Trying to wrap my head around economics and finance has always been incredibly difficult for me. I have, like everyone else, heard the cliché that “sex sells”. I can rarely find a movie that doesn’t have at least SL if not the usual SVL enticer. Adverts are often the equivalent of a nudge and a wink or a kiss and a promise. So it seems that there is an enormous amount of money to be made by having people think about sex and linking them to “sexy” products. Or isn’t it perhaps having them think about sex and personal power in a particular way….Why are people willing to spend money to feel less disempowered by not being sexy enough, but not willing to pay money to not have to feel this way at all?
Even when we move into the ostensibly socially aware, consciousness raising cultural masterpieces (seeing plays, watching documentaries that raise awareness about real and deeply troubling issues… the position of women, rape, homophobia and the killing of our lesbians and gay men) – people seem very willing to spend their money. What happens there? A sense of outrage? A feeling of solidarity with the oppressed? A feeling of being on the right side of the issue? Of being ethical? A feeling of outrage or even of being oddly titillated?
All except the last, of course, have their place and are needed. But what does one do with awareness? What is the next step? Despair? Denial? Or a dinner out to ease the discomfort?
I understand that rape and gender-based violence is not sexy at all, but the public seems to be quite happy and entertained at seeing it in fictional form. They will pay to watch a scene where someone is raped; or a gay man is beaten, a lesbian killed, and feel all the uncomfortable feelings that go with that. So why not pay to help prevent rape or protect people who have been raped? Why aren’t organisations working in the sexual violence field or even with the LGBTI field rolling in money?
Writing and thinking about “the public” seems almost as strange to me as economics. Within that amorphic term are millions or even billions of people, who like the rest of us, think, feel, want safety, love, peace and some delight. I don’t really believe in “the public”. I am not sure that it is a useful belief at all. I think that people do care, often very much, about the individual difficulties that people face. I think very few feel pleased, smug, or indifferent when they hear that another lesbian has been raped and killed: that a gay man has been beaten to death: that a straight woman or child has been raped and killed by a husband or boyfriend. I think what happens is a feeling of horror, helplessness, and then the numbness because there is too much and where does one start?
My suggestion is to start wherever you can. Speak out about the awfulness of it, make it clear in the shops you visit, your schools, your newspapers, your governments that this is something worth paying for, is something worth caring about. There is probably also some lovely economic spin off – people who are able to work without crippling PTSD, people being creative and productive instead of being simply afraid. But as I’ve said, I can’t really get my head around economics. Perhaps you can?
Morgan Mitchell lives in Cape Town where she works with survivors of trauma in private practice as a trauma and EMDR counsellor. She has been a volunteer at Rape Crisis since 2001 and is a feminist civil rights activist.