Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run

Ned Williams is still confused about why I think Kay Brooks is being heartless and ridiculous and victim-blaming.  He says

But I’m still having trouble understanding your point about not being able to prevent rapes, as if any efforts to avoid being a victim represent a concession to rapists or are not wasted effort. I don’t think that’s true, and I think it can be deterred. I think that rapists are as cowardly and self-preserving as any other perpetrator (perhaps they are the worst), and I think they can be deterred.

And I’m bringing this up again because I want to be absolutely clear, plus discussing it over at Say Uncle’s after I was no longer blinded by rage helped me shape my position into a good analogy.

Before we get to that, though, I want to ask Ned and all of you who are still “Well, why can’t we just say that she shouldn’t have been in the park?” to answer this question.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that you were at the State Capitol and you were going to Germantown.  It’s the middle of the night.  You think you’re the only person on the street, but a creepy guy comes out from behind the Supreme Court building and asks you for a light.  You find him very creepy.  He walks off, seemingly towards 8th Avenue, which is a fairly busy street, and the only busy street that goes from you and Germantown.

You want to avoid him.  And you want to stay safe.  But you also don’t want to seem like a paranoid freak.  Does cutting through the park really seem like your worst option?

See, here’s the point I’m trying to make.  There is nothing a person can do to 100% avoid being raped.  There are things you can do to lessen your odds of being raped, but that’s all you’re doing–playing the odds.  And often, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how sounds your judgment has been, bad things still happen.


Because victims are not in control of the situation and even when you try to do what seems like the best thing, bad shit can still happen to you.

Over at Say Uncle’s, I likened it to Poker–a poker game you have no choice but to play.  Yes, skill is useful.  Yes, knowing how to read people is useful.  Maybe you don’t want to play at a table with folks who are out of your league, but, if you don’t, how do you learn?

But here’s my point: Sometimes, no matter how good you are, you get dealt a shitty hand.  And no one in their right mind would go up to a poker player who had an ace, king, queen, and jack, all spades, and an eight of diamonds and start berating him about all the ways he fucked up because the dealer didn’t throw him a ten of spades.  That’s just the luck of the draw.

Here’s the other thing.  We can prevent rapes.  But not with magical thinking like “I’ll just stay out of the park!”  We can prevent and reduce rapes by teaching boys and men that it’s a bullshit cop-out way of being in the world, going around just doing what you want to people without consideration of their feelings.  But that has to be a constant and ongoing message and it has to be coupled with a specific message about sex, which is that it’s no good unless everyone is game.

And putting any of the responsibility on the victims is just bullshit.  I mean, please.  Why are we even talking about tapdancing around putting responsibility where it lies?  Is there something particularly scary or hard about saying, “Folks, do not go around raping other people.  It’s evil to force yourself on others”?

Why are we letting rapists off the hook, even a little bit?

14 thoughts on “Know When to Walk Away, Know When to Run

  1. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    Why is this so difficult for some people to understand?
    Or, if they understand it perfectly well, why would anyone place MORE emphasis on “But… but… stay out of the park!”?

  2. You do know that in draw poker, you would get one chance to toss that eight away and hope to catch the ten, right. I wish I knew how to make that work in your analogy, but I’m fairly drunk at the moment, so I probably won’t try.

    What is it again, please, exactly, that keeps you up night arguing with Ned Williams about anything? I don’t argue with my dog, not because I won’t win, because clearly I will, but because he will never understand that he has been out-argued. You instantly reach the point of diminishing returns.

    Ha, you tickle me.

  3. What Mack said.

    Also, I think another reason the blaming-the-victim argument has so much stamina is that it might come from the same basic dynamic that drew thousands of dirt poor white men into fighting a hopeless war* on behalf of a relative handful of wealthy people in order to preserve a social and economic order that was keeping those same poor men down. It is the same dynamic that leads so many people to fight tooth and nail against gay marriage.

    There are people who want to hold on to a privilege that gives them little more than being a sliver more privileged than another. So if that particular other (or group of others) has to suffer indignities to maintain (or enhance) the status quo, so be it. That other had better learn to watch their ass or take it and like it.

    So some men (many of whom perceive no privilege other than imagining themselves better than women) would rather blame women for getting raped than address the structural and cultural inequities that form the continuum of oppression within rape exists. The former choice is easier to them.

    *That would be the Civil War.

  4. Mack, Ned has the most exquisit penis you’ve ever seen. And he doesn’t mind if women want to make little hats for it and take pictures of it modeling those hats. Unlike some people…

    Ha, no, internet! I’m kidding. I don’t think I’ve even ever met Ned before and he’s certainly not the kind of guy that lets anyone but his wife crochet him hats for his private parts.

    Here’s the thing. I just think that conservatives are wrong about some stuff. I don’t see why that should preclude me from arguing with them about it.

    After all, if we agreed, how could I fight with them?

  5. I think blaming the victim is a defense mechanism that makes people feel safe. The reason you see it coming from conservative corners the most is the same reason “Terra” has been such a successful campaign call for the GOP.

    When they say “She shouldn’t have been walking through the park at night” what they are really saying is, “I don’t have to worry about bad things happening to me, because I would never be so stupid as to walk through the park at night.”

    As long as they can figure out what the victim did wrong (that they would never do, of course), then they are safe. Acknowledging that sometimes bad things happen to people who are doing everything right can be scary.

  6. Yes, what Dolphin said is probably true, BUT, it still moves the discussion ever so subtly somewhere it doesn’t belong. Perfectly human, therefor quite understandable, but still clearly unfair.

  7. I just noticed that you had commented on my AuntB v. KayB post . . . sorry not to have engaged sooner.

    I think you misstated my “failure to understand”: I was defending Kay’s seeming cavalier attitude and certainly not attempting to blame the victim; rather, I thought you overreached in flatly rejecting that deterrence is relevant. Either deterring law-abiding people from risk-taking or criminals from perpetrating. I even got the feeling (though it’s been a while since I read your post) that you didn’t think it was possible to deter the rapist.

    Re. blaming the victim as defense mechanism. Sure, we all want to believe that we have some control over what harm befalls us–that’s one reason that certain stories of crimes are more newsworthy than others . . . people like to think they’re safe. But that doesn’t mean that encouraging people toward caution is blaming anyone who ever was victimized. And I didn’t “blame the victim,” anyway. My disagreement was with what I perceived to be a fatalist view of the issue.

    Re. letting rapists off the hook, I know you had to cut and paste my post, but you left off most of what I said that weighed against any conclusion that I was doing that. Frankly, I think your conclusion is rooted in your perception of me (and one that is shared by several commenters) as being a woman-hating/subjugating (aka: “Pro-life”) hack. But I could be mistaken.

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