But She Was Asking For It
Recently I read a piece on Skepchick, an “Ask Surly Amy” blog in which the letter writer, named “Liz”, asked about a particularly awful situation she’d encountered with a male student at her university. The male student in question used the age old false argument that if a woman is falling-over drunk, or wearing a short skirt, that she is asking to be sexually assaulted. I’ve seen this argument many times, and Amy’s answer to the letter voiced many opinions I also share:
- That a woman has the right to wear whatever she wants, and should feel safe doing so
- That a woman should be able to drink however much she wants, and not fear being assaulted
- That a man that puts forward the premise above is insulting himself and other men in the claim that all men are incapable of controlling their sexual urges
I am personally insulted by this line of “reasoning” as presented by the male student in question. Not only is it damaging to the image of men, it is detrimental to humanity as a whole, for it perpetuates myths about men as mindless penises that walk around wanting to have sex with everything that moves. I am also insulted that men can honestly put forward this argument without feeling any sense of wrongdoing; as Amy pointed out in her article, it is probable that the kinds of men who argue this way that are in fact the ones more likely to commit rape or sexual assault on an unsuspecting drunken or scantily clad woman, and then plead that they were coerced by the woman in question.
However offensive I find this situation, it would be naïve to make the claim that, even though it is every woman’s right to demand that they feel safe, and are safe, in their environment regardless of their appearance or state of soberness, that they are in fact safe in the real world. Most of the time, with most men, it should be safe. Most men ought to be evolved socially enough to have the ability to not feel like they need to rape or assault. Most men ought to be capable of treating women with respect and dignity, and not just see them as mere objects for their gratification.
Unfortunately, as illustrated in the article by Amy, there are plenty of guys out there who believe that a woman is “asking for it” if they wear a short skirt, or get helplessly drunk in public. Of course this is an unacceptable attitude, but one that will take some work to rectify. It is an attitude that, unfortunately, is upheld by many religious and social traditions, and is deep-seated in the psyches of many males from a very young age. It is also an attitude that pervades even the legal system, and the defense stance of “provocation” is often used by aggressors and rapists, the attitude being that men (or that they as individuals) have no self control.
Given the tenacity of these attitudes toward women, the slut-shaming and victim-blaming is still rife within today’s cultures, and one doesn’t need to be living in Afghanistan to feel its effects. Even with positive DNA tests in rape cases, positive physical IDs and fingerprint evidence, women still find it difficult to find justice in rape and assault cases, the attitude often being “She was asking for it.”
It’s all well and good to demand that women feel and are safe in public, but what is the likelihood of that being the case when the reality is that some men still give in to their ignorantly primal urges to trespass onto the rights of others, as if they have no choice in the matter. How can we make society a safer place for all people, not just women, when there are those among us who don’t see that as a priority, or even think about the possibility of it eventuating? It irks me to say so, but sometimes it seems to me that the social conservatives, the ones calling for women to cover up, be demure, stay home and raise a family, are actually winning in this sense, because the alternative seems to be the chances of being raped or assaulted. Rather than move forward with notions of equality, it seems some factions of society are more than happy to force women back into the kitchen and laundry.
With all this in mind, it’s no wonder that I’ve recently heard the terms “Schrödinger’s rapist” and “Pascal’s rapist” (terms which I find equally offensive, but for different reasons) when it is clear to me that, even with the majority of people falling into the camp of reasonable conduct (by this I mean people who think of women as more than sexual possessions), that a certain sector of society still regards the sight of an intoxicated woman or a bit of female flesh as an invitation to sex.
Either way I look at this problem, I see it as the tip of a social iceberg. The sexual discrimination on a popular level is only the tip of the actual problem worldwide. Attitudes like the one coming from the initial letter at Skepchick can be seen and heard in many levels of society, but the underlying sexist attitudes of society at large are entrenched in so much of the world’s many cultural histories as to seem insurmountable.
So the question remains, how many voices of dissent against these attitudes need to be heard, how many people need to point out the entrenched misogyny, how many women will be subjected to the same line of defense against rape and assault coming from the offenders, before we can overcome this aspect of society? I am hoping to see a change, but these kinds of paradigmatic changes cannot be made quickly, or without much effort on the parts of people like you and I.