Trigger Warning: Rape Apologism!
Disclaimer: Statistically the vast majority of rapists are men, and the majority of rape victims are women. Nota bene: men do get raped, and that comes with its own set of extra bullshit that the victims have to deal with. LGBT people are also at serious risk for sexual assault no matter their gender identity or expression (but particularly transgender people).
I say these things because I am going to talk about rapists and rape victims in terms of their statistically prominent genders, but you should not take that as a cue that those are the only genders of authentic rapists or the only genders of authentic rape victims. It’s for simplicity’s sake, but it’s important to me to make sure that readers be aware that the full demographics of rape include more than “cis men raping cis women.”
Whether you’ve seen this image before or you haven’t, you probably know by now that there will be people who see it and miss the point entirely. There will be commenters who say, “Yes, but–” followed by some argument about personal responsibility and women needing to understand that they can’t trust anybody with their safety but themselves and women should know that and be aware of it constantly because that’s the only thing that’ll stop a rapist from getting her.
There will be commenters who read this sign and process it as, “I played with fire and I got burned.” I know, because I just talked to someone who explicitly stated that that’s how they interpreted it. Get raped in any way that is not having your well-locked and alarmed home in a “safe” neighborhood broken into in the dead of night while you’re safely inside where a woman belongs and you’re playing with fire. Be outside? Be around people? Be drunk anywhere at any time? Dress in a certain way? Well, if you play with rapists, you’re gonna get raped. What did you think would happen.
These commenters always think that they’re offering some essential insight that they feel the conversation is lacking, too. They think they hear all the time about how rapists are bad, and they wish someone would bring up that rape victims help rape happen, too. They’re pretty sure that there’d be less rape if someone would just tell victims to stop letting themselves get raped.
If you are making any of the points on that list, at best you are making a point that has been so beaten to death that it’s an item on a list of shit we’re sick of seeing. Consider whether that means you’re making a point we haven’t heard before.
The one I’m going to focus on right here is Mr. I’m Not Blaming Her But It’s Her Fault. If you can make the argument that some rape victims were “playing with fire” by doing whatever it is you think they shouldn’t have been doing, you are dividing rape victims into categories. I’ll be honest and say you kind of suck if you’re going to create two categories of rape victims: one you’re willing to feel bad for, and one you’re not.
And if you don’t think women understand that the general cultural wisdom is that we’re the only ones who can stop rape, that it’s our job to keep ourselves from getting raped rather than the rapists’ job to not be rapists, you haven’t seen much of your own culture from womens’ perspective.
Who Matters and Why Some of Us Don’t
I am always stunned by men who seem to think that it has never occurred to women that rapists and their friends don’t give enough of a fuck about rape and so we’re the ones who have to protect ourselves because nobody else even cares.
Believe me. We know that it’s our job to protect ourselves. We’re reminded of it every time someone tells a rape victim that because she did X or Y thing that it was her choices that basically made her own rape happen. We know that people will look for excuses not to give a shit that someone hurt us, and we know how easy it is to do something small to make our fates and safety and lives completely worthless to everyone who hears about what happens to us.
We fucking know. Reminding us that a conversation with you is one of the many many places where our worth is that tenuous? Not a nice thing to do.
If you had any idea how much the women around you are constantly adjusting their lives to reduce the likelihood that someone will even have the opportunity to be presented with the choice of whether they want to be a rapist today, you wouldn’t act like anybody needs a reminder that the only person who cares about a potential rape victim’s safety is herself. You wouldn’t act like you’re surrounded by women who need you to tell them that if they are not PERFECT, you won’t feel bad for them if they’re raped.
The idea that it’s less terrible when some women get raped than when others get raped is NASTY. My rape is just as important if a dear friend drugs me and fucks me or if I take my fingers off the top of my glass–we hold them that way so no one can drop anything in–and end up drugged and raped by a stranger for being a woman in public as if I am literally snatched off the street. For someone to have “more” sympathy, someone is getting less, and none of you have any fucking idea how hard women have to work not to be in the “less sympathy” category.
If you are not a woman, you may well have no idea how easy it is to be the kind of woman whose rape matters less. It can be as simple as fumbling too long with our keys or allowing a friend into our home.
The Rape Schedule
For all that I can tell you that I should be able to pass out naked in an alleyway outside a shitty bar, and if there are no rapists I won’t get raped, the fact is that I know damn well that if I am not perfect, if I do not treat every man as though he is a potential rapist and guard against him accordingly (including close friends and romantic partners, since acquaintance and partner rape are the most common kinds), not only could I get hurt, but nobody will give a shit about me.
You should look up “rape schedules” to get an idea of how women already twist our lives around because we have to weigh the odds that we’ll get raped ALL THE TIME. I mean, here is my “go to the store” rape schedule.
I leave my house with my house key already in my hand so that I don’t waste time outside in the Rapist Buffet. Before I turn to lock my door I do a look around to make sure I don’t see or hear anybody. Only then do I turn to lock my door quickly and then I’m turned back around again. Because if I fumbled for my key and that gave someone time to grab me while my back was turned, whose fault is it I got raped? My key should have been in my hand already; everyone knows that. Taking the time to select the house key from the key ring? Playing with fire. Whose fault is it when you get burned?
I walk briskly and confidently to my car, whether I feel confident or not. Why? Because studies show that clothing matters way less to rapists than whether their prospective victim looks like she’ll be frightened or submissive. If I look like I will be a pain in the ass, they’ll leave me alone and wait for a softer target. After all, he’s gotta rape SOMEONE tonight. It’s not like he can help it. All I can do is make sure it’s some other woman and not me. There’s no saving the slowest zebra–just make sure you aren’t it.
I unlock my door when I’m close enough to my car that I could sprint to it without anybody else getting to the unlocked door first, and I lock all the doors as soon as I’m in. After all, there’s still plenty of time between me sitting down and putting on my seatbelt and turning the ignition and pulling out and getting up to the nine miles per hour that’ll lock my doors automatically for someone to rush up, grab my door handle, and force their way into the car where I am. If someone did that, whose fault would it be that I got raped? I should have locked the door immediately instead of playing with fire.
Once I’m in the car and it’s locked, I worry more until I’m driving faster than the average human running speed, because I know that for the moment it’s just me. Provided I looked in the back seat before I got in. I did, though. You know why? If someone were in there and I got into the car without checking, whose fault is it that they hurt me? Mine, for playing with fire by getting in my car the way a man would.
At this point I can start worrying about what I’m going to do when I get to the store.
I pull into the parking lot, and I make sure that I choose a spot that is well-lit, doesn’t have any other cars running, and is close to the door. After all, if there were a car running right next to me and someone were to get out of it and grab me and drive off, it’d be my own damn fault for parking next to them and giving them an opportunity. Parking in parking lots is playing with fire.
The trip to the store is similar to the trip to my car was. The difference is that there is probably a security camera here. That will do absolutely nothing to stop me from getting raped, but it does have the comforting effect of making a photographic record of all the perfect choices I made so that the cops, a jury, a judge, my friends, and my rapist’s denialist friends can ALL SEE that I am a Good Woman who did everything right and so now it’s okay to care what happens to me. That camera is my avenue to proving I have worth as a human being, because it leaves people less room to tell themselves not to feel bad for me because I went and got myself raped.
I’m not even in the store yet, and how many times have I thought about rape? How many times have I considered the odds that I’ll be raped and tried to adjust for the fact that not ONLY does a prospective rapist obviously not see my safety as relevant, but neither do his friends or the people who’ll talk about my rape later?
Here’s what I asked the “playing with fire” guy. HOW OFTEN DO YOU FUCKING THINK ABOUT THIS? I bet it’s not as often as I do. You’re going to walk away from this discussion and think about other shit. I’m going to step outside and water my flowers on my very own patio in broad daylight and I guarantee you I’ll still be thinking about rape. Why? Because I’m outside, and that’s basically playing with fire, right?
Try not to treat me or any other woman like I don’t know nobody cares whether I get raped but me. I am not stupid. I know.
Just World Fallacy
There’s always something a victim should have done differently, because otherwise… otherwise people listening might have to realize that sometimes there just isn’t JACK SHIT we can do. That’s scary. Most people want to think that if they just do everything perfectly, they’ll be okay.
But life’s not like that, because life’s not fair. If you seriously think that bad things don’t happen to “good” people, grow the fuck up. Bad things don’t always happen to screw-ups, and sometimes safety is just luck. It’s frightening, but it’s the truth. Shit happens. That’s how it is.
“Oh,” you might be saying. “Well, shit. What am I supposed to do, though, if I’m already not a rapist?” I’m glad you asked.
I used to think that there wasn’t anything that you could do to help, but after watching the stuff my guy friends do when they go out and how much it means to the women around them, I’ve changed my mind.
I have guy friends who are known to basically all the women we hang out with as “safe” guys. This means more than that they won’t take advantage of what a rapist would see as an opportunity for an easy assault. It means that when they’re out, they monitor other guys as carefully as the women around them do.
The vast majority of rapists are men, and the kind of man who sees women as disposable playthings whose consent doesn’t matter? Way more likely to be controllable by other men than by women. Basically, the more aware a man is of the kinds of things women have to watch for, the less of a need there’ll be for women to treat every man like a rape waiting to happen.
“I’m directing this to men who inhabit het-identified social spaces, and I’m not really limiting it more than that. Women are already doing what they can to prevent rape; brokering a peace with the fear is part of their lives that we can never fully understand. We’re the ones who are not doing our jobs.
Here’s what we need to do. We need to spot the rapists, and we need to shut down the social structures that give them a license to operate. They are in the population, among us. They have an average of six victims, women that they know, and therefore likely some women you know. They use force sometimes, but mostly they use intoxicants. They don’t accidentally end up in a room with a woman too drunk or high to consent or resist; they plan on getting there and that’s where they end up.
Listen. The women you know will tell you when the men they thought they could trust assaulted them; if and only if they know you won’t stonewall, deny, blame or judge. Let them tell you that they got drunk, and woke up with your buddy on top of them. Listen. Don’t defend that guy. That guy is more likely than not a recidivist. He has probably done it before. He will probably do it again.
Change the culture. To rape again and again, these men need silence. They need to know that the right combination of factors — alcohol and sex shame, mostly — will keep their victims quiet. Otherwise, they would be identified earlier and have a harder time finding victims. The women in your life need to be able to talk frankly about sexual assault. They need to be able to tell you, and they need to know that they can tell you, and not be stonewalled, denied, blamed or judged.
Listen. The men in your lives will tell you what they do. As long as the R word doesn’t get attached, rapists do self-report. The guy who says he sees a woman too drunk to know where she is as an opportunity is not joking. He’s telling you how he sees it. The guy who says, “bros before hos”, is asking you to make a pact.
The Pact. The social structure that allows the predators to hide in plain sight, to sit at the bar at the same table with everyone, take a target home, rape her, and stay in the same social circle because she can’t or won’t tell anyone, or because nobody does anything if she does. The pact to make excuses, to look for mitigation, to patch things over — to believe that what happens to our friends — what our friends do to our friends — is not (using Whoopi Goldberg’s pathetic apologetics) “rape-rape”.
Change the culture. We are not going to pull six or ten or twelve million men out of the U.S. population over any short period, so if we are going to put a dent in the prevalence of rape, we need to change the environment that the rapist operates in. Choose not to be part of a rape-supportive environment. Rape jokes are not jokes. Woman-hating jokes are not jokes. These guys are telling you what they think. When you laugh along to get their approval, you give them yours.”