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Rape culture and the “real girl”

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eavesInequality between women and men will only end when women’s consent is meaningful.

Guest post by Julia Hilliard, from Eaves.

While researching for the recent Eaves report “Just the Women” on sexist treatment of women in the press in September last year, I was very struck by a particular tactic of the grubbier tabloids, especially the Sport.

It’s easy to dismiss a paper like the Sport as so extreme that it’s not representative of the mainstream – but looking at it closely, we get can a look, undisguised by pretence, at themes running through the rest of our culture.

There would be a page of adverts for “escorts” all over the UK, and in the middle there would be a picture of a “real girls getting ‘em out” – that is, a woman not working in the sex industry, who had sent in a picture of herself, topless or naked, to the paper.

She sends in this picture of herself for her man – “Remember what we were doing when we took this picture, Gaz?…Happy birthday…there’s more to come!” – but also for all the men reading the paper.

The men reading the paper might not be able to touch her but they can look at her, and if they want to touch they can phone the numbers of the women whose photos surround her, who are also naked or topless and in similar poses.

Or there would be an interview with a nude or topless model, where she talks about how she used to work in McDonalds, but she was skint all the time, so when she was offered the chance to be photographed naked she jumped at the opportunity, because she’s always had a “sexy side”, and anyway, it pays better than McDonalds: “Last summer, I had no job and needed money…I guess I just thought, f*** it, if it’s going to help me out financially, I’ll do it … And it beats my old job working at McDonalds, too!”

Or there would be an interview with a man who somehow encountered a woman who is now at least slightly famous at a time when she was broke and worked in the sex industry. “Speaking about her time as a phone sex worker, Danica said ‘When you need money instantly, you do things you probably shouldn’t.  I can’t regret it because I didn’t have a choice!”

Access to women who are selling sex because of poverty, who are “good girls” who have fallen on hard times, is presented as particularly exciting, as a particular triumph.

There’s no attempt to conceal the fact that they’re there out of financial need.

Constrained choice is apparently a desirable trait in a woman.

Or there would be adverts for porn or sex chat where the women are advertised as women who already have other jobs, and are doing it for fun or for sexual gratification.

“Man wanted: Dani is a hot 27 yo divorced blonde who is working as a shop cashier and looking for men who will f*ck her hard then f*ck off…Carol loves it hard in the bum. This randy carer spends her days in a nylon smock looking after oldies then slips into pretty lingerie and prepares to f*ck!”

The description of women who supposedly don’t, or don’t usually, work in the sex industry as “real” is telling – it shows that they do not see women who work in the sex industry as “real” people.

Certainly it seems that buying sex from them is not as transgressive a thrill as buying sex from a woman who mostly doesn’t take money for it.

For the male reader, this presents a pretty unambiguous message.

It says that any woman is up for grabs, can be seen naked, can be bought.

She just has to get to that point where she’s broke enough and she too will be for sale.

A man never has to accept that he does not have a right to our bodies, or that we don’t have to say yes if we don’t want to.

When a man pays a woman for sex, or pays to see her naked, he pays her to conform to stereotypes of what women are supposed to be like in a patriarchal society.

That is, always excited, always ready, always enjoying what is done to her.

This way he never has to accept that she could be any other way – uninterested, unconsenting, not taking pleasure.

For the female reader, the message is also clear.

We are all the same.

We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that we can say no, or that we will not one day be expected to sell access to our body, whether to look or to touch.

And that’s actually true.

We are all the same.

Women in the sex industry and women outside the sex industry are only different in the fact of our circumstances.

That’s why our no is never truly meaningful – either because our no will be ignored (when we are raped or sexually assaulted, like one in five women in the UK in their lifetime) or because at any time we could find ourselves (or already have found ourselves) in a situation where we had to allow our yes to be bought.

And the no of a woman who sells sex is treated as if it is impossible, or silent: more than half of women involved in prostitution have experienced rape.

And that’s just the ones the women interviewed would talk about.

Some studies show as high as 80 per cent.

And 25 per cent of the men interviewed in Eaves’ study “Men Who Buy Sex” told us that the idea that a woman involved in prostitution can be raped is “ridiculous”.

Inequality between women and men will only end when women’s consent is meaningful; that is, when no woman is pushed by circumstances outside her control  – her level of education, the class she was born into, the race she was born, the disability she has, the family life or life experiences she has, the job she has or doesn’t have – to have sex with a man she would not otherwise have consented to.

  1. I would say prostitution itself is paid rape, so really, 100% of prostituted women have been raped. If money was given to a woman to “buy” her consent, she didn’t really consent. She was forced by her circumstances to prostitute herself. She is forced by her circumstances to accept rape for money. That is not true consent; it is desperation.

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