Between news articles, twitter feeds, and a couple conversations in the last couple weeks, I’ve realized, more than ever, that we, as a society, are utterly confused about blame, women’s bodies, and rape.
Let me begin with a story:
I was talking with a friend of mine (a 20-something male, college educated, very kind boy). We were discussing the movie Divergent and the attempted rape scene that takes place (if you haven’t seen it, try reading this to get the gist: ). I had commented to him about how awesome it was to watch a woman say no to sexual advances and then, when the boy continues to push her, she fights back and is able to get away. It was honestly empowering. When the scene ended I actually cheered out loud! Thinking back to that victorious moment in the movie, I don’t know that I could have prepared myself for the next words that came out of my friend’s mouth: He simply said, “Yeah, but it was her boyfriend, that’s not rape.” I was completely stunned. Ignorance, concerning women’s rights and rape, is, in a word, ubiquitous.
And this ignorance is absolutely inexcusable. George Will, an opinion writer for the Washington Post, has recently become infamous for his delusional assertion that somehow, being a rape victim is a privilege (in case you missed that gem, you can catch it right here: ). Do we need more proof that we have a problem in society? #YesAllWomen, a hashtag that stresses that all women are victims of sexual assault and harassment, has gone viral. All women. It’s appalling that more than half of the population is subjected to sexual assault and harassment on a regular basis and some people still don’t get it. What then, do we do to fix the problem? How do we fix a society that has systematically abused women—since the beginning of time? When Miss Nevada was asked about campus rapes in the Miss USA Pageant, she said that “More awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves…I think that’s something that we should start to really implement for a lot of women.” She received some serious bad press from many feminists who argued that her method perpetuated rape culture, making women, once again, the victims.
The pervading feminist argument, then, is that the ultimate way to end sexual assault and harassment is through education, especially that of men. The idea is that we need to teach “Don’t rape,” not “Don’t get raped.” And I agree. I believe many people (men and women) erroneously believe a myriad of things about rape. Ideas like “I have a right to…” followed by any number of statements about someone else’s body. Frankly, you don’t have a right to anyone else’s body. On the other hand, you do have the right to say no and have that no respected. After my friend’s ignorant comment, I spent several minutes educating him on what constituted sexual assault; in short: it doesn’t matter what your relation to her is—if she says no, it’s rape. Men need to understand how to respect women and learn that No means No. There should be no question as to what constitutes rape and women should not be subjected to such brutal assault and harassment.
All that being said, I think Miss Nevada has a point. Please hear me out before you decide to shoot me. Without a doubt, education will likely provide the ultimate healing this rape culture needs, but I don’t believe that suggesting women should take self-defense classes is a harmful concept. Through education, laws, law enforcement, NGO’s, and other means, we may eventually be able to end rape in our society. And I really hope we can. I believe this starts today, with us. My sons (and any other boys/men I influence in my life) will understand in no uncertain terms that rape is Never okay. Ever. They will understand respect and real love. And they will be advocates for women wherever they go.
But that doesn’t mean that I won’t do everything in my power to protect my daughters and myself from becoming victims of rape. I have taken self-defense classes, I try to always be aware of my surroundings, I carry a can of pepper spray everywhere I go, and I try not to walk alone in dangerous areas. Yes, it would be better if rape didn’t happen, but it does. And I am choosing to do everything I can to keep myself from being raped. Absolutely, it would be better if crime were not an issue in society; if I could leave my door unlocked and never worry about someone breaking in. But I can’t. On a broader scale, I wish we didn’t need a National Security Agency to defend against foreign threats. And I wish I didn’t need to protect myself from rape. But as long as there are bad people out there, we have to put up defenses. I will do everything possible to stay safe. Defending yourself does not mean you assume the blame of an attack, it just means doing what you can to survive. Back to the scene from Divergent, our heroine is clearly the victim, but she is also prepared and able to fight to protect herself. The boy absolutely should have respected her right to say no, but she was able to fight when she needed to.
Self-defense should not perpetuate rape culture in any way, shape or form. Without a doubt, rape is the fault of the perpetrator, never the victim. Men need to be held more responsible for their actions and we need to turn around this crazy culture where women are abused and then blamed for it. We need to educate the ignorant people who believe that rape isn’t rape for whatever reason. And while I take an active part in all that, I still choose to do everything I can to avoid becoming a victim.