Saturday, August 05, 2006

On victim-blaming: a reexamination

Okay, so I know I've kind of beaten this subject to death, and I also know that the vast majority of my readers (if such a population could be described, even in part, as "vast") already understand the dangers of victim-blaming. But I had an experience last night that I thought might be illustrative, and I wanted to share.

In preparation to move into my stunning new apartment (an event which will happen today, of all days, and not in a week as the movers had suggested was possible), I hit up Target for a few necessities like toilet paper, milk, and, among many other things, this great (and great big) five-shelf bookcase. This mama was heavy as sin. And while Big Bro was kind enough to help me wrestle it into the building, I was still on my own to get it to my apartment while he found a parking place.

A nice-enough looking man was in the lobby with me at the time, and pointing out that I'm comparatively small and that he could just throw it over one of his shoulders, he offered to carry the bookcase to my place if I'd carry his CD cases for him. My thought process went something like this:

1. Damn, this is a heavy bookcase, and I know it'd be a struggle to drag it to my apartment.
2. I don't know this guy from Adam, and I don't know if I want him knowing where I live.
3. Right, sure, like I'm this hottie who's on every man's "Top Ten Women I Want to Rape" list.
4. Rape is a crime of violence, not of sexual desire, and I don't know this guy well enough to know that he's not a rapist.
5. Only about five percent of guys actually admit to having raped someone, and I don't know that this guy isn't a rapist.
6. And if he's part of that five percent, I could well be the next victim.
7. Damn, this is a heavy bookcase.

Figuring that he'd at least be at a physical disadvantage with a ten-ton bookcase on his shoulder, I decided to take my chances and got into the elevator with him, warning him that I'm a very suspicious person by nature and that I fight like a tiger when I feel threatened. When we got to my floor, I had him deposit the bookcase in the hallway right outside of the elevator, thanked him graciously, and waited for the doors to close before I dragged that behemoth down the hall to my apartment, feeling like a bitch the entire time for being suspicious of a guy who was just trying to do something nice for me.

But, see, that's what women have to deal with. We're socialized and conditioned to always be sweet and polite and smile really big and say please and thank you. Being nice is still a societal requirement for femininity. But that niceness tends to be at odds with any real sense of self-preservation, and I recognize now, as I did last night, as I did in the lobby of my building, that I was taking a chance by being nice and polite to that guy who, in the end, turned out to be nice and polite himself.

Here's an alternate storyline for that night: Same situation. Same bookcase, same thought process when he offered to help. But instead of having him drop the bookcase off in the hallway, I had him bring it into my apartment for me, at which point I learned that he was part of that five percent, and he brutally raped me. Or maybe he even dropped the bookcase off and was perfectly polite about it, then came back up around midnight, broke into my apartment, and did it then.

And here's what people would have said afterward: "What was she doing, letting a guy like that see where she lived? My six-year-old knows not to talk to strangers. This isn't a safe world we live in. Men can't be trusted. They can't be counted on to have self-control. Women need to be looking out for themselves all the time, because one stupid mistake like that is all it takes to get you in trouble."

And that is why telling women how not to get raped, and ignoring the entire rapist's side of the equation, will, in the end, do nothing but teach women to stay home every night, scared, with a locked door and a baseball bat close at hand. It's not even a matter of freedom to go out and get drunk on a Saturday, or wear a miniskirt in public; it's a matter of being able to be polite to my neighbors without wondering if I'm doing something stupid. We need more men like the nice guy my neighbor really is, and not like the violent rapist he could have, for all I knew, been. And that, rather than trying to make women appropriately afraid, is how we can prevent rape.

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