Rape, stigmatisation and textual victimisation

In this article, Helena Brors discusses the 2015 Swedish book, Allt som är mitt: Våldtäkt, stigmatisering och upprättelse (which translates as: Everything that’s mine: Rape, stigmatisation and amends) by two ‘sex-positive feminists,’ Alexander Chamberland and Anna Svensson.

Background

‘Sex-positive feminism’ arose in the early 1980s in large part as a response to the feminist movement against pornography. ‘Sex-positive feminism’ purports to centre the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom. But porn and prostitution are not about women’s sexual freedom and authentic sexual expression. Rather they are institutions of male dominance, misogynistic propaganda, violation and the subordination of female sexuality to an extreme gendered script – whereby she must relinquish her own sexuality in order to flatter and please the male customer at all costs – or risk her very survival. Prostitution and pornography therefore have more in common with rape than with any form of authentic consensual sexual expression.

We are publishing this article because it brilliantly exposes many of the logical fallacies that both ‘sex-positive’ feminists and pro-sex trade lobbyists routinely make.


I feel textually victimised

By Helena Brors

Allt som är mitt is a polemical book. Using their own experience of being raped, the authors pretend to swim against Sweden’s mainstream feminist current while really broadcasting a ‘sex positive’ gospel. A gospel that is part of an international lobbying campaign that glorifies prostitution.

The book’s core message is that anyone who calls a woman who’s been raped a ‘victim’ is asserting that a woman’s sole worth lies between her thighs. The assumption that rape victims are traumatised is ‘victim stigma’ and rapists should not be brought to justice and imprisoned.

The words ‘stigma’ and ‘stigmatisation’ occur frequently in the book and ‘mainstream feminism’ allegedly stigmatises rape victims, sorry, ‘survivors,’ by demanding that their lives are ruined.

What the authors mean by ‘stigmatisation’ is not clear. It can hardly be ‘branding as disgraceful’ because there’s no honour culture prevailing in Sweden. A raped woman is not banished from the community. Her dowry is not even raised. (We don’t do dowries in Sweden.) Nor does it seem to be the stigmata you learned about in Sunday school – the medically inexplicable appearance of wounds corresponding to those Jesus received during the crucifixion.

This ambiguous use of the stigmatisation concept is common in Anglo-Saxon prostitution lobbyism. Prim ‘mainstream feminists’ supposedly stigmatise the prostituted woman for being brave and belligerent. Women are marred by whore stigma for being randy, racialised, divorced and/or lesbian. To be stigmatised by state-bearing mainstream feminism is to be a norm-breaking sex radical.

Another rhetorical device often utilised by the sex industry lobby is what Jenny Westerstrand JD calls ‘concept shopping’ – weaving a false framework by throwing in and perverting certain feminist concepts, along with quoting and referring to renowned feminists, without it having any bearing on one’s argument. This book is no exception and it includes many lengthy and tedious accounts of Judith Butler’s, Sara Ahmed’s and Michel Foucault’s works, which in no way confirm the authors’ many contradictory standpoints.

The terminology is the usual ‘sex-positive,’ with words like ‘sex work,’ ‘agency,’ ‘the individual,’ ‘choice’ and ‘cementing.’ In several sentences, ‘rape victim’ can be replaced with the ‘sex worker’ term: “Sex workers are treated like defenceless children.” “Society punishes sex workers by guilt tripping and stigmatising.” “As if all sex workers were cast in the same mould.”

The ‘Feminist Perspectives’ chapter contains the same old overused story about the ‘Sex Wars’ in the 1980s and ‘radical feminist porn opponents’ who silenced ‘sex positive feminists.’ In their afterword, the authors thank, among others, Petra Östergren, Susanne Dodillet and Ulrika Dahl. This book is built on the foundation of the prostitution prophetesses.

Feminists have fought against systems of prostitution and sexual double standards since the 1860s. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, that the sex industry adopted the strategy of masquerading as feminists and creating the Orwellian Newspeak terms: ‘sex-positive’ and ‘sex work.’ That’s how they got Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN’s first special rapporteur on violence against women, to exclusively use the terminology ‘forced prostitution’ and ‘sex worker.’ Diabolically cunning.

The book is partially self-disclosing. In one chapter, Anna Svensson tells us that her father abused her sexually, but she’s grateful because “it wasn’t aggravated abuse, and it didn’t last for long.” Having said this, she tips us off about “a little trick” for difficult situations: She detaches herself from what’s happening and pretends that it’s happening to someone else. That “little trick” is called dissociation and is often used by severely traumatised children, with dissociative identity disorder as a consequence.

Getting raped is, according to Svensson, like becoming a mother: “Both are strongly culturally laden experiences, and cataclysmic for the individuals involved.” (That sentence becomes even more absurd when translated.)

Since both the authors have been raped, they see each and every description of rape as directed specifically towards them. When Katarina Wennstam in her book Flickan och skulden (The girl and the guilt) writes that the life of one of the girls she interviewed was ruined by a rape, the authors interpret this as Wennstam dictating how they should be feeling. Wennstam, they think, has no right whatsoever to write about rape. Only people with ‘rape experience’ of their own are entitled to write about it.

Consequently, Katrine Marçal is condemned for having written the book Våldtäkt och romantik (Rape and romance). Artist Stina Wollter is condemned for comparing her rape to being run over by a bulldozer. The book title in itself is a parody of singer Annika Norlin’s song Allt som är ditt (Everything that’s yours).

However, it appears to be only where rape is concerned that personal experience is a necessary prerequisite. The authors, two blonde Millennials, don’t hesitate to write about feminism in the 1970s and racism in the American South during the 1950s. Actually, having experience of your own does not even seem to be a prerequisite for writing about rape. That rule applies only to writers who have the impudence to say ‘rape victim’ instead of ‘survivor.’

Susan Brownmiller’s epoch-making book, Against Our Will, is rejected and writer Maria Sveland is reproached for having praised it. Given that Brownmiller, Wennstam and Marçal are condemned, you’d expect the famous feminist writer and activist, Maria-Pia Boëthius, to be subjected to the same treatment for having written Skylla sig själv: En bok om våldtäkt (Blaming yourself: A book about rape). Released in 1976, this was inspired by Susan Brownmiller and it made the important points that rape is about power, not sex; that rapists exist in all social groups; that most rapes are acquaintance rapes; and that the constant threat of rape affects all women.

But no, Skylla sig själv isn’t even mentioned, and Boëthius is praised for things she’s written in the feminist magazine, Bang. Could this be because she was working for the same media company as Svensson and Chamberland in 2015?

Had Brownmiller not written Against Our Will, Boëthius would not have written Skylla sig själv, and the bills from the 1976 Swedish Commission Regarding Sexual Offences would have passed. At that time in Sweden there were no rape crisis centres and emergency clinics, and no national plan of action for the care of sex crime victims and no women’s shelters. The commission, which consisted of eight men and one woman, recommended: the legalisation of incest; that rape should be considered a minor crime; milder penalties for rapists; and reserving the term ‘rape’ “only for the most severe form of sexual assault.”

A Sweden without rape crisis centres and women’s shelters would probably be right up Svensson’s and Chamberland’s street, seeing as they portray ROKS as “a radical feminist player” that “highlights that higher penalties should be imposed for crimes they don’t think are being taken seriously enough today.”

ROKS, the National Organisation for Women’s Shelters and Young Women’s Shelters in Sweden, is the largest member organisation for women’s shelters and young women’s shelters in the country.

The authors think that ‘the subjected’ should sit down with their assailants and explain how they feel. As an argument in favour of this approach, Svensson cites the account of pornographic film hostess and magazine editor, Ylva Maria Thompson. A prostituted woman went to a bachelor party and was gang raped. Afterwards she turned to Thompson for assistance. Thompson arranged a ‘confrontation.’ All was sorted out, everyone was happy, everything was depicted in Thompson’s short-lived porn mag, and nobody got the police involved.

Svensson and Chamberland reduce rape to a question of interpersonal misunderstandings. They downplay rape as a crime by advocating that it, as opposed to other integrity-infringing crimes, should be met, not with prosecution and punishment, but with mediation. They give the finger to everyone who views the latent threat of sexual violence as a key way the patriarchy is maintained. In reality, Svensson’s and Chamberland’s ideas mean that women’s liberty is further limited.

Rape isn’t a question of interpersonal misunderstandings. Rape is, and remains, a horrible integrity-infringing and traumatising crime, whose latent threat enforces the gender system. That’s why it’s vital to ensure that the legal system treats rape as a serious crime. Right now it’s treated as a crime against the individual victim, rather than as a grave crime against society. Even under feudalism, rape was understood as a crime against the King’s Peace. Trivialising rape as an interpersonal crime and subjecting victims to ‘mediation,’ is a colossal step back in women’s liberation and a belittling of victims’ struggle for amends.

Never before have I seen so many straw men, closed circles, logical fallacies, red herrings, presuppositions and false dilemmas in one and the same text. Several times over, the utter lack of rigorousness made me want to throw the book on the floor and bark “Logical fallacy!”

I feel textually victimised from having read Allt som är mitt.

Further reading


Helena Brors

This article first appeared in 2015 in the Swedish online magazine, Feministiskt Perspektiv (Feminist Perspective).

Helena Brors is a freelance writer and critic, based in Stockholm. She usually writes about radical feminism, veganism, herstory, pimp lobbyism and professional wrestling. She has studied film studies, gender studies and fashion studies at the University of Stockholm. Follow Helena at @HelenaBrors.

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