Victim-blaming and control – when sexism doesn’t ‘hurt men too’

If rape isn’t a gendered crime, why are women always taught that it is?

Thanks, Slate. Thanks, Cee-Lo Green. Thanks world.  Another spate of victim-blaming articles and debates in which a bunch of lovely, well-intentioned people play devil’s advocate about whether it was your fault you were raped or not. Hypothetically, you see. In the abstract. We’re debating whether women in general could prevent rape by doing x or y. Not you, dear.

The real lived experiences of victim-blaming, though, they are there too, under the surface. It was my fault. I should have done this. I shouldn’t have done that. Self-blame haunts you, but it also protects you. If it was your fault, maybe you can make sure it never happens again. Maybe you can make it something you have control over.

But you can’t. Rapes happen in all sorts of cultures, in all sorts of societies, and the only thing that even appears to consistently correlate with how common rape is in any given society is the treatment of women within that society.

When I say the way women are treated, I don’t just mean officially, but culturally. Is it generally accepted that women are a bit silly, a bit attention-seeking? That the things women care about are a bit trivial? Is it widely believed that women don’t like each other, but pretend that we do? That women lie? Do we let our boundaries get tested, do we accommodate things we’d rather not, are we made to feel guilty if we say no? Is that the culture we live in? Are those things normal? So normal we almost don’t notice them?

Not only do I believe rape itself is about control but I also believe victim-blaming is about control. It is the worst kind of benevolent sexism. The way victim-blaming plays out in practice sums up everything wrong with well-intentioned people kindly explaining to women what is best for us, for our own good. The misogyny of rape isn’t just about the physical act itself. It is about the fear of rape – and what that does to women’s freedoms.

Why is it that we are so quick to remember that men get raped too yet so slow to notice that all the tips, suggestions and instructions on how to avoid it are aimed at women?  If rape isn’t a gendered crime, why are women always taught that it is?

The problem with ‘helpful’ ideas for what women should do to avoid rape isn’t just that they implicitly victim-blame. They also exert control over women – all women. They feed into our cultural norms, into what becomes known as ‘common sense’, providing a drip drip drip of unofficial rules that we must follow, until women have a theoretical right to do all sorts of things, but that theoretical right exists alongside a tacit understanding that walking home late at night, or working in certain professions, or getting in a taxi, or being drunk at a party aren’t things we can reasonably expect to do without violence.

And the truth is, even though most men are not rapists, many perfectly nice non-rapist men still benefit from a culture where women are scared of rape.

Nice Guys who get aggressively upset when you don’t magically suck their dicks in gratitude at their Niceness are the obvious offenders. But there are other guys who benefit – really decent ones, who are just looking out for you. They mean well when they say, don’t go clubbing, don’t drink too much, don’t meet up with strangers, don’t walk home too late, don’t get in a taxi, don’t wear a dress, don’t wear heels, don’t wear things that unzip, don’t laugh, don’t flirt, don’t be timid. They wouldn’t rape you for not doing these things. That would be an offensive suggestion! But other guys – the Bad Ones – they might rape you if you don’t do what they say. So we better do what they say. Because of the threat of violence. But not from them, because they’re not violent.

They don’t have to be.

I’m not saying everyone who issues this kind of advice has the conscious intention of controlling women, or is a misogynist, or is anything other than a perfectly lovely person. What I am saying, though, is that, however well-meaning these suggestions are, the consequence for women is the same: to restrict our liberties, and restrict what we can realistically consider to be our rights.

And for those women who are raped, these ‘helpful’ suggestions make it harder. They make it harder to report anything that happens to us after we break one of these often totally contradictory rules. If we do report such incidents, these rules make it harder for us to get justice.  They make it harder for us to talk to each other and support each other about what happened to us, because we are made to feel our rapes are all different. These rules pit us against each other, and pin our hopes of justice or safety or being taken seriously on our rape being ‘worse’, and by default, other women’s being ‘better’. It stops us uniting. It makes it harder for us to name what happened to us. It makes it harder for us to say the word ‘rape.’

Victim-blaming doesn’t make me angry because it hurts my feelings, or offends me, or makes me feel guilty – even though it does. It makes me angry because it silences. It controls. And silence and control can never help address the problem of rape because they are, whether intentional or not, a direct exertion of power over women. And that, of course, is the entire problem in the first place.

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13 Comments

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  2. You don’t appear to have made any distinction between good advice/personal responsibility and victim blaming. I can only assume you consider it all the same.

    “If it was your fault, maybe you can make sure it never happens again. Maybe you can make it something you have control over.

    But you can’t. ”
    You are stating your opinion as though it is a fact. To suggest there is simply no action a victim of crime can take to reduce the chances of being a victim is completely false. It’s based on rhetoric, nothing else.

    “.. Rapes happen in all sorts of cultures, in all sorts of societies, and the only thing that even appears to consistently correlate with how common rape is in any given society is the treatment of women within that society.”

    You claim to see a correlation, but mention no causation. So what is your point? You could find any number of correlations if you wanted to.

    “Not only do I believe rape itself is about control”
    Well, some rape yes. But all rape? Not unless you redefine rape.

    ” but I also believe victim-blaming is about control”.
    What you appear to call victim blaming is advice and suggestions of how to take more responsibility for ones own security and safety. In other words ‘victim blaming’ is about control. But it is about the ‘victim’ taking control of themselves and being responsible for what they can be responsible for. It is not about ignoring the fact someone is a victim of unsolicited behaviour.

    “…It is the worst kind of benevolent sexism.”
    sexism? What you call victim blaming can happen anywhere. We recently had the word used towards Boris Johnson and cyclists. So it’s not sexist at all. It is simply a question of where good advice becomes blaming the victim for being a victim. You haven’t demonstrated this anywhere.

    ” however well-meaning these suggestions are, the consequence for women is the same: to restrict our liberties, and restrict what we can realistically consider to be our rights.”

    This is a fallacy. The consequences of responsibility is to restrict behaviour to responsible behaviour, the same is true for all human-beings. what do you consider to be realistically the rights of women/men in respect to the topic of rape?

    “And for those women who are raped, these ‘helpful’ suggestions make it harder…”
    This would appear a non sequitur. How does helpful advice cause all of the things (like low reporting and low conviction rates) that you claim?

    “They make it harder for us to talk to each other and support each other about what happened to us, because we are made to feel our rapes are all different. ”

    Again, how does advice to restrict the chances of rape and differences between individual cases of rape, prevent people from supporting each other?

    ” It makes me angry because it silences. It controls. And silence and control can never help address the problem of rape..”
    Surely then, silencing and controlling what advice can be given to people to increase there personal safety, can never help address the problem of rape. And may actually, increase the chances of someone being raped. Have you considered this?

    I can’t see how any of what you’ve written, both here and elsewhere can help to reduce instances of rape.

  3. “Victim blaming is about control. Not rape prevention”

    No, you said ‘you believe’ it is about control. You didn’t substantiate your belief with anything other than other unfounded beliefs you had.

    The point is you consider everything but what you want to hear and when, victim blaming. That’s the point.

    It’s so utterly ridiculous. I asked you if you distinguish between good advice and victim blaming, you did not answer. So I can only assume you don’t. So in essence, all advice to a potential victim/victim as to reducing the chances of being a victim. Even if true, is victim blaming.
    AND.. you state your belief as fact. that victim blaming is about control.

    And you think it’s me that doesn’t get it??

    So rather than people both male and female expressing views on how to be safe or reduce risk (amongst many other ways of achieving that aim), being victim blaming/control.

    It’s you who wishes to control perception and what people are allowed to say.

    A true liberal idiot.

    Instead of responding to any of the questions I asked about your blog. You give another childish reply, for the second time.

    You cannot fight logic and reason with your feelings. And everything you write is flawed for that very reason.

    I doubt I’ll see a response from you that actually engages with the questions asked. So good bye.

    • Mate, the problem is, I’ve “engaged” with this argument about a million times. It’s so basic. It’s boring. I’ve engaged with it, others have engaged with it. Repeatedly. Look up Shakesville. Look up Lindy West writing on rape culture. Read some history, learn about how women have been told to do different things to avoid rape, none of which ever work. And all of which, coincidentally, benefit men.

      No offense but this is a blog post really aimed at people who already have some basic understanding of rape culture, victim blaming, and sexism. I’m not going to explain why 1+1=2 to you. You’re not the point of this conversation.

      (Ok here you go. There is no “advice” that stops women being raped. Staying sober doesn’t work. Being married doesn’t work. Getting taxis instead of walking home doesn’t work. Staying home doesn’t work. Going out doesn’t work. Wearing less revealing clothes doesn’t work. Covering up doesn’t work. Being more sexual doesn’t work. Being less sexual doesn’t work. There is nothing that has ever, ever, ever been found to reduce our chances of getting raped. Ever. Get it? I’m so sick of saying this. This is like rape 101. Everybody who knows anything – criminologists, psychologists, historians, lawyers, researchers, people who’ve worked with rapists, people who’ve worked with survivors, people who are survivors – knows that this is true.)

      You know when you say things like “everything I write is flawed and illogical”? You think you’re “logical” and I’m “childish” and just writing with my “feelings”? That’s how I know you’re not worth engaging with. You’re, apart from being patronising, pompous, ignorant, tedious, and falling back on hilariously blatant sexist stereotypes (yeah you’re rational and I’m emotional, ha ha that’s a new one), you’re just RUDE. This is a blog about rape, and the oppression of women through violence. That’s a pretty important subject. You see it as an opportunity to try and pick holes and make a rape survivor look “emotional” and defend rapists and their apologies, and insult raped women. That is not a person who is engaging in the conversation in good faith, with the intention of actually trying to make women safer and freer and make life better for people. That’s a person with an agenda. Yeah, you. YOU. You are not rational, you are biased, prejudiced, ignorant, and, yes, EMOTIONAL. Your comments are all totally couched in sentimental cliched waffle that has no basis in fact, and even the most basic research would tell you as much.

      So, you don’t research the rape, you don’t want to listen to rape survivors, and you don’t want to be respectful or polite. What is your motivation for wading into a discussion about rape? Yeah, I thought so.

      Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

      • Learn some history?

        Perhaps you should learn what fallacies are. Go through them before posting your next reply.

        ” Look up Shakesville. Look up Lindy West writing on rape culture. Read some history, learn about how women have been told to do different things to avoid rape, none of which ever work. And all of which, coincidentally, benefit men. ”

        What does ‘none of which work’ actually mean? That there are still some people who get raped? Does the advise reduce instances of rape? yes. So it does work, it does not stop ALL rape, but it can help reduce cases of rape. Most people regard that as a good thing. As with any other crime.

        “All of which coincidentally, benefit men” hmmm… Slightly dubious. Do all men commit rape? No. Are men also victims of rape? Yes. So yet more ideological nonsense from you. Trying to frame it as a males vs females. It’s more a case of humans that obey social norms vs those that don’t.

        “No offense but this is a blog post really aimed at people who already have some basic understanding of rape culture, victim blaming, and sexism. I’m not going to explain why 1+1=2 to you. You’re not the point of this conversation. ”

        What you actually mean, is, this is a blog dedicted to people who already agree with you, and debate/discussion is not what you are interested in. The only person exhibiting sexist views, happens to be you. Neither do you appear to have a realistic interpretation of what victim blaming or rape culture is.

        “Ok here you go. There is no “advice” that stops women being raped. Staying sober doesn’t work. Being married doesn’t work….”

        You are trying to make a point that is stupid. Nothing will remove rape 100% beyond redefining it. The question is thus of reducing the chances of it happening. Much of the advise given can do so. You appear unwilling to recognise this fact.

        “”Everybody who knows anything”.. you’ve been studying politics and how to manipulate opinion, try providing actually evidence or explanations that support your opinions/belief.

        If your argument is founded on emotion and lacks proper thought and reasoning. It’s not sexist to point it out. You jump to the sexism card as a means of avoiding the obvious flaws in your work. You’ve thrown countless insults, attempted to be patronising and dismissive. I’ve persistently tried to get you to support the argument you made. You keep refusing to do so.

        “What is your motivation for wading into a discussion about rape?”

        Hmmm.. it seems you didn’t read my posts. I guess that would explain why you’ve written so much without answering any of the questions put to you..

        I’ll ask again. Do you distinguish between good advise and victim blaming? if so, what shape would that good advise take? If not, why not? (if it’s because no advise will remove rape 100% , what is the point in your blog (unless you believe your blog will reduce rape 100%))?

        Are the only victims of rape female?

        Do you accept females can and have committed rape?

      • I’ve answered your “point”, boring as it is.

        Women changing our behaviour doesn’t work. It’s not that it stops some rapes, or can never stop 100% of rapes. It stops none. Never. Doesn’t work. So if you’re interested in ending rape, stop telling women what to wear or drink or where to go, because it has zero impact on rape. ZERO.

        I’ve engaged with all sides of this. You assume anyone who disagrees with your demonstrably false “points” (lol) must be biased. The opposite is true. People come to different conclusions because they know things you don’t. It’s painfully obvious how ignorant you are.

        You’re not being rational. You’re insisting women do things to prevent rape, asserting that it could work, when there’s evidence that it has no impact on rape, you dismiss the evidence, you cry about the “sexism card”, and then accuse me of being emotional and not rational. You’re not rational. There’s not a single fact or piece of evidence in any of your comments.

        “A flaw in your work” get over yourself, you pompous clown, it’s a blog post. “Countless insults” why should I be polite so some wanker insulting me over the internet? Your comments are very rude and very offensive. I don’t care how “rationally” you try to position yourself lol.

        Now you’re talking about men being victims of rape too? Dude, that was explicitly mentioned in the blog. Victim blaming is directed at women, yet men are raped too. That is the point.

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