How someone can ever blame the victim of a crime for the crime is something that will never cease to astound me, yet it’s an incredibly pervasive attitude. Such victim-blaming is absurdly and horrifyingly common in cases of sexual assault and rape. Women are blamed for assault if they dress in a manner that shows any skin, if they spend time alone with a man, if they dare to leave their house once it gets dark. And that’s what I wish to address in today’s Mythbustin’ Monday: the rape myth (there are so many others) that women “ask for” sexual assault, or “deserve” it because of certain behaviors/actions.
I wish this post could be a single line: no one asks to be assaulted, no woman deserves to be raped, and people get raped because someone rapes them. Somehow it’s not that simple though, because so many people don’t seem to understand these very basic concepts.
We live in a rape culture. Rape culture is a symptom of patriarchy, and a truly harmful one. If you don’t know what rape culture is, Shakesville has a great explanation:
Rape culture is encouraging male sexual aggression. Rape culture is regarding violence as sexy and sexuality as violent. Rape culture is treating rape as a compliment.
Her explanation goes on to extensively highlight other aspects of rape culture, but what it comes down to is that rape culture is the norm. Rape culture dictates the way women live their lives – we exist on what is called a rape schedule, which means that women live day-to-day, hour-to-hour assuming that rape is imminent, and we must spend each minute in preparation or trying to prevent it.
Rape culture is what causes us to blame women for being raped: they weren’t prepared enough, they should have fought back, they shouldn’t have been wearing that outfit. Rape culture is what removes the blame from the rapist and turns it onto the victim. Rape culture is where we assume that men are hypersexual, aggressive beasts who simply can’t control themselves when they’re near a woman.
No one asks to be raped, and no one deserves it. No one is ever blamed for their own murder, right? No one ever says, “well, Bob was walking on campus, out in public, so it’s probably his own fault someone shot him.” Because it’s not poor Bob’s fault some asshole shot him, and we would never assume as much. So why is it assumed that a woman as at fault for being raped? It doesn’t make sense. Think about it. It really doesn’t make sense.
Low-cut shirts, short skirts or shorts, high heels, party dresses are not invitations for rape. They’re not slutty, they’re not “asking for it.” Having a healthy sexuality and consensually sleeping with multiple people does not make you a “slut.” Calling women sluts is a big issue for so many reasons, and the fact that it’s used as an excuse if a woman is raped is at the top of the list. “Well, Jen’s a slut anyway, so she’s crying rape or she was asking for it” is not acceptable or logical. Every time I leave my house, I check my outfit wondering if I will be blamed if I am assaulted while wearing it, and, to put it bluntly, that is fucked up. When I walk down the street, depending on the day, I’m catcalled no matter what I wear. I’ve been catcalled in a dress, and I’ve been catcalled in sweats, and it has nothing to do with what I wear, and everything to do with a man feeling that I do not belong in the public space because I am a woman. Rape, like catcalling and all other forms of gendered violence, is about power. It happens because our society gives it a pass by blaming victims and not perpetrators. It happens because men are valued above women in every way which creates a hierarchy of power.
When a woman is raped, she is never at fault. Not even a little bit. A woman is raped because someone raped her. If a woman is drunk it’s not her fault if she is raped. If she’s alone at night, it’s not her fault if she’s raped. Women shouldn’t have to live on a rape schedule, and women shouldn’t have to live their lives preventing and fearing rape.
Victim-blaming is really intended to move the focus of the discourse over rape away from a society that allows it to be pervasive and the perpetrators of the crime. If we view it microscopically, as the fault of one woman who didn’t act the way she’s supposed to, we don’t have to bother changing our really fucked up society. We don’t have to realize that rape is an epidemic related to power structures, not an isolated incident that wouldn’t happen if a woman wasn’t a slut or tried harder to prevent it.