Why Greer is wrong about sex and rape

Submitted by SJW on 21 June, 2018 - 12:27 Author: Caroline Jeffries

Germaine Greer has once again made the headlines.

This time it was for calling for the punishment for rape to be reduced. Speaking at the Hay Literary Festival she argued that rape trials rarely end in convictions, so the courts should simply believe the victim and lower the penalty to alternatives like community service or for rapists to have an “r” tattooed on their body.

There is a general consensus amongst large parts of society that the state’s handling of rape cases — the big majority brought by women — is extremely flawed. However, Greer’s proposal shows a serious misunderstanding of the nature of rape and where the legal system goes wrong.

Large numbers of women don’t report rape due to fear or lack of faith in the system, which Greer rightfully highlights. However Greer is wrong about want most survivors want. They aren’t just looking for their attacker to have to do community service.

There surely are changes in the criminal justice system that would help survivors. However, arbitrarily raising the conviction rate for rape doesn’t address many of the material and indirect concerns many survivors face.

Most of our focus should go beyond the courts — on funding for social services and housing that help survivors, on women’s refuges, counselling services, rape crisis centres, and so on. Services like these will help survivors leave abusive relationships (where rape may be a regular occurrence) and recover from a traumatic experiences.

Socialists and feminists should also be thinking about ways to prevent violent attacks. For instance, comprehensive sex education classes that start at an early age where children learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships and consent. There are schemes already in place such as active bystander workshops, and these should be held in places beyond posh universities.

Perhaps the most concerning comments from Greer was her broad grouping of “bad sex” with rape. She said, “Instead of thinking of rape as a spectacularly violent crime, and some rapes are, think about it as non consensual … that is bad sex. Sex where there is no communication, no tenderness, no mention of love”.

This statement is troubling for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there is something oddly old-fashioned and moralistic about calling for people to only have sex that has “tenderness” and “mentions of love”. It harkens back to the reactionary idea that you should only have sex with someone you love or “if it means something”. Ideally every sexual experience anyone ever has would be great, but something like losing your virginity or an unfulfilling internet hook-up is not the same as rape.

Yes it’s true that patriarchal social power dynamics mean that in heterosexual relationships sex is male-centred, causing many women to feel unfulfilled in their sex lives. However, sex that is consensual and not coerced, but simply unsatisfying, is also not rape. We can believe that social power structures affect what happens in the bedroom without calling unsatisfying sex rape.

By grouping bad sex and rape together, Greer trivialises the experience of rape and surviving rape. Perhaps she thinks her comments are empowering when she says that “we haven’t been destroyed, we’ve been bloody annoyed is what we’ve been”. But this just isn’t true! Rape and sexual assault is a traumatic event. Even if a survivor doesn’t suffer from PTSD, the event could radically change how they view relationships, themselves and their sexuality.

Greer’s argument could in fact be damaging to the fight against sexual violence. Other feminists have long fought to get the difference between what constitutes bad sex and rape recognised. Critics of the movement on campuses to confront date rape and intoxicated consent have accused victims of “just having a bad night”.

These criticisms are wrong and prejudiced, and Greer’s comments could potentially fuel more of these sentiments.

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