This year’s NME Awards garnered more attention and more controversy than usual. Everyone and their dog has put their two cents into what they felt went down that night, but it also raised a larger question about accountability in incidences of sexism and what The Perfect Victim actually is.
Northampton based rapper Slowthai (nope, me neither) came under fire for acting like your average drunk dickhead at the event despite winning the coveted Hero of the Year award. He spouted nonsense into the mic, tried to physically kick off on an audience member, but most noticeably got a little fresh and a little creepy with one of the award show’s hosts, Katherine Ryan.
“Babygirl, I don’t want to have to do this to you right now, but everybody – she needs to understand the levels right now,” the 25-year-old slurred to the 36-year-old comedian, adding “If you want to do something, see me later,” before staggering off stage.
In this age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, the leery, culturally accepted actions of men that (mainly) women have long put up with have been starting to get questioned. If you behave like a twat, you should expect to have backlash for it. But what I am struggling to come to terms with is that people were indeed handing out backlash in the wake of the 67th NME Awards… but to Katherine Ryan?
Personally, I adore Katherine Ryan. I’ve seen her live, I’m familiar with her work and I even quote her on a regular basis like a proper geek. The panel show prom queen is fierce, quick and absolutely takes no prisoners, so I was not surprised when she came out on Twitter to say that she really didn’t feel like a victim at all.
“He didn’t make me uncomfortable. This is why we need women in positions of power. I knew he had lost from the moment he opened his mouth like any heckler coming up against a COMIC – not a woman – a COMIC. I was operating 2/10. What a sweet boy. I defused it.”, she tweeted after the incident.
If Katherine Ryan does not feel the need to call herself a victim that is a good thing. It takes any power out of what Slowthai did, it makes him the loser, it bounces off her skin like raindrops on a rock. He also didn’t commit a crime, such as sexually assaulting or raping her, and from what I can find out about the ordeal, he wasn’t pursuant or relentless after Katherine shut him down. If you vomit in the pub, you’ll get barred, you might have to pay for refurb, and the locals are absolutely going to judge and hate you… but you don’t get sent to prison.
Slowthai’s actions were shitty. Not so shitty as, say, Prince Andrew having legitimate ties and suspected custom with a sex trafficker and convicted sex offender (which as far as I am aware, nobody in the royal family has publicly commented on or condemned). Not as gross as Joe Exotic preying on vulnerable young men and forcing them to reject their true sexuality. Also not so shitty as the literal President of the United States having a real recording credited to him where he literally says “just start kissing them … I don’t even wait” and “grab ’em by the pussy” (which Donald Trump has claimed was merely ‘locker-room talk’ and faced zero consequences or investigation into this jarring advice that he himself gave on tape).
But Slowthai’s the one that everybody is talking about. Slowthai is still shitty, I don’t deny that. So why did everyone start saying Katherine was the one at fault?
After Katherine Ryan tweeted about how unfazed she was at the rapper’s creepiness, a lot of people vocalised their disappointment with her. Many responders believed that while Katherine may not have felt uncomfortable, another person could have, and she therefore had a responsibility to call out Slowthai’s behavior. Other people felt that Katherine was essentially giving a free pass to any men behaving similarly in the future, as the comedian had unwittingly approved that for the rest of time, this leeriness and all the escalations that can potentially come with it, are absolutely fine and nobody has any business to ever be upset about it.
What. The Fuck.
Katherine Ryan is a comedian. She is not a police officer. She is not a law maker. She is a ballsy entertainer who responded to an incident that happened to her as she saw fit. This situation happened to her, it is up to her to decide how she personally feels about it and up to her to decide how she wants to respond to it.
Slowthai was the one was behaved abhorrently. Not Katherine. That is all that should come into it when you decide who you should be gunning for. If you need a specific reaction in order to condemn an objectively shitty action, you are pretty much part of the problem.
The whole incident got me thinking about victimisation and what society believes a true victim consists of.
I believe Katherine Ryan got so much flack because she did not behave how a victim ‘should’. Society is unconsciously built like a script for a pantomime; everybody has their roles, and everybody is expected to behave in an almost formulaic manner, and if you don’t play your part correctly then you specifically deserve all the bad press that should be shared among the cast. Slowthai behaved like a perfect villain and nobody panicked. Katherine Ryan didn’t behave like a perfect female victim and everybody grabbed their pitchforks. And, scene!
Victims are not supposed to look or behave a certain way. Countless psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals can confirm that. However, through constant affirmation and subconscious indoctrination in media, law enforcement and cultural behavior, people do genuinely believe there is a ‘right’ way to behave like a victim and a ‘wrong’ way.
The Perfect Victim is typically female or a child. This is even tenuously used as an excuse in the victim selection process in torture-porn horror flick Martyrs (2008). Women and children are weaker, dumber and co-dependent. It’s why they get to flee the Titanic first and why their tragic stories sell better in those magazines you only lower yourself to read at a hair salon. Children are so little and fragile, and us ladies constantly need rescuing. Please help us, we are so useless without you big, burly men.
Women are also very delicate and emotional, so when we inevitably become a victim of some awful affair, the expected responses and attributes of the victim are –
- Good-looking but in an accessible way so as not to cause jealousy
- White. Ethnic minorities bring it on themselves and steal everybody’s jobs
- Middle-class. Poor people also bring it on themselves but we all get a bit ‘French Revolution’ and gleeful when something bad happens to one of the elite. Striking a balance is ideal
- Humble and afflicted presence to gather mass pity, but without looking like you want it
- Co-operative and automatically trusting of anybody who wants to help
- Domestic but also a little bit professional. If you don’t have a family you must be selfish, if you don’t have a job you must be lazy, if your husband is the one who stays at home with the kids you are stripping away his manhood which is mean
- Straight and cisgender. If you are a transwoman then you’re weird already and if you’re not a heterosexual woman then you are selfishly robbing the world of your sole, true purpose which is to let straight men put a baby in you
- Bonus points if you are disabled, but only visibly disabled and you have to be really upset about it all the time
This is what makes The Perfect Victim. And this, of course, is all total bollocks.
Anyone can be a victim and therefore anyone who is telling you something awful has happened to them and they don’t like or agree with it should be treated with sympathy and respect. Likewise, if you believe something that happened to someone else is awful, it’s not up to you to decide if they are a victim or not.
There is no right way for a victim to act because every person is an individual. Where one person might cry, another person would get angry. One person might be stoic about their plight, whereas another would be dramatic and intense about it. This is a point that especially needs to be hammered home when it comes to how we treat women who have been a victim, because for some reason, the general rule of thumb in treating women seems to be ‘Find one woman who wants to be treated ‘x’ way and apply rule to every woman you ever meet regardless of what they tell you’.
We are not all the fucking same. This is a very boring point to keep having to reiterate, and I believe most of us would let it slide if it wasn’t dangerous, but believing there is a correct and incorrect way for all women to act in a crisis is very very dangerous.
I think about the case of Angelika Graswald as an example of this. There is an episode dedicated to her on Netflix‘s The Confession Tapes (2019, Season 2, Episode 3 ‘Deep Down’) that examines how after a kayaking accident resulting in her husband’s death, personal bias, straw-clutching ‘evidence’ and an 11-hour police interrogation led to a coerced confession and guilty plea bargain from Ms Graswald despite more credible theories into her husband’s death being offered and Angelika’s maintaining of her innocence.
In the documentary, the people interviewed about Angelika’s case are rife with biased views. Where I was being sarcastic with my little rant above about what The Perfect Victim should look like, these are professionals and law enforcers who genuinely believe that if a woman has gone through something, she should be crying hysterically from the get-go. She should exhibit “normal victim behaviour”.
She didn’t confirm to the societal script of the grieving widow and victim. Just like Katherine Ryan, she was hounded for reacting to something horrible in her own individual way and in Angelika’s case she was actually imprisoned for essentially ‘not behaving normally’ in the eyes of law enforcement.
This is just one of many examples of how having the idea of The Perfect Victim in our heads is incredibly damaging. Another Netflix production called Unbelievable (2019) is an 8-episode drama series in which a victim of rape is doubted, essentially for not behaving or appearing like a “normal victim”. It’s definitely worth a watch but would caution that it can be pretty intense and upsetting to some. I’d argue the pros outweigh the cons in terms of shaking up your own subconscious biases though and think you’ll find it shocking how easy it is for those personal biases to actually ruin a person’s life as you watch the main character Marie’s life slowly unravel in front of your eyes.
And that’s what it all comes down to really. Like I say, I think if certain trains of thought were not damaging and couldn’t impact people’s lives, nobody would complain about it. If you think brown sauce is better than red sauce (it isn’t), it doesn’t change my life or how I’m received as a person, so I’m not going to fight you about it. Well I might, but only if there’s a bacon butty at stake.
But this idea of what The Perfect Victim should look and behave like, it’s already damaging lives. Male victims of sexual crimes are laughed out of reporting the incident. Female victims are not taken seriously when they don’t behave as expected. Ethnic victims are ignored as it’s expected that they’ll be a victim. Disabled people are even touted out as victims regardless of whether they themselves feel like they are or not. Even bigger a point, criminals can get away with their actions because they know how to play The Perfect Victim role! Everything needs to be treated with context and people need to be treated as individuals. Let’s start that now and get rid of this culture of bias that’s seeping into everything we know and deciding conclusions ahead of the facts.
I also really want a bacon butty with red sauce now.