Wednesday 11 December 2019

Rosemary MacCabe: Of course rape culture exists - when I shared my story, strangers attacked me online

Rosemary MacCabe
Rosemary MacCabe
Rosemary MacCabe
Former Stanford student Brock Turner Photo: Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department / Handout via REUTERS

Rosemary MacCabe

“I've never been raped, but...”

“I thought it was my fault.”

“I can't even remember.”

“I should never have got so drunk.”

There is a marked difference, stratified neatly along gender lines, between responses, when you talk about feminism, rape culture and casual (or not-so-casual) sexual harassment. Last week, in answer to a (well-meaning, I'm sure) question as to why I often seemed so “anti-men”, I took to Twitter to set out my stall, in a series of tweets that have reached more than 140,000 people.

The Storify version ( has been read more than 4,000 times.

The responses came in thick and fast – at first, from women who'd had similar experiences and, later, when the anti-feminists woke up, from men who took umbrage at the fact that I'd dared to implicate them in this idea of rape culture that, apparently, I totally made up.

That's not the only thing I made up, mind you. Apparently, I've never been cat-called, because, who would cat call this face (accompanied by a photograph taken of me at a speaking engagement, when I was, fittingly, telling the audience how important it is to be your authentic self online)? No one's ever groped my bottom, because it's too fat to be grope-able. The story of my rape – by a friend who wouldn't take no for an answer – is a fiction. “Wishful thinking”, apparently.

There was cold comfort in the fact that proof of my declaration – that rape culture is capitalised upon by some men, and allowed to exist, by others – was in the pudding of latent misogyny contained in my Twitter mentions.

I'm a c***; I'm a whore; I'm a bitch; I have no right to use my experiences to make grand, sweeping generalisations about men.

The funny thing is, it wasn't about men at all – it was about the fact that, for women, sexual harassment and assault have become as much a part of Irish life as the rain, or waiting 20 minutes for a bus and seeing two come at once.

In a way, it was a theory, based on the fact that, to a certain extent, my new Twitter friends are right. I have never been the most attractive woman in the room, on the street, or in the bar. I haven't been harassed because I am irresistible; I have been harassed because I am female and, by that logic, so has every other human being with breasts, a vagina and an abundance of estrogen.

The emails I have received since have proved that theory. I got one from a 22-year-old, who was first abused at the age of six by an older male cousin. Just last year, she was sexually assaulted by a former boss outside the pub they worked in together.

Another, from a 40-something woman who had been raped by a friend of a friend at a party, 21 years ago. Then there's the 30-something whose great uncle copped a feel at a family gathering when she was 16; the 25-year-old who was punched by a man in a bar when, after he put a hand up her skirt, she pushed him away; a 30-year-old who went out drinking last week and woke up to find a man she knew having “painful” sex with her (that's rape, then), asking how she should tell her boyfriend – and whether she was at fault.

In the meantime, The Irish Times published an opinion piece by their business correspondent, detailing how the feminists on Twitter – “angry chickens who have armed themselves with machine guns” – are just approaching this all wrong. “You want the word about unwanted harassment to be heard by men? Then do it through other men.”

These “other men” are the “not”s in the #notallmen trope: the men who baulk at the idea that they have anything to do with the perpetuation of rape culture; the men who would consider themselves feminists, if it wasn't for those angry extremists on Twitter; the men who have never raised a finger to a woman, and know that no means no.

It's all so confusing, right? Because, when you boil it all down, we're on the same team. Rape is wrong. Sexual assault is wrong. Casual sexual harassment is also wrong. But somehow, when you package these facts up in a neat female package, throw in some lived experiences and a little anger (wouldn't you be angry?), you're the feminist equivalent of a cartoon thug.

This outrage – the “how very dare they” – has its roots in the oldest misogyny of all: the idea that women should be seen and not heard, that an angry woman is an ugly woman and that an ugly woman is a useless woman, our value being, after all, tied up precisely in how attractive we appear to the opposite sex.

Perhaps the biggest upset of all is the fact that, for a certain breed of modern woman – “the ones who monopolise the oxygen in debates on Twitter”, like Tara Flynn, Louise O'Neill and Sarah Maria Griffin – that's no longer a big concern. We don't particularly care if you think our anger unsightly. We don't particularly care if you think us unattractive.

We don't particularly care if you take offence at the very insinuation that men – innocent men, feminist men – could, y'know, help by speaking up when those other men (not all men) treat us like objects, ignore our obvious discontent, and disregard any notion of consent when considering their entitlement to our bodies.

Instead, just sit back, say nothing and boo-hoo into your hankies about how we're tarring you all with the same angry, feminist brush. Because that's really helpful. Don't mind us; we'll just be out here, calling out the sexism and misogyny to which we are subjected on a daily basis and, as a result, being subjected to more sexism and misogyny.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Online Editors

Editors Choice

Also in this section