08 May 2011

Asking For It

What with the Slutwalk, which I reckon looks interesting at least, I thought I'd have a look at an argument I've seen for rape victims bearing responsibility. I'm sure you've seen it before. It goes
"Ok so imagine you park your car in a dodgy area right, and you leave it unlocked yeah, and the keys are in the ignition, and the car's in a really short skirt and stuff. Obviously it gets nicked right, and your reaction is like "awww I'm such an idiot, it's my fault for parking it there, unlocked, drunk, and with a history of promiscuity"
And of course, there are things women can do to avoid getting raped, like staying at home all the time, ideally tied up in a sack with their vaginas removed and kept in a safe. And should they leave the safe unlocked, yes, they are by their own actions, slightly increasing their own chances of being raped.

It's true that there's something icky about using a crime against property as an analogy for a crime against a human, but I don't think that's the problem. After all, we'll justify all kinds of things with an analogy about a bloody omelette. It's also true that only the rapist is to blame for rape - though perhaps the reason this is often ignored is that the criminal's responsibility for the crime is too obvious to bother mentioning. Where this analogy falls down is that it's a little too apt. Say (for the sake of argument, as it's actually bollocks) that excessive drinking puts women at greater risk of rape, in the same way as parking your car in a dodgy area puts it at greater risk of theft.

Would your stupidity in parking your car like that diminish the thief's criminality?
Who's going to say "well, there's no point in pressing charges, as you were asking for your car to get nicked"?
Who's going to say "well, you can hardly blame the joyriders for stealing it, seeing as it was unlocked"?
What counsel for the defence is ever going to argue "my client cannot be held responsible for the theft of said vehicle, given its position, its being unlocked and the presence of the keys in the ignition"?
And don't think you, as the victim of the car theft, will have to answer a single question about what cars you might have owned in the past.

But does blaming the victim actually shift some off the rapist's shoulders? Would rape victims who "asked for it" feel discouraged from pressing charges? Would excuses be made for their attackers based on the victims' dress or behaviour? Would the perceived sluttiness of a rape victim be used to discredit her case and might she, possibly, have to answer a couple of minor questions about her sexual history?

It strikes me that this car-theft analogy works far better as an argument against the victim's responsibility. So much so that it must have been invented by a feminist, and borrowed by victim-blamers who thought it sounded clever. They can't have thought it up themselves, given how much they struggle with figurative speech. Because generally, the idiom "asking for it" - be it theft, murder or a slap in the face - is understood as just that: an idiom. A figure of speech. Yet for some reason, when a woman asks for it by smiling at you while having nice legs, suddenly the metaphor gets taken very, very literally, to the point where it basically counts as consent. Well, I'm afraid it's not how blame works. It's not how analogies work, it's not even how cars work, and it's definitely not how consent works.

PS This song is awesome.


  1. People do blame people for leaving their cars in stupid places/unlocked etc if they get nicked. have you never been in a relationship? If you lose your keys or if you forget to lock the back door or you walk home late at night without your phone, doesn't your partner admonish you?

    The idea that rape victims are the only people blamed or asked to take some responsibility for what happens to them, ever, is totally false.

    I am not saying they should be blamed I am just saying we lie to ourselves about what happens.

  2. Was mostly my point. The difference is that people treat "asking to be raped" in a weirdly, often even spitefully different way.

  3. yes but then people seem pretty weird and spiteful about people who they believe are 'potential rapists' too. I see the spite on both sides of this equation.

  4. I think "potential rapists" is misread a lot. It's more to do with sussing out strangers who might not necessarily look the part than it is demeaning men as a whole. Though not all feminists and anti-feminists got that memo. That said, we all have the potential to be whatever we want to be.

    Besides, I have an explanation for this spite.

  5. I had a < /careersguidanceofficer > thing at the end of the second paragraph which signposted irony. Bastard blogspot.

  6. what is your explanation?

  7. The thing I wrote up there. Unlike with car theft and what have you, "asking for" rape is treated like tacit consent.

  8. Not by most people it's not. That's what I mean. Feminists' spite seems to stretch beyond the actual 'perpetrators' to a kind of non-defined mass of 'men who are capable of rape or men who victim-blame' and I think it's shit.

    I sometimes think you misunderstand what I say on purpose! I don't know how much clearer I can be.

  9. Well, I meant in the case of people who use the analogy. To be honest, I think the idea of "blame" for these things is way too simplistic for what goes on.

    Plus I know you don't much care for the idea of a "rape culture", but definitely poking around trying to understand how the concept of consent works in various attitudes to rape is worth doing.