Category Archives: Blaming the victim

Today in ‘What Mia Freedman has done now’

WARNING: THIS POST DISCUSSES MALE SEXUAL VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN.

Mia Freedman’s at it again, blaming women for stuff and calling it feminism: This isn’t victim blaming. This is common sense:

Let’s say you have a daughter. Or a little sister. And let’s say there was something you could tell her that would dramatically reduce the likelihood of her being sexually assaulted during her lifetime.

Would you tell her?…

I’ll tell her that getting drunk when she goes out puts her at a greater risk of danger.

Look, I get it, I really do. Telling women that there are things they can do to prevent sexual assault seems like common sense, but it’s really not. I’m sure it’s well-intentioned advice, but it simply doesn’t stand up to logic: if women could prevent sexual assault, then we’d all prevent it and there’d be no sexual assault. It’s a no-brainer.

Telling women that if they don’t get drunk they’ll “dramatically reduce the likelihood” of being sexually assaulted is also telling them a massive lie: Women are at more risk in their own homes, from men they know, than they are from someone they meet while drunk.

We’ve been telling women for an awfully long time not to get themselves raped and yet, men are still raping them. Could it be – gasp! – that this ‘women take responsibility for your actions/don’t make yourself vulnerable’ message is utter bollocks?

Freedman’s article perpetuates pretty much all of the rape myths – that rapists are creepy dudes in dark alleys, that she was asking for it by drinking too much, that guys can’t control their urges and roam the streets looking for victims, that nice sober girls don’t get raped, that it’s not rape unless she tries to run away – and she would know this by now. I mean, it’s not like it hasn’t been pointed out to her before. By hundreds of people.

Let me be clear: sexual assault is never the fault of the victim… But teaching girls how to reduce their risk of sexual assault is not the same thing as victim blaming. It’s not. And we must stop confusing the two.

Now Mia, I know you’ve learned the term “victim blaming” but you haven’t learned what it means. It’s like the time I thought “reactionary” meant someone who reacted to things. Boy, was I embarrassed when I discovered it meant someone who opposes political/social progress. If we teach girls that they can reduce their risk of sexual assault by not getting drunk, and then they go out and get drunk and someone assaults them, then what? It means that if she didn’t get drunk then it wouldn’t have happened, right? That means she’s kinda responsible for what happened, right? Hello, victim blaming! You can’t possibly say in one breath that “sexual assault is never the fault of the victim” and then in the next breath suggest that something she did caused the assault. That seems pretty bloody obvious to me. Some might say it was common sense.

Will I also teach my sons about this connection between alcohol and sexual assault? Sure. I will teach them that binge drinking will obliterate their ability to make good decisions – about getting into cars, getting into fights and having sex.

Hopefully you will also talk to your sons about not being rapists, since 93 per cent of offenders are male. As Carina Kolodny writes, you need to have the “don’t rape” conversation with your sons “because so many parents have thought they didn’t need to and so many people have suffered because of it”.

Somehow, in some quarters, the right to get wasted has become a feminist issue and this troubles me greatly.

I haven’t seen any feminist argue that the “right to get wasted” is a feminist issue. Fighting myths that give rapists excuses, now that’s a feminist issue.

Freedman then mentions the study that was in Emily Yoffe’s piece that “almost 20 per cent of college women will become victims, overwhelmingly of a fellow classmate. More than 80 percent of campus sexual assaults involve alcohol”.

So, what you’re saying is that a large number of college guys are sexually assaulting their female classmates. And they think it’s ok to rape someone if she’s drunk. That shit is scary, but no no Mia, you should continue to use your privileged position in our society to suggest that it’s women who are the problem here.

This is not an issue of morality. If you want to have casual sex, go for it. Safely. Just make sure it’s your decision and one you’re still comfortable with the next day.

You know, I’m gonna give Freedman the benefit of the doubt here and believe that she’s not suggesting that rape is the same as sex you might regret.

Here’s what you are responsible for when you get drunk: your hangover; losing your phone; falling over and smashing your knee; spending too much money on booze. Here’s what you are not responsible for when you get drunk: someone else commiting a crime. To suggest you are responsible for that is just ridiculous. So I’m gonna repeat the point I made earlier: if women WERE actually able to prevent sexual assault, there’d be no sexual assault. Ever. There’s your fucking common sense, Mia.

Slutty McSlut Sluts won’t find themselves husbands and then what will they do?

A Current Affair had a moral panic last night. Young women! Dressing like sluts! They won’t get husbands! Oh noes!

The segment is called “Girls on show”:

Aussie girls in their teens and on display. Young women exposing skin to get access to clubs and the growing trend that will shock parents.

(Note: there is no mention in the story of young women getting into clubs. The whole thing is “look at these sluts, they won’t find husbands dressed like that, but here’s close-up after close-up of their body parts for your perving pleasure”. And the reporter, Alison Piotrowski, mentions the “campaign to cover up” twice, without giving any info whatsoever about an actual campaign.)

You can see it on the ACA website. Be warned: it’s difficult to watch. Not because it’s shocking, but because it is so completely and utterly stupid.

The most disappointing part of the segment is Ita Buttrose. Oh Ita, when did you become June Dally-Watkins?:

Piotrowski: Ita says if young women are dressing like this to find a husband, then it just won’t work.

Buttrose: They might flirt with the tart, they might try have sex with the tart, but it’s often not the tart that they take home to meet their mother.

The faces of the young women are blurred, and the intro suggests they’re getting into clubs by showing some skin, so they’re underaged. How many 15, 16 and 17 year-olds do you reckon are looking for husbands? And I hardly think young women wear hotpants to meet the parents. Sure, as we get older we mock young people for many things – like their hair – but I’m pretty sure they understand situation-appropriate clothing.

But my favourite part of the segment is Charlotte Dawson unwittingly providing an excellent example of hypocrisy:

I hate to say it, but the girls actually selling themselves on the street are much more tastefully dressed than some of these young ladies.

Firstly, Ms Dawson, sex workers are not “selling themselves”. They sell a service, in the same way an osteopath sells a service, and a physiotherapist sells a service. Sex work is just one of the many professions in which you use your body for work. Much like an athlete. Or modelling, which is what Dawson did before hosting reality tv shows. If you actually bought someone when you bought sex, you’d get to keep them.

And secondly, young ladies? Oh, that’s right, because in 2012 a young woman’s only purpose is to act like a lady in order to trick a man into marrying her. Presumably, that man will be one of the many young men from the 1950s wandering around out there.

Oh, and thirdly, how are the outfits worn by the women in ACA’s moral panic any different to this dress you wore to the Logies last year, where – wardrobe malfunction my arse – you held your dress open to show your legs, while bending over to show your cleavage:

Charlotte Dawson at the 2011 Logies

Charlotte Dawson at the 2011 Logies. (Image: Getty Images, via Triple M)

Or this boobs-out promo photo? Or this promo photo in pants so tight you can’t sit down? Or when you went on national tv wearing only body paint and some feathers? People in glass houses shouldn’t get undressed with the lights on. Please note, I am not criticising Dawson for what’s she’s wearing. The photos are clearly a bit of fun, and I love a boobs-out photo as much as the next person. What I am criticising is the hypocrisy of her putting young women down for wearing the same clothes she wears.

Now, what other people do with their bodies is their business, and you know I don’t usually comment on this. But when you lecture young women about how the desire for fame makes them do silly things, and the only movement your face can do is blink, your message loses credibility. Do as I say, not as I do, right? [Update: I got into an argument on twitter with Dawson yesterday. Although ‘argument’ is the wrong word – she just repeatedly plugged her book and refused to address any of the criticism. But she did say that my comment about her face was easy and bitchy. And she’s right. It is those things. Her face is none of my business. But I think my point is still valid: if you’re going to lecture people about not doing silly things for fame, it’s more credible if you’re not doing silly things for fame.]

The thing is, their only “evidence” of Slutty McSlut Sluts is just a few groups of women, on what doesn’t even look like a cold night. The reporter, Alison Piotrowski – who, by the way, wears just a bowtie in a photo that makes her look topless for her work twitter account, so there’s some hypocrisy going on there, too – is in a light jacket. The other people on the street in the background are in light jackets. A lot of the “slutty” young women are in long sleeves or tights. It doesn’t look like a particularly cold night. And for all we know, the two girls in hotpants may have been on their way to a Lady Gaga-themed night. Hell, I went out the other night dressed as a vanity unit, and even if I wanted one, I certainly wouldn’t find a husband dressed like that.

Dawson then goes into “mothering, nurturing” mode, which the rest of us know as slut-shaming and victim-blaming mode:

You’d hope that the parents educate their daughters as to what the consequences of dressing up like this could be… Girls, have a great time, you know, dress how you want. Just be really really careful and know the risks you may take.

Is she talking about sexual assault? Because we’ve had that discussion many times: outfits don’t cause rape, rapists cause rape. Or is it still about husbands? Because, young women, you must remember that every single moment you are in public, every single outfit you wear, must be geared towards getting a husband. Even if you’re underaged.

If you’re drunk and get raped, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself, says NSW Police Commissioner

Oh look, the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, is a rape apologist: Girls’ drink pact:

YOUNG women planning a night out should tell their friends if they plan to have sex to avoid unwanted and potentially dangerous drunken encounters, the NSW Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has warned.

What’s a rape apologist? Well, I’m glad you asked. Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog has a wonderfully clear definition, that even people like Andrew Scipione should be able to understand:

The simple answer is that a rape apology is any argument that boils down to the myth that rapists can be provoked into raping by what the victim does or does not do.

Most people who make such arguments are not consciously intending to defend rapists. They are simply repeating arguments they have heard before and haven’t fully examined.

Clearly Scipione was sleeping through the several months of mainstream media coverage about SlutWalk. But it does go some way towards explaining why we still have police officers who believe rape myths.

While the non-drinking Police Commissioner is retreating from his earlier calls to raise the legal drinking age from 18, now he is calling on young women to “look out for your mates”.

Yes, telling people – not just young women – to look out for your mates is a good thing, but most people already do that. It’s a bit frightening to think that NSW Police’s anti-rape strategy is “hey women, don’t get drunk and you won’t get raped, but if you do get drunk and raped then you should take responsibility for your actions”. Not only is that offensive victim-blaming, but it’s telling women that they will be safe from sexual assault if they don’t get drunk, and that is simply bullshit. Scipione would know that.

Mr Scipione pointed The Sun-Herald to a soon-to-be-published study of 235 female university students, aged 18 to 25.

One-quarter drank twice a week and the same number drank heavily in a single session at least four times a month, the University of Wollongong study found.

Those who drank heavily were more likely to find themselves in dangerous sexual situations. And yet almost half said they never, rarely or only sometimes used a condom during sex.

I don’t know if Scipione doesn’t get it, or if the journalists – Nick Ralston, Saffron Howden – don’t get it, but unsafe consensual sex is not the same thing as sexual assault.

About 3000 people aged 15 to 24 are admitted to Australian hospitals each year for acute intoxication. Between the late 1990s and 2005-06, the rate of young women being admitted to hospital doubled.

That statistic is meaningless if you don’t give a figure. For all we know, there could have been only five women admitted to hospital for acute intoxication during the 90s, so for that to double in a decade is hardly cause for wringing of hands over young women not behaving like ladies anymore.

“In the past we always saw this overuse, the abuse, the drunken behaviour, the violent behaviour, the stupid behaviour … that was predominantly the domain of young men,” Mr Scipione said. “It’s not that way any more.

“It’s now unfortunately something that’s seen as cool: to be drunk as a young woman. For the life of me, I don’t know what’s that attractive about some young woman vomiting in the gutter at 3am after a big night.”

What’s attractive? Judgey Scipione, who gives a shit about what you find attractive? A woman’s purpose is not to be attractive at all times, just in case a man happens to look at her. If all you have to offer the public discussion around binge drinking is that you think it makes young women look unattractive, then we need a new Police Commissioner. One who thinks with his brain, not his penis.

Mr Scipione, the father of two sons and a daughter, said he wanted young women to take responsibility for their safety when drinking before they became victims of crime.

When you tell women that they are personally responsible for whether or not someone else commits a violent crime, you’re letting the criminal off the hook. You’re giving them an excuse for what they did. I wonder if he tells his son not to rape women?

Here’s the thing, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. I’ll stop blogging and tweeting about you being a rape apologist if your rape prevention strategy starts to prominently involve the following:

“Hey guys, when you go out tonight, DON’T RAPE ANYONE”.

When skirts break the law

I was talking about SlutWalk last night and the conversation kept coming back to personal responsibility. That you need to take personal responsibility for your own safety and unfortunately that means not wearing something too provocative.

I can see why this idea is so widespread, because on the surface it makes sense. But I call bullshit. Because when you say that, what you’re really saying is the other person is not responsible for their actions. And if you dig deeper into that, what does it mean? That women should have personal responsibility but men shouldn’t? That men are so controlled by sexual urges that they simply must stick their penis inside every nearby vagina? We all know that’s rubbish. Even douchebags know that it’s wrong to jump on someone in the street and have sex with them. And we know that even douchebags know this because we don’t see it happening. So how on earth is it my fault – or my skirt’s fault – if someone else decides to break the law?

Our culture pushes the idea that women can somehow prevent rape – by not wearing certain items of clothing, by not getting drunk, by not walking around alone at night, by doing self-defence classes – and all of this ignores the fact that it’s not strangers women should fear. I’m not sure why our culture keeps pushing this lie. Maybe it’s because women are so used to being the ones who have to change – we have to be more masculine at work if we want a pay rise, we have to be different in some way if we want to get a boyfriend, we have to give up our bodies to grow humans, we have to accept that six or twelve months off work will damage our careers forever – that rather than teaching people not to attack or rape others, it’s just easier to make it yet another thing that women should do. I hope this is the reason, because the alternative is just too heartbreaking: that when women are attacked it’s their own fault and so the attacker shouldn’t be punished. Can you imagine if we told men that it’s their own fault for being in public if someone king hits them in the street?

Which brings me back to SlutWalk. I don’t think it will stop fuckwits groping women, or raping them, or believing it’s their right to say something nasty to a woman about her body. You can’t rid the world of fuckwits. But you can get people talking about the shit that women have to put up with when they’re in public. And maybe a journalist will think more carefully about the words they use when writing about violence against women. And maybe when a douchebag makes a nasty comment on a news website, other readers will pull them up. Or the moderator will realise that it shouldn’t be published because it’s offensive. And maybe when some idiot says a woman was “asking for it”, everyone else will point out how ridiculously stupid that is.

If someone else breaks the law, what on earth does it have to do with what I’m wearing?

I am a slut

I am going on the Sydney SlutWalk on Monday June 13. And I’ll probably be wearing jeans and a jacket. Because you don’t have to wear fishnets, stilettos and leopard print to take part. (Here’s a hint to journalists covering the story: give the cliches a rest for the day. If you look at the photos from the marches around the world, most participants are dressed “normally”.)

Predictably, the story is getting a lot of coverage in the mainstream media because of the word “slut”. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s excellent that it’s getting coverage, but if it was the Walk Against Victim Blaming it would be lucky to be a brief just before the world section.

And – also predictably – someone writing for The Punch has missed the point. Tory Shepherd’s piece today: The sluts protest too much, methinks

Passionate protestors too often get caught up in their own hype and do themselves and their chosen issue an enormous disservice.

Last week a father who just wanted access to his children instead earned the wrath of a city after his one-man protest closed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and left irate drivers stuck in traffic for hours.

I don’t know the background story, but it’s a pretty safe bet that if police have stopped this guy seeing his kids, there’s probably a good reason – which is a question most journalists don’t appear to have asked. Anyway, back to SlutWalk:

Victim blaming is a horrendous compounding of the original crime, an archaic misdirection of shaming. It’s hardly a widespread sentiment outside fundamentalist Islam, inbred Bible Belt communities, and apparently the occasional police station.

Still, where it happens it should be loudly condemned.

Hardly widespread? I suggest you take a look at the way News Ltd journalists report violent crime against women. And the way Fairfax journalists report violent crime against women. And the way that Punch reader after Punch reader will suggest that a woman “asked for it”.

I think the name has a far bigger problem than that. People’s attention spans are spread so thin these days that everyone except the already converted will probably miss the point entirely.

Many will simply take away the idea that it’s now OK to call women sluts if they’re showing some cleavage.

Others will see it as an easy opportunity to perve on a bunch of semi-clad chicks. Older people and conservatives will see it as proof of the moral laxity of today’s women.

Well Tory, that seems to be your understanding of the issue. That it’s just about reclaiming the word slut and getting your tits out. You’ve missed the point and added nothing to the conversation. Ooh, and that’s what The Punch is all about, isn’t it? “Australia’s best conversation”.

Maybe you should have gone to the SlutWalk Melbourne website to see what the global protests are really about:

We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.

Join us in our mission to spread the word that those those who experience sexual assault are not the ones at fault, without exception.

It’s pretty funny that she says people will miss the point and then does exactly that.

It will have an effect on girls and young women who will see these protests in the papers, online and in the news. And it will reinforce the already widespread impression that sex, for a woman, is power. Or the route to power.

That it is cool, and tough, and desirable to label yourself a slut. That a woman should aspire to be sexy at all costs. That if you are not a slut, you are not cool, you are not powerful. That sex equals success – and a paucity of it, therefore, failure.

Um, what the fuck? That’s not the message AT ALL. But we really should thank The Punch for this contribution to public discussion. And for publishing this comment:

Tim says:
07:50am | 16/05/11

I would give more credence to this protest if all of the organisers hadn’t been hit with the wrong end of the ugly stick.
I don’t think any of them are in any danger of being victimised for their clothing choice.

And this one:

Sonny Carrington says:
10:01am | 16/05/11

If half of all the sluts in this country turn up for this protest, it will be the biggest rally Australia has ever seen. But I doubt the single mothers will have the will power to get out of bed – Since there is no mention of a handout for their participation.

“Australia’s best conversation”? Sure, if you like talking to douchebags.

Responsibility vs victim blaming

There’s a big difference between taking responsiblity for the massive bruise on your arse because you got too drunk and stacked it, or the friendship that needs repairing because you said something offensive while plastered, and saying it’s your own fault that some arsehole raped you. Seriously, how hard is this to understand?

Jennifer Wilson has a piece in today’s Online Opinion: Grown up girls take responsibility.

My first problem is the headline which, admittedly, Wilson probably didn’t write. Grown up girls? Grown up girls are women. We don’t need to be infantilised. Sure, sometimes I refer to my boobs as girls (“my girls need some good strong scaffolding”), and sometimes I refer to my vagina as a falcon (“my falcon needs a good strong perch”), but I am certainly not a “grown up girl”.

Wilson is writing about a piece on The Drum by Melinda Tankard Reist on Brian McFadden’s latest single. Some of the lyrics are:

I like you just the way you are, drunk and dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can do some damage
I like you just the way you are, drunk and dancing at the bar, I can’t wait to take you home so I can take advantage

Classy.

(For the best discussion of this song, check out this piece written by Clem Bastow.)

Wilson – who is using the piece to have a rant about Tankard Reist and Nina Funnell – writes:

But there is a difference between drunk, and passed out, and having sex when drunk isn’t the same thing as raping an unconscious woman. I don’t think McFadden is singing about the latter.

What is nowhere mentioned in the article is that women are responsible for their drinking behaviours, and a culture in which women believe that getting insensible on drink is a normal part of a good night out is also a vile one.

A woman has a responsibility to take care of herself. Nobody else can do that for her. It is a nasty world at times, particularly if you are of the drink and vomit, vomit and drink culture.

Sure, we all have some responsibility when it comes to drinking, like not stepping onto the road without looking, but should the victim be held responsible because someone else breaks the law?

There are two problems with her argument. The first is that it tells women that if they don’t get drunk, they won’t get raped. This is such a dangerous message. The latest stats from the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault reveal that 57 per cent of women surveyed had been physically or sexually assaulted at least once, but only one per cent said they were raped by a stranger. (Because the survey was conducted over the phone, it didn’t include women who are homeless, in prison, those in remote areas and those who don’t speak English. It’s a safe assumption that if those women were included, the numbers would be even higher.)

The second problem is that it says the victim is to blame because someone else commits a crime. If you don’t hear someone breaking into your house at night because you had too much to drink, we don’t blame you for it. You got robbed because someone robbed you.

Tankard Reist doesn’t blame McFadden for rape culture – which is, among many other things, the idea that if you don’t get drunk, don’t wear short skirts, don’t walk around by yourself after dark, don’t open the door to strangers, then you won’t get raped – but says songs like this help legitimise it. And that’s true.

Wilson writes:

Years of feminist rage against men seems to have achieved very little, as MTR admits, at least in the world of pop culture inhabited by millions of young women. It might be time to consider turning our attention to educating those women instead of wasting our energies blaming men. This is much harder, of course, but it might have a more successful outcome.

Hands up who did a self-defence class at school because the school thought it was a good way to prevent rape? And how many boys did an anti-rape class? Hmm? I’m not wasting my energy blaming all men for rape. I am blaming the rapists for rape. Just like I blame robbers for robbery. And Wilson is wrong. There is nothing in mainstream culture that says all men are rapists, but everything that says women are somehow responsible for being raped.

The first thing we should be educating girls and young women about is taking responsibility for their own choices and decisions. If you’re going to drink yourself senseless, bear in mind that you might get gang raped while you’re unconscious.

We apparently can’t stop some Neanderthals doing this, but maybe we can do our best to stop young women putting themselves into the situation in the first place. This will involve the whole village, of course, including the pubs and the parents, and not just some hapless male writer of horrible pop music.

We should be playing Rape Apologist Bingo here. If you get drunk, you’ll get gang-raped. We can’t stop them because boys will be boys. It’s only Neanderthals who rape, so you can spot them a mile off and avoid them.

Women and girls have been told this shit over and over again for decades and it hasn’t made one bit of difference. It seems we have been wasting our energies after all.

If you drink, you deserve to be raped

You know, I have to write this post so often that I’m starting to think journos at the Sydney Morning Herald don’t Google themselves to find out what people say about them online. I’d just assumed by now that I was The Devil to them. (This is where I point to my About page, which states that the reason the SMH cops it from me is because I read it every day. I don’t read News Ltd newspapers.)

Today’s story from Mark Metherell: Binge culture puts young women at risk:

HEAVIER drinking is exposing young women to increased risk of sexual assault for which male perpetrators routinely escape blame, a government-sponsored study has found.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Why not just write, “women are getting raped because they get drunk”, because that’s what that sentence says. Which we all know is bullshit: women are raped because a rapist decides to rape them. Why is that so hard to understand? And Australian women were getting raped long before the binge drinking culture developed, which indicates that the problem is not caused by women drinking alcohol and is caused by rapists deciding to rape.

So, the headline should be: Male rapists escape blame in binge culture.

And the first sentence should read (using Metherell’s own words): “Male perpetrators are routinely escaping blame for sexually assaulting intoxicated young women, a government-sponsored study has found.”

The problem with framing the story the way Metherell and the SMH have done is that it sends the dangerous message that women can avoid getting raped if they don’t drink alcohol. Again, bullshit. And it ignores the fact that 70 per cent of sexual assaults are committed by a family member, friend, or school/work colleague, and less than 1 per cent by a stranger (stats from the NSW Rape Crisis Centre). Which means that telling young women they shouldn’t get drunk because they might get raped on the way home is appalling.

It also blames the victim for the crime. Where else do we see news stories (and community attitudes) that say if you do something that’s perfectly legal, it’s your fault when someone else commits a crime? We don’t. Because it’s not your fault.

Every time women are told not to get drunk because they might get assaulted is a sentence that should have been used to say, “hey guys, if a woman is drunk, don’t rape her”. Women have been told for decades that they should do this and not do that so they can avoid getting raped, and it clearly hasn’t stopped women getting raped. When are we going to start telling men that they shouldn’t rape women?