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Girl-on-Girl Victim-Blaming Action (or, The Most Terrible Time of the Year)

December 16, 2011

[trigger warning for the text and the embedded links]

What is it about December that inspires mass breakouts of victim-blaming? Is it the darkness encroaching on our days? Is it the way the holidays make us all want to drink? Whatever it is, it’s happening again. And just like last year’s Never-Ending Naomi Wolf Incident, this one involves women hating on women in ways that shouldn’t shock me but still really, really do.

To review: The PA Liquor Control Board released an ad helpfully informing us that if we drink, not only are we at fault if someone commits a felony violent crime against us, but also if our friends are criminally assaulted. While many people went to great pains to point out that this is a fucking disgusting and dangerous message, Jessica Wakeman at The Frisky “bravely” ventured that maybe us laydeez really do need lecturing about “how taking more drugs or drinking more booze than you can handle is stupid.” (With a bonus hierarchy set up between rapists who prey on drunk women, and rapists who use date rape drugs. Because there’s rape, and there’s rape-rape, amirite?) Then, Wednesday, Keli Goff doubled down on that oh-so-helpful approach, under the guise of starting a conversation “that keeps getting suppressed because activists start throwing around words like ‘victim shaming’ and then others with dissenting voices immediately retreat.” (I’d like to read the internet she’s reading, please!) Meanwhile, this weekend, an article surfaced on Mizzou’s Campus Basement page which was just one long “joke” about how hilarious it is to get sorority girls drunk and then rape them. When pressed in the (now removed, along with the original article) comments section, the female author of the piece claimed she wrote it in order to teach other girls not to “act stupid” or “put a target on their back.”

There’s just one teeny tiny problem: couch it the trappings of edgy rebellion against the PC police all you want; telling the world that “drinking to the point of blacking out” makes women more vulnerable to rapists is still exactly as brave as Rick Perry coming out as a Christian homophobe. And comparing a woman who’s been sexually violated while smashed to your drunk uncle who drives the car into the pool misses a crucial point: while each of us is absolutely responsible for the harm we do to ourselves and others while drunk, we’re never responsible for the harm others do to us.

I can already hear the howls of “practical” protests: it may be unfair, but don’t women still deserve to know what can keep them safe? I assure you: we already know. Even your 12-year-old niece knows that “bad girls” should expect bad things to happen to them, and drinking, especially to excess, is one of the hallmarks of a bad girl. This isn’t exactly an innovative approach to rape prevention. If “just say no” messaging could keep women safe, we’d all be a lot safer already.

In fact, what’s most troubling about this everything-old-is-eww-again trend is its underlying lack of concern for women. The message isn’t preventing even one rape. It just (thinks it’s) encouraging the individual female reader to not be the girl who gets picked. Because, in the vast majority of cases, rape isn’t an accident, or even a crime of opportunity. Researchers have estimated that over 90% of campus rapes are committed by a tiny minority of guys who know what they’re doing and attack over and over again, specifically because we’re too busy warning women about their drinking habits to figure out how (or even try) to stop them. That means if they’re looking for a drunk target, and you’re not it, these guys will just find someone who is. And then all that focus on who’s “smart” enough not to over-imbibe will translate into a collective finger-wag at anyone “stupid” enough to do otherwise, and instead of working together for our collective safety, we’ll again be too busy blaming each other to deal with the actual rapists in our midst.

And that brings us right around to where we started: this is why women are so often the ones perpetrating this shit on other women and on the culture at large. Not just because being a woman who’s willing to shame other women in the media is the laziest possibly way to appear “rebellious” and “free-thinking” while saying the most mainstream, status-quo bullshit imaginable, therefore making yourself more employable by those charming 1%ers who own most of the media and like the status quo just fine. (Though all that is most certainly true.) But also because we want it not to be us. Of course we don’t. None of us want to be raped, ever. It’s just some of us let that perfectly human impulse take over our brains and our hearts. When that happens, we start to believe the pro-rape propaganda that there’s a List of things we can do to keep ourselves from being raped, and that those who do get targeted are the ones who failed to follow The List. Which is too bad, really. We feel bad for them, we do. But we sure as fuck are glad we’re not “stupid” enough to “let” it be us.

What’s worse, all this finger-wagging about booze doesn’t make even the waggers of said digits any safer. It makes them feel safer, sure, but there’s miles of difference between feeling safer and being safer. Believing that being more virtuous than the next girl will keep you safe from rape actually puts you in greater danger, because you’re less likely to spot warning signs that you’re being targeted if you think you’re at less risk. So congrats, pearl-clutchers: you just made life worse for the people who do get raped while drunk (and if you’re clutching those pearls in a public forum, you’ve literally increased the amount of rape in the world), and that smug feeling you derived from it doesn’t even reduce your own risk. Well-played.

But wait, there’s more! Specifically: so the fuck what if someone is taking different risks than you? We need to get over the idea that there’s some risk-free way to be sexual, or to more generally pursue pleasure, or to do anything else in life. Nobody gets shitfaced because they think it’s a responsible or safe thing to do. We do it because we’re feeling rebellious, or it feels cathartic to let loose, or because all our friends are doing it and we want to be with our friends, or because we want to convince someone we’re hot for that we’re “fun,” or any number of other “good” or “bad” reasons that boil down to: we know we’re taking a risk. And because we all value different kinds of rewards differently, we’re all going to decide different risks are worth it. You think staying sober and only having sex with your monogamous partner will keep you safe? Well, it won’t, but you don’t see me wagging my finger about sober monogamy, and if you get hurt in that situation, I won’t assume it’s because you didn’t know the risks or were too dumb to care. Because I believe that we all get to decide which risks are right for us, and that if someone commits a felony violent crime against you while you were taking what someone else considers to be a “risk,” it’s still not your fault. If a bungee jumper’s bungee snaps, do we cluck our tongues about how people should stop being so stupid as to bungee jump? No: we ask who provided the faulty bungee (and make sure the jumper gets medical care!). So maybe we should spend more time equipping ourselves to decide which risks are right for us personally, and no time at all judging other people’s choices.

Besides, if one gender has to stop drinking “to excess” because there’s a link between alcohol and rape (and let’s be clear: rapists are just as likely to be drinking as their victims), why isn’t it the gender that does the overwhelming majority of the raping? Oh right, because we’d never ask men to give up their ability to decide which risks are right for them. We only do that to women and gender non-conforming folks, so that when they make decisions we wouldn’t make we can have the pleasure of calling them “stupid.”

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. Mimi Seldner permalink
    December 16, 2011 4:17 pm

    You don’t think people injured/killed while bungee jumping catch shit for having been bungee jumping in the first place…?

  2. Mimi Seldner permalink
    December 16, 2011 4:20 pm

    *Clarification: I agree with your post. I don’t think women or bungee jumpers should be blamed for the failures of others. I just think you’re probably wrong about how many “he/she was asking for it”s people bungee jumping, scuba diving, etc engaging in things the average American writes off as dangerous get even when it wasn’t the inherent risk of the activity but the failure of someone else’s manufacturing that caused the accident.

  3. December 16, 2011 10:32 pm

    Gee. I’m glad I now know that the reason I was sexually assaulted was because I was morally inept.

  4. Jessica permalink
    December 19, 2011 3:18 pm

    “…telling the world that “drinking to the point of blacking out” makes women more vulnerable to rapists is still exactly as brave as Rick Perry coming out as a Christian homophobe.”

    Exactly. Instead of bullshit “advice”, if people really wanted to help others be safe from rape, they would actually go to clubs, frat parties and such, and actually ACT – watching what goes on, and physically intervening if bad shit is starting to happen. Yes, it shouldn’t be our responsibility to prevent people from doing violence to others, but the responsibility of those doing the violence – but if the people you love were being attacked, would you just stand to the side and cry “shame”? Or would you actually take action to protect them?

    I think its past time to start backing our words up with action. Yes, its important to discuss all these issues and educate ourselves and others. But not taking action beyond that amounts to expecting some mythical force to just magically make things right. It won’t – it is up to us.

    Not everyone is called to serve the community as warriors; we need teachers, healers, people helping in many ways. But this is a call to the warriors among us – we need to start patrolling the streets, bars, frat houses, etc, and start physically acting to keep our people safe. (And no, I don’t mean just calling the police – there are many, and better, ways to physically protect people than sticking a gun in someone’s face and pulling out handcuffs. Our criminal “justice” system doesn’t heal anything, but only perpetuates violence and trauma. It is time for another way.)

  5. December 26, 2011 11:39 pm

    I’ve only spoken to close friends and family about what happened to me 5 years ago partly because I’m embarrassed and ashamed. Because I’m a “smart” woman but i still “let this happen to me.” (The circumstances were very similar to the topic here.) I’m glad I found this link via Twitter. Thank you for writing and advocating for people like me who won’t do it for ourselves. Thank you for helping reiterate that no matter what I did or didn’t do that night, it’s not my fault. Five years later and I still have a hard time with that.

  6. Rose permalink
    December 31, 2011 1:49 am

    I’m really glad I read this post! This one sentence: “while each of us is absolutely responsible for the harm we do to ourselves and others while drunk, we’re never responsible for the harm others do to us,” really resonated with me, and despite that fact that’s it’s a simple statement, cleared up my internal confusion about the topic. Also, “we all get to decide which risks are right for us, and that if someone commits a felony violent crime against you while you were taking what someone else considers to be a “risk,” it’s still not your fault.” Coming into your post, I could sympathize a little with The Frisky article, but really feel like I understand what you are saying now, and I think you are absolutely right.

  7. fede04 permalink
    January 12, 2012 6:36 pm

    This whole piece, and not least this bit:

    “we start to believe the pro-rape propaganda that there’s a List of things we can do to keep ourselves from being raped, and that those who do get targeted are the ones who failed to follow The List. Which is too bad, really. We feel bad for them, we do. But we sure as fuck are glad we’re not “stupid” enough to “let” it be us [...]
    congrats, pearl-clutchers: you just made life worse for the people who do get raped while drunk (and if you’re clutching those pearls in a public forum, you’ve literally increased the amount of rape in the world), and that smug feeling you derived from it doesn’t even reduce your own risk. Well-played.”

    is hands-down the best exposition I have seen on the reasons for and dangers of woman-on-woman victim-blaming. Thank you so much.

  8. tara(Transtopia) permalink
    January 15, 2012 3:17 pm

    Well put. The thing that still bothers me though, is that IS irresponsible to binge drink, its dangerous&serial rapists to pray on women who do it, but yes there are MANY other factors involved in choosing the right victim(creeps me out to no end to say that). So i am happy this piece so eloquently brings up the question of why? Why are we still victim blaming after all this time&supposed progress. I guess cause patriarchy is still the dominant structure, and well its easier? These serial rapist many times pick their victims before theyve even gotten drunk or high in the first place.
    So what IS the right message to send our young people, out on campus, many living out of the parental home for the first time? Teaching them how to recognize predators? Creating safe spaces? Fact is this process still places the responsible

  9. tara(Transtopia) permalink
    January 15, 2012 3:20 pm

    Grr contd…places the responsibility on the victims. Until we truly stand up&stop protecting the rapists-hold them accountable for tye wholr community to see, jail them&keep them there, we will never have progress. Victimization will remain eternal.

  10. anon permalink
    January 20, 2012 3:08 pm

    I don’t understand why women are expected to be solely responsible for all sex acts. If we look too “slutty” then we’re asking for it and it’s our fault. If we look too “pure and innocent” some guy needs to show us a good time. There is no safe place for women nor is there anything we can “do.” I don’t know why people perpetuate the idea that women are somehow… raping themselves. The simple fact is that the only people who cause rapes are rapists. Why should they not be held accountable for their own actions instead of their victims? If a man can’t control his need to sexually and violently dominate women, than perhaps he should refrain from leaving the house without a chaperone, the way so many women are forced to as a way of “protecting” them.

  11. January 25, 2012 1:59 am

    Human laziness never ceases, nor ceases to amaze. So many people “work” to prevent rape or other injustices with the most flippant, lazy, unhelpful b.s. Anyone who feels like tossing about, “Ladies, don’t drink,” messages as “activism” is simply self-deluded, trying to feel good about themselves without ever actually feeling bad. Actually caring about rape might entail recognizing the reality of what they’re talking about as a human experience, the complexity of the system it’s tied up in, and the guilt of past participation and apathy, the discomfort of feeling unsure and helpless before knowing what to do next, then doing something.

    I’d like to see some movements towards campus activism to teach people to recognize coercive behavior and some basic skills to disrupt it, whether you’re the person being coerced or witnessing it. Boundaries usually get tested and pushed before they get completely torn down, and often at least some if this is done in front of others. Rape culture makes it normal for women to have their boundaries trodden on in supposedly non-harmful ways with male and female collusion that instills a message not to fight back.

    I think a lot of people participate or at least fail to disrupt rape culture playing out in their everyday lives even though they have some sense of something wrong happening because they don’t know how to name it and aren’t sure what to do. I’ve seen whole groups of people sit uncomfortably while guys test boundaries with drunk women or try to disrupt it indirectly, and I’ve been amazed by how fast the dynamic can change if someone says something disapproving and points out what’s happening. Often I think people fear violence or an intense reaction from the person doing the testing if they call them out or intervene. But lots of guys are ashamed when someone points out that they’re overstepping their boundaries, and it becomes very clear to others that they are creepy if they aren’t and disempowers them in the situation.

    Why aren’t coercive guys constantly singled out and made to feel weird and decidedly uncool and unappealing? I doubt many of them have the nefarious skills to appear totally respectful of others until the moment they find the opportunity to attack. They aren’t camouflaged, they blend in. Rape culture in all its everyday, sexist glory blurs the lines between consent and coercion, sex and rape, normal interactions and abuse until people think and talk and act crazy. Introducing some clarity into the environment is the only way to really make it safer.

    I read a really cool story of someone disrupted what might have turned into a rape on this blog. I will link the comment if I can dig it up.

    Also, excellent use of amirite. Made my day, honestly.

  12. Laura permalink
    April 11, 2012 10:50 am

    I just have a slight problem with one part of this post. I completely agree that victim-blaming is awful. If a rape was committed, it took someone completely disregarding someone else’s right to their own body – and the perpetrator is always the only person at fault.

    However, I don’t think that means we can’t talk about ways to make yourself a little safer. For example, one of my best friends has been sexually assaulted by 3 different guys, and each time it happened, it was when she was drunk at a frat party and ended up alone with a guy. Her being drunk/alone/at a frat party isn’t what caused the sexual assaults, and they are absolutely in no way her fault.
    BUT, I still think it’s a smart decision for her to try to go to different parties (ones with better cultures than the frats on campus, ones where people know each other and are held socially responsible for their actions, etc.) and to try to go with friends who will all watch out for each other. I don’t think she has a responsibility to do any of those things, and no sexual assault that happens at a frat party or when she was alone is ever her fault.

    You say that people can’t blame the friends of someone for not stopping a situation, and that’s true. But it doesn’t mean that it’s not useful for friends to watch out for friends at parties. I stopped a sexual assault from happening once by keeping tabs on a friend at a party.
    You’re also right that a lot of the advice people give others (especially women) about avoiding sexual assault is just stupid advice. Everybody already knows it and saying it over and over just perpetuates people’s assumptions about sexual assault.
    But – I remember an older woman counseling me that, when I went to parties with a group of friends, we should consider having someone who was the equivalent of the “designated driver” (“designated walker” for us) who kept an eye on everyone else. I think that is a smart idea. I think that would reduce the number of sexual assaults (even though it would reduce the number of sexual assaults enough – we need a huge culture change for that).

    You yourself talked about how you called your roommate and told her where you’d be when you went to B.’s place; you did that to make sure that B. wasn’t trying to axe-murder you, not to avoid rape, but I think violent crimes can be easily compared.
    People always victim-blame with violent crimes, and they do it with regards to being axe-murdered by someone you met on Craigslist – and that’s bad, but it doesn’t mean we can’t talk about ways to take our safety into own hands in context of a conversation that bashes victim-blaming and upholds that the person at fault is always, always the person committing the crime.

Trackbacks

  1. » I Want To Discuss Rape Culture » femamom.com femamom.com
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