Thursday, October 17, 2013

If We Tackled Other Crises the Way We Tackle Rape

If you run in the virtual circles I run in, you've no doubt heard about Emily Yoffe of Slate and her victim-blaming, slut-shaming post that tells women that they need only stop drinking alcohol to quit bringing about their own rapes. The most pertinent paragraph for me was this:

Let’s be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don’t have your best interest at heart. That’s not blaming the victim; that’s trying to prevent more victims.
There have been some great responses to it, and you should check out the feedback from Jezebel and Feministing.

There's nothing novel or groundbreaking about her argument. I hear it all the time. We're just looking out for women's safety. You know, this is about protection.

Let's look a little closer at Yoffe's claim that "Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue."

You know what, no.

I was a college girl (who, yes, occasionally drank) not all that long ago. I didn't get the message that I had to match men drink for drink. I did get the message, constantly, that I could never leave a drink alone. And if I ended up without a ride back from wherever I was, I was terrified--terrified--of any dark alley or offered lift from a guy I didn't know that well. The messages I received made me suspicious of just about every man I encountered.

The problem is not that girls aren't being told to be fearful enough. As Ever Mainard captures pretty well in this stand-up bit, we're very aware of the potential dangers surrounding us:

On a recent post I wrote about being catcalled, several friends responded to me (both in person and on the blog) that the fear of being catcalled or harassed has kept them from working out. Women make plans to go out in groups, go home early, carry their beer bottles into the bathroom with them, keep mace on their keychains, and hold their breaths every time they have to cross a dimly-lit part of the sidewalk. 


Fear is an instinct, and we're getting the message loud and clear. Wanting to be safe and un-assaulted doesn't need to be taught; it's ingrained in us. 

All of this focus on the victims of rape instead of the perpetrators of rape is mind boggling to me. What if we tackled other social issues with the same reasoning? 

All of those starving children should just be told about the importance of eating. 

All of those murder victims should just be told how important it is to remain alive. Why would you put yourself somewhere where there are guns or knives or poison?

Don't homeless people know the value of shelter? 

A woman who drinks does not cause rapes. Rapists cause rapes. And rape culture produces rapists. Until we accept and deal with that reality, it will continue. 


  1. Should you want to broaden this thinking to a different arena (that really should be the same arena, but currently isn't. Still hopefully gazing at intersectionality here...), I can tell you that people with disabilities are constantly blamed for their own deaths (there have been a few quite publicized murders or attempted murders lately even, where the perpetrators seem to somehow end with the public sympathy because disabled people are so "difficult" or some such BS), abuse of people who are disabled goes largely unpunished still, and the general rhetoric seems to focus much more on the abused than bringing those to justice who've abused. there's always far too much "grey area" . In the (intellectual) disabilities community we are very highly aware of the fact that people with intellectual disabilities are much less likely to get abused than their typically developing (but no more 'normal') peers, but it's always in the passive tense.

    This to say. I, we, feel you. We're in the same boat. Let's broaden this to disabilities as well.

  2. Sorry. The last came out of nowhere (WTF?) and certainly doesn't belong where it's at!

  3. Disqus is strange. I can't be code witty without it biting me in the ass... ;-)

  4. *more likely to get abused

    (I'm totally embarrassing myself here, aren't I?)

  5. I think you're absolutely right. The man with Down's Syndrome who was killed in the movie theater brought out some of the same victim-blaming patterns, for example. In that case, we have the added layer of complication from police brutality, but I think the general point remains.

  6. Indeed. The original press release from Frederick County states that although the manner of death was asphyxiation and the cause of death was ruled homicide, what "...contributed to his death was his Down's [sic] syndrome...". That is akin to saying that women get raped because they're 'weaker' and can't perhaps fight back as easily.

  7. Adults and older teens who are homeless are also blamed for their homelessness, very often, especially if they have addiction or mental health issues. Poor people get blamed for not getting help or a job. We have a sick pattern in society of blaming individual choices for systemic societal breakdown and discrimination.

  8. Yes. I have definitely heard "why don't poor people just work harder," as if it's simply the desire for economic security they lack and not the means or opportunity. I think that we're particularly ill-equipped to talk about oppression because we let the myth of individualism run so strongly and unchecked. We act as if what we do doesn't connect to other people. And the narrative of "personal responsibility" seems to get thrown at those without power much easier than those with power (I'm thinking of the Wall Street bailouts vs. the way we talked about homeowners with underwater loans, especially poor and minority homeowners.)