Let me preface this by saying one thing about my position, that MUST be clear. Rape – sexual assault of any kind – is bad. It is wrong and there is NEVER justification for it happening. This blog post is focused more on the rape/sexual assault of women and girls, not to dismiss the fact that men are sexually assaulted too, just because this is where my head has been going lately.
My issue is more with how this is being fought. Where the focus has been rather than where I think it needs to be. I don’t have all the answers on how to make this stop, but I know that if we don’t question what is and isn’t working now we’ll never work it out. So I question it now.
In particular, I question the “should” argument. I question the focus on a woman’s right to nakedness or revealing clothing, and I question the way this is being publicised as what needs to change. This will probably get quite long-winded so bear with me.
This is a topic that has been discussed between my husband and I for some time, and was reignited in me after I saw a photograph of a protester the other day. In it, she is naked to the pubic bone, with tape covering her nipples only. Across her body she has written ‘still not asking for it’.
You know what? She’s right. She isn’t. She does have the right to her nakedness if that is something she wants to pursue. It doesn’t give anyone else the right to rape her, assault her, stare at her provocatively or ‘get off’ on her nakedness.
But – and the reality here must crash in – they do. Let’s see that for a minute.
This photo has plenty of comments on Facebook at the moment, from all sides of the argument. But the very reason this photograph and/or others just like it get comments such as ‘nice tits’ or some other dickhead response is why this is NOT WORKING. Why this is the wrong fight to have.
This photo, and similar public displays (such as slut walk and so on) of the right to dress how we want, talk how we want, behave how we want and so on seem to bypass the very reality of the situation. They seem to completely avoid the concept of realistic risk. And this is a BIG problem. To me, it suggests the focus is in the wrong place entirely.
It isn’t changing anything – those who already agree see this picture and say YES! You’re so right, lady! But those who perpetrate see this picture and think something else entirely.
That is where the problem lies. I have had a conversation recently with someone who commented on this picture, and his points are both very real, very valid and very brave – especially because he’s a man. He’s already experienced the result of questioning anything on such a raw subject as being equivalent to a rapist-sympathiser, of which he is not. There is every chance a radfem may call me a ‘sympathiser to the male privilege’ for holding the opinion that I do. But I am not.
Here is his initial comment in full:
“The issue is that men who respond with “we can control our urges, we aren’t animals” aren’t rapists. If I walk into a violent ghetto in a suit made of money; am I asking to be shot and robbed? Not explicitly, but I’m increasing my chances of it. Am I to be held accountable for the actions of someone who assaults and robs me? No. Could I have lived in reality and understood that there are bad people out there and tried to avoid it? Yes.
Is she asking for it? No. Is she increasing her odds of it? Yes.
It’s not a perfect world, people have to be smart about what they do and how they act. Rape isn’t excluded from this.”
Someone in the comment field mentioned that just as a banker has the right to count money without onlookers assuming it is theirs for the taking, this woman has the right to walk naked without being ‘taken’ and his response to that point was also a perfect summary of the problem.
“It’s like they are trying to tell rapists that it doesn’t matter what a girl is wearing, you don’t have a right to her body. Umm good point, except they are rapists… they aren’t weighing morality into the picture.
That guy saying just because a banker is counting money doesn’t mean it’s yours to take. Sure of course not. Unless of course I’m a bank robber. Then from my perspective it’s mine to take, so he’d best count it behind locked doors.
There’s no point in trying to push the concept of why rape is bad onto people who aren’t rapists.”
This is absolutely true. Another example is mine of the break and enter – one of the best ways to test logic is to apply it to other situations and see if it holds, hence these examples (apparently its also a sign of genius to be able to do this easily, lol, but that is irrelevant and a little snippet to lighten the mood). This is a simple analogy but it explains the perspective. And I do love a good analogy!
I, and probably you, lock our doors when we leave our house, or park our car. Do you? I do. It doesn’t mean I support rape. If you’re asking what the hell I’m talking about and how on earth they are connected, here goes.
I lock my doors because I do not want to be broken into. I know full well it may happen anyway. However because an unlocked house is easier to break into, an unlocked car easier to steal – I lock my doors. I don’t want to TAKE THE RISK of making it easier on people who have no qualms in violating my personal space and private property.
Now I am not saying being naked or revealingly dressed makes it ‘easier’ for a perpetrator to physically carry out the act. What I am saying is that they will be more likely to notice you, those who think it is ok to ‘get off’ on your image will be able to do that to your image in all its glory. It doesn’t mean if you’re in a nun’s habit and chastity belt or 15 layers of clothing, someone won’t look at you, or rape you. But it means you’ve made it a step harder – or perhaps more importantly, made yourself a step more invisible to people sniffing out a target. You’ve minimised your risk.
Minimising risk is part of the reality of an imperfect society. We shouldn’t have to lock our doors! True – we shouldn’t. But we do because we don’t want to do anything to make it easier or make it any more likely than it already is. We go to extra steps of having cameras and security alarms and all sorts of technology in order to protect our assets.
What is wrong with asking women to protect themselves? Taking personal responsibility for trying my best to protect my own body doesn’t sound unreasonable to me.
This is why the focus is wrong. I am not saying ok so rapists exist and you should all dress like nuns and that is the end of the story, problem solved. It’s not. It’s SO not. But what I am saying is that it SHOULDN’T MATTER how you are dressed. It is not that the world should be full of women wearing nothing, or wearing close to nothing. It shouldn’t matter. In a lot of these protests people get so caught up on being ‘allowed’ to dress (or undress) how and where they like, that people who are not comfortable in being naked or in revealing clothing easily become the enemy. If one woman turns up to protest in that nun’s habit and chastity belt – sometimes she will end up being attacked by the people who should be arguing her right to wear that too. If you want to be able to wear what you want – that should apply in every way shape and direction.
I think the focus on how women can, can’t, should or shouldn’t dress is completely, entirely missing the point. To say ‘rape still exists in Islamic countries where women wear a burqa’ is true. But it means that the clothing argument is irrelevant. I do understand that it can often be a focus in law enforcement and media etc – but this is does not mean this is what we are fighting against.
We have to fight against the things that make rapists think it is OK to do this. To anyone. Young or old, fat or thin, naked or in a burqa. I think we need to focus on that. That is where the efforts should lie, and while we do this – YES we need to be aware of the reality of the situation. We have to take precautions against our current environment UNTIL the environment has changed. We need to work on changing the environment.
Another one. If I call you a name, that is a problem. Whether I have called you a name because I’m being a bitch, because I am so stressed it just couldn’t be controlled and fell out of my mouth before I could censor it, because I am angry at someone else and you got caught in the crossfire, because I had the wrong end of the stick and mistakenly thought you were doing or being something different to what you were – in EVERY CASE IT IS WRONG.
The problem is that I called you a name. The problem is that I do not have the right to do that, so I need to change something. However, you taking precautions to avoid me when I am in a bad mood, anyone would understand that, in order to protect yourself, so you don’t have to experience that JUST IN CASE it happens again. Until such time as I am no longer thinking those bad things, or letting them out, or dealing with things I think you do or be in a more productive way, you have to protect yourself.
And that is no different here. Rape is always wrong, on anyone and at any time. No matter what they wear. But doing what you can to avoid it while simultaneously focusing on changing the culture itself, that is the way forward. The effort needs to be on changing how people grow up to think this is OK, how people grow up to think that it is something they are entitled to. The change needs to be on changing the attitudes of men inclined to carry out these horrible crimes. THAT is what we need to protest for. That is what we need to research – and that is what we need to argue MUST happen.
When that does – well, then we can wear whatever the hell we like without fear or awareness of consequence. For then will it be in the reality of our existence, that what we wear doesn’t matter, what we wear sends no sexual message and what we wear gives no one the right to do or think anything to or about us.