Month: February 2016

How To Avoid Getting Raped

Sad young woman sitting on the bed

The silence in the court-room was a remarkable contrast to the constant chatter and bustle that had enveloped me outside in the huge glass atrium. The air was dry and as I made my way up the steps to the witness box, the click-clicking of my heels echoed around the room, puncturing the quiet with a nervous, staccato tattoo. “I knew I shouldn’t have worn these bloody shoes.” I thought to myself as every eye in the room started to fix upon me, making me instantly forget everything I’d been summoned there to recall. I grabbed the glass of water set down in front of me and gulped it all back, immediately regretting that I hadn’t left myself any for later. It was May and the temperature in that airless room was uncomfortably high; made worse in part, by the huge number of people who had turned out to follow the case. I scanned the room, trying to locate the man on trial. The man I was here to give evidence against, but the crowd just blurred into one huge indistinguishable mass as the advocate for the prosecution asked me to confirm my name and date of birth for the court.

“Take us back to the night of August 18th will you. Where were you when you first encountered the defendant?”

I don’t know if any of you have ever had to give evidence in a court case before, but even the most calm, confident and collected of us can go to pieces when faced with the wrath of a brutal cross-examining. I’d been walked through the testimony I was about to give, multiple times. My original statement had been corroborated, verified and since committed almost entirely to memory, ready for this moment. But under the intense scrutiny of everyone in that room, I started to doubt my own memory and felt so much pressure to get everything I told them, 100% accurate. But to put things into better perspective, I guess we need to go back nine months to where the story really begins.

I first met Sean Finn in a nightclub, on a Saturday night whilst out drinking with a group of friends who worked at the same hotel as me. It was summer, the height of the tourist season and we all worked incredibly hard to keep the wheels turning in every department of the hotel. I worked on reception when I wasn’t doing the night audit; a job I loved because I got to work alone for the most part, through the wee small hours of the night. The people I was out with worked in reception, in housekeeping, in the restaurant, in bars, in the health club, in the kitchens or as porters. Our shifts were long and often tested our patience to the maximum, but there was a real sense of camaraderie between us all and come the evenings and weekends, we played hard too; letting off steam with drinking, dancing and regular all-nighters.

The night in question, we had descended on the nightclub within the hotel premises en-masse, ready to make the most of whatever happy-hour prices and drinks promotions were on offer. There were rounds of shots, interspersed with chaotic invasions of the dance floor any time a really terrible, cheesy song was played and a general sense of happy, fun times. We’d chosen a table adjacent to the dance floor, from which to place our drinks, and beneath which all the women had piled their handbags, all claiming the table as ours. We stood around the table in a relaxed group, with some people talking to one another and some addressing the group as a whole. It was friendly. It was relaxed. It was just like every other Saturday night out in our surrogate family. None of us had a care in the world. We just wanted to get drunk, dance and shoot the shit with one another.

I initially noticed Sean when he sidled over to our group and started to laugh in the right place at what were essentially ‘in-jokes’ among the group, that wouldn’t normally register with anyone else. He looked a bit lonely, like someone who had come out alone and who just wanted to find a group of people to tag along with. That sort of thing happened a lot to us whenever we went out. As a rather large, loud and rowdy group, we probably drew quite a bit of attention from lookers-on and because of this often found that our numbers by the end of the night, had been bolstered by a couple of stragglers just along for the ride. This was never a problem. We were a friendly bunch. Our backgrounds were staggeringly different, comprising people from all over Europe and both sides of the Northern Irish sectarian divide. We weren’t big on focusing on our differences, choosing instead to celebrate them and concentrate entirely on each other because we liked them, respected them and thought that they would good people.

So when this guy started to look as though he wanted in on the group dynamic, I tried to be as welcoming as possible, asking him who he was, where he came from and whether or not he had a girlfriend/boyfriend. He told me that his name was Sean, he was 27 years old, single and originally came from Wexford in Ireland. We exchanged pleasantries and I told him that my ex boyfriend had lived in Wexford for a year or so and told me it was a really beautiful place. He offered to buy me a drink, which I accepted and he came back from the bar with two bottles of Blue Wkd for me, explaining that they were currently running a 2-4-1 offer on them, so I was getting a bonus bottle. Brilliant. Free booze. What wasn’t to like? I thanked him and we talked some more, him asking me who all my friends were and whether or not they would mind him tagging along with us. I briefly introduced him to everyone, pointing out their names to him and let him know that we hadn’t really made any plans to do much, other than get pretty hammered here, before heading off to get a burger or something from the chippy along the promenade.

He asked me if I wanted another drink. I told him that it was my turn to get the round in, but he produced a huge wad of cash from his inside pocket, muttering something about having had a good afternoon at the bookies. “Okay, if you’re sure. I’ll have a rum and coke please. Thank you.” I accepted and while he was at the bar, my friend Paul said “Looks like you’ve pulled there Bex!” before laughing. I explained to him that I had no idea who this Sean guy was, but he seemed a bit lonely, weird but harmless enough, so I said he could tag along. Sean returned from the bar with two bottles of Budweiser for himself and two glasses for me, each containing a large rum and coke. Again he said something about it being a 2-4-1 thing on at the bar, so I thought no more about it.

At some point I started to get a bit of a strange vibe about the guy. He asked me I had a boyfriend. I said no, that I’d split up with my last boyfriend about 3 months ago and was happily single, just playing the field. He asked me if I lived alone, to which I said no and that I lived in a shared house with about four other people. Then he asked me if he would be able to crash at my house at the end of the night, to save him having to fork out for a taxi home. I told him I didn’t mean to appear rude, but I didn’t really know him and wasn’t in the habit of letting strange guys stay over at my house. “I bet you’ve taken one or two of these guys here home with you before, haven’t you?” he asked while nodding towards the rest of the group. I explained to him that while it was none of his business, I hadn’t actually slept with any of the guys in my social circle, but yes, one or two of them had crashed at my house on the sofa, after a night on the beer. “Well let me buy you another drink and see if I can change your mind about that then, hey?” he asked. “Mate, you can buy me all the drinks you like, but I can assure you that I won’t be changing my mind on the subject anytime soon!” I retorted. He seemed to take this as some kind of challenge and once more made the trip to and from the bar, returning with a handful of various drinks, most of which were intended for me.

At the time I was a much more social drinker. I had a pretty high tolerance for alcohol and would often drink other people under the table, just to win…another free drink – go figure! I’d lost count of the number of times this Sean guy had bought me drinks, but I wasn’t drunk, just slightly inebriated. I had that Reddy-Brek glow in my stomach, but was still fully aware of everything that was going on around me. “That guy is properly into you, y’know?” said Paul who had been keeping an eye on the interaction between Sean and I. “You think?” I replied. “I’m not leading him on or anything. I’ve told him I’m not interested and when he asked to stay at my house I told him it wasn’t going to happen, but I think he took that as some sort of challenge because he’s seriously trying to ply me with booze!” Paul glanced over at the bar, where Sean was once again ordering a variety of different drinks before turning to me to say “Look. If you start to feel uncomfortable in any way, just let me know. If you want to come and stand over here next to me, just say so. And if you want me to walk you home, that’s no problem. Just say the word.”

I thanked him and turned back to where this Sean guy was standing with an assortment of bottles and glasses containing who-knew-what in varying amounts. He had to move forwards to place some of the onto the edge of the table and as he stepped closer, the spotlight overhead shone directly onto his face, giving me the first good look at him I’d had since he appeared. We all know the old adage that ‘You should never judge a book by its cover’, but there was just something about the way this guy looked that set me a little on edge. His smile looked more like a snarl and there was something about his eyes that didn’t seem right. I immediately regretted thinking about him that way and silently reprimanded myself for being so shallow. So the guy looked a bit funny. So what? Who was I to judge the guy for the way he looked. But I couldn’t stem the growing sense of unease that was starting to form like a knot in my stomach.

“How’s your drink? Are you drunk yet? Because I could really do with a place to crash tonight. I’ll sleep on your sofa – if that’s what you want?” he smirked, to which I quite simply said “It’s gonna take a lot more alcohol and a complete u-turn in sense of judgement, for me to even consider agreeing to letting you in my house.” “Well, we’ll see about that” he said before raising his glass, saying cheers and throwing back the entire contents.

******

“Would you say that the defendant was trying to get you drunk intentionally?” asked the advocate.

“Objection, calls for speculation.” came the retort from the defense advocate.

“Apologies your honour, let me rephrase the question. How did you feel about been bought so much alcohol by the defendant?”

“To be honest, I could see that the guy was absolutely gagging for it. He wanted to get me drunk so that he could get me to allow him to come home with me.”

“And you weren’t interested in that?”

“No. I made it abundantly clear that he could buy me all the booze he wanted, but I really wasn’t interested in him and it wasn’t going to happen.”

“And did he get the message, that you weren’t interested?”

“Yes. I mean, I mean I’d have to think so. I told him so, plenty of times.”

“Yet he still continued to hang around and ingratiate himself both with you and the rest of the group?”

“Yes. He started telling me that he thought I was great. Really funny and smart and pretty.”

“But you weren’t interested in his advances?”

“No. Not at all. I actually found him kinda creepy. But we were in a public place and I was surrounded by friends, so I wasn’t particularly worried.”

******

The night was starting to come to an end. The club were were at was about to close, so it must have been about 3.00am. By now Sean had chatted to a few other members of our group, having made some allusion to his being friendly with some mutual acquaintances that one guy had. Whatever he’d said gave some kind of credence to his decision to impress himself upon our group and whilst no one there seemed to particularly like the guy, none of us wanted to just tell him to fuck off. He was just another lonely dude, looking for some people to hang out with. So when we left the club and headed to a guest house where some of the group were staying, it wasn’t a big deal to see him tagging along too.

The guest house was kind of like a hotel, for long-stay guests and it housed quite a few people who had moved over to take jobs in the hotel we all worked for. The owner was an amazingly kind and understanding guy who we’d gotten to know quite well over time. He would often leave the bar open for all hours, letting us run up tabs that we would settle on pay-day later in the month. He and I got along especially well because he, like I, had a penchant for a good single malt. Any time he got a new, interesting or obscure bottle in, he’d bring me up to the bar for a sample snifter on the house. Rob was an absolute natural in the hospitality trade. He had a big heart, huge personality and physically imposing status. He would go out of his way to make people happy – but fuck with him and let him down and…well, let’s just say he didn’t suffer fools gladly. That night, when we all piled into the hotel bar after the nightclub closed, he was there keeping us all well-lubricated with alcohol until the sun started to creep up over the horizon.

Sean had taken a seat next to me in the bar, briefly, trying once more to get me to let him come home and sleep on my couch. He kept promising over and over again that he wouldn’t overstep the mark, wouldn’t try it on with me and wouldn’t be a bother if I’d just let him get his head down to sleep somewhere for the night. He offered to walk me home when I started to say something about being tired and when he found out that I liked a decent Scotch, presented me with two large single malts. I was really creeped out by him at this point, so sensing a vibe that I really didn’t like, I called my friend Paul over and asked him to sit and talk with me a while.

I was slightly drunk by this point, but not to the point of being stupid or reckless or falling-down all over the place. I told Paul that I didn’t have a very good feeling about this guy and that he really didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer on the whole ‘sleeping on my sofa’ thing. He replied that he too didn’t like the guy and had been trying to keep an eye on me, the whole time I’d been cornered by him. I asked him to stay close to me and if he didn’t mind, would he also walk me home in a bit. I’m not a naturally panicky person and I’m pretty good at handling myself, should a situation arise. But I’m also not stupid. I don’t make a habit of getting myself into the kind of situation, which requires me to be able to ‘handle’ myself appropriately.

I thanked Paul for understanding, gave him a quick hug and then saw Sean sit down in a seat across from us, having just returned from the toilet. He’d seen me hugging Paul – who was nothing more than a platonic friend who I trusted – and could barely contain the glare of disgust that was creeping across his face. He was starting to look angry. Paul got up to go to the bar and Sean took this opportunity to lean over and ask me “Is he your boyfriend? I thought you said you didn’t have a boyfriend? You looked pretty close there a minute ago!” His tone was accusatory and his facial expression was set firm. “Paul’s a good friend” I told him. “He’s just looking out for me and I was thanking him for being so thoughtful.” But it didn’t seem to placate him at all.

******

“Would you say that you were in the habit of inviting strange men back to your house?”

“No. Not at all. My landlady is a former nun and she doesn’t allow for us to bring back guests to the house.”

“But you did tell the defendant that you had allowed a couple of your friends to ‘crash’ at your place on occasion?”

“Yes, but they were people my landlady had met and was familiar with. She knew them and didn’t mind them sleeping on the sofa occasionally, if it was a late night or if the weather was particularly bad out.”

“So you wouldn’t have really been in a position to invite the defendant back, even if you’d wanted to?”

“No. I would have been risking eviction if I broke the rules and I wasn’t about to do that for some guy I barely knew and didn’t particularly like.”

“No further questions your honour, although I reserve the right to recall the witness at a later date.”

*****

The group at the guest house had grown larger as some of the other residents returning from their later shifts, arrived to join us for a night-cap before heading to bed. There was a pleasant buzz of chatter and someone had put some 80’s music on that was playing gently in the background. Rob had opened up the partition doors which separated the bar room from the TV room, to make more space for our expanding group. At one point I needed to visit the bathroom and it was only when I tried to navigate my way up the fairly steep stairs, that I realised how drunk I really way. Seeing my reflection in the mirror, I laughed to myself. I had dark smudges of make-up below my eyes, which were starting to look a little bleary and bloodshot. I did a quick repair job on my face, spritzed myself with some perfume, rearranged my hair and made my way back down to the happy throng. If walking up the stairs had been difficult, descending was a task of Herculean effort. I gripped onto the bannister, doing all I could to stop my top half from toppling forward, faster than my high-heeled feet could keep up.

At the bottom of the stairs, just as I was congratulating myself on not tumbling down, Sean appeared. He looked angry. He was also drunk. At this point the combination of his thick accent and the effects of alcohol, meant that I couldn’t really understand everything he was saying. But it was nasty and accusatory. Words like bitch, fucking slut and tease were in there, along with him declaring that all he’d wanted was somewhere to crash for the night. A bit more mumbling and he told me I was full of myself and shouldn’t treat people that way. I was past caring though at this point; way beyond giving a shit about politeness or coming across like a gigantic bitch. So I said something about him being a weirdo and stupid for thinking he could buy his way into my bed with drinks, before pushing past him and rejoining the group in the bar.

The next hour or so passed by in a sort of haze. I know I switched to drinking coke because I knew that if I carried on drinking alcohol, I’d throw up. Bit by bit, the numbers in our group dwindled. Some went upstairs to their room to sleep it off, others left the building and headed home to crash. I didn’t see much more of Sean, except for when he started to kiss a woman I didn’t recognise, at the far end of the TV room. “Thank fuck for that!” I thought to myself. “Now he’ll leave me alone”.

*****

“How did it make you feel to see the defendant kissing another woman?”

“I was really relieved. I figured he’d finally gotten the message and switched his attention to someone who was happy to reciprocate.”

The defense advocate moved closer to me, glanced over his shoulder at the onlooking crowd for full theatrical effect.

“Really? Are you sure you weren’t jealous to see a gentleman who had previously been paying you a lot of attention, now being affectionate with another woman?”

“What?? NO! Not. At. All. I didn’t like him. I had no interest in him. I felt sorry for him at first, but then he just became creepy and annoying. I was glad he’d found someone else to bother.”

“You say that he was creepy and annoying, but you were more than happy to accept all the drinks he was buying you, weren’t you?”

“Well, yes. If he was stupid enough to want to keep splashing the cash, buying me drinks when I had made it abundantly clear – on multiple occasions – that I wasn’t interested and wasn’t going to allow him to come home with me, then far be it from be to stop him.”

“And did it ever occur to you, that by letting the defendant shower you with all that drink and attention, that you might be leading him on?”

“No. Not at all. Like I said, I told him repeatedly that I wasn’t interested and he couldn’t come  home to stay at my house. I never once gave him the impression that I wanted anything more from him.”

“No further questions your honour.”

******

Bacon sandwiches. I’m not sure who mentioned them first, but as soon as the words were uttered, we all realised how hungry we all were and Rob scurried off to the kitchen to make us all breakfast. Our numbers had now dwindled to about 5 or 6 of us, all huddled around a single table in the bar, starting to look and feel the worse for wear. We devoured our breakfasts in a comfortable silence, before thanking Rob for taking such good care of us. Outside the sun was up, but a miserable mist and drizzle was obscuring most of it from sight. Someone said they could really do with some fresh air. Why didn’t we all take a wander outside and have stroll along the beach? Clear our heads and stretch our legs, before retiring to our respective abodes. As we grabbed our bags and belongings I noticed a jacket left lying across the back of a chair in the living room. I recognised it as the one that the creepy guy Sean had been wearing earlier. I hadn’t brought a coat with me when I’d gone out the night before – typical girl – so I told Rob that I was going to wear Sean’s jacket home. I’d take it into work with me on Monday and he could collect it from the cloakroom. We walked along the promenade, some of us venturing onto the beach, for about 15 minutes; but we soon realised that none of us really had the energy to stay out much longer.

All I could think of by now was my bed. Warm and comfortable and quiet, I had the whole day and night off and planned to hide away under my duvet until the effects of the previous night wore off. So when Paul walked me to my front door, hugged me goodbye and headed back off to his own house, I had no idea that only a few hours later I would be wide awake and giving a statement to the police, trying to piece together what had happened.

*****

Now I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking that I’d called the police. You’re probably thinking that I was the one who was reporting a crime. A crime that had happened to me. But you’d be wrong. This IS the story of a girl who got raped by a guy she met on a night out drinking. But that girl wasn’t me. Yes I was called to testify and yes what I said helped to send Sean Flynn to prison. But I wasn’t the victim of the crime, merely a witness for the prosecution.

What happened when Sean Flynn left the guest house with the girl he’d been kissing, was pretty horrific. I didn’t know the girl; she was over here on a brief visit, to attend a wedding. But she knew some of the people in my group of friends. At some point in the early hours of Sunday morning, she had agreed to go back to his house, which was about a five minute taxi journey away from the guest house. I don’t know why she agreed to do this. It seems odd that he would have been so insistent upon needing a place to stay for the night when he lived so close by. But for whatever reason, she chose to accompany Sean Flynn back to his home. A decision she will regret for the rest of her life.

At his house, she’d sat on the sofa kissing him, but then refused to go any further. She decided she wanted to go home. But Sean Flynn got a knife from his kitchen and forced her to perform a sex act on him at knifepoint. He raped her at knifepoint, forced her to perform a sex act on her again, at knifepoint, then held her over the kitchen table and tried to anally rape her, but when he was unsuccessful, raped her again, vaginally. Still at knifepoint. At some point he stopped suddenly and she was able to gather her clothes and escape, before calling her friend and then calling the police.

******

The police had asked all of us present that night to come and be questioned; to give statements where applicable. I was asked to stay and make a long, fairly detailed statement because a/ I had a better memory of what had happened that evening than the rest of us and b/ Sean Flynn had spent a large part of the evening focusing his attention on me. They wanted to know everything he’d said to me. At one point I started to think that the whole thing was my fault. That I’d enraged this guy by refusing to allow him to stay at my house. That by taking all those free drinks from him, I’d added fuel to the fire and sent him off temper flared, ready to explode at whatever female was unlucky enough to be in his line of sight. Maybe if I’d just told him no, gently and been a bit nicer to him? Maybe if I’d just said no to all his offers of drinks? Maybe if I’d made more of an effort to include him in our group?

But I know that I can’t be held responsible for what happened that night. Sure I might have pissed the guy off, but what I soon came to realise was that I had also stopped myself from possibly being raped instead.

There’s a lot of talk these days about how we live in a rape culture; as though society has somehow become so accepting and laissez faire to the notion of rape, that it’s become somewhat acceptable. Society is accused of being default rape apologists and victim blamers, when in reality there isn’t another crime that elicits such revulsion, anger, distress and sympathy from the rest of society. The term victim blaming is brandished like a weapon, towards anyone who dares to try and suggest that a person who was raped, might possibly have avoided getting raped, by employing a different set of behaviours or making alternative decisions. We’re told that the victim is never to blame. The perpetrator is to blame! Which of course is true, the perpetrator is ultimately the person to blame for carrying out the act of rape. But why can’t we also consider a level of personal responsibility enacted by someone who then may or may not go on to become a victim?

The notion of victim blaming is kind of implicit in every crime prevention initiative rolled out by police, town councils and neighbourhood watch schemes, the world over. Secure you home. Lock your doors. Don’t leave valuables on view in your car. Never leave you luggage unattended. Don’t let your kids go on the internet unsupervised. Always make sure you keep your antivirus software up to date. Never give out your password or PIN to people online. Don’t have the contents of your purse on display. But try to suggest that a person can avoid getting into a situation where they’re in danger of being raped? Well, then you’re a victim blamer. A rape apologist.

That night when I met Sean Flynn, I didn’t like him. But that could have just been my own personal preference. He wasn’t my type. I wasn’t interested. Maybe I did sense that there was something a little off with him; maybe I’m remembering that more with the benefit of hindsight. Who knows. But one thing is for sure. Whatever I did that night, I certainly didn’t end up getting raped. I’ve been around. I’ve heard the stories about girls who led guys on and found that they ended up going further than they intended. I had in the past found myself in similar awkward positions. So I promised myself that in order to stay safe, then there were some simple rules I ought to follow.

I always stuck to the group when out drinking. I didn’t accept invitations back to the houses of people I didn’t know, unless I was sure that sex was or wasn’t on the cards and both parties were happy with that. I didn’t lead guys on. I never pretended to be more interested in a guy than I really was. I always made sure that I had someone who would walk me home if I needed them to. I only ever called a taxi from the one firm I knew well and used exclusively. I always told my friends if I was going somewhere and let them know when to expect me back. I listened to my gut and if my instinct told me that someone was a bit off, I made sure that I wouldn’t end up in any situation I couldn’t control. Basically, I just did what I thought was sensible, in order to keep myself safe.

And it worked. What happened to that girl, that night, in Sean Flynn’s house was despicable. I can only imagine how scared she was and how disgusted and devastated she felt afterwards. But there’s this part of me that wanted to ask her why the hell did she kiss him, go with him in a taxi to his house and start kissing him again on the sofa, if she didn’t really want to do anything further with him? Why did she go willingly to his house and then seem so shocked and surprised that he was expecting sex? Yes, I know we’re all supposed to be 100% up on the new rules of affirmative consent, where a person can pull away, say no and change their mind at any moment during an intimate moment, but let’s try and keep things grounded in the real world for a moment; not the pages of a gender studies textbook.

When it comes to the art of sex and seduction, it’s often what isn’t said that means more that what IS said. Yes that probably sounds pretty confusing to someone who has just been forced to sit through some mandatory consent training at their university, but some of us who grew up before the SJW feminist crowd hijacked sex and turned it into an act of invasion, know all about those silent cues; those cheesy shorthand phrases like “come in for coffee” which everyone knows has nothing to do with you showing off your new Nespresso machine. Expecting people to give their affirmative consent, every time you go to kiss a different part of their body, or if you switch from regular old missionary to doggy-style, might sound perfectly acceptable to those who haven’t gotten laid since Lara Croft’s arse had the curvature of a Rubik’s Cube; but to those of us who actually managed to navigate our way through the strange and wonderful world of sexual relationships without college issued instruction manuals, the whole idea seems bizarre and not in the least bit conducive to a good shag.

I know that a lot of the people behind these affirmative consent doctrines mean well. They’re trying to simplify the kinda complex minefield of sexual relations, to the point where there really cannot ever be any doubt as to what each individual’s intent and desires are. On paper it sounds perfectly reasonable. Logical. Rational even. But learning to navigate that strange and slightly confusing path to sexual encounters is actually part of the fun; and in many ways, it’s how we get to learn about the real expectations around consent and seduction. By listening to and paying attention to how the other person is responding. It’s intuitive, it’s unspoken and it can’t be taught in a book. It’s something you learn by just making sure that you made the right decisions that led you to where you are in the first place and by slowly, tentatively fumbling your way until you finally find your feet and figure out the steps to this intimate dance.

Will you get it wrong sometimes? Hell yes. You’ll probably end up embarrassed from time to time when you misread the signals and have to back off. There are times when you’ll wish that there really was a bloody guidebook that could teach you the ways in which to always get it right. But there isn’t one. It’s an experience that has to be learned by doing it. Some people will try to suggest that all affirmative consent training does is provide young people with the knowledge they need to get to that place where they can begin to learn the ropes, only with a distinct understanding of what it means to have given consent to begin that dance in the first place. But if you’ve gotten to college without a basic understanding of what the word ‘no’ means, then I don’t know how you’re planning on navigating your way through your new life away from home for what is probably the first time. Sure, the latest craze for safe spaces and protesting any time a lecturer hurt someone’s feels will help to accommodate your general sense of entitlement for a while. But even the most ‘progressive’ of institutions that aim to wipe your arse for you the minute you start to matriculate, will eventually prove too much for your delicate little soul.

Telling students that they need to be educated on what the word no means, is ridiculous. Constantly having to give your affirmative consent whilst in the throes of passion is a total bloody mood killer. And if you think these courses are going to alter the minds of those who have a psychological predisposition to commit crimes like rape, then you’re an idiot. “Teach men not to rape!” is a ridiculous statement for anyone in the 21st century western word to make. Not only is rape a non-gendered issue, but the majority of men, believe it or not, aren’t actually rapists. Most men are appalled at the idea. (Noel Plum makes a really excellent case against the notion of us living in a rape culture where rape has become less repugnant to society and I suggest you go watch it here.) You aren’t changing the minds of rapists who have deep seated psychological issues, with your consent training classes. You’re just creating a generation of young adults who are terrified of sex and completely lost when it comes to being able to really read the signals a potential sexual partner is giving them in the heat of the moment.

So what CAN you do, to decrease the chances of someone being raped? Well it’s pretty simple really. Rape exists. It has always existed and it will continue to exist. You will never be able to prevent any incidences of rape from ever happening. But you can take a few basic steps to allow yourself to employ a degree of personal responsibility and reduce your chances of getting raped. Don’t go home with someone who you don’t really know and trust. Don’t leave your drinks unattended when you go out. Stay in groups wherever you can. Use familiar taxi firms with registered drivers and let other people know where you’re going. Avoid walking home alone in the dark, through deserted areas. Be honest and upfront about what you want and don’t give someone mixed signals. If your gut is telling you that something isn’t right about someone, trust it. It’s not worth the potential fall-out should you ignore what your instincts are telling you.

Basically, just use common sense. Don’t allow yourself to get into a situation where your intent can really be questioned in the first place and you won’t have to spend your evening going “yes I consent to that” every time your partner switches things up a bit. Of course you do always have the right to pull away and change your mind at the last minute, but if you find yourself in habit of doing that on more than one occasion, maybe you ought to take a good hard look at yourself and try to figure out why you keep getting into that situation.

Anyway, that’s just my take on the whole rape culture and victim blaming bullshit that’s making the rounds at the moment. I’m pretty sure that this is going to get a whole lot of negative attention from people who want to tell me that “Everyone has the right to change their minds!” or “The victim is never to blame!” But before you tweet me something like that, just think back to the true story I’ve just told you. Think about who got home safe and sound and who ended up being examined by a police surgeon after being held against their will and repeatedly raped. And then decide whose example you think is a better one to follow.

Thanks for reading.

Remember When Reading Diversely Meant Something Else?

I’m sick and tired of being made to feel like I need to explain my choices, my intent or the meaning behind my various opinions and exhortations, to people who – in the grand scheme of things – I really shouldn’t give a shit about. Yeah, I know: umpteen million other people have it far worse than I do. This is such a  ‘white girl problem’. I should just check my fucking privilege and realise that by dint of my merely owning a computer from which to compose my tirade of ‘first world’ ire, everything I have to say going forward is invalid, irrelevant and easily dismissed as being both self-absorbed and drastically lacking in self-awareness.

It’s okay. I get it: I wasn’t born ‘wrong’ enough to warrant the right to voice my displeasure or distaste for any aspect of my life. Oh wait, did I say ‘wrong’ enough? Shit. That’s such an exclusionary, ableist and ignorant way of putting things. What I meant to say was that I wasn’t born ‘disadvantaged’ enough. ‘Marginalised’ enough. I’m insufficiently hindered by arbitrary demographical demarcations, decided upon by people I’ve never even met. Yeah, that sounds about right. Sure, I’m female and with that comes the slight inching up on the ‘progressive stack’, but I’m also straight (deduct 10 points), cis-gendered (deduct 5 points), able-bodied (deduct 5 points), middle class (deduct 10 points) and white (deduct 50 points). So, I guess I need to pipe down and let someone much less privileged than me take the mic, right? I think that’s how these things are supposed to work.

check_your_privilege__bingo__by_plumpiepelican-d5z2lqd

What’s that? You think I’m exaggerating? I really wish I was. But you and I both know that the past 5 years have seen the scourge of identity politics infest all of our lives with its far reaching, invasive tentacles worming their way into all that we hold sacred; all that is/was good. It wasn’t always like this though. I remember when things used to be fun. Sure, I’m probably older than some of you, but trust me when I tell you that there was a time once, when the films we went to see, the video-games we used to play and the online communities we were a part of, weren’t immediately judged to be a reflection of our political affiliations or our overall worthiness as human beings on a scale dreamt up by smug ideologues.

No, seriously. I’m not making this up. Once upon a time, the most disparaging thing you would ever heard uttered about gamers was that they were a bit nerdy. Films were criticised on their merit and atheism was just a word used to describe a disbelief in a god. The internet was a democratic platform where anyone who understood how to access it could go to speak freely, engage and voice opinions – however disagreeable – without fear of being curtailed, or ostracised or doxxed. Universities were institutions of higher education, where young adults would go to gain valuable information, seek knowledge, have their ideas challenged, be exposed to new perspectives and figure out how to become independent before going out into the real world. These were halcyon days back then. We just didn’t know it at the time.

And now? Well now it’s all gone to shit and no one can say or do anything without it being poured over and picked at, by a strange new class of self-appointed, virtue-signaling wankers, who want so badly to be deemed ‘right-on’ and ‘PC’, that they spend their days patrolling every medium we have at our disposal, looking for things to be offended by. And these things are rarely things that they themselves are offended by. No, they tend to be perpetually on the lookout for any instances of transgressive misdemeanor that they can take offense at, on behalf of other people. It’s quite amazing really, the way they just feel entitled to rock up and adjudicate you with the unspoken message that: 

“What you’re saying/doing there, doesn’t necessarily offend me, but it might offend someone, somewhere and we simply can’t have that now can we? So kindly fuck off out of here with your sexist/racist/homophobic/ableist intolerant bigotry, before someone gets so upset, they need to set up a Patreon account to seek reparation.”

Urgh. Everyone knows what I’m talking about. Fucking retarded (yeah, I said retarded; big whoop – wanna fight about it?) SJW ideologues, doing everything they can to encompass the sentiments expressed in George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’. That book was supposed to be a cautionary tale, but these control-fascists are treating it like a goddamn itinerary or a manifesto for the dissolution of civil rights. And with each community they’ve infiltrated, violated and devastated, you can see society starting to divide up, as people decide whether they’re going to sign up to be one of the shiny eyed, unquestioning conformists, or say “Fuck this noise!” and join the ranks of insurgents who refuse to be told that they’re a piece of shit, merely for liking or enjoying a ‘thing’ in their spare time.

My particular pastime of choice is reading. I’ve been a voracious reader for most of my life but it’s not just a hobby to me. Books are something I both treasure and kind of take for granted. To me they’re not a luxury, they’re a necessity – I love them. I live in them, through them and alongside them. They’re my teachers, my instructors, my friends and my compatriots. I learn from them. I grow from them. With books I try to challenge myself. And they challenge me right back.

Bookshelf

They inspire me. Entertain me. Enlighten me. They keep me company and they grant me precious solitude. They open my eyes, they break my heart and they blow my fucking mind. So when I see the SJW narrative seeping into the literary community, it devastates me. Enrages me. And it also kind of baffles me. Because as much as I adore – and sometimes almost fetishise! – books, in reality I know that they are merely conduits for ideas and opinions and knowledge; they are bridges between the minds of the authors and the readers. Hold a book in your hands and what you have is a collection of bound pages. Nothing more than a pile of material derived from trees. But actually read a book and you take part in an ages old act of receiving information; of listening; of learning; of connecting. To encroach upon the content of books, is to encroach upon ideas. By monitoring what people write or read, you are policing their freedom of expression.

So to have this form of pleasure questioned, derided even, by those who want to enforce a kind of social obligation onto readers, really pisses me off. Articles like this one: Why You Need To Start To Read Diversely designed to guilt trip us into changing our reading habits, so that they end up meeting some kind of self-enforced quota system that represents every single author demographic. Because apparently, what we choose to do on our downtime should no longer be about just finding something that we like, enjoy or are interested in; no, we should be forcing ourselves to read books that we didn’t actually show any prior interest in, so we don’t end up reading books by – GASP! – predominantly straight, white men!

Last year the pressure to read books from outside one’s area of interest, was ramped up with the Twitter campaign: #DiverseDecember set up by bloggers Naomi Frisby and Dan Lipscombe. The idea was to get people to tweet the titles of the ‘diverse’ (I’m beginning to hate that word) books/authors they were reading. Because nothing says “Look at me! Look at what a good person I am, reading these books by non-straight-white-cis-gendered-men and telling you all about it!” quite like jumping on a Twitter campaign bandwagon to do just that.

I used to think I read pretty diversely myself actually. I read fiction and non-fiction. I like literary fiction, the classics, sci-fi, dystopia, horror, crime-fiction, physics, biology, psychology, history, sociology, medicine, biography, true-crime, study-guides, books about books and books about…well all manner of things really. But apparently that’s not what reading ‘diversely’ means these days. No, now it means that we’re supposed to consider the race, gender, sexuality and nationality of the authors writing those books, more than the breadth of subject and genre they cover. Suddenly, there was a whole new level of expectation required of us, in order to be able to claim to be a ‘diverse’ reader. Never mind if every book you read was a romance novel or a history text. As long as you featured a range of cultural demographics in the author of said books, you could now call yourself a ‘diverse’ reader. Which is exactly why I started to hate that word. It stopped being about the different topics one read and instead became disingenuous shorthand for a self-identifying morally superior ideologue.

Identity politics loves to take words and change them so that mean something else. But even more than that, it seeks to make an issue out of the very topics it claims to be free from. Choosing to read books because they are written by someone of a particular gender, race, or sexuality – and subsequently choosing NOT to read other books because of those same reasons, becomes inherently discriminatory by its very nature. You’re not eliminating or tackling issues of racism, sexism or homophobia by singling those categories out as a means to seek out certain books to read. You’re perpetuating it.

Regressive Left RD

You can imagine how utterly fucking annoyed I was then to see tweets appearing in January by people stating that for the whole of 2016 they would not be reading any books by straight white males. These people, in their attempt to show just how ‘right on’ and ‘progressive’ they were, were simply basking in their decision to discriminate on the basis of gender, race and sexuality. And they wanted everyone to see that they were doing this. Virtue-signalling has become to go-to method of indirect boasting, used by the regressive-left, whenever they want to draw attention to their supercilious faux do-gooding. What’s even worse though, is that those of us who refuse to join in with this strategic ideological game, find ourselves being labeled as racists, sexists, homophobes and bigots. In this case, all because we choose our books purely because their content is what appeals to us the most.

I’ll be honest with you. For a huge number of the books I read, I don’t actually know what their race, sexuality or nationality is. If they don’t have a photograph on the dust jacket, or if I haven’t bothered to look the author up online, then I have no way of knowing if someone is white, black, mixed-race, hispanic, Asian or Inuit. Even a non-anglicised name is no guarantee of someone’s ethnicity. People marry. They move to different countries. They have children and can decide on names ranging from the traditional to the bizarre (I’m looking at you Frank Zappa). Some people adopt children from other countries and whereas some will choose to keep the child’s birth-name, others will want to give them a name of their choice instead. Yes of course I know that there are some cues to be gained from some names; for instance I was pretty sure from day one that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of ‘Americanah’ wasn’t a pasty white Russian oligarch. But how many people would be able to correctly assess the racial or sexual identity of James Baldwin, Tess Gerritsen, Randy Shilts, Roxanne Gay or Thomas Sowell, just by looking at their names?

It might sound like a moot point, but if a large portion of the books I have on my shelves turn out to have been written by non-straight-white-cis-gendered men, without me realising one way or the other, does that make me more or less of a ‘diverse’ reader? Which is truly a more egalitarian, less discriminatory approach to seeking out literature? Going out of one’s way to read a book purely because the author fits into the ‘diversity’ ideology, or reading books because they looked interesting, regardless of who wrote them, and subsequently finding that there is a ‘diverse’ representation within the authors I read? I know for instance that the handful of books written by authors based in Karachi, that I bought to get a better understanding of modern Pakistan, were written by Asian authors. But on my Kindle, when I look at the vast collection of ebooks – many self-published – by authors I know nothing about, how am I to know upon first glance, what cultural demographics the authors fall into.

I can’t. And more than that. I really don’t fucking care. Weird and retrograde as it might appear, I have a particularly novel (pun intended – sue me) system for finding a new book to read. It involves one of two approaches. The first is where I already know the author and want to read more of their work so I purposely go find if they have any other titles that I’ve yet to read. Simple. The second is where I wander through the aisles of a local bookshop, or use the search function to look through the millions of titles offered online in Amazon or Audible or whatever, looking for a book that sounds…wait for it…interesting! I might be in the mood for a book on the search for gravitational waves or something about the historicity of the Bible; maybe I’m after a ghost story or a book about neuroplasticity – all topics I’ve searched for recently. And whilst there might occasionally be a title by an author I recognise from previous works, or television documentaries, for the most part the names behind the work mean absolutely nothing to me. I don’t care if they’re black or white or hispanic or straight or gay or trans or cis gendered or ginger. Not unless the book in question is specifically about those topics mentioned.

I just want to read good books. That isn’t me saying “I don’t think that books by non-white-straight-cis-gendered-men aren’t good, so I don’t read them.” (although that’s how some of these amateur identity politicians would happily try to interpret it). It means I read whatever the fuck I want to read, based on whether or not it sounds interesting, informative, entertaining and worth the time and effort required to invest in it. I know I won’t always get it right; Zeus knows how many books have failed to meet my expectations over the years. But a combination of the blurb/dust-jacket description and reader reviews, generally helps to narrow the field down to a selection that are much more likely to be worth my money and my time. That’s why I’ve recently been watching a lot of BookTube. I’ve found a selection of content producers who have similar reading tastes to me and from their vlogs find a whole host of new titles to check out, next time I’m in a position to purchase another book. It really is that simple.

But between campaigns like #DiverseDecember – which has now been extended under the hashtag #ReadDiverse2016 – and countless articles telling us that we should be reading more ‘diverse’ books, it’s getting to a point where a person daren’t suggest that they don’t read books by non-straight-white-cis-gendered-men, for fear of being labeled a shitlord. Hang out on the BookTube channels of YouTube and you’ll find countless videos reassuring readers that there’s nothing wrong with not liking the classics, hating YA or not having a particular fondness for a certain genre of literature. Smiley, happy, well-intentioned 19 year olds, with perky personalities and some pretty nifty editing techniques, are falling all over themselves to let you know that what you choose to read is entirely up to you; because not everyone likes every single genre of literature.

But dare to say that you have absolutely zero interest in reading about stories from refugees in war-torn climbs, or that you’re just not into reading about the experiences of slaves living in the Deep South? That’s a whole other story. I like to read some biography from time to time. But it has to be about a person whose live I’m actually interested in the first place. Mostly, the biographies I read are of scientists, because I’m interested in their work and the person behind it. I don’t however have any interest in reading about a woman who used to clean people’s houses for a living. Sorry if that offends you – well, no actually, I’m really not – but I can barely bring myself to do my own housework. Reading about the daily grind of a woman doing someone else’s housework, really isn’t going to appeal to me. (The makers of the indie-dev game Sunset found that lesson out the hard way!)

But these are people’s stories! They deserve a voice! They need to be heard!” That’s the kind of outpouring you hear from neo-liberals who see us all as identical cogs in one huge great machine. “You owe it to them to help them get their stories out there!” “Why are you so against seeing more diversity in literature?” “That’s so bigoted!” Urgh. I’m not saying I don’t ever want to read books by non-straight-white-cis-gendered-males. That would be really fucking stupid. And a massive lie. But I don’t want to have to alter my reading habits and tastes, just to meet some ideological quota and get the approval of the ‘progressives’ out there, simultaneously virtue-signalling their own worthiness, whilst judging whether my character and choices merit a pass or a fail.

Minorities

If you feel as though you have to tweet about the books you’re reading to prove how utterly fucking ‘diverse’ you are, then the chances are, you’re nothing more than an ideologue. A wannabe stand-up example of how to be a ‘really good person’. You care more about being seen to be doing something you believe to be worthy, than actually doing the thing itself. You want to guilt trip those not already mimicking your reading habits, into feeling bad, before scurrying off to get their own copy of the latest ‘hot’ title to emerge from a ‘diverse’ author. And you make me fucking sick.

Literature should succeed or fail on its own merit. If a book is good and is appreciated by a large number of people then it should sell well and receive the appropriate acclaim. If a book is crap then others are quite within their rights to say so and vote to take their money elsewhere. (It’s funny though, how we rarely see anything other than rave reviews for those ‘diverse’ books that everyone is suddenly expected to be reading at their book club, huh? It’s almost as if we’re not allowed to criticise them?) Likewise, people should be able to choose exactly what they want to spend their hard earned cash on, without feeling guilty that they aren’t reading what regressive ideologues deem ‘diverse’. Books written by straight-white-cis-gendered-men might dominate a lot of reading lists and prizes, but maybe those books were actually just really good. Maybe they weren’t and it just goes to show the subjectivity of taste and the fallibility in expecting lists to reflect everyone’s cultural experience and expectation.

And before anyone starts to try and tell me that these initiatives/campaigns are necessary because there is a perceived problem with non-straight-white-cis-gendered-men getting published, let’s not forget about the curious case of Michael Derrick Hudson. A white poet whose poem ‘The Bees, the Flowers, Jesus, Ancient Tigers, Poseidon, Adam and Eve’, was rejected under his real name 40 times before he sent it out as Yi-Fen Chou, when it was rejected nine times before getting accepted. Nor should we ignore the Indian-American author Akhil Sharma who himself has admitted:

I have benefited from being an ethnic writer. All fiction writers want their stories and novels to feel like something new. Because I am writing about things that are not well known, and I am writing about a community that people are curious about, I have received a great deal of attention. I am not saying that my writing is not meritorious. I am only saying that my complaining would feel churlish since I have benefited so much from being a minority.”

Maybe things used to be different and harder for ‘diverse’ authors, I can’t say for sure. But I think it’s only fair to remember that the smaller the percentage of a minority group, then the smaller the number of books you should expect to see representing said minority. As the numbers within each minority group grows, the number of books that are written by and/or represent said minority will naturally increase; and with that increase you can expect to see more books written by minorities being featured in reviews, which should in turn lead to greater sales. If the demand is there then the supply will increase to meet it. But right now it’s as though we’re all being made to feel obligated to read books by minorities or ‘diverse’ authors. Social justice warriors are trying to guilt trip us into patronising these authors (in both senses of the word) which is only going to artificially inflate the actual demand for them.

There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t want to read a book because the subject matter doesn’t interest you. And there’s nothing wrong with reading a book and saying you thought it was crap. It’s your money, your time and your taste we’re talking about here. It’s great to try and read outside of your comfort zone from time to time, check out topics or authors you haven’t read before. That’s how we grow as readers. But feeling forced to adhere to some sort of societal obligation, when all you want to do is get lost in the pages of a familiar story or subject matter, is bordering on bloody thought-control. Demanding that we all expose ourselves to a set, pre-approved reading list doesn’t sound like fun to me. It sounds like a totalitarian nightmare. But that’s exactly the kind of future we can hope for if these so-called ‘progressives’ keep pushing their ideological narrative.

Urgh…I know, I’ve been ranting for ages now. But this manipulation of the media by the regressive left both angers and terrifies me. Every time a cultural shift is brought about by the intense pressure of SJWs and Marxist ideologues, we seem to be shuffling closer to the dystopian futures laid out in works by Huxley, Orwell and Bradbury. That might seem extreme or exaggerated to those who don’t spend much time online or in university campuses, but we really are seeing a gradual encroachment of ‘progressive’ ideals, in all our lives. Bit by bit we’re moving closer to the authoritarian societies we were warned about in books like Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World. They might not be burning our books just yet, but they’re still trying to encroach upon what we choose to read. So before I go, I’ll leave you with some excerpts from Fahrenheit 451, that should scare you as much as they do me, because I’m nice like that. Thanks for reading.

“Once books appealed to a few people, here, there, everywhere. They could afford to be different. The world was roomy. But then the world got full of eyes and elbows and mouths. Double, triple, quadruple population.

Now let’s take up the minorities in our civilisation shall we? Bigger the population, the more minorities. The bigger your market Montag, the less you handle controversy, remember that. All the minor minor minorities with their navels to be kept clean. Authors full of evil thoughts, lock up your typewriters. They did!

There you have it Montag. It didn’t come from the government down. There was no dictum, no declaration, no censorship to start with, no! Technology, mass exploitation and minority pressure carried the trick… We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against.

They were given the new job, as custodians of our peace of mind, the focus of our understandable and rightful dread of being inferior; official censors, judges and executors.”

Fahrenheit 451