A response to critical feedback

The blogpost that I wrote back in February, on “What is Rape” has generated some quite considerable controversy.  Much of the discussion has taken place outwith this blog, on other forms of social media and I find my views repeatedly misrepresented by others in such forums.

As I am continually told to

“Just shut up, you have no fucking right to be saying this shit. You are WRONG”
“What we are interested in is you shutting up, going away to learn, and staying away.”
“Please shut the fuck up”
“Get the fuck out.”
“Nobody fucking cares about your blog finds, shut up, fuck off,”
“Seriously fuck off, you are so fucking wrong and ignorant….”

and described as a

“a fucking homophobic rape apologist arrogant arsehole who should not be allowed to stay in feminist groups”

while being requested not to discuss this further,  I am taking this opportunity to address some of the accusations levelled at me, and the misrepresentations of my position which have become common currency.

This blogpost comes with a trigger warning as I understand that there are a group of people who are upset at this discussion continuing and would not wish to read anything more about it.  Consequently,  I would suggest that anyone who personally affected by this debate and is likely to be upset by reading further stops reading now.   I personally have no issues with who sees this post and am happy for anyone who wishes to read this to do so, provided that they take personal responsibility and heed the warning above.

On Homophobia and Heterosexism
First of all I do not consider rape “sex”.  As stated in my original post I consider rape unconsensual penetration, that was expanded upon in a later blogpost where I quite clearly describe incidents of unconsensual penetration that I would consider rape that do not occur in a sexual context, particularly those which occur in warzones and under conditions of state torture, which could not be considered “sex” in any meaningful sense of the word.

I have had sex many times with several people which did not involve penetration. Just because I am straight (exclusively have sex with men), does not mean that I always have penetrative sex. I also know of people who identify as both lesbian, gay male and straight male who have had penetrative sex and I find the conflation of sexual identity with particular sex acts heteronormative.

On woman on woman rape
The act which was described to me in the comments on the blog was that of a non-penetrative sexual assault, performed on a female child by an adult woman. As I consider rape to be penetrative, I do not consider such an act rape, but sexual assault. I would have defined that act as sexual assault regardless of the sex and gender of both the perpetrator and the victim, I would only have consider it rape had the sexual assault been penetrative.

I believe that rape can be perpetrated by anyone by anyone regardless of either the perpetrator or victim’s sex or gender orientation, where there is unconsensual penetration.

On Digital Penetration
It has been suggested that I stated or implied that I did not consider unconsensual digital penetration rape.  I have looked carefully through all of the comments that I have made on this subject across a number of different forums and cannot find to what this refers. If I did state somewhere that I did not regard digital penetration as rape then it was an error – I cannot find such a comment and I have looked extensively. I believe my views are quite clear in the initial blogpost, and indeed I have restated on numerous occasions that I consider rape to be unconsensual penetration.

On my Request for Sources
I repeatedly asked for information on the justification for non-penetrative sexual assault to be considered rape in the same manner as penetrative sexual assault from a queer feminist source. I was given several links which defined woman on woman rape as penetrative; a link to a video which verged on rape porn which took no clear position on the issue (but graphically illustrated non-consensual penetration of a woman by another woman) and a post by a queer men’s group which gave an argument which I found incoherent.

I asked for these sources because the only places I could find which were promoting that the definition of rape should be expanded to cover non-penetrative sexual assault are Mens Rights Activist sources, which approvingly suggest that the only reason that men are convicted of rape at a higher level than women is because the definition of rape is penetrative and that if you remove the requirement for penetration, men and women become equally likely to be rape victims, a consequence and motivation that I find completely wrong.

I was not looking for an academic or peer reviewed study, but a clear explanation of the position which I STILL do not understand.  Despite being told that I have had it explained to me several times, I cannot find such an explanation, perhaps there is one buried in there among all the abuse and bullying but I’m damned if I can find it.

On my response to a commenter
Following a disclosure by a commentator that she had been subjected to a non-penetrative sexual assault as a child by another woman, I responded

“I’m sorry to hear of your experiences, it must be horrible to go through that.

But I stand by my position that while sexual assault can be as traumatising as rape, there is a difference. The difference is that rape involves penetration; and that unwanted penetration is fundamentally more invasive that sexual assault which does not involve penetration.

Once you get rid of that distinction, you effectively lose rape as a distinct crime”

I consider it important that there is a distinct crime of rape, which is distinguished from sexual assault, I appreciate that others consider that there should be no distinction between the two. I consider that the defining line should be penetration.

I believe this distinction is important because there are specific types of harm which can only be caused by penetration.  As I explained in a later blogpost

While non-penetrative sex acts performed non-consensually can be as traumatising for the victim as penetrative, depending on the context, the vulnerability of the victim, the relationship of the perpetrator and the victim and wider social norms, there is a specificity over the act of penetration, and the risks associated with it which makes it a particular form of abuse.

Others believe it should be survivor defined. I think that is problematic, given that a high proportion of victims of non-consensual penetration do not name their experiences of rape and were this distinction to be the critical one, it is likely that instances of penetrative sexual assault perpetrated by men on women would be tried as sexual assault while instances of non-penetrative sexual assault of men perpetrated by women would be tried as rape.

On Trembling Sisters and Magic Mommas
The reference to “trembing sister” was an allusion to Joanna Russ’s classic text “Power and Helplessness in the Women’s Movement” where it is used to describe those who find themselves ineffective and seek to blame this lack of efficacy on others who hold power which is limiting their activism.

I have been told several times that my presence has inhibited other feminists from participating in activity as the sight of me is triggering in light of my view that non-penetrative sexual assault does not comprise rape.  Prior to my relocation to Greece I offered to avoid being talking to, or being in the presence of, anyone who wished space from me to enable them to continue their activism unheeded and requested other advice of how I could reduce the barrier that I posed to their participation.  No requests or responses were forthcoming.

Several of the critical comments referred to my “power and privilege”  and quite a number specifically referenced this blog.  I am grateful to have this publishing platform and that my views are read so widely across a number of continents.  I am grateful for the requests to write for other publications or to speak at events which quite frequently come as a result of people finding this blog.  I appreciate that not everyone has the time to establish a blog, for it requires a considerable amount of effort, and made numerous offers of publishing any responses to my views from those who had no publishing platform of their own.  I am aware that several people are planning to contribute to the discussion, but those who felt most strongly that my views were wrong and oppressive explicitly refused the offer.

On Substantive Responses
The only substantive response that I have been privy to is that published by Be Young, Shut Up, which takes up a number of issues.  I agree entirely that when wrongdoing is pointed out, that a full and genuine apology should be offered.  The only aspect of this in which I feel that I have behaved less than well is in not being sufficiently sensitive to the feelings of victim of child sexual assault.  As my own experiences of sexual assault  were many years prior and I have recovered sufficiently to the point where I can discuss such issues without the strong feelings that would have once been associated with such a discussion, it was insensitive of me to assume that anyone who commented on such an issue would have reached a similar point of recovery, and for that I am sorry.   Although I stated in an earlier blogpost that this blog is not a counselling session and I am not a councillor, I should have been more aware of the likely impact on someone who had not recovered to the same extent.

I agree with “Be Young, Shut Up” that penetrative sexual assault is not necessarily worse than non-penetrative, but maintain that there are additional risks associated with penetrative sexual assault which are absent in non-penetrative forms which mean that penetrative sexual assault should be considered a specific form of violation. I also agree that there are predatory women and as explained above I accept that women can be perpetrators (of both sexual assault and rape).

I disagree with the definition offered by that response of rape as forced sex, as I explained above, I also disagree that I am wrong to describe the tone of the discussion as bullying.  I believe that quite a number of the responses were aggressive, insulting and dismissive.  I also disagree that setting parameters – parameters which go beyond the definition of rape in Scots Law – on what constitutes the offence is rape apologism.

I also vehemently agree that feminism is not about being nice to other women.
And with that I end on a quote from Joanna Russ.

 To insist that women challenge their own fear of effectiveness and their own guilt for behaving effectively, to insist that we both behave honestly and responsibly and risk hurting others’ feelings (which is hardly the worst thing in the world) is emphatically to disobey the Feminine Imperative.

It’s selfish.
It isn’t sisterly.
It isn’t “nice.”

But it is, I’m beginning to suspect, the feminist act.


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