09:37, September 12 52 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-12 09:37:04
Is rape culture real? Yes, when an Irish shock jock can say this

Rape culture is a notoriously divisive concept. What does it mean, after all, to say that we live in a culture pervaded by rape? The suggestion can seem abstract and out of sync with many people’s experiences. However, an incident currently unfolding in the Irish media can help us to think about rape culture in concrete terms.

Last Friday, one of Ireland’s best-known radio broadcasters, prominent rugby pundit George Hook, held forth on the topic of rape. Discussing a case in which a woman went to a hotel room with a man for consensual sex and was raped by a second man, Hook condemned the rapist, but also said: “Why does a girl who just meets a fella in a bar go back to a hotel room? She’s only just barely met him. She has no idea of his health conditions; she has no idea who he is; she has no idea of what dangers he might pose. But modern day social activity means that she goes back with him, then is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her.”

Surprised. There’s a word.

“Is there no blame now to the person who puts themselves in danger?” Hook pondered on his primetime radio show, unintentionally answering his own question. He concluded that the “real issues nowadays” is “the personal responsibility that young girls are taking for their own safety”.

So remember, “girls”, if a man rapes you, it is not a real issue. The real issue is that you might visit a hotel room to have consensual casual sex for pleasure. (Interestingly, Hook’s radio show is sponsored by Clayton Hotels, whose parent company Dalata, to its credit, has pulled advertising.)

There’s since been an apology, likely urged by Hook’s higher-ups. If I sound sceptical, that’s because it’s not the first time Hook has treated the Irish nation to his learned opinions on consent and culpability.

In 2015, discussing a case in which a woman’s boyfriend repeatedly raped her while she was unconscious as a result of heavy medication, Hook asked if there wasn’t “implied consent” because the two shared a bed. There was outcry and a walk-back then too.

Hook’s autobiography offers further evidence of his commitment to women’s “personal responsibility” in the face of sexual coercion. He describes a date with a women who wears eyeshadow and drinks G&Ts – proof, apparently, of her loose status. He writes: “I’m thinking I’ve struck gold. It’s the Klondike: fill your boots! I’m afraid to have a gin and tonic myself because I can’t hold my drink. So I order tonic water while pushing the G&Ts into her.”

There are some contradictory lessons here. Girls – ensure you don’t get drunk and engage in casual sex; boys – soberly ply her with gin until you can fill your boots.

Many of the Irish folks reading this will shrug, “Yeah, yeah, if you tune in to Hooky, you shouldn’t be surprised if this is what you get.” And I know from Hook’s Twitter mentions that many people agree that a woman who gets drunk and has a consensual one-night stand is blameworthy if she is subsequently raped. Paradoxically, these are also people who scoff at the concept of rape culture.

When Hook says that a woman who consents to sex with a man she has recently met shouldn’t be surprised to be raped by another, what he’s really telling us is that he is not surprised. He’s telling us about his cultural expectations.

These cultural expectations are proof of rape culture.

If you agree with Hook that it is women’s personal responsibility to be on constant guard against rapists yet refuse to concede that we live in a culture in which rape is a constant threat, you must be experiencing some intense cognitive dissonance. If you share the opinion that women who do not take what you consider to be sufficient precautions against rape are partly to blame for being attacked yet do not agree that we live in a society that blames victims for their attackers’ crimes, your mental gymnastics must be Olympian.

Another prevalent thread of Irish commentary is to declare Hook victimised and silenced for simply speaking his mind. But who – in this situation – is really being silenced?

Hook’s radio station, Newstalk, features no female presenters during the peak radio hours of 7am to 7pm. None. As research from the National Women’s Council of Ireland shows, this problem is endemic to the Irish airwaves. Women are silenced; yet when they try to talk back, they are accused of silencing others. This is what the literary critic Barbara Johnson calls muteness envy. She writes: “It is not that the victim always gets to speak – far from it – but that the most highly valued speaker gets to claim victimhood.”

When men’s voices dominate public discourse, they also define cultural narratives of rape. Rape culture exists in relation to patriarchal power, whereby the voices of women or feminised male victims are considered less authoritative than the voices of male rapists and apologists.

Rape culture is the tall grass in which an attacker can hide; it obfuscates and exculpates where apportioning blame should be simple; it makes victims less likely to report; it makes perpetrators more likely to rape. We can’t always be in a hotel room to pull an attacker off a victim, but we can be ready to protest when the Hooks of the world tell survivors that rape is partly their fault. We can be not only surprised by rape culture, but outraged by it.

Emer O’Toole is an academic and author