On Feminism: Victim Blaming

Friday, 28 December 2012


[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.


layla guest said...

hila. another brilliant post. thank you for your charged and driven point of view. whether or not freedman or moran take a look at their behavior, thank YOU for holding them accountable in this corner of the internet!

suzie said...

I'm so angry after reading this…to think I actually used to think Moran was cool, I even recommended her to a troubled young woman I know not so long ago. Turns out Moran is completely clueless.

hungryandfrozen said...

Yes. This. Perfect. It makes me sick reading those words in their interview - there is so much wrong with what they said and your post very neatly and quickly unpacks it.

So sorry about your horrible experience in that taxi.

Danya said...

Ugh, this victim-blaming culture is truly insiduous and abhorrent. Just the other day, I heard about a law that's being implemented in Swaziland: women are not allowed to wear mini skirts or crop tops because wearing them increases your chances of rape. You can spend up to six months in jail for wearing a mini.

Which just goes to show that whilst the word might definitely be out there, it isn't necessarily the right word or, for that matter, helping anyone.

hannah debbie said...

THANK YOU. I've been blaming myself over my sexual assault since I was 14 years old. Time to put an end to this bullshit. It wasn't my fault.

Danielle P. said...

Exactly. It seems so basic, so self-evident, that I'm flabergasted this stuff still needs saying. Thank you for saying it in your usual articulate way, Hila!

tangentsandminutiae said...

It seems like Moran is veering into Camille Paglia territory in placing responsibility entirely on the victims. It's disgusting.

The 23 year old Indian woman who was gang raped and brutalized died today. Maybe she shouldn't have taken the bus with her male friend after seeing a movie?

Thank you Hila, for calling bullshit on people like Moran and Freedman.

Rambling Tart said...

Thank you, Hila. Thank you. I felt physically ill reading their comments and I'm so grateful for your rebuttal. There are so many misconceptions about rape/molestation/assault. I was recently told by a family member that I had no right to be affected by numerous molestations because they weren't rape. My counselor nearly hit the roof. The thing is, I believed them for years. I'm so grateful for women like you who stand up to bullies, who stand up to foolish people who have no concept of what it is like to be violated. You are right. It is never, ever the victim's fault. I was assaulted when I was covered from neck to ankles. I was assaulted at a Bible study. I was assaulted outside a church. Predators are not limited by modesty or flat shoes or well-lit buildings. The assault because that is who they are. Thank you.

Hila said...

Layla: I highly doubt Moran or Freedman care, or think they have done something wrong. But I hope others get it. And thanks!

Suzie: I was angry too - I still am. I used to think she was pretty cool too, but she completely lacks self-awareness, or an ability to use her influence responsibly.

Laura: The epic WRONG of this interview is beyond belief - because these are supposedly two 'feminists'. Right, whatever.

Danya: Oh yes, it's the skirt that's the problem, not the man who rapes the woman wearing it! Such idiotic logic. If we keep approaching rape as inevitable, and keep implying that men cannot control themselves like children, we're just perpetuating an infantilising and dangerous culture.

hannah debbie: Of course it wasn't you fault!! Keep saying that over and over. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a turd.

Danielle: I guess it's not that obvious, especially not to media feminists!

Acacia: Don't get me started on Paglia, I can't stand her - she's quite ridiculous. But she's yet another example of 'feminists' the media loves to latch onto. I get the feeling the reason why the media likewise loves Moran is because her brand of 'feminism' is easy and uncritical and lacks awareness.

And oh, the story of how that poor rape victim in India died just brought me to tears. The absolute sheer brutality of it. I think I read one of the perpetrators' mothers saying women shouldn't walk around the streets, because men make 'mistakes'. Yeah, sure, inserting a metal rod into a woman and taking out her intestines, torturing her and raping her for hours, and leaving her for dead, is just a 'mistake'. The anger I feel about this cannot even be described.

And when you think about it, how is Moran 'don't wear high heels ladies' comment any different from the mother's 'don't walk the streets ladies' comment? The world is seriously fucked sometimes.

Krista: Oh gosh, the stupidity of people. How dare anyone tell you what you experienced wasn't violation? Your counsellor was completely right to hit the roof. There are too many misconceptions about sexual assault. And it doesn't help when supposed 'leading' feminists just add to them. It's tiring, fighting this bullshit, we shouldn't have to still be doing this.

Jean Hannah Edelstein said...

"I get the feeling the reason why the media likewise loves Moran is because her brand of 'feminism' is easy and uncritical and lacks awareness." - exactly. And I'm so disappointed when other feminists defend her saying stupid shit because of her position as token 'feminist'. She is now doing more harm than good.

I'm Jen said...

There is something very unsettling and dangerous about the way Moran and Freedman are placating to the patriarchal views on how women 'should behave' in society. They have a powerful voice, and they should be ashamed of themselves, pretending that they are comfortable with this sort of commentary. What kind of example are they setting for young women? They both need to wise up.

Anonymous said...

I would not tell my daughter to walk around on her own at any time of night in high heels. Sorry, but I would advise against that. Safety in numbers - common sense.

This whole thing started because some Canadian cop said women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don't want to be victimised. This was a completely unacceptable comment.

You are so damning of both Moran and Freeman and I'm not sure why. Their comments, while unhelpful and unoriginal are not that bad. They are not saying women attract rapists with slutty clothes, they are saying its not safe to walk around on your own late at night. If your mother told you the same thing, would you respond with this tirade?

I don't think either of them made any comment about rapes committed by men known to their victims. I don't know why you brought that up - I think you were just trying to make them look stupid. That's not what they were talking about.

Hila said...

Anonymous: We obviously disagree on every level. I’m not sure if I’m wasting my time in answering, but here goes:

“This whole thing started because some Canadian cop said women should avoid dressing like sluts if they don't want to be victimised. This was a completely unacceptable comment.”

I don’t really know what you’re talking about here. I was talking about an interview between Moran and Freedman. That’s what I was responding to.

”You are so damning of both Moran and Freeman and I'm not sure why. Their comments, while unhelpful and unoriginal are not that bad.”

Well, I do think their comments were bad, as do a lot of other women who have written posts I’ve linked here too. I suppose we’re all wrong.

“They are not saying women attract rapists with slutty clothes, they are saying its not safe to walk around on your own late at night.”

Actually, Moran said heels alert rapists or somehow trigger rape. That’s the same as saying ‘don’t wear short skirts ladies’.

“I don't think either of them made any comment about rapes committed by men known to their victims. I don't know why you brought that up - I think you were just trying to make them look stupid.”

That wasn’t my intent. It’s a point raised by many other women who have called them out on their comments, and it’s a valid one, considering the statistics about rape.

I would honestly suggest you go read some of the articles I’ve linked, as they’ve probably responded to the Moran-Freedman interview better than me – this is why I have linked them. But my points still stand, and however much you disagree with me, I firmly believe that if we are to see any change in how women are treated and in the safety of women in general, we simply have to change the way we talk about rape. The focus shouldn’t be on the victim, what shoes she’s wearing, or clothes, etc. The criticism levelled against Moran and Freedman on this particular issue (not just by me) is valid, and no one is unfairly targeting either one of them.

Hila said...

Jean: Agreed, totally.

I'm Jen: I agree, and I'm finding it increasingly tiresome.

Hila said...

FYI Anonymous: http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2013/01/08/rape-prevention-aimed-at-rapists-does-work/

And for the benefit of everyone:

"Every time a discussion of rape happens, it’s a sure bet that the conversation will eventually turn to what the victim could have done differently. Even when the specific topic at hand is rape culture, and the ways that sexism and misogyny and sexual shame and entitlement and attitudes about masculinity and other toxic elements of the culture can make rape more likely and less likely to be punished… the conversation will eventually get turned to “what should rape victims do to keep from being raped.” Even when the topic at hand is ways that rape victims routinely get blamed for their rapes, the conversation will still eventually get turned to “what should rape victims to to keep from being raped.” And when this happens, and when people speak out against it, it’s almost certain that someone will say, “But that’s not part of rape culture! That’s just practical common sense! We want people to not get raped — and telling likely targets of rape how to keep themselves safe is the only effective way to do that!”

I don’t ever want to hear this again. Not just because it’s part of the exact victim-blaming rape culture we’re talking about. Not just because this business of rapists being just a handful of sociopaths — as opposed to active members of society who you might know — is bullshit. I don’t want to hear it again… because it’s just flatly not true."

And then the article goes on to discuss how a campaign aimed at rapists, rather than victims, has resulted in the reduction of the rate of rape by 10%.

I'd also have to agree with the final point: "People changed their culture’s attitudes about slavery. About lynching. About women’s right to vote. About the Ku Klux Klan. About same-sex marriage.

Why is it so irrational to think that we could change our culture’s attitudes about rape?"

Talking about rape through the lens of discussing women's shoes or clothing, and telling them rather patronisingly to 'be careful', doesn't change shit all. But a campaign like the one discussed in this article does change things.