Elite male athletes and homosocial bonding through sexual coercion of women

As raised on the Otterday open thread, this has been all over the TV, radio and papers today – the 4 Corners episode on ARL footy players and their attitudes of sexual entitlement. Especially the attitude that says if a girl agrees to sexual contact with one footballer, or maybe two, that it’s no big deal if suddenly several other players appear in the room to “take a turn”, with a larger crowd of the team’s entourage happily watching this suddenly changed situation. The news stories very carefully avoid any terms suggesting that any player committed a criminal sexual offence, as no charges have been laid, and certainly no convictions have ensued.

The Dawn Chorus has a good summary of some issues raised, and included this link to the story on the 4 Corners website.

I’m sure no regular readers here are surprised at the idea of elite athletes behaving badly with regard to sex, especially the classic scenario of an initial agreement to one-on-one sex transforming into a gangbang, a young woman confronted with a room full of men much larger than she is expecting sex and simply not caring if the woman they penetrate is crying while it happens or lying rigid, just waiting for it to stop so that she can spend hours in a shower trying to scrub the memories away. Enthusiastic consent? Who the hell cares about that?

So often we hear “women are throwing themselves at these men, they don’t need to force anyone” (how revealing is that phrase I’ve emphasised with italics – we accept that some men need to, do we? or that a need might make it “OK”?). This is crap. The idea of men turning to sexual coercion out of sexual desperation is simply not an adequate explanation – men turning to sexual coercion due to their sexual expectations, their sense of entitlement due to their status, explains so much more.

As Kanin demonstrated in his study on self-disclosed date rapists in an undergraduate community in 1967, the main thing his group of sexual coercers had in common was the fact that they were more sexually successful than the average man on campus, thus they expected continuing sexual success, and therefore felt entitled to coerce sexual intercourse.

I can’t write anything more and hope to remain moderately coherent. Your turn.



Categories: fun & hobbies, gender & feminism, law & order, violence

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80 replies

  1. I agree with you, its all about their sense of entitlement and their bonding. A lot of these guys just use women as props in their sick games. What is really sad, is that girls in my local highschools were discussing this program, and apologising for the footy players and blaming the victim. (While I happen to live in Knights country, I’m sure that this is happening everywhere).
    I also heard couples in the shopping centre talking about John’s Footy Show apology and they felt sorry for him, but they felt that he did ok on the program. He offered a fauxpology as a piece of PR damage control and it really troubles me that the general public can’t seem to see through it for the sham that it is.
    rayedish’s last blog post..What’s the difference between group sex and gang rape?

  2. I find it so distressing that people can still haul out those ‘she should have known’ excuses after hearing the pain and trauma in the young NZ woman’s voice. I found myself crying for her, and I’m still distressed days afterwards.
    Partially it’s because of my current thesis on masculinity and militarism, and the the themes to do with group bonding and cohesion are identical. The dominant sort of masculinity required to survive in these physical & violent environments is constructed in opposition to femininity, or by expelling femininity, at least in the ideologies surrounding elite players/soldiers. The implications of these types of ‘rituals’ being so common and so integral to what it means to be an elite player and a man frighten me.

  3. I was thinking about this, and thought even if we give Matthew Johns the benefit of the doubt and say that yes she had consensual sex with him, then why wasn’t he man enough to tell all his mates to f’off out of the room? I think the reason lies in his perception of the woman – she wasn’t important enough to warrant that (in his mind) she was simply a plaything, and he was happy to share with all his mates. While there are some people out there who do enjoy being a spectacle, this woman is clearly not one of those because she is suicidal after this. Seven years on, this is still affecting her life in major ways. His complete lack of compassion for her is staggering. He treated her like a party favour, not a human being. He stripped her of her dignity, her humanity, her right to say what happens to her body. He should be ashamed of himself. But of course he doesn’t see it that way. He’s Matty Johns football star. The man is a star people. He’s more deserving of respect that the average person, because hey he’s good at football. Unfortunately he’s crap at being a human being.

  4. Rayedish’s post linked in her comment above is a very thorough review of the issues, and includes a thought I wished I’d had: why is it said to be “so hard” to get these athletes who follow strict rules on the field to follow social rules of consideration for others (who happen to be women) off the field?
    It’s outrageous that the sanctions of their clubs with respect to match time and derived income look to be more effective incentives than simple human decency and respect for the law. I’m all for anything that works to prevent assault, and the clubs obviously should make a gesture conveying their refusal to accept that “boys will be boys” any more. But there’s still nobody out there in talking-head territory really saying that the police should press charges – they’re still too important for those consequences, apparently.

  5. The idea of men turning to sexual coercion out of sexual desperation is simply not an adequate explanation – men turning to sexual coercion due to their sexual expectations, their sense of entitlement due to their status, explains so much more.
    Or because they sometimes don’t see a consenting partner as enough like “winning.”

  6. I wonder if and to what extent there are players who are resisters?
    I ask because the culture as described reminds me of university of colleges (University of Sydney, 1999 specifically) in which, for example, the male colleges had a “yes means yes and NO MEANS YES” chant that was taught to incoming men, and the seventeen year old boys fell into line pretty quickly on that. There was harassment of women and of the (very few) non-white people and anyone whose gender performance was at all at odds with the prescribed ones (I did not know out LGBT people living at college, and it’s fairly obvious why), and it was also present in the co-ed colleges.
    There were many people who were unhappy in college and many people who were horrified, but with a couple of exceptions they all chose to leave quietly and live somewhere else (particularly understandable in the case of those abused and harrassed), as I did. In the NRL, are there players and officials who are disquieted or horrified, and are they speaking out, or leaving or going back to their hotel room and putting earplugs in or…?

  7. But there’s still nobody out there in talking-head territory really saying that the police should press charges

    Sorta kinda, Pru Goward:

    …says she is “sick and tired” of women involved in allegations of sexual assault by NRL players not taking their matters to court.

  8. If find the outpouring of sympathy the effect this has had on HIM particularly appalling. In this universe the victim’s life is so clearly considered unimportant when compared to that of a sporting legend/ ‘good bloke’.
    Mary, that’s a really good question – there must be at least a few ‘resisters’ (please god) and if so, are they just looking the other way or what?

  9. Yeah, that’s a big sorta kinda Liam, Pru Goward appears to be sick and tired of the women not dragging themselves through a harrowing and demeaning court experience which statistically speaking is unlikely to end in any conviction, much less jail time (and the inevitable media circus that would ensue if she did press charges) but she does NOT express the view that she’s sick and tired of men raping women, men treating women like dirt.
    Her concern seems to be about the ‘smell’ (I kid you not) making allegations without pressing charges leaves over every man in league (!!Poor Footy Players) and on women making the allegations. She appears to think that the legal system protects women from such perceived ‘smells’ or that society and the media have more respect for the allegations of women who do press charges, which I would say with a basic grasp of the criminal law stats is utter horseshit.
    And smells in relation to women involved in gang rape/group sex? I think my brain is exploding.
    Anger not directed at you Liam, you marked the ‘sorta kinda’.

  10. Some players have been charged by police in recent years.
    Brett Stewart (Manly) is facing charges for sexual assault and two players, Greg Bird (Ex-Cronulla)and Anthony Cherrington (Easts) have recently been found guilty of assaulting their partners.
    Gold Coast player Anthony Lanffranchi was charged with sexual assault in 2007 but found not guilty. There was one more I think but his name escapes me.
    The problem though for some of the other cases is proving that there was no consent or consent was withdrawn. In the players’ minds, there is the mentality that “she was up for it” implying that they could do whatever they want regardless of initial consent. Given the power imbalance, a woman may not have the power to say no. Add in the “don’t dob in your team mates” attitude and anyone wanting to press charges can have a hard time. Never mind the assertion that “she deserved it and is trash” for being in the situation in the first place.
    One of the women in the 4C program stated that she did not want to press charges as she felt she’d not just be up against the player but the whole team, the club and the fans.
    No player should be above the law. I was very much disturbed by the reception that Brett Stewart received (from fans and the media) when he return from a four match ban (for brining the game into disrepute). He is entitled to the presumption of innocence but his return was greeted as if he was the victim and a hero. Phil Gould (NRL commentator) made note of this as well.
    So it is just not the players’ attitude that needs to change but fans as well. There is a societal change that needs to happen.

  11. Indeed FP. You expressed it better than I could.
    (Though I agree with her basic point which is that it’s disgraceful that players’ crimes are too often kept out of the legal system proper by action at the club or NRL tribunal level).

  12. Goward’s normally pretty smart – without in-context video, it’s hard to know exactly what she said, and what is an invention or distortion by the press, I think.

  13. Thanks for that link Shaunc. I don’t normally find myself agreeing with Catharine Lumby, but I liked what she had to say, particularly:
    “I mean we’re working on a really complex set of issues here. I’m not minimising the problems but I’ve got to say I’d like to see us starting young as a society with men and women, starting in primary school, having sex education which isn’t just about physical stuff, but is about ethics, is about love, sex and relationships, is getting young men and young women to think through how they negotiate sex.”

  14. Oh dear, excuse the random apostrophe there. That would be Johns not John’s.

  15. As TBO pointed out the Footy Show is recording his detailed explanation to be aired on tomorrow night’s show. Stand him down or don’t, but fuck. He’s had his time to explain, and I don’t see them clamouring to offer her this kind of airtime. And he’s going to be explaining to his die hard fans.

  16. I’ve just heard on the radio that the Melbourne Storm have stood him down as well. All well and good, but what about the other guys involved and why, for goodness sake, wasn’t this sort of action taken seven years ago? There has been many scandals in the meantime and if drastic action had been taken rather than cover ups then perhaps the last seven years might have played out differently.

  17. @ Liam:

    Sorta kinda, Pru Goward:
    …says she is “sick and tired” of women involved in allegations of sexual assault by NRL players not taking their matters to court.

    Noting what Lauredhel said about full context, but let’s just note for the record that women can’t take these matters to court if the police don’t press charges, and that not all charges laid proceed to court if the prosecutors decide the case doesn’t hold.
    From what I understand, “Clare” reported the matter to police, but nothing progressed. What more could she do?

  18. I notice Johns hasn’t decided to appear on The 7:30 Report, or similar, to talk about the issues. It disgusts me that he is getting airtime in a forum where no one is even going to ask him the most basic questions, like “you keep saying you’re sorry you hurt your family, but are you sorry you hurt the woman involved?” That revolting “well said” and a literal (!) pat on the back – I think we can rest safe in the knowledge that he won’t be asked to justify his attitudes.
    Nick Enright wrote a superb play called “A Property of the Clan” (not to be confused with its later incarnation/abomination “Blackrock”) about similar attitudes in surf culture, after a little girl was pack raped and murdered at a party in Newcastle in the 90s. The title, I think, shows how well he understood what was going on.

  19. “Stood down indefinitely” – what does that mean? and why is he doing an interview with Grimshaw?
    Sounds more like “lay low” until this passes over with the “rehabilitation” interviews done in the meantime, just as his equally neanderthal brother did a few years back.
    Shouldn’t it be “sacked”, or “terminated”???
    Its all rubbish. He will be back on air soon enough.

  20. Watching the show again I’ve noticed what the CEO of Newcastle Knights says of the young men they attract to the game. Likening them to gladiators of old, he suggests:
    “When we get them on the field, we want them to be aggressive, they have to make tackles, be fearless, do things other people don’t do. We attract an aggressive young risk taking male. We give them a shower – put a suit on them then say “now we want you to be a submissive malel, we want you to go out and not have any problems” – it’s very difficult to do that”
    Other officials then repeat ad nauseum how this is part of the risk taker’s personality. They are unlike normal humans. In other words the feats of the field athlete lift him out of the social and ethical constraints that other men are subject to.
    What? So in other words, a risk taking male will get on the drink and gang rape, as a result of what they are expected to do on the field. As a result of their physical and psychological prowess. They are not like “submissive” males off the field. What the fuck is a submissive male – one who respects women?
    The officials of the game normalize this behavior as part of a footballer’s psyche.Which is just criminal in itself. Gang rape is anti social – it is not simply part of a personality that is competitive on the field – it’s sociopathic and criminal.

  21. I understood Pru G. to be talking more about the Dane Tilse case, which seems on the known facts pretty open and shut sexual assault. I don’t believe he has even ever disputed the facts.

  22. Thanks for this post. I’ve been wanting to blog it too but lacked time – glad someone has done it so well. Look on the ABC forum to fill up your bingo card with enabling and minimising statements. And that’s just ABC viewers.

  23. Casey, someone called him on that choice of words – i.e. Being a normal human being = submissive! WTF??? It just goes to demonstrate what a rarefied alternative universe these people live in.

  24. Look on the ABC forum to fill up your bingo card

    And check out the public twitter feed of SMH reporter Asher Moses

    So Matthew Johns’ career is over because a slutty groupy had consensual group sex with him and his teammates 7 yrs ago and now regrets it?
    According to Johns (and I guess the cops who cleared), the woman raised no objections and was actually instigating..
    Maybe i’m being overly sympathetic to Johns after watching him on ACA. But still, he didn’t do anything illegal. Immoral? Opinions vary..
    People make their own decisions and have to live with them…if the cops charged Johns with rape I wouldn’t have this opinion

  25. I notice Richard Ackland, included in the link for the interview with Catherine Lumby, had many intelligent things to say, as well.
    Would you believe Shakespeare wrote a scene showing very much the dynamic in operation here? In “Troilus and Cressida”, Cressida is traded to the enemy for a prisoner of war. All the enemy generals line up and force kisses on her, and she uses her sharp wit to get out of the situation with minimal damage. For hundreds of years after that (until the mid-1960s) critics used the scene to prove what a “slut” (yes, plenty of them even used that word) Cressida is. More recently people have started to notice what an astute depiction of a sexual assault Shakespeare wrote. And to notice how many earlier critics were stupid sexists.

  26. @ Casey

    Word. Great comment.

  27. Pru Goward is clueless. Pursuing a rapist through the court system is like trying to sprint through mud uphill, in platforms.
    I’d really like this public apology from the NRL to be extended to all women everywhere, particularly women survivors of rape and other forms of misogynist abuse who are being triggered and retraumatised by this and other stories like this.
    I’d also like them to acknowledge that this is not an issue peculiar to football culture, but to male culture.

  28. I’m also getting a bit tired of the ‘But he said SORRY’ crap that’s going around. Just because he said one little word doesn’t suddenly make him Mr Nice Guy again. What message is this sending out yet again?

  29. Lord. Pru Goward again (http://www.smh.com.au/news/lhqnews/johns-urged-to-name-other-players/2009/05/14/1241894083170.html):
    Ms Goward said women had a responsibility not to put themselves into potentially harmful situations.
    “If there is a young woman in Australia who does not now know that having sex with one or two men at once is not risky sexual behaviour she perhaps needs to go back and look at a bit more television,” she said.
    “Risky sexual behaviour … does not lead to a white wedding.
    “But having said that, nobody I think believes that even though she said yes to two men that she said yes to a whole lot of other men coming through all night.
    “It’s a very simple matter, it’s about consent. Did she agree to have three men, as she said, doing things to her at once?”
    _______________________________________________
    First, I don’t even know what that first para is saying. It seems to be (by the tone) saying that having sex with one or two men at once (zero is the safe number?) is ‘risky sexual behaviour’, though it kind of grammatically says it’s not, even though that’s totally not in keeping with the tone of that para or the next line.
    Then, women ought to be looking to TELEVISION for guidance about appropriate/safe sexual behaviours. Awesome.
    Then…white wedding? EXCUSE ME? That’s what the goal of female sexuality ought to be in order for her not to be blamed for her own rape?
    Overall that article shows she’s putting forward some excellent points, that this has been happening for ever, that no one really believes she consented to what happened, that if players were not going to alter their behaviour, it’s time the law showed them the consequences, but why oh why does a feminist have to engage in victim blaming and slut shaming?
    And I know we don’t have in-context video footage but in both we do have direct quotes. If Goward is being misquoted she’s staying silent while continuing to speak on the topic.

  30. trying… to find… rational words….. *rage*
    Oh women will think they’re against rape, and they’re feminist, but see them start going on about “well I would never put myself in that situation, well she was foolish to do that, oh group sex *snicker*” and if they’re at all conscientious they’ll tack on a quick “oh but of course it’s a terrible thing what happened” at the end.
    Scratch the surface and there is a very ugly widespread attitude in our society regarding sex and consent, men and women. And F**k Pru Goward and her victim blaming/shaming. F**k her ideas about group sex. Speaking as a proud ‘slut’ here.

  31. And… WE NEED LEGAL REFORM NOW. Rape as a crime against the state?!!! Being cross-examined by your abuser, should it ever proceed? Only “stranger-danger” rapes (innocent woman!) have at all a good chance of conviction, and by “good” I mean “terrible”.

  32. @fp: RAAAAGE.
    White. Wedding. WHITE WEDDING?! What the flipping hell is marriage – leaving aside all ‘purity’ bullshit for a moment – doing in a comment on an instance of gang rape?
    I have *had it* with so-called feminists attacking women over their sexual decisions lately. HAD IT.

  33. I take it back. Maybe I had Goward mixed up with someone else.

  34. From the SMH: “The Nine Network’s Footy Show host Paul Vautin believes it is unlikely that any of the other players involved in the scandal will come forward and support him.
    “Why would you come forward when you have seen what Matthew Johns has been through?” he said.”
    Gee Fatty, if you gave it a bit more thought you might actually comprehend why most rape victims don’t report their rapes. You might also see why women raped by football players don’t come forward to have their lives ripped apart and chewed over and spat out by the media. But of course it’s all about poor Matthew Johns and what he’s going through isn’t it.

  35. Oh, Footy Show. Demonstrating their belief that men are people with feelings and women aren’t, over and over. I wonder if it ever gets boring for them.
    Jet’s last blog post..Stop it. Just stop it.

  36. The Footy Show is on. We have grown men, Phil Gould, I believe, shedding tears over Mathew Johns. The schizophrenic splits in the official narratives are mindbending. From Mathew Johns himself to Fatty Vaughtin to Phil Gould and the panelists on tonight there are three very rehearsed lines being repeated. 1. They are all sorry for the girl. 2. But it was consensual, the real story has not come out (why the fuck are they sorry then?) 3. What a good guy Johns is, he is the fall guy for rugby league’s sins. 4. This is a lesson for the game. 5. It was consensual.
    I’d like to think its not working but 38,000 people or so have signed on to the Support Mathew Johns Support Group.
    Wow. Days like this Twisty gets really compelling.

  37. Sorry, that was a facebook support group and I over estimated. Its only just over 36,000 people.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=82715187546

  38. Right, just found an un-geolocked version of the doco on YouTube. I’ll try to comment having watched it in full.

    Nine appear to have stood John’s down…
    Oh dear, excuse the random apostrophe there. That would be Johns not John’s.

    Actually fuckpoliteness, I think you got it right the first time.
    DeusExMacintosh’s last blog post..Home Secretary criticises police-bashing

  39. *groak*
    Open door … unconscious woman … obvious invitation…
    “Sorry about the others coming in, love…” [Not sorry enough to stop them, of course.]
    Hot bodies or not, having watched this documentary, who’d have a serious relationship with a footballer? You wouldn’t know where the dirty bastard had been!
    DeusExMacintosh’s last blog post..Home Secretary criticises police-bashing

  40. Gould and Fatty on Johns:
    http://www.smh.com.au/news/lhqnews/goulds-tears-for-scapegoat-johns/2009/05/14/1241894120729.html
    Parts of what Gould says is kinda helpful…then you go ‘Oh right, his major concern is Johns and his wife and the ‘facts’ of the case not being out there.

  41. Some excellent points there by Karen Willis, particularly the one about decent guys challenging the behaviour of unethical guys and the whole code of silence thing.
    Even offline, people are talking about this everywhere, and surprisingly I’m not hearing so much of the usual woman-blaming shit, which gives me hope that maybe people are beginning to answer the clue phone about women’s position in social divisions and being viewed collectively as an orifice.
    One thing I keep hearing is how shocking it is that this is Matty Johns we’re talking about, a Nice Guy!
    This is the whole point, I’m telling people, the nice guys do it too. It isn’t easily identifiable monsters that women have to look out for, it’s the regular nice guys and none of them come with a warning label.

  42. Some gems from Phil Gould : “been having incidents like this, whether it was drugs or alcohol or abuse of women”
    Right cos abuse of substances, abuse of human beings, totally the same thing!
    “What comes out of this report now should be a message to all players, and all young people and all young girls”
    All young people and all young girls eh? Cos it’s not like girls *are* people or anything!

  43. I agree with fp that Gould said some good things and then some not so good things. But he made some great comments regarding consent as did Jacqueline Magnay . She was superb last night and her shutting down of a stupid comment by Andrew Voss was brilliant.

  44. http://www.leaguehq.com.au/articles/2009/05/14/1241894116236.html
    Schools have told rugby clubs that they are no longer welcome! Bravo. Now if on top of that, we see these schools stop treating their own football boys as special – ie no more ‘words in the ear’ from the coach when the boys muck up, rather than due procedure like everybody, and other privileges extended to sports players stopped within the school environment we might start making inroads into dismantling this aspect of footy culture.
    rayedish’s last blog post..Come on people, this is not just about Matty Johns

  45. Jet, you’ve really nailed it here.
    http://iamnotacake.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/stop-it-just-stop-it/
    This should be required reading.

  46. rayedish, I do agree with the comments about not giving extended privileges to sports players.
    But having NRL players being banned from schools is counter-productive. The reason players visit schools is for charity work or educations programs (such as alcohol and drugs awareness or safety programs. It is a positive use of their appeal and something that benefits community.

  47. Jet: I love you. Well done.

  48. Mmm, that Kate Ellis piece kinda encapsulates for me how the conversation that’s going on here is drifting into policing sexual behaviour not for its consensuality, but for its ‘morality’, a morality that’s working to reinforce some pretty narrow heteronormative ideas about ‘good sex’ The de Brito take on the whole situation did this too (in amongst trying to make sexual ethics about ownership of women). Group sex isn’t inherently degrading, people; sex in which any party is not an enthusiastic participant is the problem. And that can happen, thanks for reminding us, Bettina, in even the ‘most moral’ and most heteronormative of contexts.

  49. I don’t know about that WP, I think Kate Ellis is saying what was degrading was a bunch of adult sporting role models getting a young girl into a room and using her as an instrument for their own pleasure, and laughing at her while they did it. That to me is never going to be ok. Because while I have no issue with group sex, that’s NOT what’s going on with a football team and a teenage girl lured to a room. If they wanted ‘group sex’ there’s a million ways to get that happening that don’t involve any question of taking advantage, or changing the rules, of predatory behaviour.

  50. Yeah, but the problem with the situation is not the group-sex-ness of it, and that’s what’s starting to be implied. I think it’s really problematic when the conversation turns to ‘what kinds of sex we think are okay’ instead of actually addressing the real problem here, which is that this woman’s experience didn’t matter to any of the 12 men in that room, and that that is ethically wrong. Obviously “getting a young girl into a room and using her as an instrument for their own pleasure’ is never going to be okay (and I would never ever say that it was). But the offensiveness lies not in the number of men, nor in whether the act appears degrading to others, but in the fact that ‘Clare’ didn’t want to be there, and was experiencing it as a violation, and none of that mattered to any of these men. I’m not saying that Ellis doesn’t have valuable points to make, it’s just that I’m not happy that the conversation seems to be drifting away from actually being about sexual ethics and into being about what sexual behaviours we think are okay, or degrading, or those ‘we’ approve of ‘our daughters, wives and mothers’ participating in. And that shift, to me, is a conservative one, and one which means that a conversation about what sexual ethics really need to be (i.e., one in which women (and men, given that saying ‘no’ to sex is situated as saying they’re insufficiently masculine, for example) have absolutely no problem saying ‘yes’ *or* ‘no’ to sexual acts, depending on their desires, because they are not punished either way) is turning back into ‘what’s safe or good for women’.
    I’m also a bit wary of the idea that the problem with particular sex acts is that they are inherently ‘degrading’. First of all, I don’t think that the degrading-ness is a function of the sex act (as in, I don’t think that violation is a function of how two or more bodies are coming together, but rather is a function of how those parties are experiencing it). That distinction is not being made in these conversations, and it’s ensuring that women’s desires (and men’s) are remaining policed by situating some desires as desires for degradation. In other words, to raise the line that Catherine Lumby wishes would go away, yes, it should be possible for women to consent to group sex, and that shouldn’t be something that women have to be made to feel ashamed of. The *only* way that is going to be made possible is when women feel safe enough to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and that is only going to happen if rape is not going to happen, i.e., when it’s not a part of conventional sexual behaviours, or is punished severely when it does happen. But when we start talking about particular *acts* as degrading, the conversation about how to make that possible is closed down from the outset.
    Second, I’m edgy about the way that ‘degrading’ implies that a woman can, in fact, be sullied by her sexual experiences, made less-than-pure, less than what she ‘ought’ to be (that’s an echo of Pru Goward’s ‘white wedding’ remark). Why are the men not degraded by their absolute failure to engage with ‘Clare’ at all? Why are women always at risk of being degraded by sex (even by consensual sex) whilst for men it’s always about an assertion of their masculine power? I’m not denying ‘Clare’s’ experience of the incident as degrading, not at all. But I want to know why particular acts are being characterised as inherently degrading, and the role that that plays in reiterating problematic ideas about, especially, women’s sexuality as being a site of especial vulnerability, and the eroticisation of that for (some) men.

  51. WP, YES. Empathically yes.

  52. Mindy, FP: Thanks for the shoutout!

  53. Group sex isn’t inherently degrading, people; sex in which any party is not an enthusiastic participant is the problem.

    Absolutely. (And in the case of large group sex, I think that consent needs to be not a subjective assessment of “enthusiasm”, but very very explicit verbally expressed consent with a non-coercive negotiation of rules and boundaries in a non-threatening environment _before_ it happens.)

    Mmm, that Kate Ellis piece kinda encapsulates for me how the conversation that’s going on here is drifting into policing sexual behaviour not for its consensuality, but for its ‘morality’

    Can you give a specific comment number, please, as we’re above fifty now? I sifted through, but couldn’t see what you were referring to. (I did see a lot of comments against woman-blaming and “slut-shaming”.)

  54. Lauredhel: it’s comment 50 here. Here’s the link again 🙂 http://www.smh.com.au/leaguehq/articles/2009/05/15/1242335859511.html Like I said above, it’s not that it’s a *bad* piece, but I just see it as part of the slow drift of public discourse that ensures that any real conversation about sexual ethics never quite happens (y’know, MSM-wise).

  55. Oh and ta, Jet 🙂 I’ve been having comment anxiety 😉

  56. *snerk* I actually meant to say *emphatically* yes, WP, but I guess I empathise with you too. 🙂

  57. Just as a side point, what’s interesting is that practices of negotiating sex explicitly like this, and of respecting such negotiations as more-than-law, are much much much more common in queer sexual circles than in heteronormative ones, but, again, the focus on the acts ensures that such ‘perverts’ would never have anything to teach straight-down-the-line-straight folks.

  58. I fail at html. Sorry all; that was in response to Lauredhel’s comment at 57 regarding sex negotiations. And [grins] I liked that you were empathically emphatic, Jet… or emphatically empathic?

  59. WP @ 54:
    But the offensiveness lies not in the number of men, nor in whether the act appears degrading to others, but in the fact that ‘Clare’ didn’t want to be there, and was experiencing it as a violation, and none of that mattered to any of these men
    That’s what I initially read Ellis as saying. Perhaps that is due to my own optimism in reading it – that I needed to hear someone say that what was wrong with it was their utter disregard for the woman’s comfort or well being.
    I am 100% behind your points, I just didn’t read Ellis as necessarily talking about group sex rather than football culture and the disregard for women in this situation. Perhaps I should go and reread.

  60. Lauredhel @58, yeah, that seems to be the issue for me. That a large travelling group of football players just cannot expect to rock up to a pub, pick up a lone nineteen year old and do what they like claiming consent. It isn’t that it isn’t possible for a nineteen year old to consent to group sex, and I understand that rule sorting might take away ‘spontaneity’ of an activity, but hell, if you’re respecting the woman and her right to participate in a manner she enjoys, if you don’t want to be accused of rape when things change in the heat of the moment, unlucky. Take the time to sort out the rules, cos it only takes a second for things to change, to go beyond the consent a lone woman was giving and become assault.

  61. Lauredhel: it’s comment 50 here. Here’s the link again 🙂

    Ah! I misinterpreted your “here”. I’m not entirely clear on who Ellis is saying was “degraded” – the woman or the men involved – but I agree that general discourse around rape and “degradation” can be pretty dodgy along the lines that you say. “Degrade” can mean “treat with disrespect” as well as “lower the quality of” – but that’s a difficult ambiguity to negotiate in such a victim-blaming culture.

  62. @ Raydish @ 48: I hope my school starts thinking in a similar manner about the (Touch) Rugby team boys, who think they’re all hot shit because they’re on the team and don’t need to be serious about their English or Social Studies and can ignore and be quite rude to their female teachers. Because that’s how the more serious behaviour starts and it needs to be stopped right now.

  63. Great comment WP. Women shouldn’t hav to ‘pure’ in their sexual practice. Jill Singer had a good article today in the Age, which I can’t seem to link to. She made the point that this more akin to ‘pack sex’ in which a dominant group single out and isolate a vulnerable women, so that’s she’s in no position to consent or not. This is very different from consensual group sex.
    It’s so bviuos that for the rugby players this wasn’t about the woman herself. This was about bonding over a piece of meat. I’ve met men who refer to attractive women as ‘pieces’ which makes me nauseated. It’s precisely this attitude on display.

  64. You’re right about the dual meaning of ‘degrade’, of course, Lauredhel. It’s just that that blurring of the line seems so very strong around discussions of sex, and is a key term by which women are disenfranchised around their own sexual desires in the name of ‘protection’. Of course, once we see particular sex acts as the source of the ‘danger’, rather than conventional attitudes to sex, particularly masculine ones, we never have to think about what’s required to create a culture of robust sexual ethics. I think the reason I’m particularly sensitive to the characterising of particular sexual acts as inherently ‘degrading’ is the usual yuck of Sam de Brito’s take on the whole thing the other day: http://blogs.smh.com.au/lifestyle/allmenareliars/archives/2009/05/do_aussie_men_like_women.html There are so, so many problems with the whole way he’s approached the issue, but all over again, it’s about particular sex acts as inherently degrading rather than about whether or not she *wanted* to be having sex. Also the hideousness of the ‘what if it was one of *my* women’ approaches to ‘sexual ethics’, which again situates men as the ones who decide whether or not a woman ought to be okay with a sexual act or not, on the basis of her being his possession. In relation to Kate Ellis, FP, her comments were so heavily edited (down to adjectives, in a few spots) she may well have been talking about sexual cultures amongst NRL players rather than the badness of group sex; but the article itself managed to blur that line, and it’s the key one I think we need to be clear about.
    I was, I suppose, hoping that at some point we (not us here at HAT, who seem to manage this quite well, surprise, surprise ;-)) might be able to have a conversation about everyone respecting women’s desires both *to* have the sex they want, and to *not* have the sex they don’t. Disheartening that this seems so hard, and to be so swiftly corralled back into conservative lines of thought about sex.
    WildlyParenthetical’s last blog post..Disciplining Sex: Economies Etched in Intersexed Flesh

  65. Via Holla for a Hoyden comes this Fox Sports link, dripping with victim-blaming:
    Women need to be educated as well about inherent sexual dangers

    I make no judgment, but I do have a problem with women who can’t make an educated choice: “If I go back to that player’s hotel room or even out to a toilet cubicle at the back of a nightclub, can I really trust that the player I left with will be the only player there when I arrive, or even half-an-hour later?”
    If we want starstruck young women to make an educated guess, perhaps we should educate them? If I steal that lipstick off the shelf, there’s a good chance I’ll be caught on security camera, charged by police and appear in court. We are taught that.
    If I go into a hotel toilet or up in the lift with a player/players to a room, there’s a good chance I’ll be filmed on CCTV or a mobile phone and, if something goes horribly wrong, I have no recourse in the courts. Maybe we need to start teaching teenage girls that. […]
    Not too long ago, the national TV advertising campaign “Violence Against Women – Australia Says No” sent powerful messages. How about a campaign “Going to Hotel Rooms With Several Men – Australia Says Think Again”?

  66. Lauredhel @70
    That comment off Fox is ridiculous. Prefacing a statement with ‘I make no judgement’ doesn’t automatically make what comes after NOT a whole heap of judgemental crap. Of course, the author has totally missed the point with the whole stealing lipstick analogy… Facing consequences for doing the wrong thing when being the perpetrator of a crime is a totally different ballgame from telling someone they ‘deserve’ their consequences for being the *victim* of a crime. Which I realise all contributors here are aware of, but it’s stunning how something so simple goes out the window in the general public sphere.
    And WP @69… Yeah, I read through de Brito’s ham-fisted treatment of the issue too, and then dared to venture into the comment section. One respondent even made a remark along the lines of ‘oh I don’t have to think about that happening to my daughter because she’s a smart nice girl and she wouldn’t get herself into a situation like that in the first place.’
    Amongst a lot of the online comment, an incredibly observant summation can be read over at the Voice of Today’s Apathetic Youth (http://todaysapatheticyouth.blogspot.com/2009/05/matthew-johns-just-product-of-aussie.html). The author pretty much gets it in one where she writes…
    “This isn’t the NRL’s problem, it’s an Australian problem. As much as I detest the game and the bogan/yob culture surrounding it, it really is just a distilled version of all the worst characteristics of Australian society. For the NRL to change, we need to change. ”
    Amen.

  67. Shaunc @50 “But having NRL players being banned from schools is counter-productive. The reason players visit schools is for charity work or educations programs “.
    Those programs may be valuable, and I see what you are saying, but I feel that football players are the wrong vehicle for the message. Some knights players visited my daughter’s school earlier this year, for some educational thing (fitness, health?) and the kids were excited, “Yeah Knights!”, We sending the message to young kids that these guys are people to listen to, emulate, to respect, and I don’t like that (even before this story broke). These guys are heros because of sporting prowess, cos their an “aggressive risk taking male” not the role models that I want paraded before my children, regardless of the putative message they’re bringing, they are bringing heaps of other baggage as well.
    Purrdence @67 “team boys, who think they’re all hot shit because they’re on the team and don’t need to be serious about their English or Social Studies and can ignore and be quite rude to their female teachers. ” That’s exactly what I’m talking about

  68. KM : The stealing-lipstick analogy is horrifying. Not only is a woman not, y’know, committing a crime by going to a room with a man – but it places the rapists in the role of the correct, righteous, societally-sanctioned punishment police. I guess we should just give them a government paycheck now for their essential enforcement activities keeping the sluts in line, eh?

  69. Lauredhel @70
    God, that’s sick-making. Someone else besides the footy players who obviously believes that if a girl agrees to a sexual encounter with a) a specific player or even b) a couple of them, this automatically means she is a dirty slut who is consenting to shag ANYONE and/or have them watch and film.
    No, dear I’m afraid not. Consent is very specific. If you agree to have private sex with two guys (or even semi-private sex with one in a toilet cubicle and you’re in a hurry – not my personal taste, but hey, each to their own) then you have agreed to HAVE PRIVATE SEX WITH TWO GUYS. End of. Anything beyond that is not consensual.
    These incidents really reek of that sexual “incrementalising” some guys do to bully you into doing more than you are happy with. Tell him right out that you are NOT going to be having sex (or setting whatever boundaries you are comfortable with) is just a starter’s flag as far as they are concerned and they then attempt to ‘nudge’ you further along closer to what they want: “Well lets just do A. You liked that, so let’s just do B as well, et al”. Do they not twig how insulting that is?

  70. @74. They know how insulting it is. That’s just part of the fun.
    This situation is the end result of viewing women as commodities for male use. Our emotions simply aren’t real or complete to some men, except as a means to gratify or amuse them. (Reason 24 why treating a sacred sculpture as porn is infuriating)

  71. This is reminding me how much I dislike the term ‘consent’ altogether. You consent to a medical procedure, or to have someone check your credit record. You consent to having something done to you. Enthusiastic participation should be the term we promote as the only measure of whether a sexual act is acceptable.

  72. @ orlando:
    The standard should totally be active affirmation/assent rather than merely consent, because people pretend to not understand when consent exists and when it doesn’t, even though small children can be easily instructed on when consent does and doesn’t exist when it comes to trespassing on a neighbour’s lawn – that you need an explicit invitation and that the invitation can be withdrawn at any time.

  73. FYI: There is now a Supporters of Clare group on facebook.

  74. There is a Supporters of Clare group and there ARE a number of horrid anti-Clare comments. Join me in reporting each of them? I think it’s incredibly offensive to come into a small group designed as a support for one young woman and call her a liar/a whore/what have you in that space. THEY HAVE THE REST OF THE WORLD, WHY do they need that space??

  75. Whoops, the admin has (happily) gone through and cleared out the revolting remarks. But yeah, I’m all for clicking the report button when people are being offensive.

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