“I genuinely believe – this won’t go down well, but – if you walk into Battersea Dogs Home with your legs covered in prime rump steak, you cannot complain if you get bitten.” – Kate Copstick
Out of context, it’s a pretty gauche opinion. When you attribute it to a discussion about rape it’s disturbing. Just as horrifying, is that it’s come from the mouth of a respected comedy critic for a national newspaper. What’s more – she’s a woman.
Kate Copstick is something of a ‘big deal’ in the comedy world; when she’s not making caustic statements about rape, she’s a serious arts journalist. With her longtime gig as a reviewer for The Scotsman, and a reputation for being a bit of a gob, people pay attention to what she has to say.
With this penchant for saying the unsayable comes a certain hubris. A sense of being bulletproof. The idea that you can say what you want and there’s sod all anyone else can do about it. This reckless imperviousness flapped its wings this Fringe on Russell Kane’s festival chat show, where she savaged award-winning comedian Sarah Millican, saying “If she wasn’t a Geordie, she’d be told to ‘go away, lose weight and come back when you’re funny.’” Aside from the visible repressed outrage from Kane and his co-host, it disgusted fans and fellow comics alike. Why? Because it’s a crap opinion. When you lay into another woman because of her appearance, you’re not critiquing; you’re bullying. It’s got as much depth and relevance as a jibe fromMean Girls. What’s more, is if this had come from a bloke, he’d be shot down in flames.
It’s time for a bit of equality. Time to be held accountable for your actions, regardless of gender, or status, or just plain stupidity. There are millions of young women desperate for cultural leaders to teach them about self worth, tolerance and about compassion.
What are we gaining by poking at someone’s weight? That’s pernicious enough, but it’s an altogether bigger deal when you start making indiscriminate generalisations about men, women, and sexual responsibility. “One word [rape] covers both someone who is wandering along a road and some person completely unknown to her leaps out – which must be horrendous and terrifying and it’s not about sex, it’s about violence. It’s a very specific form of assault… That is one thing… That is horrendous… But then there’s some twat of a 19-year-old who dolls herself up, covers herself in make-up, goes out, gets shit-faced, gets a guy, gets more shit-faced, takes him back to her place or goes back to his place, takes some items of clothing off, starts playing tonsil hockey, has her nipples twiddled, starts playing the horizontal tango … It’s too fucking late to start complaining. It’s not his fault any more. You can’t go Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes – Oh! –No! – It’s not fair.”
It’s crass enough to summarise rape with a dog analogy, but to assume that a woman is begging for it because of her outfit, her locale, or the fact that she had a drink is missing the point somewhat. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s time to smother the notion that skirt-length or vodka jellies transfer culpability. These details are irrelevant in comparison to the act of a man physically putting his penis inside a woman when she does not want it there. It’s time to acknowledge that it’s okay if at some point in the night you think, ‘Hey, I’m not so sure about this’ – for any reason. Our vaginas don’t come with a sense of duty. Changing your mind is still a no. No is not an ambiguous sentiment. It’s not some Robin Thicke-flavoured word that we throw around to be coy. It means don’t. We need to teach women that we have that power.
WHAT ABOUT TEACHING CONSENT? WHAT ABOUT DISCUSSING SEXUAL AUTONOMY? HOW ABOUT WE STOP TELLING GIRLS HOW TO DRESS, AND START TELLING MEN NOT TO RAPE?
We need to recognise that rape is gruesome however it happens; be it a stranger, someone you know or even a partner. Imagine the horror of waking up sore, and that sickening feeling when you discover there’s a good chance you were sexually assaulted whilst non compos mentis? There are no degrees of realness; rape is rape.
Not only is this mindset back-to-the-futuring the women’s rights movement by at least a hundred years, it’s doing a hell of a disservice to men. While entirely derogating half the population, it simultaneously nurtures engendered stereotypes that ‘justify’ reprehensible actions. Are men really animals, impervious to controlling themselves at the sight of skin or arc of a breast? Are they fundamentally powerless to decide where their sex organs go? Are we hostages in our own bodies, wandering around in a state of pre-rape, solely determined by our diligent efforts to bat off attackers? Also, if you’re raped, does that mean you didn’t try hard enough to stop it? This attitude essentially de-genders us and divides us into two categories: victims and criminals, where the former has to make allowances for the latter. Women are helpless and responsible; all men are evil and waiting for you to slip up. This is not real.
How can we still permit such a fundamental lack of respect? For men, yes, but mostly for women. When you spout the same sort of tired rhetoric as the fossils in the Steubenville or Norwood rape cases, you’re underlining the entrenched prejudices that bridle us to the past. Chaining us to fear and fiction. You’re fortifying the myth that we coordinate our own abuse with our actions. You’re reinforcing that we women are inferior. That we are incapable of making decisions. That our bodies are currency. That we should fear men. This is the same danced-around responsibility we put on the shoulders of our daughters as soon as they’re old enough to take notice of boys. What about teaching consent? What about discussing sexual autonomy? How about we stop telling girls how to dress, and start telling men not to rape?
It’s time to take rape seriously. To empower victims. To give them the confidence to act without fear of reprisal – not only from the judicial system, but from other men and women picking apart their actions and victim-blaming. We need to give women the confidence to report crimes without worrying that everyone thinks like Copstick.
Comedy is moving on from this, just like the rest of the world. In a year when Adrienne Truscott and Bridget Christie claimed the big Fringe prizes with unabashed celebrations of feminism, it’s beyond disappointing to hear such morally bankrupt contrivances spilling out of one of the most exalted critics in the business. It’s not even misguided Joan-of-Arc-ing; not some sort of perceived martyrdom with Cosptick speaking for the silent. It’s just a frighteningly bad opinion. And much like the Sarah Millican comments, it’s utterly irrelevant. The time has come to take a stance against damaging attitudes. We need to embrace progressive voices and stop giving mileage to vestiges of an era we’re doing our best to forget.