This is our truth, tell us yours
Any time a discussion begins about Ched Evans on social media the chedvocates appear.
Chedvocates come in lots of flavours and varieties. Some are just common or garden trolls, taking a break from bullying minorities by aligning themselves with a controversial cause. Some, the more literate (Trollus Daily Mailus, or the Boris troll), are professional contrarians who have their world view reinforced by the fact that most decent people disagree with them, since they see decency as a weakness unless they’re using it to complain about Rita Ora’s cleavage. To them decency is a movable feast, not a moral and political construct, and is privatized, not publicly defined.
It’s all too easy to dismiss chedvocates as trolls, but actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
My intellectual hero Stephen Jay Gould, was fond of quoting Freud. Yesterday, one of the books I keep in the bathroom fell open at a reference to this quote from Freud;
“Great revolutions in the history of science have but one common, and ironic, feature: they knock human arrogance off one pedestal after another of our previous conviction about our own self-importance.”
The chedvocates are sometimes, in their thoughtfulness, their skepticism and their hatred of change, conservatives struggling against the changes that are happening, slowly, too slowly, in the legal treatment of issues of consent and sex. Understanding that demands a different kind of engagement with them than simple dismissal. Any change that threatens a conservative’s self regard arouses strong emotions in them; simply put, a change that means it’s easier for rapists to be prosecuted strikes fear into them, especially when, as in Ched’s case, the change is not a change in the law but a cultural change, moving towards a practice of believing victims. How can those certain, self regarding men be so confident that they are not rapists if they’re asked to think critically about whether, ever, drink and sex have coincided in their lives in a way that means consent was impossible, or unlikely to be credible? For many people that certainty, that they may be weak, or flawed, or sometimes less than perfect, but they’re never a rapist or a sex offender, is a high pedestal whose toppling cannot be countenanced. Go to, just for example, any university hall of residence on a Saturday night and the idea that intoxication nullifies consent is an invitation to see a plethora of offences. The corollary of that idea, that we have a problem, as a society, with intoxicants is also, probably, a pedestal too tall to topple.
If you open the door to that idea, another is waiting behind it. Some chedvocates are women. Some of them are bitter, judgemental and angry people who think Ched’s victim deserves all that happened, and should enjoy no protection. Others though might be people who have had similar experiences, and have not been believed, or have normalized them as what happens when you engage in risky behaviour. If that’s the case, they, too, might sense a whiff of conspiracy, of scapegoating behind the prosecution of Ched. Some of those unheard victims might compare the treatment of Ched’s victim and their own experiences and wonder why they weren’t treated the same. A campaign that makes those sort of claims,hat this case was exceptional, because of who Ched is (as if a lower league player who never really made the grade is, in tabloid parlance, a ‘star’) might turn some of those women into chedvocates rather than make them wish their case had ended the same way. For victims who never reported, never complained, never thought they would be believed the hounding and shaming of Ched’s victim must powerfully reinforce their sense that society is hypocritical.
Of course, at the heart of chedvocacy are Ched’s inner circle. They have a slick campaign under way, using some very clever tricks that suggest Ched’s fiancee’s father has been spending his money on good PR advice. They fuel the attacks on Ched’s victim and on the verdict of the court, leading chedvocates to claim that their hero is still appealing the verdict, as if there is still legitimate doubt. When I first thought about writing this piece, I discussed chedvocacy with Jem, and we both recognised that we had reached the same conclusion, by different paths. This campaign won’t go away unless Ched’s fiancee and her family can face up to the reality, that Ched was found guilty in a way that leaves very little reason for doubt. That intuition though, that Ched’s family need to be healed, and need help to be healed, can be extended to all of us as a society.
Sometimes, court cases can assume an importance far beyond their specific weight. The Evans case has the potential to be a moment in time wen, as a society, we have to look ourselves in the eye, and ask what this case tells us about ourselves.
We have a problem, as a society, with intoxicants. We have a problem, as a society, with sex and consent, with our practices and behaviours out of step with our principles and laws. We have a problem, as a society, with wealth and celebrity, and with the assumptions of privilege that go along with it.
We have another problem though that we need to engage with, a problem that is glimpsed though the pinhole cameras cases like Ched’s case provide us with.
Ched Evans is a rapist, a convicted, unrepentant rapist. How does he ever stop being a rapist? Our society, our tabloid shorthand culture means Ched faces, for the foreseeable future, always being a rapist. His children, if he ever has them, will be the rapist’s kids. His partner will face being, always, the partner of a rapist. The only way out of this problem, that Ched can see, is to overturn his conviction, by any means necessary.
Somehow we’ve lost that alternative that every criminal should be offered, of rehabilitation and redemption. Ched has been through the criminal system, and emerged without an iota of comprehension of how he came to be there, of how he reached a point where the things he thought were acceptable were judged by a jury and found to be criminal. Ched Evans is one tiny, perfect fragment of evidence for the failure of our penal system. Since Ched thinks he did no wrong, you can’t even argue that society has been protected. It hasn’t. The contradiction at the heart of our penal and punitive society is that we have stopped believing in redemption. For our own sakes, we need to admit that rape might be, not an expression of irredeemable evil, but a mistake anyone could make, a mistake they could repent of and redeem, by an honest acceptance of what they did wrong, and how they might avoid the same mistake in the future. Rather than topple the pedestals of our self regard, we need to step down from them, and see ourselves as we are, and as we might be if we do not accept our own frailty and errors.