Feminist Bloggers: UK Rape Campaign flawed, misguided

A Government campaign in the UK to raise awareness about rape—or, to use more clinical terminology, “consent awareness”—has caused a stir in the feminist blogosphere.

The British Home Office web site declares it to be a “hard-hitting campaign” that “will make clear the consequences of not ensuring you have the other person’s consent before having sex.” The campaign is aimed at males. But does it challenge stereotypes and erroneous beliefs about men, women, and rape? Feminist bloggers say no, in an equally hard-hitting blog campaign

A campaign in need of some awareness

Winter Woods at team-blog Mind the Gap points out the use of pale skin and other imagery in one campaign poster in “A campaign in need of some awareness”:

“[The model] looks so helpless doesn’t she? So pale, so incredibly white, and so vulnerable with her slack hands dangling by her sides, nothing but a ‘stop’ sign between her vagina and the (penetrative) gaze of the presumed male viewer.”

Woods points to another feminist blogger, “Bookdrunk”, who objects to the tone of the campaign. At Rhetorically Speaking, Bookdrunk cuts to the underlying message in a post titled, “From the Home Office: rape is wrong (because you might have to go to prison)”:

“It really does seem as though this campaign has little to do with women—not because it’s aimed at men, but because it’s aimed at keeping men out of prison. Respect for the person you want to sleep with has been ignored for scare tactics.”

The second campaign poster shows a prison room with a burly prisoner on the top bunk, glaring at the viewer. Bookdrunk writes, “The message is clear: don’t not rape because women are people too, but because you might end up getting raped by someone bigger and stronger than you are.”

Darnit, did we forget to teach another generation about consent?

Austin, Texas blogger Femivist, points out that the UK poster campaign is fundamentally misguided in its understanding of what the core issue is. In her piece, “Darnit, did we forget to teach another generation about consent?”, she argues:

“The problem is NOT in the understanding of the word consent. I have faith that 18-24 year-old males, regardless of the country they call home, understand that they have consented to pay their credit card bill, that they have consented to sit in their assigned seat at a sporting event and that they have consented to show up and perform at their job. Consent is not the issue. Respect is the issue.”

Missing from the campaign, she says, is the idea that “Women are people.”

Femivist links to feminist blogger Kat at The Geeky Feminist, who also builds upon the “radical” notion that women are people:

“Obtaining consent has been approached the same way as t.v. licensing—define the crime and use the threat of punishment to scare us into complying. There isn’t any acknowledgement of women as human beings who deserve to be asked if they want to have sex. No one explains that what may seem like good fun to a man will be viewed very differently by a woman when she wasn’t asked if she wanted to participate or was ignored when she declined the invitation. Rape myths aren’t challenged and the effects of rape on a woman’s physical and mental health are not mentioned.”

She concludes, “No, this [campaign approach] will not work. Our society has normalised rape and simply telling men not to do it isn’t enough. I demand more. I demand to be recognised as a human being.” You can read her whole essay, “Get consent or you're nicked!”, at The Geeky Feminist.

And in “Check consent, men (finally) told”, Emma at team-blog Gendergeek states the obvious, unsaid assumption with casual flair:

“Breakfast radio was agog with a new Home Office media campaign that warns men to ensure that women consent to sex, or be prepared to be charged with rape. Apparently, it’s a huge deal for men to be sure that women want to have sex with them.”

Does Fiona Mactaggart—Home Office minister, and the person who launched this campaign—read feminist blogs? It’s doubtful, but if so, I hope she’s taking notes.

Photo credit: Home Office

Related links:

Home Office, Consent campaign

BBC News, “Sex consent campaign targets men” (Hat-tip: The Geeky Feminist)

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