Recently, Joanna Lumley made some comments in an interview with The Telegraph which made every drunken night spent watching Ab Fab with my flatmate seem like a terrible lie.
“Don’t look like trash, don’t get drunk, don’t be sick down your front, don’t break your heels and stagger about in the wrong clothes at midnight. This is bad. It’s not me being a snob about it. It’s not me being an old woman talking to young women, its just standard practice for how our species should behave. Don’t behave badly.”
She continues: “… don’t be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home, because somebody will take advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you.”
Now, I think she means well, but there’s a hell of a lot of bullshit afoot here. Her advice would be harmless if it weren’t for the crucial fact that it’s only aimed at women (or ‘our species’, as she puts it, because we all know that women aren’t actually human at all, with our webbed feet and our scales). Men are also in danger of the horrors Lumley warns us against: assault, robbery and, indeed, rape. Yet men can go out and get shitfaced and dance and throw up in the doorway of their local Spar of an evening, whilst the ladies sit at home, safe indoors and reading Hello! Magazine.
Lumley assumes that the young women of today are so daft that they don’t know what they’re doing, the poor fools. Time and time again, we go out in our silly heels and our silly dresses and we get ourselves attacked: when will we learn?
The rant signifies a worrying trend whereby any discussion of rape comes with a side order of victim blaming. It’s disappointing that as a young woman I’m used to hearing this sort of stuff, either from men (Todd Akin, anyone?) or people who suppose that they know better than me because they’re older. Whilst my friends and I (male and female) take sensible precautions on a night out (despite what Lumley may think, we do have some common sense), a woman is never to blame for her own rape, and no one ever asks to be raped, regardless of what they’re wearing or how much they’ve had to drink. You would think this is common knowledge, but apparently not.
Not only this, but Lumley perpetuates the myth that rape is usually committed by a stranger, in a dark alleyway in the middle of the night, rather than by someone known to the victim, as statistics prove is often the case. This exhausted stereotype is not helpful, and allows the emergence of some sort of uncomfortable grey area occupied by George Galloway, where people can go and debate what is and isn’t ‘legitimate rape’.
Lumley’s comments are ironic in that they come mere weeks after the death of an Indian woman, brutally raped and beaten on a Delhi bus and left for dead at the side of the road. As protests against rape culture erupted throughout India, the world looked on in horror at the country’s shocking rape statistics with a distinctly Western pair of rose-tinted glasses. Of course this newly invigorated women’s rights movement is urgently required in a country where a rape is reported every 21 minutes, but the West’s sense of cultural superiority is laughably misplaced. Last month, The Independent reported that of the up to 95,000 people (mostly women) who are raped each year in the UK, only 1,070 rapists are convicted. Violence against women is not a problem specific to any one society. According to the UN, one in three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime – the equivalent of one billion women and girls.
You’ll notice that the headline of this article isn’t along the lines of ‘Joanna Lumley and the culture of victim blaming’. I didn’t think it would be very helpful to simply have a go at Lumley and tell her to stop being so silly (that is, after all, her area of expertise). Instead, I’ll do what she, and every other person who has made similar comments, should have done, and highlight a cause that is working to end violence against women and culturally ingrained misogyny; because the remedy to rape culture isn’t women changing their behavior, and nor should it be.
And so we come to One Billion Rising, which will see thousands of men and women across the globe take to the streets (or dancefloor) on Valentine’s Day calling for an end to violence against women. Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and founder of the global activist movement V-Day, launched the campaign, which is being backed by everyone from Jane Fonda, to Anne Hathaway, to Robert Redford.
One Billion Rising is different from any other women’s campaign of late in that it’s truly a worldwide movement, transcending age, race, nationality and social class. On February 14th, a 35-year-old woman in Glasgow may step out against domestic abuse, whilst in Somalia, a 19-year old may take part in protest against female genital mutilation. And whilst the subject matter is terribly sad, the movement itself couldn’t be more wonderful – all the campaign asks is that you go out and dance somewhere. Feminism’s been getting a bad press (makes a change, eh?) of late for being too exclusively white, middle-class and academic, but what could be more inclusive than simply inviting everybody and their gran out for a dance? You can leave your Dworkin and your Greer at home, ladybros!
Now, not only is this a great and joyous cause, it is also most convenient. On Valentine’s Day, society is typically divided into two camps: the loved-up romantics, and the ironically bitter singletons, and both teams spend the day ridiculing each other. In this state of affairs no one can win, and having spent time in both camps, an alternative Valentine’s Day is most welcome. If you go and take part in One Billion Rising, forgoing both love-heart shaped confectionary and eventual eating by Alsatians a la Bridget Jones, you’ll automatically gain entry into a previously non-existent middle ground where you can’t lose!
So, go out this V-Day and dance for your rights, and for the rights of the women you love – no one ever brought about a revolution by staying indoors wearing sensible shoes.
There are several One Billion Rising events taking place in Glasgow – head to www.onebillionrising.org for more info.