Girly Thoughts

March 30, 2008

Victim Blaming, Part 3

Filed under: Gender,sexual assault — judgesnineteen @ 3:58 pm

To refresh your memory, this is going to be about reasons why people might not believe D and E, that is, that men who rape should be convicted of a crime and that women who are raped should be treated as victims and given whatever help is needed.

D has some overlap with C, which is the belief that what happened wasn’t really rape. Specifically with C2, because if a woman is “promising” sex or is a “slut”, then maybe she didn’t consent to the sex, maybe it was against her will, but she deserved it anyway, she forfeited her right to say no, and therefore the nonconsensual sex wasn’t a crime and the man shouldn’t be punished. If a person sees it that way, it belongs here. If they believe that it’s impossible to rape a slut (this often comes in the form of the belief that it’s impossible to rape a prostitute), it belongs in C. It’s kinda fuzzy, but I don’t think it makes a difference where you put it, as long as you think about it.

Another case in which there’s overlap is in marital rape. Marital rape has been very, very slow to be outlawed, and there are still some problems with some of the laws and some countries that haven’t made it illegal yet. I figure some people think that getting married means giving perpetual irrevocable consent to sex at any given moment with your spouse, and so husbands by definition can’t rape wives. But maybe also some people think of it as wives owing husbands sex (marital duty and all) and so even though they technically haven’t already given consent, it’s not a crime for a husband to force sex on an uncompliant wife. In case anyone is wondering whether marital rape “really counts” as rape, look at the effects it has on its victims: Women raped by their intimate partners are more likely to be diagnosed with depression or anxiety than those who are victims of physical violence and those who were sexually assaulted by someone other than one’s partner (Plichta & Falik, 2001).” Now, what know-it-all anti-feminist can tell me how women can avoid marital rape? Do you think if they would just dress modestly and get dinner ready on time it would all be ok? Or do you think maybe this is at least one case where the burden to stop rape is totally on the perpetrators and the society that gives them ideas about how men should treat women? (Dear god, someone’s going to tell me women only get beaten and raped when they deserve it and I’m going to have a heart attack.)

Anyway, there’s another argument for D: men are sex-crazed beasts who can’t control themselves once they see a little cleavage (or a little leg, or an unprotected virgin, or whatever). Therefore, when they rape, they shouldn’t be held accountable for it. First of all, this is offensive to men – well, it should be. My boyfriend finds it offensive, but the guy in the link sure doesn’t. He basically says men have no moral agency (despite himself being a male religious leader!) but instead of following all the logical steps from that to come to other conclusions about men, “He said women were ‘weapons’ used by ‘Satan’ to control men.” I don’t think these people really believe that men can’t control themselves. I think they believe that women are magic – black magic (cue Jimi Hendrix). Not necessarily literally, but I think they believe that women have the power to lead otherwise righteous men astray, and that once the women have started applying their magic, the consequences are ineluctable and women should know that and take full responsibility for starting the chain of events. I think this is again related to the reduction of a woman to her sexuality, and equating women with sex. You get people who are afraid of their sexual desire, and because their sexual desire is towards women, they consider women and sex practically the same thing. You can see this sometimes in the way people use women as a metonym for sex. These people don’t bother to stop and think that half the world’s sexual desire is towards men.

But in response to that, some would say, “But testosterone! Men can’t overcome their sexual desire, and women can!” And so I must admit that some people actually do think men are sex-crazed beasts who can’t be held responsible for their actions. I guess that’s a legacy from the Victorian era, and it gives us the gift of Woman as Gatekeeper (or, as I like to call it, Vaginakeeper. Except that kind of sounds like a new menstrual cup) and Man as Initiator. This sucks, because pre-written scripts for people to follow on the basis of their genitalia don’t work, and because this idea causes some sexual assaults in the first place. Woman as Gatekeeper puts the burden to say no on the woman, making the man think that a lack of no means go ahead, and Man as Initiator means that the man feels he’s supposed to keep pushing until he gets a firm no, or otherwise he’s not manly. It also means women are afraid to say they want sex and and to talk openly about sex, which creates other problems. But back to the point – why should we not believe that men can’t control their impulses so women have to pick up all their slack? Because it’s not true. If any man would like to argue that it is true, you’re going to first have to admit to me that you’re a rapist, or would be if the women around you weren’t so good at fending off your attacks and locking themselves in their rooms.

Then why do we put all the responsibility on the woman? Why do we think teaching women to be careful will work but teaching men to ask won’t? Even when we know that sometimes women are careful and still get raped, while no man who asked and respected the answer raped? Because putting all the responsibility on women preserves male privilege. Men can keep saying it’s not their problem, they don’t have to deal with the reality of rape, don’t have to hear about it or learn about it, don’t have to try harder or start respecting women more, don’t have to feel uncomfortable with the idea of belonging to a group that oppresses another group, and then say that it is the problem of women and they have to follow this list of precautions to deal with it. Blame it on biology and ignore the fact that the social structure is causing it (one of the favorite plays in the oppression playbook). Then men are off the hook and can keep pretending sexism doesn’t exist, because they don’t have to see its effects.

If this weren’t about protecting male privilege, if this were really about protecting women the best way possible, then women would not just be taught how to avoid rape (as if that were completely possible), but also what to do if they were raped – how to avoid getting an STD or getting pregnant after a rape, how to preserve evidence so that they can prosecute their rapist and protect future potential victims. But as much as I had heard about how to dress and act, I had never heard how to proceed in the event of sexual assault until I became a feminist, and as much as our society is concerned about teaching women to fear, it’s not always terribly concerned about putting money towards (properly) processing rape kits – sometimes, but not always. (By the way, roughly how to proceed is on my page Stuff Everyone Should Know.)

Now onto E. This is perhaps the saddest one for me, although really, we’ve got some stiff competition here. Some people think that women are property. They want their wives and girlfriends to be faithful, but they define faithful differently than I do. To me, faithful is an attitude and actions follow it. To them, faithful is a physical state. To me, if someone is touched against their will, it was against their will, which means their attitude, their desire to be faithful, didn’t change, and so they are still faithful and guiltless. To them, if someone is touched against their will, they are tainted, whether they want to be or not. Therefore they reject women who have been raped. I’m sure it must be incredibly painful to know your significant other has been sexually violated, and I can imagine it stirring up complicated emotions, but it can’t be as bad as being the victim him or herself, and to abandon and scorn (not to mention leave destitute) a person at the time when they need support the most is something I cannot defend. Furthermore, I think some people who react that way do so not out of the complicated feelings of dealing with rape, but out of “honor.” Putting “honor” above the rights of a person is abhorrent.

I would like to close by acknowledging the well-meaning people who will read this and get nervous that if feminists get their way, we’ll have women stripping and passing out drunk in the street. First there are the people who are nervous about that because they find it immoral. They need to relax a little bit and accept the fact that people will do things from time to time that they disagree with. Then there are the people I was really trying to acknowledge here, the ones who are afraid those women throwing caution to the wind will be their loved ones and who fear that their loved ones will mistake what should be (men shouldn’t rape naked drunk women) with what is (some men do rape naked drunk women). Although I stand by all my arguments as to why that is not what we need to focus on and yet what we always focus on, I promise not to persuade any women to do risky things just for the sake of being feminist, or even oppose (certain) self-defense classes and the like. Being risky and being feminist aren’t really related, that’s just a misunderstanding of the point of talking about victim blaming. People seem to think that when I say all of this, I’m saying it to women about how they should act, I guess because that’s who we usually talk to when we talk about rape. But I’m talking to you, men. And I’m talking to the women who aren’t the victim, the amateur (and professional, for that matter) commentators of all sexes and genders, because as much as I want women to do whatever they can to take care of themselves regarding rape and everything else, I know that we also have to get the rest of the world to stop blaming someone for their own rape after it has already happened. It has to stop. I know you mean well and some of you don’t belong in any of the other categories, you’re just genuinely concerned for the safety and well-being of those you care about. Good for you. I’m just trying to open your eyes to the fact that the way the most people think is common sense for how to protect them may not be the best and is definitely not the only way. I’m not secretly a misogynist trying to trick people into advocating policies that will create more rape; I really think the views I’ve espoused here would help, not hurt, women.


1 Comment »

  1. “Being risky and being feminist aren’t really related.”

    That’s a really good point that I had not really thought about before. I think I’ll have to keep that in mind for future discussions.

    And you absolutely hit the nail on the head when you talked about putting all the responsibility on females being a way of preserving male privilege. I know a particular reader of my blog whom I will be directing to read this post.

    Excellent work, as usual. I enjoyed it.

    Comment by Amelia — March 30, 2008 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

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