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Saturday, 21 April 2012

The language of equality


I had a blog post about the language of children ready to go. 

I got distracted.

A well-known blogger who I have been following on Twitter re-tweeted a comment that had disgusted her.   It was from a young man whose Twitter history suggest that he isn’t going to be winning any prizes for philosophical discourse any time soon.

“fair play to Ched Evans proper lad if theres grass on the pitch play ball haha 5years isnt that long ull be out in no time”

He was, of course, referring to footballer, Chedwyn Evans’ conviction for raping a nineteen year-old girl.  The Sheffield United player was sentenced to five years yesterday, after a judge commented that it was obvious that the woman was so drunk that she was in “no condition to have sexual intercourse”.

So this Twitter member thinks it is “fair play” for a man to happen across a staggering drunk teenage girl, load her into a taxi, take her back to a hotel room and text a booty-call to his friends to come and join in.  If it is “fair play” then the implication is that she was “fair game”.

Oh dear.  Things really haven’t changed that much in some people’s minds, have they?  There have been various developments in the law over recent years to try to deal with the difficulties in prosecuting allegations of rape and sexual assault.  Unfortunately, what the legislators can’t do is change the opinions of people like Twitter-Man and his ilk.

After all, Twitter-Man wasn’t the only one using the social network to give his pennyworth.  Chedwyn Evan’s teammate, vented his rage on the site, criticising the law and attacking the victim in a rant peppered with four-letter words, culminating in the delightful comment:

“If ur a slag ur a slag don’t try get money from being a slag ... Stupid girls... I feel sick.

Clearly, it is extremely concerning that someone relatively high-profile, no doubt a role model for many young men who aspire to the lifestyle of a successful footballer, holds such views.  But there is something much more sinister highlighted by these two twitter remarks.  It is this: it clearly never occurred to these two men that their views were not something to be paraded across the internet.  It does not appear to have registered with them that there is something very, very wrong with applauding a convicted sex offender and vilifying his victim.

Clearly, despite the undoubted advances in the way the legal system deals with rape allegations, the real problem is the deeply entrenched views that some men, and indeed some women, still hold about women, their rights over their own bodies and the way in which they should present themselves.

I think it is all about language.  Where the behaviour of women is under discussion, there is a vocabulary of contempt still in circulation.

Mr Brown called the victim a “slag”.

A slag?  Really?

Which person in this “liaison” ordered a taxi and took a highly intoxicated person back to a hotel purely for the purpose of sex, notifying a friend about his intentions on the way?  Oh yes, that would be Mr Evans’ acquitted co-defendant, Clayton McDonald who has not been found legally at fault, but is, unarguably, morally suspect, given his behaviour that night.

So who is the “slag”?

The problem is that there is no equivalent term for a man with so little respect for himself and others that he picks up drunken women in kebab shops and broadcasts his glee at his “catch” to his friends by text while she lolls at his side in a taxi.  If this term is applied to a man, it is always qualified – male slag”.  The implication is that distasteful sexual behaviour is the sole remit of women.  There are sexual words for men, but they are very different in tone – very much light-hearted, slap-my-thigh-and-snigger, old-boys’-club type terms – “player”, “cad”, “Jack the lad”.  Even the term for a male prostitute (see what I had to do there – male prostitute) is rather cheerful sounding, compared with the blunt, no-concessions term for a woman who sells sex. 

Gigolo. 

Whore. 

I do not call myself a feminist.  Partly because it is a term that seems to cover such a wide range of attitudes and beliefs that I wouldn’t know where to start in justifying labelling myself that way.  But also because I believe in the power of words and I believe that the existence of the term is, to some extent, an admission that there is a need for it.  That women need to fight to be equal.  I prefer to think of the activism of women as being a fight against sexism, rather than it stemming from women needing a leg-up.

As long as there is a whole set of words and phrases that attach to women only, there is no real prospect of real, true, completely pervasive equality.  The type of equality that is in the head, not just on the lips, or in the statute books.  The day those words no longer exist, or the day they are used for both sexes, is the day when we won’t need the word “feminism” any more.  But until that day, when a news-story like this doesn’t attract the mindless, misogynistic comments – asking for it, slag, tart, fair game, the day when the point does not need to be made that alcohol does not equal sex, drunk does not mean available, men like Chedwyn Evans will think that they can take what they want without asking. 

Because, after all, there is a name for women like that, isn’t there?

Well there are names for men like Chedwyn Evans too, and thankfully a jury had the courage to pin them squarely on him.

Criminal.

Predator.

Rapist.

Twitter is quite an eye-opener.  It’s all about language.  There’s nothing else there to dress up, or excuse, the views that are put across.  Just words on the screen and the mentality behind them.  Even rich, famous footballers like Mr Brown are reduced to 140 characters and they don’t come across particularly well.  Perhaps the baldness of their messages might make a few others with not dissimilar views actually examine their entrenched opinions a little more closely.

Keep tweeting Mr Brown and Twitter-Man.  You might actually get a message across.  But perhaps not in the way you hoped.

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