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Notes on Rape Prevention, Responsibility, and Culture

January 7, 2010

If women are responsible for preventing rape…

then why is the advice given to us always to lock ourselves in our homes after dark unless escorted or to let people we trust guard our drinks and monitor whether we are too intoxicated to protect ourselves?

Why are we not, rather, told to keep company with other women: to watch them, their drinks, their bodies? Why are we told to depend on others instead of to look out for each other? If women are responsible for preventing rape…

then why is the emphasis so often on being wary of strangers and not of those men with whom we are most intimate? For women who do not live in war zones or other places where the social order has shattered, stranger rape is much less likely than rape by someone known and trusted.

Why are we not told to stop trusting men? If women are responsible for ending rape…

then wouldn’t that be the most effective way to protect ourselves? No, no, we must never be advised to do something that would limit men’s access to us. If women are responsible for preventing rape…

then can we ever be happy?

We are not happy now when, even if we follow all the rules of prevention, we are not safe. If we kept all the men out of our lives, and it worked to end rape, would those of us with male friends and lovers or male colleagues we respect be happy? If women are responsible for preventing rape…

Then we who live in relatively orderly social worlds cannot just focus on ourselves. We cannot take back only our nights. We should not be advised to protect ourselves alone. We must end war. We who live in invading nations must stop our wars. We must stop economic policies that destabilise societies. We must work to protect refugees and to prevent the circumstances that make them refugees. We must send aid and demand that aid is sent when natural disasters occur. We must challenge the culture of ableism which makes people feel that it is acceptable to rape disabled people and which often allows these rapists to get away with it.

Nor can those of us who are relatively privileged ignore how overlapping oppressions make other women more vulnerable to rape. If women are responsible for preventing rape…

We’re going to need more power.

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  1. Sam K permalink
    January 7, 2010 12:57 pm

    If I can try to parse out what’s happening in this post:

    -The first link, to a poster instructing women how to avoid dangerous situations that might lead to rape, means that women are “responsible for preventing rape”.

    – Instead of advising women to avoid strangers when drunk, why not instead advise them to stop trusting men? Wouldn’t this be the best solution?

    – (Things start falling apart here.) Women won’t be happy if they stop trusting men, so they should instead focus on stopping other women from getting raped, including women in other countries. So they should stop war. And protect refugees. And send more aid during natural disasters.

    I don’t have a problem with many of the arguments made here, as arguments. But they’re not made in any kind of logical progression. Yes, women should also be aware of being raped by somebody they know, but that doesn’t mean that’s ALL they should worry about. Furthermore, the puerile assumption that advising women not to put themselves in dangerous positions (as the poster does) means that women are then wholly “responsible for preventing rape” just doesn’t hold water. If there was a poster on a school campus advising people to avoid situations where they might get mugged, it would be absurd to think that this poster was somehow promoting the idea that the students are then entirely responsible for preventing mugging. Muggings do happen, and rapes do happen. Until that is no longer the case, women (and men!) should do what they can to avoid both.

    • January 7, 2010 2:04 pm

      You’re trying to simplify by applying either/or thought and causality inappropriately. I would’ve thought that the repeated line would have made it clear enough what the connection was? Not every piece of writing has to have the sort of structure you’re insisting on imposing.

      As for the rest, I really didn’t need to be reminded that (mostly) men rape (note: rapes don’t just “happen”) and since I’m feeling generous, here are a few links where you can educate yourself:

      In fact, I would strongly advise that you read up on that site in general before returning here so that in the future you can contribute to moving the conversation forward. When you do so, however, please avoid disrespectful rhetorical turns such as calling arguments “puerile” or criticising a style of writing. Our comments policy specifically asks for respect. If you can’t show that, you are not welcome here.

      • Sam K permalink
        January 7, 2010 3:13 pm

        Thanks for these links, but they did little but convince me that this entire line of argument requires serious refutation – that it is dangerously idealistic and borderline paranoid.

        To cite: “Rape culture is telling girls and women to be careful about what you wear, how you wear it, how you carry yourself, where you walk, when you walk there, with whom you walk, whom you trust…” This list goes on and on.

        My argument is pretty simple. Realistically acknowledging the threat of rape does not somehow condone it or create a “rape culture”. And pretending that the threat does not exist is dangerous. To draw an analogy, imagine a driving instructing telling her students to be especially aware of other people’s driving habits around the time when bars close. I think this is a pretty decent piece of advice, since drunk driving does happen and the best way to avoid getting in an accident is to be aware of others who are driving erratically. It’s not fool-proof, and you can certainly still be killed by a stupid drunk driver, but it’s the best defense you have.

        Now, does that advice somehow promote a culture of “drunk driving”? Does it give you the idea that if you’re hit by a drunk driver that it’s YOUR fault? I suppose you could argue that it might, but I think it’s pretty clear that in this case the benefits (saving your life) far outweigh the costs of “condoning” drunk driving by acknowledging its existence.

        I would certainly find abhorrent a campus poster that directly told women that if they are raped it is their fault. Fortunately, no such poster (to my knowledge) exists. Acting like society is “romanticizing” rape by acknowledging it is both conspiratorial, and, yes, juvenile.

    • Jim permalink
      May 31, 2010 10:35 am

      Sam, you are the one being juvenile here.

  2. January 7, 2010 6:15 pm

    Realistically acknowledging the threat of rape does not somehow condone it or create a “rape culture”.

    If that’s what you took from this and the links she was kind enough to give you, you aren’t absorbing any of the information you’re reading.

    Honestly, where the hell do you get off telling women we’re paranoid when we’re pointing out a danger we live with every day, that YOU don’t have to live with in the same way? How on earth?

    You might want to sit back and consider that there are other experiences of life, with their own unique elements, besides YOUR OWN before deciding how “idealistic” or “paranoid” any of this is.


    I’m sorry that nonsense had to be the first comment on this post Elizabeth, I’m following your train of thought, and I’m with you on it. 🙂

  3. sarah permalink
    January 7, 2010 6:22 pm

    Great article Elizabeth <3, and I like your comment too, whatsername 🙂

  4. January 8, 2010 10:21 am

    Sam K – Calling something “juvenile”, “paranoid”, and “dangerously idealistic” is not serious refutation in any discipline I’m familiar with. But let’s say it were “dangerously idealistic”. If I chose to live my life in that way, what place would you have to assume that I wasn’t aware of the dangers and to instruct me on how I should live instead?

    Your analogy is poor because the advice women are given would be more like driving instructors telling people not to drive around bar closing time (take a taxi or a bus instead) at all lest a drunk driver hit them. And you never hear someone say “well, of course, it was the drunk drivers fault but that other guy should’ve known better than to be driving at that time of night!”

    Ultimately though, I don’t think you’re interested in engaging here. You want to state and repeat your point in different terms without referring to the specific points of the arguments against them. Fair enough. You have your ideas and don’t want to change them; I’m just not sure what the point is of having a conversation then (I mean, other than for you to tell women how it is).

  5. Jessica Mack permalink*
    January 8, 2010 4:57 pm

    For a man to offer his opinion on a subject that touches all of us, men and women alike, even if that opinion is different from ours, should not be discounted simply for that reason. I think hiding behind the “you don’t know what it’s like” defense is valid only up until a point, and not helpful after that. I personally really appreciate other points of view that shake up traditional feminist ideology. If we can find some sense in someone else’s point of view, that offers something different, than we are moving the project of feminism forward. If not, than we are clinging to ideology. Just a thought!

    • January 8, 2010 5:07 pm

      For a man to offer his opinion on a subject that touches all of us, men and women alike, even if that opinion is different from ours, should not be discounted simply for that reason.

      Not remotely what anyone here is doing.

      The fact is that women are socialized totally differently from men about rape. It has little to do with “you don’t know what it’s like” and more to do with “your life experience is totally different on this point.” Point being: what he’s been taught to believe on this subject, and what women have been taught to believe obviously differ widely. He seriously needs to consider that his life experience is not some universal one and not dismiss the opinions of others out of hand.

      Now, you might try and argue that I’m dismissing his opinions out of hand, which I am. Because I’ve seen them too many times coming from different mouths, and I’m sick of it.

      • Jessica Mack permalink*
        January 12, 2010 10:15 am

        I hate to be ornery, but making assumptions about other peoples’ experiences or how they’ve been taught/brought up is judgmental and unhelpful. We should focus on the content of what people are saying in their comments, not extrapolate about what kind of life they’ve lived or paint large, vague assumptions.

      • January 12, 2010 2:47 pm

        LOL. I’m speaking in wide sociological terms, Jessica. I’m not sure how that is “judgmental” or “unhelpful.” Also, I’m pretty sure Elizabeth addressed the content of Sam’s posts very well. I, am addressing the content of your posts.

  6. January 15, 2010 5:29 pm

    I liked this post. It felt like a call to arms (is there a peaceful version of that expression?). And I, too, am very tired of explaining rape culture 101 to people.


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