Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Anatomy Of Asking For It

The Girl Next Door has a post titled Asking for it? which gives a couple of scenarios where women were raped and which looks at whether the women were partly responsible for being raped. I definitely understand the motivation behind the question. If in a given situation, a girl or woman sets off a reliable trigger in a serial or latent rapist and these rapists don't rape without these triggers, which they don't control, then that would be a great thing to know.

The first scenario has a provocatively-dressed woman going to a bar and flirting to the point of physical contact. The woman then leaves the bar alone (after some sort of thanks but no thanks to the man in the bar) and before she reaches her home, she is set upon by the man she interacted with at the bar. He then rapes her at knife point.

The second scenario has a woman going to a bar after work with a coworker who has never acted toward her in any way that indicates he has romantic interest in her. She plans to call a taxi so she won't have to walk home alone and the man offers to see her safely home. Once she has her door open, he forces his way inside and rapes her.

In both of these scenarios these rapists talk of their victims asking for it.

Both of these situations are different but the end result was the same, both women were forced to have sex, raped. But did either of them ask for it? Lead the man on? Send out the wrong signals?

These questions are predicated on the assumption that these men's actions weren't premeditated. They assume that the women somehow controlled the men through their actions.

In her descriptions of what she does when she goes out, it's clear that she actively sends out signals to counter any idea that men (other than her boyfriend) might have that they have even a chance of having sex with her.

What does it say about men's attitudes regarding sex when a woman has to actively communicate her lack of consent to all the men around her in order to feel like she isn't asking to be raped?

That effort expected of women who aren't asking for it means that the default answer to the question, "Can I have sex with her?" is yes and that an explicit no from the woman can frequently be ignored with impunity if the woman previously did anything that anyone can view as a signal that the woman might be asking for it.

This prevention strategy only works if the men care about reading the signals correctly and are too dumb to read any signals which tell them to stop (like the woman trying to close her door without letting him in) or if they think she's too risky of a target -- either because she'll be tough to rape or because they believe she'd report being raped and the legal system will prevail on her behalf.

I know too much to give any merit to the idea that any girl or woman has somehow exerted control over a man until he is powerless to stop himself from raping her. If rapists were truly powerless to resist women they desired, they wouldn't be able to control the when and where of rape.

The claim by so many men of powerlessness related to sex is a false one given to deliberately shift responsibility for his actions onto her. These men can be downright smug about how they aren't real rapists like those who jump modestly-dressed strangers with no apparent sex appeal. The smug men only have sex with those who ask for it -- yet all that means is they have found a way to rape without remorse. They've twisted their thinking until they are the victims of all these predatory girls and women.

That makes them more dangerous, not less dangerous, to a larger number of girls and women. These rapists for the most part look like they aren't dangerous. They certainly all express outrage over "real" rapes and feel outrage for the victims of those "real" rapes.

But imagine transferring the methods of "asking for sex" to asking for a tattoo. Nobody would accept the idea that a man asked for a tattoo because he admired other men's tattoos and even went with one of his friends when the other man got a tattoo. He doesn't ask for a tattoo by sending out signals. He asks for a tattoo by asking for a tattoo and cooperating in the tattooing process. If he changes his mind the first time the tattoo needle touches his arm we wouldn't blame him if he was then held down and given a tattoo of the tattooist's choosing.

We'd really have to twist our thinking to say that those forcably tattooed were asking for it and should know the risk they are taking everytime they showed any positive response to tattoos.

But as long as a significant number of people believe the myth that sexual attraction is a force more powerful than gravity and that it is this force which has men falling on women and raping them, all our prevention efforts will do nothing to reduce the number of planned rapes.

Here's the comment I left on her post:

The problem with blaming either victim -- even partially -- is that it supports the rationalizations of rapists. "See, I'm not fully responsible even though I had to pull a knife on her."

It's a mistake if we attribute these men's actions to miscommunication. They both decided to take something not freely given and if you look at the scenarios they in fact made no real effort to have consensual sex with these women. Showing off in a bar with provocative actions toward a woman is not a request for sex. Neither is pretending to be a trustworthy friend.

When someone attempts to have consensual sex with someone capable of saying no, they risk rejection. On the other hand, attempting rape under these conditions has a higher success rate and because of attitudes about the victims, the chances that they will be reported are extremely low.

Both of the men in the given scenarios had the mindset of rapists before the women did anything -- at some point they decided it was okay to take what they wanted and the fact that doing so traumatized another human being didn't diminish their pleasure in the least. They understand that the woman was no partner in what happened.

If we say these women should have acted differently, the most important change would be for them to assume that the men around them are rapists and to act accordingly. Yet many people have a serious problem with viewing women's preventative actions in this light.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 6:49 PM   3 comments links to this post


At May 22, 2007 4:06 AM, Anonymous aulelia said...

I found this post particularly illuminating and especially this part: "But as long as a significant number of people believe the myth that sexual attraction is a force more powerful than gravity and that it is this force which has men falling on women and raping them, all our prevention efforts will do nothing to reduce the number of planned rapes."

I completely and fully agree. The problem is we live in a culture where everyone wants to be blame free and everyone wants a scapegoat. It is easy for people to choose a woman as the victim because we have been involuntary designated that role by the patriarchy we live in.

Look at the rapes that happened during the Rwandan genocide, war and lust for power were seen as reasons for rape because men have been taught to equate them with sex. It is disgusting. This system needs to be crushed.

At May 22, 2007 8:56 AM, Blogger Red Jenny said...

I found this blog via Thinking Girl. Your tattoo analogy is absolutely amazing. Thank you.

At April 14, 2008 8:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sadly, there are people who still feel a woman is asking for it. Read this insane article:


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