I return, with another tale for you all. Yes, a feminist tale obviously. I would love it if my stories were wonderful fiction written from what would have to be a pretty dark imagination, but alas, these tales of inequality and oppression are all non-fiction. Welcome.
As with most Feminist Fridays, I am writing down conversations with my nieces and for them to read and ponder later, as a combination of Twitter, Made in Chelsea and One Direction lyrics, have left my nieces with a shorter attention span than a goldfish. I digress.
Today I chose the topic, because it is important, and I feel, urgent. Last weekend I walked down the street one evening with my niece, a vile man, cat called us from the other side of the street. I walked on, my niece looked down, embarrassed, and zipped up her jacket. I know what she felt. I’ve felt it too. She felt like she might have done something wrong to provoke that. SHE DID NOT. But she will be made to feel like that, time and time again.
This is a small, everyday, illustration of how our society blames women before they blame perpetrators. I had a conversation with her about it and asked her to deconstruct the scenario.
What was she doing? Her reply “nothing, just walking with you” What was he doing? “nothing just walking himself”, Why do you think he shouted over at you? “because he’s an arse?” Well, yes. She had someone with her to say “No, hold your head high and keep walking, there is nothing you have done, could have done, should have done but there are MANY things he could have and should have done. Like simply minding his own business and not degrading women on his evening stroll.” She seemed satisfied and was cheery once again. I unfortunately, thought about this a lot longer, and thought about the next time she would be made to feel like that, and I worried that it wouldn’t be too far away.
I might not be there to have that conversation next time, and society will tell her she should feel to blame. Because you see, although we might have moved away (matured) from saying “a woman can be blamed” overtly, I still regularly hear “It’s just what boys do” or “girls like to wear clothes that ask for it *wink*” I don’t know any woman who puts on her outfit for the evening and thinks “Gosh, I really hope some drunken arse shouts something about my tits at me in the street, that would be a dream come true”. NO.
This is just a tame fraction of victim blaming culture. When it comes to sexual violence, victim blaming becomes a serious and dangerous issue. One that can cause severe distress to what I would term survivors rather than victims. In rape cases, sexual abuse or harassment or domestic abuse, too often (not just in court rooms) we hear phrases such as “but she’s a real flirt” or “she was leading him on” or “she was wearing a short skirt”. Do we do this in other situations? If someone is mugged do we tell them, “well you do have money in your wallet, probably shouldn’t walk around like that”? No, we don’t.
When it comes to sexual violence, the most dangerous aspect in my opinion is confusing victim blaming for safety tips. We hear safety tips all the time; look both ways before you cross, hide you pin number when entering it in a cash machine, don’t leave valuables in your car. All of these things make sense and it is our duty to remain safe. But when it comes to sexual violence these “safety tips” are very different. Often they pass common sense safety and quickly veer into “stranger danger”, pushing women to live in a constant state of fear and essentially accusing all men of becoming perpetrators:
“Always walk home in pairs”
“Take a rape alarm”
“Only walk in well lit areas”
“keep your drink covered at all times”
“be aware of new people” > yes, very good, don’t make friends, they might attack you. Only talk to people you know and be unsociable
Safety tips are meant to protect you, just reading the above makes me feel unsafe. For women, safety tips come in thick and fast, and this takes us down an avenue where a woman takes on the responsibility of being attacked. These tips can easily become an internal monologue: “I SHOULDN’T have talked to that guy”, “I SHOULDN’T have walked home that way”.
What about the woman who did all of that, but her attacker was waiting for her at home and was someone she trusted? Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. Following these safety tips doesn’t help that woman, nor does it make it easier for her to come forward for support.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one who ponders and worries about the state of our society and the impact it has on women. A new online platform to tackle victim blaming has sprung out over the inter-web and shone a light on the few good things (aside from cats wearing sunglasses) on line. Much like the Everyday Sexism project, this exists to give women a place to share their experiences and tackle the victim blaming culture. Bravo! (p.s they are also on twitter @EVB_Now)
Shame and guilt are not emotions for the victim, they are emotions to be felt by the perpetrator. By creating a society where women are victimised and shamed, we allow perpetrators to abdicate themselves of these emotions. We allow them to, at least emotionally, remain unpunished. That doesn’t sound like justice to me. But there is hope, if we stand up to this culture, call it out and make sure we are not perpetrating it.
Below is an excellent video I found this week, which emphasises these points brilliantly: