Tuesday, November 22, 2005

On blaming the victim

Okay, so I hate to get all serious when there's a holiday and a good football rivalry coming up, but sometimes, it's unavoidable. Courtesy of a bunch of different news sources, it appears that rape is still the woman's fault in some people's minds:
One in three Britons believes a woman who flirts is partly or totally responsible if she is raped, a "shocking" opinion poll showed on Monday.

Between a third and a quarter of respondents also put part or all of the blame on the woman if she fails to say "no" clearly to the man, wears sexy clothes, drinks too much, has many sexual partners and walks alone in a deserted area.

I guess the point of an anonymous opinion poll is that people are comfortable being completely honest, but you'd think that this is another one of those questions where you know better than to actually say it, even if you feel that way. It's like hearing that one-quarter of Americans support the wholesale stomping of puppies; sure, some people stomp puppies, but do you actually admit to it?

I almost feel like I don't have to go into all of the reasons that a woman isn't responsible for rape, since it seems so obvious and I know I've gone into it a dozen times before. But maybe it isn't that obvious. It isn't obvious to 34% of Britons, apparently, and I'm sure they have an equal number of American counterparts. So here goes:

Men, keep your penises to yourselves.

Should be as far as anyone has to go, really. If every man took that as personal policy, then man-on-woman rape would drop 100%. Drunk or sober, dressed like a stripper or like a nun, any woman would be safe from the threat of rape if men wouldn't feel entitled to stick Willie where he isn't welcome. My favorite rant is The One About Entitlement Complexes, and I'll save it for another post, but that'll certainly be part of it: men, you are not entitled to have sex with me without my permission. I don't care if I'm wearing crotchless panties with a bullseye painted on the back.

Do women have the obligation to look out for ourselves? Sure we do, as much as anyone has the obligation to look both ways before crossing the street and wear a coat when it's cold out. But if, for whatever reason, we don't take that precaution, any resulting violence isn't automatically our fault. If I cross the street on green in a crosswalk, I should expect to do so safely; if, in the process I get pasted by a truck running a red light, the driver of the truck is completely at fault, whether or not I look both ways.

I hate to take this to a Pandagon kind of place, but the issue here is men who view women as nothing more than a walking sperm receptacle. Let me take a moment to speak to them directly: A woman walks into a bar in a short skirt and tall shoes, she lets you buy her a drink and makes flirty conversation with you, and your automatic assumption is that she's absolutely gagging for it. And if she isn't, she ought to be. And if she doesn't want it when you do, you'll take it anyway. Sex isn't something you do with a woman, it's something you do to a woman, something you take from a woman, and a little bit of cleavage or a little bit of conversation is just a billboard advertising what she has to offer. If she has a little bit to drink, rendering herself unable to fight off your advances, that just means that she doesn't want to fight them off, right? Otherwise, she wouldn't drink, right?

Jesus, God.

To bring Pandagon into this anyway, one commenter on a recent post brought up the old Chris Rock joke about how "if you run up to someone dressed up in a police costume asking for help, he has no right to be offended. The woman dressed in the midriff has no right to be offended when people come up to her with a certain set of expectations about her character." And everyone was hella offended, which was pretty much the reaction that Chris Rock is going for in any of his comedy routines. That's why he's so funny. But the best way to strip the funny right out of any joke is to analyse it, and that's just what I did, coming to this conclusion:
Against his better judgment, though, I think he did have a little bit of a point. If you're having chest pains, you look for a guy dressed like a doctor. If he says, "Sorry, I'm not a doctor, I'm an off-duty stripper," you apologize for bothering him and go in search of a doctor. If want to see a stripper, you look for the girl in the butt-cheek-baring miniskirt and Velcro bustier. If she says, "Sorry, I'm not a stripper, I'm an off-duty doctor," you apologize and go in search of a stripper.

The difference is that just because the woman is dressed like a stripper, you can't automatically expect her to strip for you if she doesn't want to. For better or for worse, people will assume things about you if you go out dressed in certain things. But that's where it has to end; a guy can make all the assumptions he wants if you're going to the mall in a droopy tube top and exposed thong, but if he actually touches you, he's absolutely, 100% in the wrong.

When I'm at a bar (or at a tailgate, for that matter) and I see a woman walking in busting with cleavage or sporting a two-inches-shy-of-being-a-belt skirt, I automatically make assumptions about her. I usually think, "Wow, she has no class whatsoever" or "Well, there's a girl who doesn't care what people think about her." If I went out dressed like that, I'd expect people to be making similar assumptions. It wouldn't be a shock, I'm sure, to learn that guys were assuming that I was easy or always up for it. And they can go ahead and assume. But the moment they act on those assumptions, they're absolutely and unequivocally in the wrong.

I recall one of the three occasions when I've gotten irresponsibly drunk ("irresponsibly drunK" defined as "too drunk to look out for myself, in the presence of people who can't be depended on to look out for me"). It was an evening that involved Long Island Ice Teas that didn't stay down and kind roommates who packed me into a cab along with five Marines from the nearby Supply School. Was the drunk girl in the little black going-out dress a recipe for a fun night? Very possibly; I was certainly incapable of defending myself against five guys. But I didn't have to, because they didn't take my drunken helplessness as an invitation.

Every time I think back on what could have happened, I shudder. I acted stupidly that night (and way to look out for your friend, roomies, btw), and it's not behavior that I've repeated. But if my cabmates had been less honorable than they were, that would have been their fault. The only reason that a drunken girl wouldn't make it safely home in a cab is that someone would decide to take advantage of her.

(The pleasant coda to that story, by the way, is that when we pulled over at Firehouse, one of the guys slipped the cab driver a twenty and said to me, very carefully and distinctly, "We've got your cab fare, okay? Take care of yourself." They then went into the bar without laying a hand on me. Thanks for that, guys)

This blame-the-victim mentality isn't generally applied to other crimes. If a man is walking through downtown Atlanta after a show at the Fox, and he gets robbed at gunpoint, no one ever says, "He was asking for it! He was walking in downtown Atlanta in a damn tuxedo!" If someone's car gets stolen out of their driveway, no one says, "Well, parking a BMW on the street, what did he expect to happen?" Yet "that halter top just screamed 'do me'" is acceptable after a rape.

That reaction is nothing more than men abrogating their responsiblity to freaking control themselves. These men would have women walk around in bulky turtlenecks and riding skirts, sipping on club soda, just so they're never faced with temptation that they might have to tamp down. "I have no self-control! I can't resist the urge to do bad things! You can't dress the way you want or drink alcohol because deep down, I'm a raging beast!" is not an acceptable defense for rape.

I'd like to know what y'all think. Throw down in comments, and feel free to comment anonymously, if you think your opinions might be flameworthy; I really want to know how you honestly feel about this. Can a woman really be held responsible for a man's lack of self-control? Do a short skirt and/or excessive consumption of alcohol lay any blame on a rape victim?

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