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‘Post-feminist’ or ‘pro-rape’ culture?

By Anastasia Powell and Sheree Cartwright - posted Monday, 16 November 2009

We have been described as living in a post-feminist age: a time of “girl power” where young women are empowered to negotiate sex on their own terms. Today’s young women (like many young men) are free to actively embrace their sexuality, and to put their bodies on display without fear of sullying their reputation or experiencing sexual taunts and violence. They aim to determine their own reality and reject constructs imposed by society’s expectations.

The F-word has long been described as irrelevant to today’s young woman, who avidly exclaims “I’m not a feminist, but …”

“But …” is right. In last Monday’s edition of The Age (November 9, 2009) it was reported that a group of past and present students of the University of Sydney had set up a “pro-rape” page on Facebook describing themselves as “anti-consent”. Yet the public Facebook site (which has since been closed down) is apparently just one part of a larger counter-culture that is associated with the sexual assaults of several young women.


Of course, those working in sexual assault services know that young women’s experiences of sexual assault and other forms of sexual harassment and violence remain remarkably common across mainstream Australian society. According to Victoria Police statistics it is young women aged 16 to 20, and 21 to 25, who are the most likely to experience sexual assault.

Meanwhile, national victimisation survey results from the Australian Institute of Criminology show that a third of Australian women have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. For more than 30 years we have known that women are most likely to experience sexual assault at the hands of a known man, such as a boyfriend, friend or acquaintance, rather than at the hands of a stranger.

In addition to these appalling levels of forced sex, young women also commonly report experiencing unwanted sex, with a recent survey from the Australian Research Centre in Health, Sex and Society reporting that 38 per cent of young women have experienced sex that was unwanted (an increase of 10 per cent from the previous survey), and often as a result of pressure from a sexual partner.

For decades, the women’s movement has lobbied to improve laws to protect women from sexual assault, and to change societal attitudes that condone or ignore violence against women.

Yet, in the same month as White Ribbon Day (November 25), a campaign driven largely by men to raise awareness of and prevent men’s violence against women, the revelation that some young men are actively promoting rape defies belief. That any group of men could proudly describe themselves as “anti-consent” is shocking.

It might be comforting to some, to think that such attitudes exist only in a minority of groups or small pockets within society - or perhaps just touted in “comedic” fashion in shock films like Borat, which drew attention to some appalling attitudes of a group of young American men towards women. Comforting, but naïve. These issues and attitudes aren’t in the past, and they’re certainly not funny.


This latest “anti-consent” group may represent a rather extreme case, and thankfully there are many men who reject this attitude completely. However, ignorance regarding women’s sexual consent is also characteristic of a much larger set of attitudes and beliefs within mainstream Australian society.

Last month, we were shocked by a group of under 19s footballers charged with the rape of a young woman at Phillip Island. Meanwhile, we’ve become almost accustomed to reports of sexual “misconduct” including repeated alleged sexual assaults by Australian Football League and National Rugby League players.

But this is not just something that occurs in sporting groups or university “counter-cultures”.

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About the Authors

Anastasia Powell teaches in the School of Social Sciences at La Trobe University.

Sheree Cartwright is writing her Doctoral thesis in the School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning at RMIT University, on women’s paid work and family arrangements after childbirth.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Anastasia Powell
All articles by Sheree Cartwright

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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