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?

29 responses to “When skirts break the law

  1. Rhiannon Saxon

    I was just reading this
    When your post came up in my email.
    I am very pleased to see the issues being aired properly and discussed in comments relatively intelligently (on at least SOME sites!) and I am re-posting on FB as much as I can. (Admittedly mostly to the converted, but if anything in these posts gives people nifty ammunition on future arguments, then it is doing its job.)

  2. Great post NWN. I agree with all those reasons and can think of a few more myself.

    I particularly appreciated this part that you linked to but didn’t state explicitly: “Women are at more risk of violence in the home from men they know. ” This needs to be empathised and I’d like to see slutwalk empathising it more to be honest.

    Dispelling myths around sexual assault is a worthy cause even if not all feminists agree with the cause or how it’s being pursued: http://www.peopleofcolororganize.com/activism/slutwalk-whiteness-privilege-sex-trafficking-women-color/

    • Hi David Fawcett, welcome to the News with Nipples. Not all feminists need to agree, because we’re not all the same and we have different priorities that are shaped by our experiences. The thing that ties us all together is knowing that women do not have the same rights and opportunities as men.

      • But how can you all not agree?!? That makes you inconsistent and undermines your whole position!

        I jest, of course. We’re all individuals first and foremost and I wasn’t trying to drive a wedge; I just thought it was an interesting article. Personally, I like reading other points of view before discussing a new cause.

        I liked this response to it even better: http://squishie.tumblr.com/post/5599301288

        • Sorry for the late response.

          As I commented on the post on my blog about my introduction to feminism, there is agreement on the big picture. The fundamental principle is consistent – ie. the core of feminism.

          Beyond that, we don’t have to agree, we don’t have to think the same way, just trust that we are all heading in the same general direction. that is what is important.

          And I really like that.

  3. I watched the youtube clip you linked, then watched the next one (TYT) about an ad addressing Sarah Palin and her stand that even if raped a woman should carry her rapists baby to term. (Which goes without saying , just repulsive on too many levels to even discuss right now.)

    I watched that clip, and something the guy said made me wonder if anyone else had called Palin on it. (I admit, rather than listen intently, I tend to go to a happy place when Palin attempts to talk politics.) He said when Bristol Palin got pregnant with her boyfriends baby (not by rape) Palin came out and touted to all who’d hear how proud she was of her daughters CHOICE. Yet, she would mandate that no woman have a choice AT ALL. So what on earth is she so proud of? (Aside from you know getting knocked up as a teen and keeping the baby, all political fodder for Mummy and her abstinence/anti-choice line)

    And because YouTube do that whole Clips like this one thing, after the TYT clip, the next one looked like a tutorial on how to defend yourself against bedroom rape….would the douchecanoes mansplain that one to me please? Because if the clothes I wear in the privacy of my own bedroom (ie. PYJAMAS DIP SHITS) cause me to be raped, how does that not sound like the stupidest thing ever? How about we have a flood of tutorials that show men how to behave appropriately around women and girls?
    A vagina is not a cock holster.

    • You know, I get that some people feel so strongly about babies that they want every single pregnancy to result in a baby. But what I don’t get is the breathtaking arrogance of believing that every single person should do what you want, regardless of their own beliefs and circumstances. That is why I don’t like pro-lifers.

      • I don’t like anti-choicers either. Pro-choice does not in any way infringe on a woman’ s right to have a baby. But the anti-choice movement does. And the fact the women continually have to justify their choices, whether it be the right to be a parent or the right not to be a parent, or the right to choose her own damn wardrobe without the fear of being attacked physically and verbally is the reason we end up having to have things like slut walk in the first place.

        I really do sometimes wonder when it was exactly in history that women were relegated to this sub-class of personage?

        • Rhiannon Saxon

          I’m with you 100% on that one. It’s also quite astonishing how one’s own opinions about what ‘I would do if’ get changed when things actually happen. Having safe and at least semi-legal choices is vital to mental health among other things.
          (I say semi-legal because I am not sure in how many states is termination legal, and I am also not sure how many realise that something that is relatively easy to get can actually be technically ILlegal in some areas).

          I remember one of my highschool teachers told us a really good anecdote – when she was at school, at a Catholic school in I suppose the late 70s or early 80s, a girl became pregnant and wanted to continue her education. This completely divided the school and became a really big issue among students, parents, teachers etc, which on the one hand was the typical ‘slut’-shaming you might expect, and on the other hand the somewhat more realistic attitude that if one wanted the baby to have any sort of decent life, the mother should be able to complete her high-schooling.
          Finally the principal held a big meeting to explain his decision to let her stay at the school and simply said to the assembly,
          “We can either be against abortion, or against single mothers. You can’t have it both ways.”

          Which I think is an adequately logical stance for someone who genuinely believes that abortion is a sin – that they then should support in any way, the enforced ‘choice’ of the mother.

          While I am 100% pro-choice and pro harm-minimisation, I appreciated this anecdote because I am sick to my guts of the absolute HYPOCRISY inherent in so many anti-choice, anti-contraception, pro-disease, pro-suicide, pro-harm types.
          If you MUST have some sort of religious stance on reproductive rights, at least have a relatively consistent and compassionate one.

          I wonder if anyone saw an episode of Q&A a long time ago in which both Abbott and Fr Peter Kennedy (sacked parish priest from somewhere in Brisbane)were on the panel?
          (it was rather enlightening about Abbott’s dyed-in-the-wool hypocrisy when it comes to organised religion – he clearly demonstrated that the organisation, rather than religion, was by far his priority)
          Anyway – Fr Peter Kennedy said a few very interesting things – one anecdote he related was of a Brazilian 12-year-old girl who was raped by her step-father. Her mother organised an abortion for the poor girl, and so the Catholic Church in Brazil had the girl, the mother and the doctor excommunicated, but not the betraying, abusive rapist step-father. Noice.
          Kennedy pointed out that this was basically an appalling and sickening state of affairs and that NO WONDER the Catholic church had such a bad rep.
          The other things he said were – the church should stop obsessing about sex and start thinking about love – that the church should recognise that an awful lot of teachings and practices had changed over the centuries and it was about time that the church realised that homosexuality was not a sin, and he also said it was about time that women’s reproductive rights were not being dictated by a bunch of celibate men.
          ANd this was from a Roman Catholic Priest.
          Wish there were more like him!

          • I wish there were more like him too. I love this: “he also said it was about time that women’s reproductive rights were not being dictated by a bunch of celibate men.”

          • There is nothing in this reply I don’t LOVE.

            On teen mums in Catholic high schools, one of my nearest and dearest was pregnant in yr 12. (Alas we weren’t at the SAME catholic schools, we had been until grade 10 though) she was 6 months and obviously pregnant at grad. She wore a tight fitting gold lame dress and stiletto’s and she looked fantastic. She said, initially there had been pressure for her leave school once she could no longer hide her “condition” but the school chose to support her decision NOT to have an abortion and to finish her schooling instead.

            At the school I went to, one of my friends sisters got pregnant. (She was the year below us, but this happened in her final year) She didn’t tell anyone because she was afraid of being sent home (we were boarders) our head Nun was fantastic though. She held her hand all through the labour, and supported her staying on at school to complete her studies. (She was fortunate that she had parents who supported her and took care of her son for her whilst she finished school. He’s now a pretty awesome young man about to turn 17) She said she never felt any slut shaming from the school or parish. But she does wonder if it would have been different if they knew before she had gone into labour.

            Most of the priests I have known have all been quite liberal in their thinking and teachings. We had one priest at school who was so stuck in the archaic teachings of the church (anti-contrception, anti_abortion, anti-divorce), the Nuns refused to attend the services he took.

            I wish I had seen that Q & A.

            • Rhiannon Saxon

              Thanks Pirra.
              As someone with very and variously religious parents, who most certainly don’t let it affect their tolerance, compassion, common-sense, scepticism (cynicism!) and intellectual rigour, I become very tired of arguments that attempt to reduce any religious person to an intolerant, bigotted ‘sky-fairy, imaginary-friend’ worshipping nutbar.

  4. Yesterday I saw a group of about 8 teenage girls standing around, skimpily dressed, smoking and swearing loudly. Seriously, the swearing, never heard anything like it. A taxi driver yelled some comment at them and they immediately began yelling back “you’re disgusting! You f***ing paedophile!”

    I remembered the fear I used to feel when I experienced catcalls as a teenager, and went from feeling middle-class snobbery to a bit of admiration and envy.

    • Rhiannon Saxon

      Heh. Mind you those were exactly the sorts of girls I was terrified of when I was a teenager.

      • I absolutely love that so many young women give it all right back to men who say horrible things to them. In the past I’ve been the one who points out very loudly to everyone around me that some guy is looking someone up and down like a dirty perv, and sometimes that guy goes scurrying off, but sometimes he doesn’t. But now, not so much. I guess I’m just tired of all the “ugly fat bitch” (because apparently “fat” and “ugly” are the worst things a woman can be) responses you get when you point out that it’s not ok to treat women like pieces of meat.

  5. Yes, great post! Have you ever read “the ‘rape’ of Mr smith”, if not you definitely need to check it out : http://www.holysmoke.org/fem/fem0235.htm

  6. “I can see why this idea is so widespread, because on the surface it makes sense.”
    It’s only because it’s so widespread that it even seems to make a surface kind of sense, in the way that a lie repeated often enough ‘becomes’ true. It’s actually not only bullshit at the principled, philosophical level, that the rapist is the only one responsible for rape, it’s bullshit all the way down.
    – If it were true, then the countries where women are most uncovered, say, Polynesia, should be the ones with the highest rape rates, while Saudi Arabia and Yemen have the lowest.
    – If it were true, then the woman at the party in the most revealing outfit will be the one who gets raped that night.
    – If it were true, then a rapist looks around a bar and decides to target the woman in the shortest skirt, and if everyone there that night is wearing a long skirt and a cardigan, he abandons his fiendish plans and goes home.
    – If it were true then men who don’t want their girlfriends, sisters and female friends raped really want to go to parties where no women show up, and want to go to a bar and see only other men. Of course they want girls at their bars and parties, and they want them dressed attractively, and they want them to drink and stay out late. They just also want to know that if a man decides to do something awful to one of them he won’t suffer any consequences.

    • Exactly. It makes sense only if you don’t think about it, because yes, we should take personal responsibility for doing stupid things, like jumping off a roof when drunk, but you can’t possibly take personal responsibility for someone else’s illegel actions.

      • Well, yes, but the main point is that dressing ‘provocatively’ isn’t even a stupid thing to do, because it actually has no influence on whether or not someone decides to rape you. It’s pure myth that it does, and a myth that doesn’t hold up to the most cursory logical scrutiny. It might make it marginally easier for people to blame you afterwards, but since they’ll always find some way to do that anyway… what the hell.

  7. I have been wondering if the reason the police officer gave the original advice in Canada was not because the young women were more likely to be chosen by rapists but because we all make instantaneous decisions about people on the basis of the way they are dressed and present themselves. So when young women are out and about at night in slutty clothes it is the response of people they meet that could perhaps put them more at risk. So the door bitch at the club might treat them with less respect, the bar steward might treat them with less respect, the taxi driver might treat them with less respect…..and the cumulative situation may be that less care is taken of them.

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