What did Lily Allen really mean when she said, during a recent Twitter spat with ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson, that she’d “only ever been assaulted by white males”? Did she mean that all white men are potential rapists, whereas men of other races aren’t? Did she mean white men are just as likely to commit sexual assault as non-white men, and therefore the idea that we should bar Muslim men from entering the country as refugees or migrants is nonsensical? Did she mean, in the words of another Twitter user, that “the way to stop bigotry is to ostracise and stereotype one group (white men)”? Or did she mean, y’know, that she’d only ever been sexually assaulted by white men?
There’s something faintly ridiculous about watching a woman say she’s been sexually assaulted by white men and then witnessing a deluge of white men denying that that can possibly be true. Because however clumsily she might have worded it, Allen was clearly trying to make a simple point: white people are just as likely to be sexual predators as their non-white counterparts.
Where Tommy Robinson brought up “Muslim grooming gangs” and linked to a video about violent crime and sexual assault with the tweet: “Anyone wondering what it’s like for English people growing up in towns with large Muslim communities then watch here”, Allen brought up her own experience as a counterpoint to the idea that it’s dark-skinned men and their insatiable sexual appetites and uncontrollable violence who threaten the good white women of the United Kingdom. Sometimes, in some conversations, it is still necessary to say: “Yes, white men can be rapists too (and not just in cases where the women basically made them do it by wearing short skirts or drinking alcohol or venturing outside the house at night.)”
It’s no secret that the same people who try to justify their racism against refugees and immigrants with the “Muslim men raping our white women” narrative are often happy to turn a blind eye when the perpetrators of sexual assault are white men. I haven’t met many self-confessed supporters of Tommy Robinson at feminist events, nor have I seen many EDL sympathisers getting involved with efforts to combat rape culture in western society. Perhaps I’m missing their quiet efforts to further the cause of gender equality behind the scenes, but somehow I doubt it.
The last time Lily Allen prompted a Twitter storm and a media outcry across the tabloids was when she “apologised on behalf of England” to a young refugee in the Calais Jungle, tearfully telling a 13-year-old boy from Afghanistan that she felt guilty because “the English in particular have put you in danger”. She’d spoken about the plight of refugees in the camp before, but there had been little reaction. Refuse to show English national pride, however, and suddenly everyone wants to point out the supposed seed of egotism in your compassion. Bring up white men and the world is listening.
It would be absurd, of course, to say that white men are any better or worse than any of us. As far as I can tell, that certainly isn’t what Allen is trying to imply. When she tweeted this week that “people need to realise the reality of how white males and their attitudes towards our laws continue to threaten our values and communities”, while linking to news stories about crimes committed by white men, she was clearly parodying the language used by people like Robinson when they talk about British Muslims and refugees from Arab countries. It sounds ridiculous and hyperbolic because it is ridiculous and hyperbolic to make that claim about any group of people. It’s just that a lot of us fail to see its ridiculousness until white men are put centre-stage.Reuse content