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How about we not put all the responsibility for rape on women?

I know this is a novel idea, American ideal, but maybe we could not make male-on-female rape a problem that women have. Maybe we could put the blame and the agency and the responsibility where it actually belongs: on the rapists. Because, just… this, from Audrey Binkowski at Laugh, Mom:

Never take a drink from anyone or let your drink out of your sight. Don’t show too much cleavage. Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Never go to a boy’s room alone. If it comes to it, go for the eyes, the nose, the balls. Always stay with a group of girls…safety in numbers. You can’t trust him, even if he seems nice.

These are all the rules I was taught growing up. Parents, teachers, media, all told me I had to be careful not to get raped. Because I was a girl. And the responsibility was on me.

I’m so fucking sick of it.

Seriously. I’m really sick of it. Young American women are taught to live in fear, to live in a state of heightened anxiety, because they are inherently victims. Because if it happens — if you’re sexually assaulted — you’ll be expected to explain all the ways that you did everything you could to prevent it, and if you didn’t do all of those things, well, then. You bear responsibility for what happened to you, even though you are not the one who made the choice to attack another human being. Even though you were the one who was attacked.

Once upon a time, when i was married, my husband asked me, very gently and quietly, if I had ever been sexually assaulted, because I was so impassioned about it. I, truthfully, told him that I had not, but that whether or not I was a rape victim wasn’t the point: We live in a society in which I could be, and am taught, near-daily, to be vigilant against the possibility. Because it’s my job to protect myself. His reaction — confusion that I was so passionate about something that wasn’t my own personal experience, and frustration and hostility at my assertion that we have an uncontrolled rape culture that victimizes women for simply existing — was, in some ways, the beginning of the end of that relationship for me.

My frustration isn’t about a failed marriage. It’s about our culture, and what it does to both men and women who live in it. Our societal love of “traditional gender roles” has an inherent power dynamic, and when you can acknowledge that rape is a crime of power, not of sex, then you can also link that crime to our support of those traditional gender dynamics. And it’s not okay. It’s not okay to say and believe and agree with the notion that rape is inevitable, that women have the responsibility to prevent it, and that “good” men should hate rapists but only if it’s “real” rape, or “violent” or  if the woman was “pretty” or whateverthehell excuse is on the agenda today and that only women who’ve been actively victimized by sexual assault should be upset by rape and that under no circumstances should we talk about the ways in which we culturally excuse rape as just one of those things that just inevitably happens.

Because if we don’t talk about it, then you can’t take that to its reductionist end, and you never acknowledge that at that reductionist end you’re saying that men can’t help but be rapists, the poor things. And I don’t believe that for an instant. I think we allow men to be rapists by indoctrinating them into a society that says rape is the woman’s fault, and by devaluing women as members of society.

And I say fuck that noise. Make  a different world.

Binkowski goes on about the Steubenville rape case, and I cheered a sad little cheer inside.

Never, at any point in following this story, did I stop and think, “Man…that sucks for those rapists.”

You know why? Because they are rapists. Yes, they are young. Yes, they are stupid. Yes, they made a mistake. Yes, they had good grades. Yes, they were athletes. Yes, they are someone’s sons. Yes, they have fucked up their futures. Not a single one of those facts excuses them from the consequences of raping someone.

There seems to be some sort of fucked up public opinion that we should pity these boys because, hey, we all do dumb stuff when we’re young. Because it could have been our sons. And to that I say, bullshit.

We need to stop letting it be our sons.

We need to teach our sons that no means no. And that silence means no. And that drunkenness means no. And that being passed out means no. And that “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “maybe we shouldn’t do this” means no.

We need to teach our sons that women and girls are actual people. They’re not just bodies. They’re not just holes. They’re not inanimate objects to be used at will.

And we’re not the ones who should be tasked with preventing rape, because we’re not the ones exercising our agency and our morality in deciding to rape someone. Put the blame where it belongs, and the responsibility.

This rant brought to you not just by Steubenville and all it represents but also by this image and the associated cultural baggage we all bring to the discussion of women’s behavior in society.


  1. Jenica Author

    And then I came across this excellent article on ways we can all work to prevent the passivity that’s so horrifying about the bystanders at Steubenville. The commentary on cross-gender empathy really intrigued me.

    … as did this. *chuckle* “As with rape, many of the items on this list have traditionally been sidelined as “women’s issues.” So, lastly, if you think certain things are “women’s issues,” think again. There are very few things—maybe tampon technology—that are uniquely specific to women. Otherwise, especially when it comes to the Big Issue, there is almost nothing that ISN’T a “women’s issue,” including the economy, war and militarism, state security, global warming, scientific denialism, and abuse of power in every manifestation. The list is literally infinite.”


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