These are my confused thoughts on a complex topic. I do not speak for all feminists although my thoughts are informed by a feminist perspective. This post, which is probably attempting too much, is on the one hand about a group sex/gang rape case that took place in New Zealand in 2002. On the other hand its about the dangerous mix of football, sex, success, fame and glory and the adulation of aggression that takes place in our sports loving culture. (If in regards to the case of “Clare” from New Zealand you are going to engage in some victim blaming, I suggest that you read the following link and comment when you aren’t going perpetuate Rape myths)
After reading this news story, (which really was just a “heads up” about this 4 Corners program about footballers and sex; transcript here, the program can be watched from here -but only for the next four weeks) about a “group sex” incident in New Zealand involving football personality Matthew Johns, I got thinking about the fine line between group sex and gang rape. And I had a few thoughts.
(The 4 Corners program discussed various aspects of the footballers and sex issue, and one of the most disturbing parts of the program was a description of the events in New Zealand in 2002, involving member of the Cronulla Sharks and a young woman the program calls “Clare”. She was nineteen at the time, and while waitressing she was invited back by two players to their room. About a dozen players ended up in room, and the events so traumatised Clare that seven years later she is still suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress)
Consent is obviously a key issue. Absence of “No” does NOT mean that consent took place. For this reason it is illegal to have sex with someone who is unable to say “no”, someone who is unconscious or asleep for example. Just because they didn’t say no, doesn’t mean that rape did not occur.
Just because a man does not believe that he raped a woman does NOT necessarily mean that he did not. ( From Tigtog’s post on rape myths: “One in 12 men surveyed in this study admitted to acting in ways that satisfied the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, with 84% of these men believing that what they had done was “definitely not rape.”). So in terms of the group sex cases discussed in the 4 Corners programs, just because the guys involved don’t believe that rape took place, doesn’t mean that it didn’t.
So if we are discussing the New Zealand case we have to consider whether a young woman is truly able to consent when surrounded by big, strong, football players? (From the transcript of the program: CLARE: “They were massive, like ah big Rugby players, I felt that I just had no idea what to do.”). Consider this comment from this blog discussing the story:
Lisa S : I don’t believe it is “man bashing gone mad”. In the instance of the girl from new zealand it is very, very hard to get out of a situation like that, especially when there are a pack of men who are very large, and are “egging” each other on. In fact it is terrifying. I was followed into a bedroom once at a party by three rugby players. I had been speaking to one, (briefly because it wasn’t a very interesting conversation), I went to get my jacket from a room, and they followed me in. I was lucky that a friend had seen them, and came and got me. Why is it always about the woman having to take responsibility, when is going to mens turn to actually decide to not participate in that behaviour as well.
Her presence in the room does NOT equal consent. If two guys say “Come to our room for a drink” and someone goes to their room for a drink, the drink is all they consented to. Presence does not equal consent. And while I’m on the topic, a drunk woman does not equal consent, flirting does not equal consent, skimpy clothes does not equal consent. No woman, EVER, asks to be raped. No matter what she’s wearing, where she is or how much she’s been drinking. In this case it seems that something along the lines of “come to our room for a drink”, really meant “come to our room for group sex”, which really meant “come to our room so you can be the prop for our homosocial bonding session”. This young lady certainly did NOT deserve what happened to her just because she did not understand the coded messages that were really being spoken.
If and when a girl consents to sex with one guy it does not mean that she is consenting to sex with any and all companions that he has with him. This reminds me of this case, and I feel that the old virgin and whore dichotomy continues to run its insidious thread through society. It seems that some pockets of society continue to hold the false belief that if a woman is willing to have sex with one guy than then it means that she is open to all comers whether they ask her or not.
Privilege (Message to the people of my town)
Just because someone is a famous football player it does not mean that every woman that they meet wants to sex with them. (Granted a proportion do, but by no means all). It is an abuse of privilege to presume that that is the case. It is an abuse of one’s position to use it to degrade women, to make someone dress in bunny ears and give an entire team head jobs [example from 4 Corners]. It is an abuse of privilege to defaecate on the floor of a crowded pub, because you’re a famous hero in your town, and no one can touch you [local anecdote]. Its an abuse of privilege to grab a woman’s wallet and throw her money away because she winced when you hit her broken shoulder and you didn’t like that reaction [happened to a friend]. It’s an abuse of position to enter an unlocked woman’s room and expect that she is going to want to have sex with you because are you – young, famous, and hot [from the program].
We enable these behaviours when we as a society, excuse them. When we apologise for rapists and blame the victims. When we let young men get away with their anti-social behaviours, and excuse them as though they had no control over their actions. When we laud them as heroes and praise them for their aggression, the fact that they are ” risk takers”.
From the transcript of the 4 Corners program:
STEVE BURRASTON, CEO NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS: These guys are pumped up, they are playing a very aggressive game and they are putting their bodies on the line, it’s fearless. It’s not as bad as going to war and I wouldn’t suggest that, but it’s probably like the old gladiator days and they get out there and they belt the hell out of each other and there’s probably no other game that is like it…When we want them on the field we want them to be aggressive. They’ve got to make tackles, they’ve got to be fearless, then we want them to do things that other people don’t do. So we attract an aggressive, young, risk taking male. We give him a shower, put a suit on him and then say now we want you to be, you know, a submissive male. We want you to go out there and not have any problems, it’s very difficult to do that. [Emphasis mine]
Ok Steve, I know that you are trying to change the culture of the Knights and educate those young men, but sending the message that putting on a suit and acting in accordance to the norms of common decency is being a submissive male, is just not helping your cause. You know that the men can follow the rules on the field, well do not excuse them for breaking the rules off the field. Most players do the right thing, get rid of the ones that don’t and if the team has too lose a valuable player, so be it. A small price to pay to save further women from being raped, and it would be a decent contribution to stopping the perpetuation of a this particular culture.
The way Steve and others speak about these guys it sounds as though they are bulls being bred to fight, and we wonder why they behave like animals. As human beings, we have control over our actions and that is one of the things that seperates us from the animal kingdom. Elite sporting stars should be held to the same standards as everybody else, not excused on the basis that they have to take risks on the field. Some football players manage to separate their on field and off field behaviour quite well, so it can done. Footballers are not a special species that need protection and apologists for their down time antics.
One of the saddest aspects of the program, of the whole situation, is that these guys need an education program to learn how to treat women. And from the glimpses we got in 4 Corners it doesn’t seem like the classes are working. SIMON WILLIAMS, NYC RUGBY PLAYER: It’s not during the act, it’s the way you treat them after it. Most of them could have been avoided, if they had put them in a cab and said thanks or that sort of thing not just kicked her out and called her a dirty whatever. It’s how you treat them afterwards that can cover a lot of that stuff up.
FAIL. Sorry, pal, its not how you treat them after that can cover a lot of that stuff up. Its how you treat them before, during and after. Its how you view women. It is about having respect for women and treating them as fellow human beings. Treating their sexuality with the respect that you treat your own. It not treating them nicely afterwards in order to prevent a rape call from being made. Its treating them well with every interaction and respecting women so there’ll be no ambiguity, because you won’t be able to rape them, because you respect, care, and love women and their well being is important to you.
I’m not saying don’t have fun. Lots of respectful consensual fun can be had by all. But at the basis is respect. Women are not playthings to be handed around between team mates. Women are not tools for your homosocial bonding. They are not the spoils of victory, they are not reward for your glory, props for your homoerotic fantasies, their bodies are not yours by right. They are living breathing human beings who deserve to be respected as such, and not degraded because “sharing” with your mates is more important than their dignity, because it is not, ever.
From the transcript (Excerpt of footage from television apology on THE FOOTY SHOW) MATTHEW JOHNS: It caused all parties enormous pain and embarrassment. Um, for me personally it has put my family through enormous anguish and embarrassment and has once again, [sic] and for that I m just, can’t say sorry enough. There were no charges laid. But there has been a lot of pain and embarrassment to a lot of people.
PAUL VAUTIN, FOOTY SHOW HOST: Alright mate, well said. Alright, let’s get on with the show. (End of Excerpt)
This is not an apology. This is damage control for Matthew Johns, for the Footy Show, for the NRL. This is saying what had to be said, so we can all get on with our lives and pretend that the story was never brought to the light of day. This was an apology to his family, to those that he cares about. This was not an apology to Clare, because he couldn’t give a shit about this poor young women whose life he was a part of traumatising. This is a fauxpology and simply does nothing to counter the pain and suffering of the real victim here. This apology is insulting, so Fuck you Matty Johns, fuck you Footy Show and fuck you anyone who thinks that that measly weasly apology goes anywhere towards addressing the harm done here.
Want more from elsewhere?
I was pleased to see training for rugby players about consent and sexual violence but despair that such training is necessary at all. Such ‘education programs’ further perpetrate the notion that acts of sexual violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge or willful ignorance of what constitutes sexual assault or consent. Surely respect for women at a deep internal level is not something which can be taught. Further, I shudder to think how one tabulates whether such programs reduce the instances of sexual assault against women.
Perhaps this whole emphasis on team bonding and ‘one in, all in’ from the sporting field is translating to an inability to switch off that mentality when the game is over. If so, it is a worrying indication of what team sport is doing for our young men. Far from being a positive influence on our lives, if this is the culture that team sport is engendering, it is indeed a worrying thing.
So often we hear “women are throwing themselves at these men, they don’t need to force anyone” (how revealing is that phrase I’ve emphasised with italics – we accept that some men need to, do we? or that a need might make it “OK”?). This is crap. The idea of men turning to sexual coercion out of sexual desperation is simply not an adequate explanation – men turning to sexual coercion due to their sexual expectations, their sense of entitlement due to their status, explains so much more.