When a woman is "asking for it"

I heard the most bizarre discussion on BBC's World Have Your Say today. The question posed was this - Can rape ever be the victim's fault? I thought the answer would be a simple, obvious "no". However, I was shocked to find some other people's answers from around the world were "it depends". And not just a few people thought this. Those calling in were half in the absolutely never category and half in the "if she dresses a certain way, goes to a certain part of town or is alone with a man she she shouldn't be then it is her fault category. Really.

I realize I live in a privileged, protected bubble of the "educated" and middle class in the first world. I realize this affords me to dress and say what I want and be with whomever I want and say no to what I don't want to do. I know that if I say no I have the law on my side. I know in my culture that I have the right to call out anyone who would dare to touch me or do anything to me I said I didn't want them to. It doesn't matter, in my world, how I dress, what I do, how I walk, where I go or who I talk to. No, in my world, means no. So I was shocked at first to hear what others (including other women) had to say.

Those in the "it matters what you do" category put it on the woman to act appropriately in situations with a man. They seemed to think that if a woman doesn't, she's "asking for it". But shouldn't a woman have the freedom to be who she is without some creep taking it as his cue to jump on her, despite telling him no?

On the flip side, some of what others were saying made sense. It wasn't just that a woman is asking for it, but to be smart. Sure you should be able to do what ever, walk naked in the streets if you want and not get raped. In a perfect world. But just because you want to and you should be protected, doesn't mean you will. Some argued that it wasn't that a woman deserved it, but that she should be smart enough to realize that her actions could invite the kind of attention she may not want, that there are men out there who will take it as a green light no matter how many times she says "no". And if she doesn't properly protect herself from these men, it is her fault.

I still think no means no, no matter what. I do think we should strive for a world where a woman should be able to dress any way she pleases and go and do and say what she pleases and be able to say she does not want something, like sex, and for a man to understand that means no sex. What do you think? Does no mean no, or does it only mean no unless the girl is acting provacatively and then deserves what she gets? Are you shocked as I am at these answers?


mj said…
No means no. That is the final answer legally and morally.

Protect yourself. That is the smart thing to do.

I think they are separate issues, but I can understand some confusion. We have to be really careful not to make victims feel guilty or perpetrators feel "off the hook" because they are absolutely not. But I will also be sure to tell my daughter not to be alone in a dark, dangerous place or put her full trust in a man she hardly knows.
mj said…
Also it is my understanding that rapists are not generally motivated sexually but more by a desire to control, so it's probably more about watching where you are when and who you are with than what you are wearing.

Date rape might be a little different--not sure I've got all my facts.
George Marie said…
No means no. No matter what tier of society we live in, gender discrimination, most often in the form of sexual harassment, is pervasive. I posit that the situation will not improve until men and women are given the same equal footing in all walks of life. I see things in academia a lot that discourage me. For example, male faculty will often discredit a colleague's work because it is labeled as feminist, or even worse, because it's written by a woman. On the flip side of the coin, I will see situations where work by a male graduate student or faculty member does not get the attention it merits because the creator of the work is male. It's a frustrating situation.

Why can't we all be treated equally, engendering an atmosphere that conduces respect for everyone? The dissolution of this goal is not conducive for learning nor does it allow us to become better people.

Your post made me think of the string of sexual harassments that happened at the University of Iowa in 2008. Arthur H. Miller, a full professor of political science and creator of some of the polling methods used in national elections, was accused of giving A's for sexual favors. He took his life shortly thereafter. A few months later, Mark Weiger, the oboe professor, while dealing with a sexual harassment charge, decided to take his life also. This is a paradox that I cannot explain. How can a person, a musician whom I liked and respected immensely, be capable of such a heinous act? Could someone who engendered many of the musical tenets that I respected really be capable of that? I will never know.

Anyways, I digress. Men need to treat women well, no matter what. No means no. No one "asks" to have something bad inflicted upon them, and no one DESERVES to have something inflicted upon them. You raise very good points here, Sarah, ones that I think we all need to be aware of as we go about our lives.

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