Zaush, Rape Culture, and Me

10 Mar 2014 |

Seventeen years ago, at about this time of year, a female friend publicly accused me of hitting her.

There was a party at the house I shared with four others, and she was invited. At the end of the night she came into my bedroom. And a couple of hours later, she called a friend of mine, very upset, saying that I'd hit her. She probably told other people as well; I don't know.

But I didn't hit her. We didn't even make physical contact. She was lying.

Here's what happened next.

Short answer: nothing negative, to me at least.

Long answer:

This isn't something I've ever really talked about, let alone explained in detail. It's not easy. I'm going to try to use direct language as much as possible. Let's call my accuser S.

About a year earlier, S was a housemate in the same house. She and I struck up a friendship, and we slept together a few times. It wasn't a friends-with-benefits situation, nor were we in a relationship: it was somewhere in the middle. It fizzled out and she moved out soon afterwards.

The next time I saw S was at the party. We didn't really talk to one another until after I went to my bedroom. She let herself in; said "why don't we talk anymore"; I said something to the effect of "this isn't the time or place for this conversation" and walked out. She left, and that was it until I heard about her accusation the next day.

And then a surprising thing happened. Nobody treated me any differently. I protested my innocence to people who asked, and people believed me.

Over time, S became an object of derision. My friends decided that she was upset because she "didn't get any". When they mentioned her in conversation, she would be called a "fat slut" or a "crazy bitch".

At the time, it was a relief to be trusted. In hindsight, how can it be, in a he-said-she-said situation, that the accuser is considered to be wrong by default, and the accused presumed innocent? Of course my friends would be more inclined to believe me due to our pre-existing relationship, but why I am so unquestionably trustworthy, and why is S so untrustworthy?

The answer comes down, fundamentally, to sexism. This particular case could be seen to be an example of rape culture, a broad term that describes how society tacitly permits or excuses sexual assault.

In the case of me and S, there was no suggestion of rape or sexual assault, but the situation had a definite sexual flavour. The thought processes of my friends can be seen in the language they used. S's behaviour can be distilled down to two "bad" traits: being interested in having sex, and expressing emotions.

Women often find themselves in a bind when it comes to sexuality. If a women presents herself as sexual being, she risks being characterized by men as a 'slut'. Conversely, if she refuses to present herself as a sexual being, she is just as quickly characterized as 'frigid'. Even in 2014, sex is a taboo topic for women in many environments.

This frigid/slut dichotomy can be clearly seen in a lot of popular movies. Consider a mainstream film, with a male lead who has a female love interest. There is a good chance that the female love interest will be, simultaneously, both sexy and chaste. Typically, she will wear sexy clothing and flirt with our hero, but also have no apparent sex life outside of their sexy banter.

Example: Carly Spencer from 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon

S's sexuality was one target of my friends' jibes. Their language implies that she did something wrong simply by being interested in sex.

Zaush does this too, when he defends himself against allegations of sexual assault, such as in this tweet.

A widely-circulated screencap, click for source
A widely-circulated screencap of Zaush's Twitter, click for source

Here, Zaush implies that the sex is evidence that his accuser has done something wrong. He also writes as if he is a passive victim in the whole affair, reinforcing the idea that sex is something that women "give" and men "get".

The second "bad" trait that my friends noted in S's behaviour, further demonstrating that she can't be trusted, is that she was upset. S expressed emotions, so she is presumed to be 'crazy', as if this were some guaranteed biological outcome of the condition of being female. This is another catch-22, where women who don't express emotions can be accused of being 'ice-queens'. (Men, of course, are either passionate or pragmatic.)

I'm quite confident, that had I actually hit S, my friends would have concluded that she 'drove me to it'. They probably would have used rationalizing language like Zaush does:

Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 1.38.00 pm

Notice how, in these two tweets, Zaush presents himself as the completely logical victim of a 'crazy' woman. At no point does he take any responsibility, and nor does he in any of the myriad journals and other written records I've seen.

This creates a lose-lose-lose situation for women who are sexually assaulted. If they make an outright accusation, like S, they aren't believed. If they make a vague accusation, perhaps without naming names or going into detail, they can be accused of spreading malicious rumour. And if they say nothing at all, as some of Zaush's alleged victims have chosen to do, then people will assume that nothing happened.

It's through this final option, where women who are assaulted choose to stay silent (perhaps because of the abuse they risk receiving if they speak up), that sexual assault becomes invisible. And then it becomes easy to assume that sexual assault doesn't exist, or at least is vanishingly rare.

In Zaush's case, the primary accusation against him was made in a private conversation, and not mentioned in any public forum. The accusation only came to light when FA's private messages were leaked. So even though the accusation was detailed, specific, and made in private, the accuser was still presumed to be lying by many furries.

Further, she cited several other women who had experienced similar problems with Zaush—again, aired only in a private message. The fact that these women have not publicly accused Zaush is seen by some as 'proof' that these attacks never took place. But of course, if they did come forward, they too would be discredited with the twin sins of having sexual desire and of having emotions.

This is rape culture, and even if it sounds like an OTT term to some ears, what it describes is very real. Nobody thinks that rape is acceptable, and everyone would like for rape and sexual assault to never happen. But the culture of many male-dominated spaces, including furry, creates an environment that forgives the assaulters, and facilitates future assaults.

A further example of rape culture is the number of people who will believe that an accusation of rape or sexual assault may be false. False accusations are incredibly rare: a study by the UK Crown Prosecution Service found only 35 false allegations of rape (out of 5,561 prosecutions), and just 6 false allegations of domestic assault (out of 111,891 prosecutions)*.

* Ref Violence against Women and Girls Report 2012-013

Of course, there are no statistics available for informal accusations, such as those levelled against myself and against Zaush. However those statistics show very clearly that false accusations are very unusual... and yes, I accept the irony of that statement given that I was falsely accused.

The challenges faced by women who have been assaulted is worse in a male-dominated community like furry (we have about 4 men for every woman). This isn't to say that all men (or all women) think the same way, just that the preponderance of men puts increased focus on the male point-of-view.

In hindsight, I think that S accused me of assaulting her because she wanted to hurt me. I had unwittingly hurt her.

I'm (fundamentally) gay. The affair that S and I had was unbalanced: for me, it was little more than casual sex with a friend. It's fair to guess that she had romantic feelings towards me, and I certainly did nothing to contradict that idea. I find it hard to read my own motivations, but maybe I was just trying to avoid conflict, or maybe I trying to prove to myself that was heterosexual after all.

I probably let her believe that there was a relationship on the horizon, and it would have been a painful process as she slowly learned that was never going to happen. Perhaps she was still optimistic on the night of the party.

I don't want to be too hard on myself, because I was young and I didn't have the slightest clue what I was doing. And the same goes for S, and her accusation: her actions were about as reasonable and sophisticated as my own.

I don't think I, on the cusp of 40, would treat someone so poorly nowadays (although I suspect there are one or two people who might beg to differ). At the very least, I think that my actions (and S's actions) are forgivable. I hold no grudge against S but I remain sorry for the way I treated her.

And my sexist, rapey friends? They aren't my friends anymore. Nowadays I spend my time with furries. We're an imperfect bunch, and as a group we have a long way to go to make our community a safe place for women. But I think that we're improving.