Grammy asks some excellent questions here and I have some thoughts, but maybe no good answers:
What I wonder (Hi, Aunt B.! Love your stuff -just love it.) is: what can we do to address this hideous internalizing bullshit? I’ve heard that line before, about blaming the victim because she was dressed a certain way, or flirted, or whatever – line was, in fact, used on me by a 30 yr. old man when I was 17 – and the sad truth is, you hear it from a lot of women, as has been mentioned.
What do you say to someone like that woman in your self-defense class, Dr. J? What should I have said to my sister-in-law who, after we watched Jodie Foster in The Accused, said, “well, she was kind of asking for it, wasn’t she”?
Like I said, I don’t have good answers, I don’t think, but let’s start with what’s going on. Just tease that out.
- There’s this idea that certain women deserve or are asking to be raped. That, in itself, is complicated. You’ve got the whole “Who decides what behaviors women do that ‘deserve’ to be punished by being raped?” aspect of it. Because, clearly, at first, at least, it’s the rapist who decides that the woman ‘deserves’ to be punished. And yet, you’d think that it would be easy to see that rapists have a vested interest in framing most activities of women as being worth punishment. To make an inadequate comparison, if we had a cultural idea that bad drivers should forfeit their cars, wouldn’t there be incredible suspicion of the person who said to the person with the nice care, “Shoot, you’re a bad driver, hand me your keys” and drove off with it? So, even if we, for a second, bought the idea that women’s activities should be closely monitored, you’d think we’d not leave it in the hands of the folks who most benefit from women failing to “live right” to judge whether or not they’re living right. And that’s on top of what feminists normally talk about in terms of our right to be out in the world doing what we want.
- There’s a great element of superstition there, this belief that, if I live right and dress right and act right, I will never be raped. I am here to tell you that you can cut off all your beautiful curly hair and dress in sweaters that hang to your knees and be as vile and obnoxious and bitchy as you can be and someone might still try to rape you. But we want to believe that we know what magical things to do that will keep us safe and if there are women out there who are too stupid to do those things, well, then, they have it coming.
- And there’s the belief that men are just monsters, that they cannot help themselves, which we’ve talked about repeatedly.
But Grammy’s comment made me realize something, when we’re talking about how women internalize this idea that some women just deserve to be raped, that I hadn’t ever articulated to myself before.
When we accept that there are women out there who deserve to be raped, we become like rapists.
Here’s the thing about feminism, I think. It’s not a moral position. I’m not a feminist because I believe that women are different and better than men. I don’t believe that women are more moral than men.
So, while it’s true that men are rapists at a far, far greater rate than women are rapists, we can’t for a second believe that the impulses that drive men to rape aren’t also present in women.
Here’s an interesting thought experiment. Say that one in twenty men would rape someone if they thought they would never be caught; in other words, they believe that, feelings of the victim aside, there are circumstances under which it’s okay to rape someone. Don’t you also believe that there are one in twenty women who believe that there are circumstances under which it’s okay to rape someone?
You hear Dr. J’s story or read Grammy’s comment and it’s not too hard to believe–that there are a lot of women out there who think it’s sometimes okay to rape someone.
Thinking it’s sometimes okay to rape someone is, in fact, thinking like a rapist.
I think that most of us, men and women, don’t actually think that raping someone is ever okay. And then there’s a smaller, but vocal circle of folks who do think that there are circumstances under which raping someone is okay. And, within that circle, are the folks who actually act on it.
The people who think that there are circumstances under which raping someone is okay think that for the same reasons that rapists think that, because it makes them feel powerful to decide who should be hurt.
But staring that in the face–to admit to yourself “Hey, there’s something about sitting around speculating about which people deserve to suffer”–is not something most people want to do. So, you have this impulse–to enjoy imagining the suffering of others–but you can’t admit to yourself that you have that impulse because you recognize that impulse as being ‘bad’ and most people want to believe that they are good people.
So, instead, you want to bring other people into it, to get them to be complicit in your fucked-up-ness.
To say, “Oh, yeah, okay, well, if she was wearing this or that or dancing like this or went back to his house or whatever, okay, then I can see it.”
In other words, you want them to also think like a rapist, just for a second.
This, I think, is what pisses me off so much about all the desire to sit around speculating about what rape victims could have done differently after the fact. Because, regardless of what folks say, there is a world of difference between discussing reasonable precautions (knowing that said precautions aren’t going to necessarily save you) and looking at a rape victim and justifying why what happened to her happened to her.
But, before I lose my train of thought, I do think that it’s easy to become tainted by that, by other people’s desire to draw you into speculating about what a person might do to deserve being raped. After all, we don’t want to seem impolite and we don’t want to seem like we think there’s something wrong with the person talking to us.
But it is a sick view of the world that sees the suffering of other people and finds pleasure in it.
And I think it’s important for us to recognize that that’s what’s going on when we are having these conversations–that there’s a good chance that the person who is advancing the position that there are circumstances under which it’s okay to rape people, is advancing that position because she or he likes to sit around and speculate about those circumstances.
In other words, I don’t know if you can reach those folks or not. Sometimes, if they’re young or just sheltered or whatever, I think you can, maybe. But the important thing is that you recognize that for the red flag it is.
Any woman who wants to sit around and speculate about what other women might do to deserve being raped has problems and you’d be wise to keep that in mind when dealing with her.