A night of “Comedy without Misogyny” was organised in Nottingham last Thursday (7th Feb). Cathy Meadows talks to local organiser Becci Heagney about the event and the campaign.
What prompted you to organise around this issue?
There has been an increase in comments made by politicians, people in the media and stand-up comedians that either trivialise rape and sexual assault or try to categorise ‘different types’ with some being less serious than others. All violence against women is serious. The Slutwalk movement was an inspirational one in making a stand against victim blaming which is a big issue when it comes to rape. The victim is never to blame and this is something that needs to be challenged.
Where did you start in terms of organising?
The first step was to contact groups who might, on the one hand, be interested in supporting the campaign, and on the other, we could find out more from about the situation facing women. So as this campaign was set up by Socialist Students, we contacted the Students’ Union Women’s Officers at the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University who were both keen to get their Women’s Networks behind the campaign. We also went to Nottingham Women’s Centre which is an amazing place that provides classes and groups for all kinds of women across the city and also lets out space in its building to Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid. They fully supported to campaign and helped a lot with publicising it.
Where did the idea for the comedy night come from?
Jokes about rape is not the only issue, or even the most important issue, facing women in Britain today. However, it is one part of the sexism we face in our everyday lives. We know women are facing the brunt of the cuts to jobs and services, still face sexual harassment and unequal pay in the workplace, are objectified within the media and popular culture. But a comedian telling a joke about rape could be the thing that a woman will get the most angry about when it’s on top of everything else. We wanted to hold a night of comedy without misogyny to show that comedians can be funny without resorting to sexism.
Was the comedy night a success?
It was a big success! With a lot of help from people and groups around us, especially from the Nottinghamshire Trades Union Council which made a donation to help us fund the campaign, we had four comedians, various speakers and about 50 people at the event. The comedians all showed that comedy could challenge reactionary ideas in a progressive and funny way – including one fantastic impression of the Canadian police officer whose comment had sparked off the Slutwalk movement, complete with a moustache and police hat!
Speakers from Rape Crisis and Nottingham Women’s Centre outlined why they supported the campaign and also the challenges they are facing because of the funding cuts. Jackie Meht from Rape Crisis spoke passionately about how the minimum number of staff they have are being cut and how they rely mostly on volunteers. But she summed up the mood of the night well when she said, “We’re going to keep fighting it. We’ve been fighting for over 30 years and we’re not going to stop now!”
At the comedy night (photo Lewis Stainer)
Has anything else come out of the organising so far?
We’ve met a lot of good people who want to do more with the campaign. We have a public meeting next week to discuss how we can build a movement against rape, drawing on the protests in India and Egypt. Even though the campaign is about comedy, it’s also a campaign that can bring together different women from different places who all want to fight on these issues.
Why are socialists taking up this issue?
Socialists support this campaign because we realise that joking about rape in a way that blames the victim isn’t an isolated issue; it’s an attitude that permeates throughout society. This is because of the historical, inferior position of women in a class society. Women are treated in class society as objects that can be traded and are there for the benefit of men. Rape is one manifestation this, shown by how in Britain marital rape only became illegal in 1991 – as if by marrying someone you are giving consent forever. Rape jokes serve to add to a culture that sees violence against women as something inevitable if they act in a certain way. We want to fight all the cuts to the services that women rely on but we also want to fight to change attitudes towards women. If we are going to get rid of inequality altogether, working class men and women need to unite to change society and Rape is No Joke is one way we can work towards that.
Public meeting: Women Fighting Back! How do we build a movement against rape?
Wednesday, 13 February, 7pm International Community Centre, 61b Mansfield Road, Nottingham NG1 4FB
Women across the world, in Britain, the US, Egypt and India, are protesting and taking a stand against sexual harassment and assault – how can these protests be successful? What affect is austerity having on women? How can we organise to build a movement against sexism, discrimination and cuts?
All welcome to come and join the debate. Hosted by Rape is No Joke.