Sian Norris

FWSA eyeJim Davidson has won Celebrity Big Brother. Jim Davidson, a man who has an alleged history of intimate partner violence, and whose racist, sexist and homophobic “comedy” led to him being chucked off Celebrity Hell’s Kitchen in 2007.

Jim Davidson’s third wife alleged that within the first three months of their marriage he had blackened her eyes, damaged her ribs using training weights and kicked her down the stairs. But this abuse is given a free pass. The harm he has caused is ignored. His career continues, the money pours in, and those who dare to mention his history are told to let it go, it’s in the past.

On Saturday, the Guardian wrote a long and loving article about Mike Tyson.  His conviction and imprisonment for raping a woman was brushed off as ‘distressing problems with women’. Since his release from prison, Tyson has become a cult figure, starring in TV shows and movies, going on a book tour and all the while ensuring that his rape conviction is not spoken out loud. Those of us who say this is at very best ‘problematic’ are shouted down, are told he served his time. We’re told we should just let it go.

On Sunday morning I woke up to find an abusive tweet in my @ mentions because I had, in the past, called Ched Evans a rapist. For the record, the courts found Ched Evans guilty of rape and sentenced him to jail. He is a rapist. But the fact that he raped a young woman doesn’t prevent his legions of fans from trying to intimidate and silence anyone who points this out.

These are just three examples of violent, abusive men being lauded, celebrated and defended in one week. Throughout the year you will see many others, while the women they abused are silenced and ignored. These men will receive their awards, will win their popularity contests, and will take home large cheques. Their violence will be ignored and brushed aside. Those of us who talk about it will be accused of being ranty feminists who need to let it go.

When feminists talk about rape culture, this is (in part) what we’re talking about. We’re talking about a culture that excuses, forgives, minimises and ignores men who commit violence against women and girls, and – in these cases – celebrates them as cultural icons.

Rape culture works like this. No one is going to say rape and violence against women are good things. Look under an article about violence against women on CIF or the Mail Online, and everyone will say ‘of course, rape is an abhorrent act’. And then comes the inevitable ‘but’. Because when faced with a man who is popular, a fun guy who everyone likes or even loves to hate, and who is then revealed to be an abuser of women, people become confused. They have to find a way to bring together their obvious abhorrence of violence against women, and their fondness of this abusive man. So instead, they find ways to minimise the violence. They say that Polanski didn’t commit ‘rape rape’. They say that the woman Ched Evans raped was drunk. They say that Tyson served his time. They say that Jim Davidson’s marriage broke down a long time ago. By doing this, they can maintain that balance of still knowing that ‘violence against women is bad’ while defending the man they admire.

Meanwhile, as they make these mental gymnastics to absolve male violence, the victims and survivors are silenced and forgotten about. Their experience and the impact of the violence inflicted upon them is dismissed as insignificant. Some go so far in their defence of male abusers as to say that it is in fact worse to be the accused than the victim or survivor. The Grammy awards even counted themselves as the true victims when Chris Brown beat up Rihanna, as his crime meant they couldn’t invite him to perform for at least two years.

This is rape culture in action. And the impact goes further. By ignoring or absolving or excusing the actions of violent men in the public eye, we send the message that if you beat, rape or abuse a woman it doesn’t matter. You can still be a cult hero. You can still win Oscars. You can still have fans willing to abuse other women on your behalf. We send the message to violent men who aren’t famous that their behaviour isn’t so bad. That they can probably get away with it too. Which of course, with a conviction rate of 6.5% and around 90,000 rapes a year, most violent men will.

When popular men, famous men, love-to-hate men, talented men in the public eye abuse women, our culture closes ranks. We move in to protect them from the feminists who dare to point out their violence, their abuse. Articles are written where the rape is never mentioned. Popularity contests are won because the abuse no longer matters. A man who allegedly beat his partner so viciously that she requested a restraining order against him  is described as someone who ‘genuinely likes women’. Our culture protects them, as we develop a conspiracy of silence that hides the truth of their abuse.

This is what rape culture looks like. Jim Davidson winning Big Brother is what we mean, when as feminists we say that our culture doesn’t care about violence against women. Rape culture is when abusive men’s behaviour gets a free pass, and the women they abuse are silenced, mocked, belittled or become victims of further violence themselves.

It’s not good enough.

Sian Norris

Sian Norris is a writer and feminist activist who blogs at Her first novel, Greta and Boris: a daring rescue was published in April 2013 by Our Street books. She is a founding member of the Bristol Feminist Network and the founder of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival. Her writing has been published at the Guardian, The F Word, Fresh Outlook, Liberal Conspiracy and Rockfeedback.