The False Rape Complainant

There is a persistent narrative in our culture that hangs over any woman* who complains of rape or sexual assault. The narrative is so persistent that we even police ourselves with it, without the input of others. Did that really happen? Maybe she is just exaggerating and feels remorseful about it, surely it was just ‘bad sex’? But they are in a relationship, how could he have raped her? 

(* I am talking here about rape of women by men, and I’m not being gender identity-specific, although proponents of the false rape complainant trope tend to be pretty cis-specific)

It’s interesting, though, to think about why this trope persists. And why there is this irrational fear that a woman is going to falsely complain of rape and the defendant is going to be wrongly convicted, which is obviously way out of proportion with reality. In this post, I’m referencing Wendy Larcombe’s article ‘Cautionary Tales and Telling Anxieties: The Story of the False Complainant’ (2002 Australian Feminist Law Journal 95) heavily.


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Things Australian Women Couldn’t Do in the 70s

I’m totally stealing (in a good way) the idea from Ms Magazine article about 10 things American Women Couldn’t do before the 1970s.

Because it’s easy to focus on the things that we still don’t have.

  1. Be discriminated against for being pregnant: Up until the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, women could legally be discriminated against on the basis of being or becoming pregnant. Section 7 and 7AA now outlaw this. Obvs it still happens.
  2. Be raped in marriage: Marital rape was not outlawed in legislation until 1981 in New South Wales and 1992 in Queensland. Up until then, wives “irrevocably gave their consent” to sex to their husbands in marriage.
  3. Get divorced (more easily): In passing the Family Law Act 1975, no fault divorces were officially abolished! This made filing for divorce significantly easier. (but by no means ‘easy’)
  4. Get a mortgage/bank account without a man’s (husband/father) signature.
  5. Get a legal abortion: oh wait, half of Australia still doesn’t have this! in Queensland, where I’m from, it is necessary to show danger to the mother or child’s physical or mental health to be allowed to have a legal abortion. In other words, abortion is still a crime. On the other hand in Victoria and the ACT abortion has been decriminalised and is available on request. 
  6. Celebrate IWD: …until 1975 when the government held the first national conference! Sadly it was invaded by anti-IWD protestors.



Today In Objectification

Text: she is a thing of beauty. Picture is of a man watching a blonde woman drink a beer out of a glass.

Text: “she is a thing of beauty”. Picture is of a man watching a blonde woman drink a beer out of a glass.

This ad has been doing the rounds for a week or so now. I think it’s a good example of how corporations objectify women and their bodies to sell products.

So why is this particular ad objectifying?

Blogger Caroline Heldman put together a 4 part series on objectification of women and girls. According to Heldman, objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like an object, while sexual objectification is the process of representing or treating a person like a sex object, one that serves another’s sexual pleasure. Although this particular ad isn’t as extreme as some of the examples in article above, it nonetheless equates this woman with a thing (a beer). The woman in the picture is depicted through the gaze of the man watching her. I’d also wager that classism is implicit in this ad’s construction of ‘beauty’. The woman appears lavishly dressed with expensive(-looking) jewellery and makeup. As the woman in this picture is represented as a thing, so she becomes less of a unique person with interests, flaws and opinions. It’s this continuing representation, with the added sexualised element, that contributes to the damaging effects that objectification has on women.

[it’s also kind of ironic that the pub which you can see in the left of the image is The Grosvenor, the only topless pub in Brisbane. Makes me wish I lived in Iceland.]


Further Casual Sexism In Our Language: Debunked

Trigger warning/content note for discussion of misogynist language, sexual assault, heteronormativity and swearwords. 

Following on from my post about casual sexism in our language, I want to talk more about sexist and outright misogynist expressions in english.

The idea of someone who “wears the pants” in a relationship.

This is heteronormative as fuck. And gender essentialist as fuck.

Re gender essentialism, first. It’s underscored by the idea that the person who wears the pants is a man (even though women wear pants. Indeed, I’m wearing pants right now). And that this pants-wearing man is the one who wields the power and authority in a relationship. It’s premised on the idea that it’s not fathomable that two people in a relationship, irrespective of their gender, could simply be equal. And that there may actually not be either particular person calling the shots. To think that someone has to be “the one in charge” is just really…weird and paternalistic.

Moving on to the heternormativity of this. Just…wow. If the saying is based on the idea that one person in a relationship must either be or resemble a man, then what of a relationship where there are no men, more than one party is a man, neither party is a cis-gendered man?

It also assumes that everyone is in a monogamous relationship between two people. What I mean is that the saying is based on the conception that one person is ‘in control’ and the other is obeying.

The thing about this saying is that it’s usually aimed at relationships which don’t, or appear not to conform to narrow conceptions of how gender roles should be. Lesbian relationships are frequently targeted by absolutely hilar observers with these sorts of sayings. But even heterosexual relationships, where the female party might be noticeably forward or self-assured. Observers will wryly note, “well she really wears the pants in that relationship”.

“that sucks dick”/”go suck a dick”.

This saying seems to be underpinned by the conception that fellatio is fundamentally degrading/debasing. Like “sucking a dick” is a really crappy thing to do and should only be reserved for crappy people. Which confuses me because receiving fellatio is like proof that someone’s A Real Man, or just generally awesome. So…it’s a shit thing to do, but if you get it you’re awesome?

Cum dumpster (and the like).

Ok, I’m sorry that I have even heard this gross phrase. So for someone to be a “cum dumpster”, they have to be the following things: (a) appear to be a woman (trans or cis) and (b) appear to enjoy sex. Therefore they must be denigrated and punished. (edited to add: I neglected to note that this saying is also really heteronormative when referring to a woman. And that this saying could refer to a guy as well)


So a pussy is a slang term for female genitals, right? Yeah it’s also a way of saying that you, unsurprisingly, lack “balls”. Therefore you’re a pussy if you aren’t brave/courageous. I’d venture to say that in the wisdom of this saying, these are “typically” masculine traits. So female genitalia are an insult to anyone who doesn’t exhibit “typically” male traits. It presupposes that anyone with a vagina must lack these characteristics, because not being brave/courageous is feminine and therefore not good. It’s also usually levelled at men.

Raping things.

I’m going to keep writing about this until rape stops being funny to people. But first, let’s go back to a definition of rape, shall we? So (my non-dictionary) definition of rape is non consensual sexual activity with someone. But it’s more than that. It’s an expression of power over someone, enacted by sexual means.

Rape isn’t just having sex with someone when they weren’t really into it. It goes far deeper than that. So, again, that really difficult exam? That long day at work? That nauseating hangover? That person hacking into your facebook and changing your status? Not rape. Next time you think about using ‘rape’ to describe any of those things, (or basically anything that isn’t non-consensual sexual activity with someone) think about all those sexual assault survivors whose experiences you’re dismissing.