I’ve been meaning to write a short piece about this for the longest time because it bugs me to no end. And now’s as good a time as any.
Please consider the following:
Now, this might be a waste of time because the folks who seem to use words like “rape culture” are pretty passionate about it, and my friends who tend to be skeptical of this consider it generally unworthy of response. But I’m going to go for it anyway.
As far as I can tell, the logic goes something like this: if you tell a woman not to get drunk at a frat party or wear very sexy attire while walking down a dark alley at night because she might get raped, you’re apologizing for rape culture. If you suggest that a woman might do anything that could leave her vulnerable, you are essentially blaming her for the rape. Because a woman has the right to get fall-down drunk wherever she wants and to wear whatever clothes she likes including none at all and none of this gives anyone permission to rape her.
Which, you know: OK. Who’s going to argue with that?
But let’s try the basic logic for some other crimes. There’s been lots of news recently about iPhone thefts where folks basically walk up to you on the street, bunch you in the face, grab your iPhone, and run away. Part of the response has been to urge people not to have their iPhones in their hands or other visible locations, but to keep them in their pockets. So… is this apologizing for “theft culture”? Are we secretly saying that everyone who got punched in the face and had their iPhone stolen deserved it? Are we implying that iPhone thieves are just helpless to their base instincts? They can’t resist the sight of a deliciously tempting iPhone, and so we can’t fault them for grabbing it and running?
No. We’re saying that: “Hey, if you don’t want your iPhone stolen, you should probably be careful. Not that this excuses theft but, you know, thieves exist and you should watch out.”
I just don’t get the point of a poster like this. Can you imagine a poster with lines like:
- USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM!
If you are unable to stop yourself from robbing banks, ask a friend to stay with you when you go to deposit your paycheck.
- Don’t forget, it’s not borrowing from someone who isn’t home when you come by and take away their TV, it’s THEFT!
- Carry a handgun! If you are worried you might mug someone by ‘accident’, you can hand it to the person you would have mugged, so they can shoot you in the face instead.
Are these useful?
I realize that part of what has people so worked up is that most rapes aren’t by strangers. They are by acquaintances. Does that really matter?
In my life, virtually none of the women that I know and love have escaped being sexually assaulted at some point, and sometimes I knew the attacker, but when I was told in confidence I was begged not to tell. Those were “minor” incidents of groping by “friends”, and I didn’t know what I could do, so I agreed. I also knew of several rapes, including one by a serial rapist who raped at least two girls I was friends with. In that case cops were called, but (from my second-hand knowledge), none of the other victims agreed to testify and no formal charges were ever filed. None of these attacks were by strangers. They all happened on date. So I am not blind to either the extent of sexual crime, nor to the differences between it and ordinary crime. I just don’t see how this helps.
No matter how many girls are assaulted by a “friend” (or, worse still, a relative) as opposed to a stranger, it doesn’t really change the nature of the crime to me. Most murders are also by acquaintances. Does that mean posters will help?
I have a little girl now. She is 6. She’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, and if her mother is any indication she’s going to be fiercely independent, stubborn, and willful even without me trying to make sure she has the confidence to follow her aspirations. But yeah: I’m going to tell her how to be safe, too. And it won’t be apologizing for rape culture that leads me to do so. I have a son, too, and I’m going to be teaching him the importance of respect, restraint, and courtesy.
What strikes me as really tragic about this kind of poster is that it seems to be saying we basically give up on everything except trying to shame rapists into better behavior. “Naughty date rapist! Shame on you! Here, have a demeaning poster. Now how do you feel about yourself?”
Really? That’s the best we’ve got?
Call my crazy, but at least Victorian etiquette made it a lot harder to get a woman alone to assault in the first place. I’m not saying we should go back, but I am saying this doesn’t exactly look like progress to me.