[Trigger warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault]
After I published this post on Caitlin Moran and Mia Freedman, I noticed a certain type of ‘defence’ developing around their rape comments: Moran’s defenders in particular ironically used the familiar argument levelled against many feminists: ‘Don’t you have anything better to talk about?’ I’ve noticed on tumblr that alongside this argument came comparisons to the Indian gang rape victim, in which the argument goes: ‘Look what’s going on over there, isn’t it just awful, talk about this instead of picking on poor Moran’. Which is an even more ignorant way of saying: ‘Don’t you have anything better to talk about?’ No, I don’t. Because victim-blaming is not a separate issue from gang rape and the escalated brutality towards women. Because the rape women endure in India is not separate from the rape that women endure in Western countries. At the heart of it is something we are all familiar with: misogyny.
No one is irrationally picking on ‘poor Moran’, she is not a victim here. And yes, people should rightly hold her to a higher standard as a woman who is a self-proclaimed feminist. As a feminist, if I ever say shit like she did about rape, you have my full permission to critique me all you want. And I’ll listen to you, and accept when I’ve fucked up, and try not to do it again. That’s all people are asking of Moran, as someone who is in the public eye, and who has a vast platform to talk about women’s rights rather than flippantly ignoring what doesn’t fit her limited vision of HELL YEAH FEMINISM.
But you know, I’ve heard a lot of other women talk about ‘risk’ and, with the best intentions, suggest ways women can ‘avoid’ rape. Part of this is simply internalising the misogynistic culture we still live in where women’s bodies are on display, objectified and treated like pieces of meat nearly 24 hours a day through advertising, the media, and day-to-day culture. Should we be surprised then when we ourselves start to view our bodies as the inevitable property of others, just waiting to be violated? No. But that’s not an excuse, or a reason not to require yourself to think critically about this. We need to stop treating rape as an inevitable occurrence, like the weather. Rape is a decision somebody makes to violate the physical, psychological and emotional integrity of another human being. It is a decision somebody makes to dehumanise and brutalise another human being. If you think that women have a responsibility to stop this from happening to them in some way through choice of clothing or shoes, you are buying into the myth that rape is not a decision, but something that just happens (and, something we should get used to and just accept). Rape is unacceptable, and we have a responsibility to fight it through whatever means we have at our disposal. If it means critiquing an influential feminist, so be it. If it means showing solidarity with women in India, so be it. One is not more or less important than the other.
I know it is much easier, and also much more comforting, to think that if you do x, y and z, you will be protected from rape. Nobody likes to think of this happening to them. Your brain instinctively rebels against such a thought, because it’s too much. But it’s an infantilising position to be stuck in, and one that doesn’t allow the discussion around rape to get to the heart of the problem: the culture of misogyny that is prevalent all around the world. It’s insulting to men to suggest they cannot control themselves, and it’s insulting to women to suggest that they view their bodies as created for somebody else’s use and abuse. The question we should be asking ourselves is not ‘what was she wearing?’ but ‘why are we teaching both men and women to hate women?’ Because that’s precisely what we’re doing: you’re too skinny, you’re too fat, you’re too ugly, you’re too beautiful, you’re asking for it, you’re frigid, you’re a slut, you’re a whore, you’re a tease, don’t wear that, wear this and everyone will love you, wear this and you’re a ‘good girl’, buy this product and you will be ‘fixed’, etc., etc., etc. All of this is based on a contempt for women and a dehumanisation of their bodies. We should all be better than this.
But I’m not waiting till society gets better, because that isn’t going to magically happen just because I wish for it. Change comes through critique, action and opposition to the status quo. It comes from introspection and self-awareness. It comes from not repeating sexist bullshit about rape, and not treating it as inevitable. It comes from not blindly defending celebrity feminists when they fuck up. It comes from requiring more out of everyone. Women don’t need to be told they should be ‘aware’ of their surroundings. We are perfectly aware already – gee, thanks for pointing out the obvious. We are aware of the risks in the world, we are aware of how our bodies are perceived in our cultures and our societies. This has been drummed into us since birth. The mantra needs to be changed from ‘be careful’ to ‘don’t rape’.
I’m sick of being told to be careful. I already know this. Teach me, and everyone else, something new. Like, perhaps: as a woman, I was born with this body that is mine to do with as I please. It is not subject to the whims of somebody who wishes to impose their physical strength upon me; it is not created for somebody else’s pleasure or power. It is mine. This is basic, but it’s not understood. Instead, we still live in an age where leading feminists tell you to ‘be careful’, and where women get gang-raped and discarded like garbage. This is called rape culture and its insidiousness touches us all, even those who have never been assaulted or raped. Rape is not something that happens to ‘other’ women, it happens to us all. Because when one woman gets raped, it signals a culture of hatred towards all women that affects our daily lives – our relationships, our jobs, our homes, everything. I would much prefer to think I could safeguard myself from all this hatred, but this simply isn’t the truth. And we need to start facing the truth, rather than hiding behind myths.