“Don’t present yourself as a victim.”
Those are the words we used to tell the students who came to women’s self defense classes at our Karate dojo. I was one of the instructors, I felt good about what I was doing. Some of the women who took these short courses had been raped or assaulted; others knew women who had suffered the same. They were all afraid. They all wanted to learn how to be a little less defenseless against men who would harm them.
We taught these women simple moves to escape from an attacker. We taught them how to break out of wrist and throat grabs. We taught them to shout NO! We taught them to walk with their head high, look confident, and watch their surroundings – predators look for weakness. But the best lesson we taught may have been that if they found themselves in a bad situation and they didn’t fight back, if they just endured, it was not their fault and they should never feel guilty.
“Don’t present yourself as a victim.”
The problem with that statement is the simple fact that, for women, our gender will always present us as victims, all over the globe. No amount of head-high walking and ju-jitsu moves will change that.
Not too long ago, I wrote a post asking if we in North America still needed feminism. I felt pretty smug about my position as “an equalist”. Let me state for the record: I’m an idiot. A naïve idiot.
When I read about the Steubenville rape case, I was not shocked. A very drunk girl and two young men who dragged her around, using her as their personal plaything, to the delight of their peers? Disgusting but probably more common than most people imagine. The cover up by the adults of the town was equally reprehensible. But that didn’t shock me so much, either, given the power of football culture in that part of the world.
The killing blow to my idiotic “equalist” philosophy came when I found a Tumblr Public Shaming website posting screen capture shots of tweets about this incident. In tweet after tweet, the girl victim was blamed and the boy perpetrators were held up as poor kids who had made an unfortunate mistake.
It got worse.
Further digging uncovered a trove of these victim-blaming tweets in other sexual assault cases. In one, the victim was a 13 year old girl and the accused were a pair of 18 year old football players. Here’s a small sampling of some the comments floating around out there about teen rape victims:
I want to know why there’s no punishment for young hoes. AMEN. Fuck these little hoe asses.
If you chose to sit there and get bullied stand the fuck up, it’s no one’s fault but yours. It’s 2013 no one has sympathy.
Girl is a victim? Even her best friend said she was a slut and asking for it.
If she was so religious, where were her morals? In the row of girls in the photo, she was the only one showing her stomach. #slut.
I could go on, but I can’t look at any more of that bile. The worst part, the part that makes me weary? All of those tweets I quoted above were written by women.
I’m going to come back to this.
Every female is born into battle. Where we’re born will determine the size of our personal war, but all of us come into the world with a fight waiting.
Depending on where we’re born, we might:
- Have our genitals mutilated
- Be denied birth control, abortion, or any kind of sexual education
- Be sold into sexual slavery
- Be denied a voice – the right to vote or hold any kind of position of power
- Not make as much money as our male counterparts for doing the same job
- Be stoned to death for being raped
- Not be allowed to go to school, drive a car, show our faces
- Suffer torture, harassment, or death at the hands of inlaws seeking a higher dowry
- Be murdered or abandoned at birth because females are not as valuable as males
This is our reality, the reality of women in 2013. Some places are better than others but nowhere are we even close to equal. Even in the supposedly enlightened first world, the idea persists of women as lesser beings, inherently wicked (see: Eve), fundamentally weak and flawed. Here, we can’t throw stones at rape victims, so we throw words.
In the Steubenville case, what if the victim had been a young boy, dressed in his sexiest clothes (whatever that means to teen boys), and very drunk? What if he had been falling all over a couple of female athletes who took advantage of his intoxication? What if they’d paraded him around, encouraged others to piss on him, hauled him into a basement and shoved their fingers up his ass, all while he was passed out? What if no one stepped in to help? What if, instead, his humiliation and degradation was shared all over Facebook and Twitter?
If that case went to court, would anyone care how he was dressed? Would they say “he asked for it”? No. Only females must answer to their virtue and justify their appearance. Only females must prove they did not “ask” to be sexually assaulted.
You doubt me? In 2010, 14 men in Liberty, Texas were accused of gang raping an 11 year old girl. Quote from the New York Times about the rape case: “They said she dressed older than her age.” I’ve tried to imagine someone saying that if the victim were a boy. I can’t. Because it would never happen.
We all make mistakes, especially in our younger years. Most of you reading this have made at least one doozy. I’ve made more than one. Hopefully, the worst consequences you suffered were a hangover and maybe a bit of vomit to wash out of your clothes. But here’s the thing: getting really drunk is a mistake, rape is not. Rape is a crime. It’s a crime of power, not sex, but most of all, it is a crime. Period. The onus is not on the victim to prove his/her morals. The only responsibility he/she has is to prove that he/she was sexually assaulted, according to the legal definition.
Women, the battle for equality is far from over and here’s the sad truth: If we, the victims, can’t stand together, the war will never end.
I am tired of living in a world where women need to learn how to defend themselves against men. I am tired of seeing those old labels, whore and slut, used as a means to shift responsibility away from men who commit crimes against us. I am tired of religions that use ancient texts to justify hatred or violence against women. I am tired of knowing that, even in a place where I am still not equal, I am one of the lucky ones.
That girl in Steubenville, as reckless as you may think she was, could be your daughter, your niece, your friend, your sister, your mother, your aunt, your grandmother. She could be you. Remember that the next time you want to hurl a stone.
One of the lessons we taught in the women’s self defense class has turned out to be mostly useless: stick together. In reality, your chance of getting raped by a stranger is pretty low. The vast majority of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. And being in a crowd certainly didn’t help that young girl in Steubenville.
However, when it comes to the fight for equality, I believe that lesson is the best one we women can learn. Stick together.
I hope one day we have justice for all women. And may they say of me, and of all of us, “Well, she asked for it.”
Some facts about violence against women, from UN Women: http://www.endvawnow.org/en/articles/299-fast-facts-statistics-on-violence-against-women-and-girls-.html
Some myths about rape from WAVAW: http://www.wavaw.ca/mythbusting/rape-myths/
Until next time, I hope this finds you healthy, happy and lovin’ life…whether you’re a man or woman.