On Feminism: Victim Blaming


[Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault]

I was planning on taking a break from my blog until the new year, but then I read this article last night and felt my blood boil. I’m late to this new Moran saga, but it still makes me angry, and it’s still relevant. It’s based on this excerpt from an interview Australian blogger Mia Freedman conducted with Caitlin Moran:

[MF]: There have been peace marches, and reclaim the night marches, because it is that thing that we all fear, a woman walking alone, randomly taken from the streets, and it’s really divided a lot of women. Because there have been those who have said, “don’t blame the victim, we need to be free to walk the streets at any time, it’s men who need to be taught not to rape and murder.”

And of course it should never be about victim blaming but I worry about the idea of saying to women “don’t change your behaviour, this is not your problem!” I feel like that’s saying, “You should be able to leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, or leave your front door unlocked, and expect nobody to burgle you.”

[CM]: Yes. It’s on that basis that I don’t wear high heels – other than I can’t walk in them – because when I’m lying in bed at night with my husband, I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels, clack-clack -clack. And I can hear she’s on her own, I can hear what speed she’s coming at, I could plan where to stand to grab her or an ambush. And every time I hear her I think, “Fuck, you’re just alerting every fucking nutter to where you are now.” And [that it’s a concern] that’s not right.

Society should be different. But while we’re waiting for society to change, there’s just certain things you have to do. But again the thing is, so many things you could do instead are predicated on having money. She could come out of a nightclub and get into a taxi, that would be the right thing to do.

No billionaire heiresses are ever abducted and raped and murdered, because they are just being put into a taxi or have their driver waiting around a corner for them. Again, it’s not just a feminist thing, it’s a class thing. It’s a money thing. It’s a problem of capitalist society. That’s why I think often feminism links to Marxism and socialism, I don’t just want to help one bunch of people, I want to help everyone.

Let me preface the following discussion by saying that I used to genuinely like Caitlin Moran. Heck, I quoted her on this blog. But the more she opens her mouth and displays her mind-numbing ignorance and cloaks it as some sort of ‘edgy’ feminism, the more I lose respect for her. I discussed a few of the issues I have with her on my intersectionality post. And here’s another classic example of her ignorance masked as humour.

Both Mia Freedman and Caitlin Moran come off as totally clueless here. It would be fine to dismiss them both as silly if it wasn’t for the fact that, a) They are exceptionally powerful media voices with a lot of influence and, b) Their comments do a lot of harm. What they say, for better or for worse, counts a lot because the mainstream media has latched on to these two women as icons of modern feminism. But their comments here actually perform the work of patriarchal culture – they actually reinforce everything that feminists have been working so hard to change.

Rape is never the victim’s fault. This shouldn’t need to be said in the year 2012 (almost 2013), but when you have two influential ‘feminists’ (and I use that term very loosely with regard to these two) comparing women to property or cars, and talking about how high heels increase your chance of getting raped as a woman, I guess it needs to be said again. So for the benefit of clarity, here goes: RAPE IS NOT A VICTIM’S FAULT. EVER.

There isn’t a get out of jail card, a magic pill you can take to prevent rape. Not wearing high heels won’t magically stop me or any other woman from getting raped. Rape happens because rapists rape. Statistics often show that rape is more likely to happen to you by someone you know, not an unknown “nutter”. And yes, Caitlin Moran, even billionaire heiresses get raped! What Freedman and Moran said in this interview just highlights this point. It is not a woman’s responsibility to think of all the different ways she could get raped and try to prevent that. It is the responsibility of society to grow up and hold rapists accountable for their own behaviour. It is our collective responsibility to change mindsets and start to view women as human beings with integrity and a right to their own self-determination, bodies and minds. Comparing them to fucking cars is called dehumanisation. I almost got sexually assaulted by a taxi driver. There goes Moran’s idea of “the right thing to do”. But I suppose it was my fault because I was wearing a pretty dress that showed my legs.

But let’s face it. Freedman isn’t much better here. Comparing women to cars, really? In the words of Clementine Ford:

A vagina is not a car, and rape is not the same thing as opportunistically taking someone’s abandoned wallet from a coffee table. ... Presenting vaginas as disembodied possessions just waiting to be stolen isn’t just inaccurate (and searingly offensive - how many people who cursed Peter Slipper for comparing vaginas to mussels have invoked the old car key argument?) it also completely denies the reality of assault by shifting it into some kind of arbitrary narrative of property theft. Enduring rape has exactly zero things in common with the insignificant inconvenience of having to replace your credit cards, and it certainly isn’t done by stealth. When a woman puts on a short skirt, she isn’t signalling her exit from the building that is her body. She hasn’t left her car running on an empty street and wandered off to find some frozen yoghurt. All she’s done is put on a short skirt. You still have to ask her if she wants to have sex with you.

A woman is not a piece of property. I know rape counsellors, and I truly think Freedman and Moran would benefit from sitting down and actually talking to them to get their facts straight before they parrot anti-feminist bullshit about rape culture and call it ‘feminism’. This is not feminism.

There’s a part of me that thinks they were both being deliberately provocative in this interview. But if they were not, at the very least, they should shut up and do their research about rape before using their highly influential voices to talk about it. Women don’t need to hear how rape is their fault; young girls who look up to Moran don’t need to hear it, the countless women who read Freedman’s website don’t need to hear it, and most of all, women who have endured rape definitely do not need to hear it. Anyone who has ever spoken with rape victims knows there is already a huge amount of self-inflicted blame that goes on with rape. We don’t need to increase this sense of blame by telling them stupid things such as ‘well, maybe you should have worn flat shoes instead of heels’. Fuck that. Make it stop.

Change is not going to magically happen if we keep regurgitating this crap over and over again – if we keep telling women that it’s their responsibility to make sure they don’t get raped, rather than telling rapists not to rape. And thanks for inserting a totally useless and placating reference to class Caitlin Moran, but your argument stinks and is basically the same thing misogynists have been telling women since, forever. It is not ‘Marxism’, or ‘socialism’, or feminism, or any other ‘ism’ you want to label it. It’s simply, bullshit. Like I said, make it stop.

I urge everyone to read these Common Myths About Rape and Seven Points On Rape, Prevention, and Blame.

Read more:

* Caitlin Moran, Victim Blaming and the Tone Argument
* Your vagina is not a car
* How to be a victim blamer
* For fuck’s sake, Caitlin Moran
* On how women are not wallets, and why media feminists must not parrot rape myths

Image credit: Image from Feminist Riots, taken by I wrote this on Slutwalk, Brisbane, Australia, 2011.