This week, despite the horrific details, two NRL players accused of rape claimed that consent was present, and the women were to blame.
Another week, another sex scandal/court case involving footballers indulging in revolting sexual behaviour hits the headlines. At the moment there are two such court cases. Both involve rape accusations. One is against two young NRL players accused of raping a young woman in December 2018. The other involves former NRL star Jarryd Hayne who is accused of raping a woman in September of the same year. None of the accused deny sexual activity took place, but they all claim it was consensual and that they are innocent of any crime.
I have no idea whether any of the accused players are guilty of rape or not, and I will not be discussing their legal guilt or innocence here. All I know about both cases is what I have read and heard in the news. Whatever the courts may decide, the details of the sexual activity described in evidence in both hearings, has been deeply disturbing.
In Jarryd Haynes case, the young woman in question was left bleeding from three puncture wounds in her genitals and ‘feeling violated’. According to the evidence presented in court, Haynes arrived at her house in a cab, which he left outside with the meter running (classy), greeted her mother who was sitting in the lounge watching the Grand Final, went into the young woman’s bedroom and started kissing her. She claims she responded by saying no, whereupon he “pushed her head into a pillow, pulled her pants off and attacked her, ignoring her pleas to stop.” According to the alleged victim, it was the blood all over his face and hands that eventually caused him to desist.
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In his closing arguments, Hayne’s lawyer argued that this is a case of ‘bad sex’ rather than rape and that the charges were brought because the woman was ‘upset about her injuries’.
In the case with the two other accused football players, Jack de Belin and Callan Sinclair, the alleged victim (described by de Belin as ‘some little chick who was hanging around’) has described a horrifying ordeal which involved being held down by the throat and raped multiple times by the two men who cheered each other on, while she ‘went numb’ and cried throughout. When made aware of the rape allegations, de Belin’s response in a phone call to his co-accused was “It was consensual sex and she never got raped, she never told us at any point to stop.” The case ended this week in a mistrial due to a hung jury which means it will have to be retried.
Recently I heard a woman claim that men and women are just ‘different’, that we speak differently and think differently and that’s just the way of the world. ‘Vive la difference’ as so many say. Many see this idea that men are from Mars and women are from Venus as a good thing, something to be celebrated, a complementarity that makes the world (and sex) go round. At worst, they see it as trivial and inconsequential, but I beg to differ.
I think this idea that men and women are equal but different (the exact words used to justify apartheid, by the way) is one of the reasons far too many men and, sadly, some women see behaviour such as that described above – whether legally rape or not – as excusable, as boys just being boys. It is precisely why we blame women for being victims and rationalise (‘bad sex’) men as perpetrators. Just as it did in apartheid South Africa, the idea of equal but different always seems to work out great for the ‘equal’ but bloody awful for the ‘different’.
When I hear about sexual behaviour like that described in these latest scandals and all the others than have gone before, decades of them, usually resulting in the men getting off, and the woman being blamed, I worry about the terrible consequences of our determination to emphasise our alleged differences. I am not arguing there are none, I am simply wondering why we need to police the boundaries so vociferously if they are, in fact, intrinsic rather than ingrained.
From the different clothing, colours, toys, books, acceptable behaviour and character traits we rigidly impose on little boys and little girls from birth, we unconsciously create beliefs about the different genders that – in the extreme – can end in scenarios like those currently before the court.
Before you can treat another human being the way some men have treated these women – as prey – you have to believe they are less human than you are. You have to be unable to feel any empathy with them, to imagine what it might be like to be them, what it might be like to experience what you want them to put up with for your pleasure. Cruelty requires othering.
Before you can treat another human being the way some men have treated these women – as prey – you have to believe they are less human than you are. You have to be unable to feel any empathy with them, to imagine what it might be like to be them, what it might be like to experience what you want them to put up with for your pleasure. Cruelty requires othering. That’s why racism, sexism and homophobia are so dangerous. They allow us to point the finger at another group and say that ‘they’ are not as we are. That then enables us to treat them in ways we would hate to be treated ourselves. Not only do too many men appear not to understand that ‘consensual’ might require all parties to enjoy it, they seem to have no thought at all about the feelings of the dehumanised (‘little chick’) person they are using for sex. It’s almost as if they are masturbating using a person instead of their hand.
Not only are we uncomfortable about teaching boys and men to empathise with girls and women, but masculinity taken to its extreme also requires something even worse. It requires men to actively despise and reject anything characterised as female, including empathy, kindness and tenderness. To be this kind of man (a man’s man, perhaps) is to have to be the antithesis of the female – anti-female, if you like.
In my view, if we are going to have any lasting effect on the horrific toll sexism takes on women (and believing women are somehow lesser is at the core of sexism), including the 48 women killed this year, most of them at the hands of their intimate partner, we must stop celebrating and fetishising what makes men and women different. Instead, we need to start concentrating on what makes us similar. How we all feel pain, humiliation, shame and despair as well as love, joy and connection. How we all want to be taken seriously and treated with respect.
Only then can we effectively empathise across gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and all our other so-called differences. Empathy is the enemy of cruelty. Only with empathy can humanity become properly human and stop treating other humans with contempt, simply because of some perceived ‘difference’.
Vive la similaritie.