As an economics major, I am pretty fond of formulas. They take a complex concept and reduce it down to a couple variables and maybe some causality, and boom, there’s your answer. If it doesn’t make sense, you can trace back through and find the exact moment something went wrong; maybe you put a negative sign where there wasn’t supposed to be one or mixed up the limits of integration, but in the end that doesn’t really matter, because you can logic your way through it.
This is why I hate it when people try to tell me not to get sexually assaulted.
I’m using the term “people” broadly, here, like I do a lot of the time. “People” might be a short documentary you’re forced to sit through in eighth grade gym class, or the media, or the well-meaning advice of your cousin, or a conversation you overhear behind you on the bus. I say “people” because I feel like “society” is clichéd and lots of readers tune out when they come across it. That, or they see “society” as an abstract and nebulous concept*, which really doesn’t suit my purpose at all – because once you’ve had your eyes opened to it, you realize that these bizarre conditions and assertions come at you from all directions on this subject.
From a young age I began to accumulate a sizable and often contradictory list of these criteria I had to meet to be Good and Safe. Here are some of the highlights – I’m sure almost any woman with a similar upbringing has heard at least most of them ad nauseam:
1. Don’t get drunk or you will get raped and it will be Your Fault.
2. Don’t go anywhere alone with a male or you will get raped and it will be Your Fault.
3. Don’t talk to men you don’t know or you will get raped and it will be Your Fault.
4. Don’t show too much skin or you will get raped and it will be Your Fault.
5. Don’t act flirtatious or you will get raped and it will be Your Fault.
6. Corollary to four and five: but don’t be a Frigid Bitch especially if you’re pretty, because then you are a Tease and will get raped and it will be Your Fault.
7. Don’t develop a reputation for liking sex, or having had sex, because then you will be a Slut and will get raped and it will be Your Fault.
I don’t even know where to start on my analysis of what’s fucked-up and wrong with this, but let’s start with the fact that this implies a causal relationship. The equation takes, to borrow a phrase from Fugitivus, “SHORTSKIRTDRUNKSLUT”, adds a few other variables mostly to do with sheer luck or some sort of fate, and out pops x=rape.
Meanwhile, this entire theorem is based on the assertion that men have and need no self-control. Why? Because they’re Men. And Men don’t back down, and Men are aggressive, and Men want sex. And if a Man makes compromises, or is understanding, or wants to wait for sex, then we call him a Pussy or Pussy-whipped. See what that terminology does? It says that if a man doesn’t act like a Man, then he has been demoted to the status of a Woman. And not just anything related to a woman: no, the sexual, desirable part of a woman. The desirable role for a woman in sex is someone who doesn’t really want it. Sex is something men are supposed to Get and women are supposed to Give. It’s still analogous to the names we call people: a Pussy is timid and easily dominated and fragile, and a Dick is overbearing and callous and stubborn.
That was a long way of saying that Assertions 1-7 insist that men have nothing to do with causing a rape. Sure, they carry it out, but they’re expected to. Boys will be boys. What can you do? It’s not really their fault: you Should Have Known Better. Your Fault. We teach our children that rape is inevitable, but that if you have faith, trust, and pixie dust then you’ll know how to avoid it and not become one of Those girls.
Confession time: I have done a lot of things in my life that would make a mother cringe. I have accepted rides home from strangers late at night in unfamiliar parts of cities, I have taken my eye off my drink for more than one millisecond at parties, I have gone for walks alone after dark, and I have worn miniskirts and high heels and cleavage-baring tops in appropriate and inappropriate situations.
Funny thing is? None of these things has ever gotten me raped.
If we really wanted to tell girls not to do things that lead to a majority of sexual assaults, what would we tell them? Don’t accept Calculus tutoring? Don’t let your mom’s long-time friend into the house even though she’ll be home in a few minutes? Don’t sleep on your friend’s couch when his roommate is downstairs? Don’t spend time alone with your own boyfriend? Don’t trust that there isn’t someone following your taxi? These are all true stories. These are stories from my friends, my family, and people I’ve talked to but barely know. There is no equation to escape these. There is no causal relationship.
Oh, except, wait. There is a causal relationship.
If you teach men that it is okay to rape, or manly to rape, or a show of power to rape, or excusable to rape, or that they won’t get caught if they rape, or that no one will take it seriously if they rape, or that rape isn’t really rape…
then guess what?
That’s exactly what they’ll do.
Rapists are what causes rape. That is the equation, the formula. Excuses for rape = rape. Patriarchy + Rapist = rape. You can victim-blame and terrify women into never touching a drop of alcohol or leaving the house without a bodyguard, but that will not stop rape, because that is not what causes it.
And I will never stop trying to remind people of that, because until we change the way we think about it, nothing will get done.
*In Elizabethtown, a movie I happen to enjoy a lot, the two main characters have a conversation about the implications and origins of the phrase “that’s what they say (about _________)”. It’s had an impact on me.