The New Statesman: No, Feminists aren’t scared to write about the Cologne Attacks


As always, I’ve cut some material out of these quotes. Feel free to read the full article, or just to rest assured that I haven’t left out anything significant.

One of the occupational hazards of writing a column – apart from a slow but inevitable ballooning of the ego – is being told off for all the columns you haven’t written.

Which brings me to a question I have been asked recently: why haven’t I written about the Cologne attacks? Women reported a string of sexual assaults in the German city on New Year’s Eve, with many of the perpetrators said to be of “Arab or North African origin”. The story became inextricably linked to Europe’s debate about refugees.There is now no doubt something awful happened that night.

On 18 January, a 26-year-old Algerian asylum-seeker became the first person to be arrested over the sexual assaults; nearly a dozen other men have been arrested on charges of robbery. However, not all recent claims of migrant violence have stood up to scrutiny: a 13-year-old girl who claimed she had been kidnapped and raped by “Middle Eastern” migrants later retracted the story, saying she had invented it to avoid punishment for skipping school.

This fuzziness was my initial reason for not wading in. The reports were sketchy, in a language I abandoned after GCSEs half a lifetime ago, and from the start it was unclear if the attacks were perpetrated by existing migrants, new refugees, or even German citizens of Arab or North African origin. Besides, what did I have to offer beyond a straightforward condemnation?

Firstly, let’s be honest here, my dear – if there had been even 10 white males involved in the gang-banging of one woman, you would’ve been on that like flies on soup. Even if the details were fuzzy, even if you had nothing to offer. And if you, personally, are more principled, that doesn’t change the fact that most feminist writers would not have been. (Duke Lacrosse; we know there wasn’t enough detail because they were acquitted, but that didn’t stop anyone from speaking now did it?)

By the way, the 13-year-old girl is now believed to have had ‘consensual sex’ with 2 20-year-old Turkish men. Considering that the original story only came out because a different country’s media reported on it, is it so weird to believe that German authorities might be trying to downplay what really happened? No doubt they think it’s to avoid causing racist attacks against immigrants or similar.

As a feminist, I am opposed to all sexual harassment. I’ve been writing on and off for five years about internet abuse and how that puts off women from participating in discussions online.

Yet, for many, that simply won’t do. It is not enough to say that misogyny comes in many forms, and is depressingly ­universal across cultures and history. We have to cordon off the Cologne attacks; erect a little white tent around the crime scene and give thanks that we are safely outside it. Ah, how blissful it is, here on the outside, where the person most likely to kill a woman is her intimate partner, and where 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped every year.

That’s because it isn’t. Nothing like this has ever happened in the recorded history of a western country; saying ‘misogyny is universal’ hardly cuts it. That’s like dismissing a mass murder, because an asshole cut you in line at Starbucks and therefore ‘assholery is universal!’ The fact that your main concern is ‘internet abuse’; sexual harassment which occurs only in situations where the recipient’s physical safety is almost 100% assured, really ought to tell you something about your priorities.

85,000 women’s a lot, but compared to the sheer scope of the population…well, we can do better, but we’re doing pretty well already, you know? And by the way, who’s most likely to kill a man? My guess:his intimate partner.

And that brings me to the other reason I didn’t want to write about the Cologne attacks. All the people who piously enquired as to whether I, as a feminist, had “anything to say” about them didn’t really care whether I did or not. They wanted me to say what they wanted to hear: that Muslims are uniquely sexist, and that letting in refugees from Muslim-majority countries will mean rolling back women’s rights and importing the worst excesses of sharia law to the streets of Coventry. Unless Western liberals wake up, Islamists will be chopping off hands outside Pret A Manger by 2018.

No, they wanted to hear you either say that, or explain precisely why it is not true in no uncertain terms. After all, it certainly seems true and that should leave you outraged and writing opinion piece after opinion piece. Either condemn it like you would for white people or explain why not; that was what people wanted. Of course, they knew it was impossible to do the second, but here you are trying so I guess that wasn’t an unreasonable request after all.

To put it politely, this is not the framing in which any reasonable conversation about women’s rights can happen. First, the terms are too vague: is the problem Muslims (all one billion of them)? Or men from specific countries? Or just “brown men” or “foreigners”? Without identifying the problem, there is little hope of a solution.

Muslim migrants from North Africa and underdeveloped Muslim countries in the Middle East. Also, instead of complaining that the problem hasn’t been identified yet, why don’t you help identify it?

Then there is the musty undertone of paternalism mixed with white supremacy. When Dylann Roof stormed a historically black church in South Carolina, one of his grievances was that “you rape our women, and you’re taking over our country”. This formulation – “our women” – was also used by Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League, after the New Year’s Eve attacks. Reread the commentary on Cologne and count how much concern is expressed for migrant women, shackled for life to these attackers, or for the families that unaccompanied male migrants have left behind to live in poverty. You won’t find much. In this formulation, the problem is not that certain men are misogynist; it’s that the targets of their misogyny belong to someone else. To me, the unspoken coda to “You rape our women” is always “. . . and that’s our job”.

Hang on, if my grievance against someone is that ‘you punched me in the face’, is the unspoken coda ‘and that’s my job’? Where are you getting this nonsense from? Great Flying Spaghetti Monster in the Sky, save us…

As for the migrant women…No, I have great sympathy for them as well. But there’s a fundamental problem here, namely that I cannot do much about it, though I have tried. The only solution to that problem is either the largest military invasion the world has ever known, or a mass-level reformation of culture…the first is a non-starter and I can’t see how to effect the second. At least I’m a Westerner; even if I knew enough about the cultures of those countries to change them, people generally don’t listen to outsiders about how to change their own ways of life.

You can see this most clearly in the rhetoric of the self-described men’s rights activists, whose usual response to allegations of sexual assault is disbelief. (Their websites are full of accusations that women routinely lie about rape.) And yet, in the case of Cologne, they have become instant converts to #ibelieveher. Why? Because this allows them implicitly to reproach Western feminists for not seeming grateful enough to men for allowing them the freedoms they currently enjoy. In this way, women’s ability to walk safely in public is cast not as a fundamental human right, but as a special privilege, nobly granted to them by European men.

Actually, Dean Esmay is still denying this shit, god bless his dumb-ass heart.

Regardless, a mob of 1,000 men is hard to make up, especially with eyewitness testimony aplenty. And the women who were assaulted didn’t take to Twitter, they went to the police. Sure, it could be fake, but all signs point to it being real – at some point, you gotta decide ‘OK, we know enough’ and go in, or you’ll never be able to report on anything.

What really convinces me, though? In the aftermath of the attacks, the female mayor of Cologne said that, in order to avoid future attacks, women should keep ‘a certain distance of more than an arm’s length’ from male strangers. Now, that’s an insanely risky thing to say, and as the mayor of Cologne, she knows more than anyone what really went down on that night. Why would she say that shit, unless she knew it was necessary?

At the women’s charity where I volunteer, there is a poster that says: “She’s someone’s daughter, sister, mother.” All the qualifiers are crossed out, leaving the simple statement: “She’s someone.” Each of the women attacked in Cologne was someone. What matters is not that “they” attacked “our” women, but that the patriarchy and male violence endemic across the world took a particular and extreme form that night in Germany. And so I parry the accusation of hypocrisy against me with one of my own: if your interest in misogynist violence starts and ends with Cologne, you don’t really care about women at all.

OK, so you appear to have misunderstood how humanity works.


It’s not saying that ‘women in and of themselves are unimportant’. It’s acknowledging that PEOPLE in and of themselves are unimportant (i’ve seen ‘son, brother, father too). It’s attempting to establish a connection between you and that person by emphasizing that this person is similar to you in a way you really care about, basically that they have a connection to their mom or their kids or their siblings, just like you! It can also be used to remind someone that, if this person is hurt, there are people that will be really torn up about it besides just that person.

My interest in misogynist violence always exists, but in Cologne was the most shocking incident of it in the Western world (the place that I control most and make my home in and is important to me), and also the one least talked about by the people supposedly outraged by it, the one most suppressed by the authorities.

The New Statesman: No, Feminists aren’t scared to write about the Cologne Attacks

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