Know The Difference?

Posted: January 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

Still from The Piano Teacher, By Michael Hanneke

‘We know that real men know the difference between rape and consensual sex’

This is the slogan that has been chosen to summarise a campaign launched recently by Lambeth council, ‘to address the growing numbers of rapes and sexual assaults, and to remind men of the legal and social consequences of going too far’.


When I posted the link to the Lambeth website on twitter, stating I was angry and distressed by it, people asked me why?

Well I am angry for two key reasons, no, three:

1) The concept of ‘REAL MEN’ knowing the difference between sexual assault, consensual sex, harassment and flirting, delineates between ‘real men’ and ‘not real men’. It draws on the values of machismo, to make men feel they are not ‘man enough’ if they do not fit certain social norms and behaviours. So, rape is not a great way to behave, I agree. But why should it relate to someone’s ‘manliness’? Isn’t that the kind of idea feminists are supposed to oppose: that a man’s masculinity can be proven by his sexual aggressiveness? So why would using this concept in its converse form be any better? And, as Mark Simpson commented in relation to a campaign about how ‘real men don’t pay for sex’, there is an insinuation here, an underlying message, a question posed in another way: ‘What kind of man are you? That does THAT?’

2) ‘Knowing the difference’ between sexual assault and consensual sex, or sexual harassment and flirting is not always easy, for men or women.

‘Flirting makes the receiver feel happy, excited and flattered’ says Lambeth’s website. ‘It can be a fun part of a night out. But when does flirting change and become hassling? Hassling can make a person feel degraded and scared’.

When indeed? I find it often depends on my mood. What can feel like flirty fun on one evening, becomes unwanted hassling on another. Or, it can depend on who is doing the ‘flirting’. I don’t think I’d be that likely to feel harassed if I was approached by James Franco, say, in a bar. But some pissed up bloke who I didn’t fancy? Maybe that’d be more annoying. Sometimes believe it or not, women flirt and also ‘harass’ men. You only have to go into town on a Friday night to see that some groups of women out drinking and chatting up men can be just as ‘in your face’ as their male counterparts.

And when it comes to sex the lines get even more blurred. What about when you have sex with your partner out of duty rather than desire? What if you really are too drunk to make a rational decision, but both parties are as drunk as each other, and it is an unsatisfying fumble and shove in the dark? The idea that sex is either consensual, wonderful and brilliant for everyone involved, or violent, horrible and assault by a man to a woman, is what is reinforced by campaigns like ‘Know the difference…’ No, I don’t always know the difference. If I were a man would that make me a criminal?

3) This campaign is aimed at men. Legally, in England and Wales**, rape is only possible by a ‘man’ against  a ‘woman’ (when we take man as someone with a penis). That’s another discussion to be had. But placing all the responsibility at men’s door for negotiating consent, and distinguishing between ‘flirting’ and ‘harassment’ , ‘sex’ and ‘assault’ is unfair and misleading.

‘Even if a woman has come back to your home, this doesn’t give you any right to expect sex’ says the campaign literature.
What if the woman has invited the man back to her home? What if she is so horny she can’t wait till they get home and takes him against a wall? The terms of this campaign keep women and men in those traditional roles that feminism* is supposed to challenge: man as aggressor, woman as victim. Man as ‘rapist’ woman as passive object of violence or desire. Man as predator, woman as prey. I am tired of these cliches being rolled out in the name of ‘health and safety’ and ‘protecting women’.

* I mention feminism as I think this and other campaigns are informed by feminism, and research into sexual violence and ‘rape culture’ always has a feminist perspective. Also as I have said elsewhere, feminists seem intent on keeping rape ‘special’ and keeping women as ‘victims’ and the status that accords them.

I am coming out. I admit I don’t know the difference, all the time, between flirting and harassment, wanted and unwanted attention, sex and ‘rape’, violence and sex. It is these blurring of boundaries that make sex possible, and even, sometimes, hot. Because if we all knew what was going on all the time, if we all had our health and safety manuals at our bedsides, if we all ‘asked permission’ every time we wanted to get it on, life would be  very boring indeed. As boring as Lambeth Council’s Rape Prevention Campaign.
**Scotland has just updated laws to make it ‘possible’ for women to rape men.
  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by writerJames and Elly . Elly said: New Post: Know The Difference? Explains why I hate 'anti-rape' campaigns […]

  2. Mark says:

    Interesting points – which no one else seems to be making. As usual.

    On the subject of female harassment of men, I’ve seen quite a lot of that on nights out in the twilight world of the heterosexual. Drunken women, particularly in the north, can be very full-on and physical. It seems to me that men have a double problem here: if they were to behave in the way that some women do towards them they would be in danger of arrest. Also, it can be difficult for them to tell an unwanted ‘flirter’ to bug off, since then the question might be raised: ‘What kind of man are you?’ And loudly. Only real men accept any and all female sexual attention – and don’t complain about it.

  3. a friend of mine did her Phd on drinking and violence among women, focussing on middle class women in sheffield and working class women in Leeds. It was very interesting but as a ‘feminist’ I don’t think she brooched the issue of women’s harassment of men, only good old fashioned girl-on-girl fighting!

    But I saw a post on a men’s rights website featuring videos of women beating up men in metro stations, and it basically said they could not fight back or they’d get arrested.

  4. how do you deal with unwanted female attention, Mark? I bet you are very polite. But not too worried about what kind of man would knock back a poor lass looking for a good time.

  5. Mark says:

    Oh, they get the measure of me pretty quickly….

  6. P.s. ‘The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest’ might have been written about me.

    But sometimes I don’t want to be that girl.

    • innegative says:

      I think these hornets’ nests are worth kicking. ‘Positive love’ and reasonable pleasure are becoming far too dominant as absolutes on relational truth. Seems to be axiomatic for most people that Negative Love has no functional place in a relationship, and left to their own devices, hysterics will write the world like that. I’ve long given up on fighting them inside their language though. More interested these days in producing a workable negative language in the hope it becomes speakable in its own right. You seem to be moving towards soemthing simillar maybe?

      I can see how you’d feel like a lone voice though. These tensions however are probably good for you – it’s out of such pressures we find our own voice.

      • I hope they are good for me in some way! Because they are not a whole lot of fun.

        No one of the things I get out of this kind of enquiry is finding that I help others to voice/understand their doubts about the ‘lines’ they are expected to toe on issues of sex/gender/power.

        on the subject of finding our own voice, next week I am publishing my blog project called games perverts play, a creative writing compendium for writers who I think are producing a workable ‘negative language’…

      • innegative says:

        I can see how helping others find their voice/find comfort with their voice too is a pleasurable part of the project, but I think it already presupposes that you’ve already had trouble finding/developing your own, and the only way really of giving any sort of freedom to anyone is by understanding the field yourself.

        And no, I’d imagine it can be very wearisome and a bit beleaguring at times.

        I’ll look at the Games Perverts Play comp, but I’ll bet you I don’t enter 😉

  7. Simon says:

    ” Legally, in England and Wales**, rape is only possible by a ‘man’ against a ‘woman’ ”

    The last part ‘against a woman’ is no longer true; since 2008, iirc.

  8. Thanks Simon you are right. I think it may have been before then come to think of it. I will check and edit.

  9. Fenner Pearson says:

    As you know, I’ve struggled at times to follow your arguments – or, perhaps, to understand where you’re coming from – on the subject of rape. This is a great blog and makes it a lot clearer, thank you.

  10. arctic_jay says:

    Making the determination of consent a male issue is immediately invalidated by the fact that surveys show that males are more often the victims of rape (by a wide margin) and that women perpetrate rape against men nearly as often as the reverse:

  11. interesting article a-jay. but isnt measuring incidences of sexual violence difficult in general? One person’s ‘rape’ is another person’s idea of a surprisingly good time, sometimes. not to belittle serious sexual assault but you know what I mean.

  12. arctic_jay says:

    The way the survey is worded, it’s counting incidences of what people consider to be a forced encounter. Situations were someone was hesitant at first but then eventually won over aren’t going to be categorized as forced in the vast majority of people’s minds, so I don’t think that’s going to skew the results in any significant way. And even if it did, there’s still no reason it would affect the male and female percentages differently.

    There’s no “Rape Oracle” we can consult to get perfect information concerning unreported rape, so surveys are all we have. What they show us, when they take male and female rape equally seriously, is that no gender is safer from the phenomenon, which is completely contrary to the feminist rape story and consistent with the MRA account. There’s no reason to make rape a gender issue, none. Men and women rape for the same reasons, and they get raped for the same reasons. You’d think a movement that argues the lack of difference concerning men and women would feel validated by that.

  13. i dont think feminism does argue the lack of difference between men and women . It emphasises the differences. But so does the MRA movement I think. Anyone who relies on the binary men v women does.

  14. innegative says:

    “I am coming out. I admit I don’t know the difference, all the time, between flirting and harassment, wanted and unwanted attention, sex and ‘rape’, violence and sex. It is these blurring of boundaries that make sex possible, and even, sometimes, hot. Because if we all knew what was going on all the time, if we all had our health and safety manuals at our bedsides, if we all ‘asked permission’ every time we wanted to get it on, life would be very boring indeed.”

    I thought that bit was well expressed. Relatedly, I wrote this which you might like:

    Or maybe you won’t.

    I have a friend who never ceases to complain bitterly that one night, after a mini-party, he had to spend a night of the floor of the house he was at. A young lady from the party who had taken something of a shine to him spent most of the small hours touching him up and dribbling in his ear about what she wanted him to do to her. This is a very funny story when you know my friend and the priority he gives to his sleep and the especial priority he gives to a stubborn refusal to take part in any sort of ‘life’.

  15. Hmmm. I don’t always agree with you, but your writing is always thought-provoking!

    I agree that the ‘real men’ line is counter productive; it sounds like a typical local council approach – perhaps aimed at young men – for whom being a ‘real man’ is important – but yet harking back to a masculine ideal which is unfair on men. But slogans are about reduction and simplification – which is perhaps why they are not very useful.

    I think it’s positive that a conversation is going on about power and consent, about grey areas. I would probably argue that the lines are less blurry – I think it’s usually fairly clear when someone, man or woman, says no, or is uncomfortable with a situation – but thanks for your honesty here.

  16. Fidelbogen says:

    This “rape campaign” is anti-male agitprop. Plain and simple.

    The perpetrators should be held responsible. Names should be recorded. Evidence should be gathered.

    End of subject.

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