. Though I’m sure he won’t.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 18 November 2008 at 11:22 am

Argh, these news stories are depressing…

What Mirren said really angers me…has she always been a misogynist or just recently become one?

And I’m tired of how hetero marriage is seen as a panacea for the world’s ills.

Shea // Posted 18 November 2008 at 12:34 pm

Thank you for picking up on the Helen Mirren story. I read it on the train yesterday and was incandescent with rage. What right does she have to talk such utter BS? “Sexual jealousy”? To me this reasserts a dangerous fallacy- that rape is just “rough sex” that every woman secretly wants. Its the classic rapist defence “her words said no, but her body said yes”.

I can understand women having rape fantasies (hand up here) (and more than likely to do with the guilt and shame that women who enjoy sex are supposed to feel) but this is a million miles away from the reality. The idea as well, that women jurors will be unable to separate the fantasy and reality is also deeply, deeply insulting.

Rape happens because of rapists, no one else. Nothing a woman (or man) does/says/wears/practices will stop that and any ideas to the contrary is simply an attempt to shift responsibility. Rapist aren’t convicted because there are still strong women blaming attitudes at every level of society and yes women as Helen demonstrates do share them. So reinforcing these women blaming attitudes by blaming women jurors just adds to this negative cycle.

What about men on the juries? Do they sympathise with the rapist ? Detest him? (probably). We don’t know because we can’t generalise about a group of individuals that we have no information on.

As I said in my previous post I have lost all respect for Mirren, this seems like a sad attempt to be provocative and win over male fans (I’m afraid I don’t think men are that stupid or transparent to be honest). I think most men and women will be equally appalled by her comments. I wish she would just shut the hell up and stop doing so much damage.

The IDS comment is rather stupid– I have come to expect such pitiable attempts to make political capital from the Tories so I’m not surprised. I was interested to note that in the Commons debate Cameron thought the mother of Baby P was a 17 year old, when in fact she was 27. Bit of class/ageism bias there Dave, huh?

I thought the boyfriend in the Baby P case was a huge part of the problem. Seems IDS hasn’t thought it through. Really, another one who should think before he speaks.

Kath // Posted 18 November 2008 at 12:46 pm

Hi Louise, I don’t understand what you mean by the condescending nature of the captions on the Guardian war correspondent photos. I wonder if I am missing something?


Feminist Avatar // Posted 19 November 2008 at 3:03 pm

Just on the issue of irritating historical nit-picking, while I think we can little more than speculate about remains that are over 4000 years old- the nuclear family has been the dominant form of family life in Western Europe for the last five hundred years (and perhaps more)- it is one of the things (including late age at marriage and comparatively low rates of marriage) that has marked Western Europe family life as different from much of the world. It has even been argued by Mary Hartman as the explanation for industrialisation.

Renee // Posted 19 November 2008 at 7:26 pm

Mirren needs to stop talking about rape and sex. Clearly she does not have anything to add to the conversation that is not based on asserting patriarchal values. There is a time for self censorship and Mirren has reached it.

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