Saturday, 10 December 2011

Shocking News! Rapists live in the same society as we do!

This week, the internet has been abuzz with a press release from Middlesex University and the University of Surrey which posits the question "Are sex offenders and lads' mags using the same language?". The study seems to show that:

  1. Lads' mags use the same way to describe women and female sexuality as convicted sex offenders do in interviews.
  2. This is to the extent that participants in the study could not accurately tell where the quotes originated from.
  3. A lot of men who took part identified with the statements expressed by the convicted sex offenders.
In other news, the sky is blue, grass is green and we live in a goddamn rape culture.

Jezebel got a list of some of the quotes used by the researchers - see if you can tell the difference (answers at the bottom):

1. There's a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex . . . The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.
2. Some girls walk around in short-shorts . . . showing their body off . . . It just starts a man thinking that if he gets something like that, what can he do with it?
3. A girl may like anal sex because it makes her feel incredibly naughty and she likes feeling like a dirty slut. If this is the case, you can try all sorts of humiliating acts to help live out her filthy fantasy.
4. Mascara running down the cheeks means they've just been crying, and it was probably your fault . . . but you can cheer up the miserable beauty with a bit of the old in and out.
5. What burns me up sometimes about girls is dick-teasers. They lead a man on and then shut him off right there.
6. Filthy talk can be such a turn on for a girl . . . no one wants to be shagged by a mouse . . . A few compliments won't do any harm either . . . ‘I bet you want it from behind you dirty whore' . . .
7. You know girls in general are all right. But some of them are bitches . . . The bitches are the type that . . . need to have it stuffed to them hard and heavy.
8. Escorts . . . they know exactly how to turn a man on. I've given up on girlfriends. They don't know how to satisfy me, but escorts do.
9. You'll find most girls will be reluctant about going to bed with somebody or crawling in the back seat of a car . . . But you can usually seduce them, and they'll do it willingly.
10. There's nothing quite like a woman standing in the dock accused of murder in a sex game gone wrong . . . The possibility of murder does bring a certain frisson to the bedroom.
11. Girls ask for it by wearing these mini-skirts and hotpants . . . they're just displaying their body . . . Whether they realise it or not they're saying, ‘Hey, I've got a beautiful body, and it's yours if you want it.'
12. You do not want to be caught red-handed . . . go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.
13. Some women are domineering, but I think it's more or less the man who should put his foot down. The man is supposed to be the man. If he acts the man, the woman won't be domineering.
14. I think if a law is passed, there should be a dress code . . . When girls dress in those short skirts and things like that, they're just asking for it.
15. Girls love being tied up . . . it gives them the chance to be the helpless victim.
16. I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them.

Right, now that I have got the formalities out of the way, time for a small rant about bad science...

I have seen a number of people, including some prominent feminists telling us that this study 'proves' that lads' mags 'cause' rape. It does not. It shows us the depressing reality that we live in a society where talking like this about women and female sexuality is normal, and is used by some people to 'justify' rape. While it may lend credence to other arguments that rape jokes and victim blaming 'normalise' rape in some people's minds, this study doesn't 'prove' it.

We don't full know the methodology used yet, and we don't really know what the samples were like (although this very good article in the Guardian explores the research and the results in the most detail I could find). As I scream at the TV whenever a right-winger appears, correlation does not imply causation! As @SciencePunk said yesterday
"How can you possibly infer lads' mags normalise rape unless you show that how rapists talk about women is different from general discourse?... Couldn't I just as easily say "people couldn't differentiate pictures of schoolteachers from those of rapists ergo teachers = rapists"?"
The only thing this study reliably shows (and is bloody useful to point to, please don't think I'm knocking it) is that rapists talk the same way about women and female sexuality in the same way that most other people talk about women and female sexuality. It shows us that rapists are not the slavering beasts of myth who grab virgins in broad daylight and drag them down dark alleys, and any other rapist isn't really a rapist because those sluts knew what they were doing. It shows us that there's no point in telling women not to walk alone after dark to escape the clutches of a rapey-bogeyman when most victims of sexual violence know their attacker. It shows us that we live in a world where 'non-rape-rape' (i.e. fair maiden dragged off by hairy-knuckled dribbling stereotype) is so bloody prevalent that women in the US military are more likely to be raped by their 'brothers in arms' than killed by enemy fire. It shows us that a startling number of people believe the same victim-blaming, rape-justifying excuses of convicted sex offenders - as the infamous Amnesty International survey of 2005 showed us all too clearly. It shows us rapists don't have a big fucking neon sign above their head saying 'Watch out! Rapist about!', but instead look and act like most other people

To reiterate: this is a bloody useful tool to make people remember that the public's attitude to victims of rape totally fucking sucks, and that 'othering' rapists is pointless and futile.

But it does not "show us that lad's mags cause rape". So please don't say it does. Misusing science in this way just leads to getting bogged down in arguments about what a study 'might' show rather than giving us the fuel to tackle what it does show.

Answers. 1. Rapist, 2. Rapist, 3. Lad mag, 4. Lad mag, 5. Rapist, 6. Lad mag, 7. Rapist, 8. Lad mag, 9. Rapist, 10. Lad mag, 11. Rapist, 12. Lad mag, 13. Rapist, 14. Rapist, 15. Lad mag, 16. Lad mag


  1. Feminism, rape-culture smashing and criticism of bad scientific analysis = awesome.

  2. This story is so fucking depressing - how have we ended up with a culture that thinks it's OK to talk about women in these terms?

  3. If anything it's t'other way around; rapists, their excuses/reasons, and rape-culture attitudes in general, cause what's espoused in lads' mags. They're out to make money by appealing to popular attitudes, not to buck a trend in hopes of influencing them.