Trigger Warning – Discussion of sexual assault and rape.
A woman is raped, and her attackers videotape the attack; the woman is told she should not have had so much to drink.
A young girl is assaulted, and her classmates tell her she led the boy on by talking to him and wearing “cute clothes.”
The men, the murderers and attackers – they may be, may! be held accountable in a court, but they are rarely held accountable by the public.
Instead, we lay blame against these women, as if there is anything at all in the world they could do to be responsible for these actions.*
I know all the arguments about the reality of the world, about women needing to be savvy, about being street smart. I don’t disagree with any of those things. Sadly, we need to protect ourselves.
What rankles me is that we only put our attention there, as if the way a woman dresses or the fact that she chooses to walk alone at night is the problem.
It’s not the problem. The fact that some men prey on women – that’s the problem.
If I’m a woman, and I’m walking down the street naked, you still don’t have a right to rape me. – Dick Gregory
We spend so much energy blaming the victim – and I know that’s a cliche, a buzz word – but let it buzz in our heads like a gong – BLAMING THE VICTIM. I know we do this sometimes because we think we – as women – can control only ourselves. But when we carry the blame on our own backs and heap it onto people who are already victimized instead of onto the people who committed these terrible crimes, we do nothing to solve the problem and everything to perpetuate it.
What if we dedicated as much energy to teaching men that they do not own women, to educating boys about respect and equality, to training men that women are not just bodies for men’s sexual pleasure, to speaking up when men attack women and saying, “You, you, sir, did something horrible?” What if we actually expected better from men?
What if we dedicated as much energy to teaching women that our gender does not make us victims, that our gender is not weaker or lesser, and that if people treat it like it is, the problem is theirs, not ours? What if dedicated as much energy to teaching women not only physical self-defense but also the kind of defense that comes from a sense of equality and self-worth, the kind of self-defense that lets a woman set boundaries and protect herself in conversations with co-workers and classmates, at dinner parties and movie theaters? What if we taught women to speak in declarative sentences instead of in questions – to say No and not need to justify it.
What if we dedicated as much energy to sitting with women who had been victimized and telling them – 100 million times if necessary to counter the cultural voices that say they are to blame – “You did nothing to deserve this. You did nothing wrong. Your attacker – he is to blame.”
A dear friend of mine was attacked this weekend. Attacked by a man she did not know. In broad daylight.
A friend of a friend of mine was raped on her back porch while her infant sat in a stroller nearby. In broad daylight. In a quiet neighborhood.
Another friend of mine was assaulted in a dance club. In a crowded public space.
See assault, rape – these are not things women can protect ourselves from all the time. We can carry whistles and go out in the day. We can walk with our keys between our stretched fingers and make good choices, and yet, we still are attacked. It’s not US who need to “make better choices.” It’s our culture that needs to stop saying the problem lies with us and to start addressing the real problem – men’s lack of respect for women.
What if we stopped tolerating language that makes it sound like it’s a woman’s fault if she’s attacked? What if we stopped allowing men to make jokes about rape, if we stopped allowing men who don’t know us speak to us as if we are only bodies to be evaluated? What if took all that energy that we put into trying to protect ourselves and taught our society how to value us and protect us instead?
*Of course, men are victims of sexual assault, too. I grieve for these men as well. Yet, 9 out of 10 rape victims are women.