The Role of Women in Sex Scandals: Definitely Misogynist

I hate to be seen as supporting the University’s propaganda machine, but reader, tweeter and  friend “hankie” forwarded me this video by a UniMelb lecturer. It’s about why the identities and stories of women are ignored in sex scandals, especially the most recent NRL one. The lecturer, Dr. Rosewarne, suggests that like in advertising, film and television, the narrative of this sex scandal has seen the woman as a) a faceless, personality-less sexual body and b) an attachment to group bonding exercises so they don’t seem too gay. I think this person might mixing up ‘the story’ according to Matt Johns and co with ‘the story’ according to the media, but nonetheless, a worthwhile watch.

The issue was thrown into light for me recently when invited to join this group on facebook, a collection of people who saw it fit to respond to the “pro-Matt Johns” groups that were emerging at the time. I have to admit, I experienced a glimmer of hesitation when I first saw the group. “Supporters of Clare”? I thought? “But, what if all Clare did was do something silly when drunk (we all do), be upset about it (we all do) and then sell her story to the press?” And then I remembered who she was up against. The machine. An epic media managing, million dollar industry harnessing the anger of potentially every NRL supporter in the land.

Ultimately, to me, that is why Clare deserves support. The behaviour of musculuar, wealthy jocks isn’t questioned enough in our society (a loss felt not only by adults, but to be felt boys and girls who idolise these players) and kudos to anyone with the guts to say something.

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13 responses to “The Role of Women in Sex Scandals: Definitely Misogynist

  1. ‘Clare’ is anonymous and “ignored”, as you put it, because most of those reporting on this event feel a need to protect her this way. The question is whether this is helpful to her, and whether it is fair to others. In the 4corners story she is given licence to say whatever she likes about herself and those involved, and to name them without being identified herself.

    In the same program, reporter Sarah Ferguson feels no qualms about exposing Simon Williams to ridicule. In a discussion organised by the NRL to discuss sex and consent, he makes the not-too-eloquent point that “It’s not during the act, it’s the way you treat them after it. Most of them could have been avoided, if they had put them in a cab and said thanks or that sort of thing not just kicked her out and called her a dirty whatever.”

    Ferguson introduces his quote (which is edited out of context) with this line, “The NRL says it is making progress, but judging by the final answer from this young player on recent scandals involving group sex, they still have a long way to go.” Simon Williams has both his image and his name displayed on screen, and becomes Ferguson’s synechdoche for the NRL’s inherent culture of misogyny (not something which her report explored or exposed, so much as set out to prove). I have seen many Facebook jokes made at this young man’s expense, but only ‘Clare’s’ mistakes seem to deserve understanding and privacy.

    The point made by the unimelb propagandist that she was a blank sexual “vessel” for men to “bond over” and that her anonymity in the media mirrors this position is interesting, but it’s not a question of misogyny.

  2. Captain Nick

    “behaviour of musculuar, wealthy jocks isn’t questioned enough in our society”

    I think this is a slightly outrageous thing to say. The hysterical piranha-frenzy of the press when there’s even the whiff of impropriety certainly disagrees.

    A far more important question, and one that certainly isn’t questioned enough in our society, is the ridiculous double standards that have evolved in regards to regretted drunken sexual activity. There is a peculiar “get out clause” of sexual assault, solely usable by women even when both parties were equally drunk and equally responsibility.

    It’s offensive to real victims of sexual assault, it’s patronising to women generally – as if they’re defenceless bobble-heads, victim to every male whim – and it’s disgraceful broad brush used against the men in general.

    (and in regards to Dr. Rosewarne, the accusers are usually faceless and bland because of the legally required anonymity, and the sniggering of “hehe, sportsmen must all be like so gay” is classic sexist twaddle)

  3. This is such a complex issue. The issue is not one of rape because it seems like the sex was consented to. It is however a definite issue of power imbalance.

    Clare deserves support not because she was a helpless victim or anything (I’m sure there was an element of pleasure to her experience) but because she was ultimately traumatised by the experience to the point of suicide and her voice should be heard if only so that sportsmen might think twice about the implications of their actions before they talk a vulnerable person into group sex.

    Whether the sportsmen were simply unthinking as to the woman’s position or thought of her as a piece of meat, their actions were not really defensible.

  4. Bhakthi

    I’m with Brad. Lachy you raise some great points, and there is a lot to suggest that the Four Corners report was pretty poorly researched, chronologised etc.

    However, I do this it’s an issue of misogyny, something that becomes really very clear when looking at attitudes put forward by the majority of John’s supporters letters to editors.

    Further, I agree with some of what you’re saying Nick re. a ‘get out clause’. I think the situation would be very different if it were a group of non-NRL players and a woman in a group sex situation. At the end of the day, what we’re discussing here is a use and, whether she wanted it or not, to some degree , an abuse of power. The fact that she remained silent for so long is testament to this and there is a lot to suggest that she was right to fear the public’s perception of her as a hysterical woman.

    • Captain Nick

      I don’t know enough about this specific scandal, as the minutiae of Aussie football don’t reach UK shores.

      But I wasn’t about to let a Bhakthi post go by without having a rant.

  5. There is also the issue of seeing women, and women seeing themselves, in terms of the virgin/slut dichotomy. It obviously played a part in how the players treated Clare. It might also have exacerbated Clare’s trauma. (“I had group sex. I must be a dirty slut.”)

    In my sordid and completely implausible hypotheticals, I imagine that a gay man who was used as a piece of meat by a football team would be less likely to be traumatised by such an experience because the stigma isn’t as intense as for promiscuous women. Contentious point?

  6. Captain Nick

    I suspect he’d also never be treated as a “victim” by the press, even if he felt he was.

    I’ve never seen a grown male rape victim treated as a “rape victim”, but rather someone who clearly deserved it, probably enjoyed it, and should be grateful he wasn’t beaten up too.

  7. Captain Nick

    I think “prison rape”, and the attitudes towards it, are a world away from rape in the real world.

    Although the “getting raped in prison” jokey meme is continually used in a way that no-one would ever joke about female rape.

    I think a lot of people don’t consider male rape to really exist (and it doesn’t in the UK, as women cannot be charged with rape)

  8. Bhakthi

    “I think a lot of people don’t consider male rape to really exist (and it doesn’t in the UK, as women cannot be charged with rape)”

    I unfortunately agree with the first half of this and am astounded by the second half.

    Going back to the comment I made earlier about jock culture, I’ve found something that Fairfax Adele Horin wrote on the weekend that really speaks to this:

    Over recent weeks big, sporting, aggressive, misogynist men have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Yet it would be foolish to think for a moment that the bad publicity has dented the appeal of the uber male. The macho man is still very much in vogue. Boys admire him and girls lust after him.

  9. andrepeach

    Are you doing crim this semester, Bhakthi? It’s pretty shocking to realise how far criminal law has to go in understanding/acknowledging how a lot of crimes actually operate in society.

    Arguably, some of the very core tenets of the criminal code stand in the way of it ever being able to adequately deal with issues of sexual assault, rape and consent – most obviously the objective, reasonable person against whom perpetrators and victims are compared and measured alike.

    As discomforting as it may sound, our concept of personal responsibility is rooted in an Enlightenment era version of subjectivity in which we are all free, as rational, reasonable human beings, to make informed choices. The problem is that in this NRL case we can see pretty clearly the effect of cultures and social structures on the people involved. That the debate has been framed around choice is a misleading tactic – to point to a ‘get-out-clause’ utilised by young women like Clare is to miss the point that our society allows for and encourages self-destructive ‘choices’ such as the one Clare made seven years ago.

    In ‘domestic’ abuse cases, there is an ongoing battle for the recognition of the traumatic effects of sustained and prolonged violence on the psyche of the women involved – and only now are the courts beginning to recognise that the ‘choice’ excercised by a woman who kills an abusive husband is not the kind of free ‘choice’ which society reserves the right to punish.

    It seems unfair to me to place Clare’s choice on the same level as that of the NRL players involved. To do so is to ignore basic power inequalities – which is the purpose of the ‘objective’ test in law – to erase the real economic, social and cultural inequities at play in a given case…

  10. Bhakthi

    Here here, Andre! Fuck the Enlightenment, we need to get re-enlightened about what “choice” means.

    (Also, no, not studying Crim yet)

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