Adventures in Victim-Blaming

ArtParasites ran an anonymous article by a single woman detailing some of the violence she’s encountered from casual sex partners, and, it’s pretty bad. Here’s my Content Note and Trigger Warning for what is best described as “rape.” This is about victim-blaming as much as it’s about the initial violence, and sure enough, cue the continued victim-blaming in comment sections.

It seems to me every time something like this happens, people’s advice is the same:Don’t go home with a man, Don’t have sex with a man you don’t know well, Don’t be naive enough to trust a man you do know well, etc. Then there’s always “Oh well you were looking for sex, you should’ve known this is the way it goes” and “If you didn’t expect to be treated this way, you shouldn’t have put yourself out there/been so easy.”

She details several bad experiences, including one that I define as a completed rape and a few others that I will categorize as attempted rape, and then she says:

I’ve never been raped, and I only have a few nights I don’t remember, but I’ve been coerced time after time after time, I’ve said No many times and either been made to feel guilty or been placated until I went along with something I didn’t want to do.

Depending on where we set the threshold for rape, she’s experienced at least one completed rape*, and arguably several. There’s nothing in her account that resembles a scene from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but she has told us about a rape and then declined to call it that. So, if anything, she’s being too charitable to her assailants. Most rapes actually do NOT look like what happened to Lisbeth Salander.

Near the beginning of her piece, she says:

It seems women are always asked to modify their actions, but men are never held accountable for theirs.

I found the article through a friend’s post on Facebook, and sure enough, her comment box filled up with people telling us about ways that women should modify their actions. Mostly that this woman needs to take personal responsibility for letting all these shitty men into her life. The same commenters later started suggesting that she might not even be telling the truth about what’s been done to her, and blah blah false accusations, and yadda yadda following the evidence, and on and on. Further down the same comment section, there were other men swinging in the opposite direction, and complaining about how they have to over-compensate so they don’t end up feeling like rapists, and how their reward for doing the right thing is never getting laid.

It’s like a perfect microcosm of the expectations placed on women’s behavior in relation to men, all in one tidy comment section:

  1. If a woman complains of men being violent, she’s probably lying, but,
  2. If this really did happen to her, she should’ve done more to protect herself, and,
  3. It’s so wrong and unfair of women to treat all men like potential rapists by default.

In this environment, it is literally impossible for women to have done the right thing to protect ourselves. Whatever we’ve done in our interactions with men who might want to use our bodies, it ends up having been the wrong thing. Literally everything we’ve done is the wrong thing.

It’s not even a matter of failing to look at violent men and asking them why in Seven Hells they think this shit is okay. It’s not even that we’re constantly picking apart women’s decisions after the fact of violence, rather than addressing men’s attitudes beforehand. It’s that the expectations placed on women’s behavior, in relation to heterosexual men, are unrelentingly contradictory. They’re always telling us we did it wrong.

We’re always either too vulnerable or too vigilant, and anyway we can’t be trusted to tell the truth. If she lets a man get close to her and he violates her, then she should’ve somehow figured out what kind of man he was beforehand, and not let him get so close. If she does a more thorough job of enforcing her boundaries, and turns a lot of men away, then she’s not being fair, she’s treating decent men like rapists, she’s not giving them a chance. It is impossible for us to have done enough. There is no magical zone between “too vulnerable” and “too vigilant” that women, and those perceived as women, can safely inhabit. No matter whose advice we follow, we always should have done something else.

*(In case anyone’s wondering which of these encounters I define as a completed rape, I’m referring to Condomless or Anal Dude, who didn’t wait for her to consent to condomless sex before he shoved his way inside her and ignored her protests. That she managed to fight him off before he ejaculated inside her doesn’t make that incident a non-rape.)