Welcome to our weekly series discussing rape and sexual assault. We're into week four and gaining readers with each addition to the series.
For those who are new to the series, we are sharing a list of statements that come from a 1990 survey of high school kids. They were surveyed before and after taking a Rape Awareness Program. Like the kids back then, we're taking a poll on each statement and comparing our responses with those from the 1990's. We're also discussing our responses in the comments and using the opportunity to expand our own knowledge, shine a light on our own pre-conceptions, and to discover new ways to discuss rape and sexual assault both within the progressive community and outside among family and friends.
I have been publishing on Thursday mornings. Next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day and this series will be taking a one week break. I also want to take this opportunity to talk about scheduling. I've noticed better polling numbers when I publish later in the morning but I'm not always around to publish that late. Could have just been the question of the day or could have been timing. What do you think?
Join us below for a re-cap of last week's statement and then don't forget to take this week's poll:
Statement #5: True or False: Most rapists choose someone they know as a victim.
Statement #4: Women provoke and invite rape by their appearance and behavior.
This statement is false.
The 1990 survey found that before taking a rape awareness class 65.7% of the students answered correctly. After the class, 79.8% answered correctly. Although that's a marked improvement, even after instruction, more than 20% of the students felt that the way a woman dressed provoked or invited rape.
Here on Daily Kos and more than 20 years later, 86% answered correctly. The remaining 12% were split between those who marked this statement as true, 5%, and those who felt there were shades of gray, 7%. (Last week, I messed up these numbers and it wasn't caught until late in the day. Thanks to SandySin for being such a great copy editor!)
On to the discussion!
If there is one myth that has been discussed over and over the last couple of decades, it's about how women dress and if the way they dress invites sexual assault or rape. An entire movement has been built on the mythology, Slut Walk. Most major cities have seen Slut Walk in the flesh - groups of primarily women, but some men, take to the streets with signs and 'provocative' clothing to prove that rape isn't about what we wear. The movement is empowering to women, young and old.
Here is the point where I have to admit that I used to think that dressing in a certain way implied certain behavior. I was much younger, I was much more afraid of my own body, and I was very afraid of sending the wrong message. I envy the freedom of today's young women. So many more of them are proud of their bodies than the women of my generation. And it's movements like Slut Walk that reinforce that pride.
Their message is clear - it doesn't matter how women dress, they are never asking to be raped. When I was growing up, the word slut was a word a woman would never have used to define herself but many a woman felt free to label those she didn't like as sluts. By owning the term, participants in Slut Walk are changing perceptions and making us ask What is a slut? It forces us to define the word and by doing so face preconceived notions about feminine sexuality. Is it how we dress? How we act? Or is it merely how men perceive us?
We can put two women in the exact same outfit and one might be labeled a slut and the other sexy. Sluttiness is in the eye of the beholder.
There really is no rhyme or reason other than the person making the judgement call has a set of preconceived notions about sex, sexuality, femininity, etc. Well, I wonder where those preconceived notions come from and if we can begin to change them? Is that where we start to change rape culture in the United States?
I think the women of Slut Walk are on to something.
Some in our society are very bothered by women proclaiming to be sluts:
Toronto feminists, many of them college students, held a rally where they dressed in obviously provocative clothing, protesting against the mere suggestion that there might be a safety factor in dressing modestly or any other common-sense risk-avoidance measure by which women can prevent sexual assault.Note the language:
Feminists, not women. Using the term feminist enables the writer to distance himself even further from the movement. I am sure he has relationships with women, but not with feminists. He is attempting to define SlutWalk participants as "the other," those people he and his supporters can never understand.
Obviously provocative - not just provocative, but obviously so. What man couldn't figure out that the clothing was just begging you to have sex. These women should know better.
Mere suggestion - our advice is so minor that it is hardly worth mentioning at all much less holding a rally in response to it. Aren't these feminists just over-reacting?
Common sense - what woman wouldn't be smart and just follow the advice offered by so many men and a fair amount of women: don't dress that way and you'll be safer. The fact that the advice comes with zero proof be damned. Anyone who doesn't follow such advice is just one of those feminists, you know. And therefore stupid. And perhaps deserving of what might happen to them.
Yet for all this hoopla from those that want to give good advice to women about clothing choices, there isn't a single fact that proves clothing causes rape. At this point, I will guarantee you at least one comment today that will make reference to the female body and an automobile. You know the argument, If I park my car in a place known for break-ins, then it makes sense not to park there and that somehow has something to do with how a woman dresses. Think again. Rape prevention isn't so simple.
Fact: Even using a mere gesture or way of dressing as the scale to measure provocation on the part of the raped woman, the Federal Commission on Crimes of Violence report, only 4% of reported rapes involved any precipitative behavior on the part of the woman.
96% of reported rapes were not precipitated by the behavior of the victim - dress included.
That begs the question: who decided in those 4% of cases that the rape was at least partially provoked? The rapist? The victim? The police who filed the report? We don't know and I haven't been able to find the answer on line.
If women were to take the advice to dress more appropriately, then perhaps they might save themselves from being raped 4% of the time. Once we get every women in the United States to dress more appropriately, we'll be able to know if this advice works because we would assume that rape numbers would drop.
And believe it or not, there are people who believe what we wear can actually prevent rapes... it isn't about wearing non-provocative clothing anymore but about wearing a modern day chastity belt.
Yes, a new line of rape-prevention clothing was released earlier this year by Indiegogo. I have to admit to being confounded - in some ways isn't this the ultimate provocative clothing? It's almost like a dare - I've protected myself and you can't have me! It's a solution that completely buys into our rape culture and makes zero attempt to change pre-conceived notions about sex and sexuality.
The Woman's Blog at The Guardian would agree:
Sadly, resorting to literally locking away our vaginas in order to prevent rape indicates just how much work there is for us to do in the fight against rape culture. A modern-day chastity belt demonstrates just how little women's sexual rights have progressed since medieval times.I think that we as a culture resort to warning women because we feel helpless to prevent rape. We don't know how to stop rapists and our only recourse is to warn potential victims.
But the next time you're tempted to tell a young woman to be careful about how she dresses, please think twice. What are you actually trying to say to her?
I challenge each and every one of us to start finding ways to change the message and to stop talking to women as if they are the only variable that we can change. Obviously Western culture strongly believes in and supports women's rights. If we can do that, can't we do more?
We need to talk about what in our society permits rapists to get away with illegal behavior and to attempt to provide societal change to prevent rape - warning women one at a time to change their individual behavior will only mean that rapists change their target. Let's make rape a crime so unimaginable that when we hear about a rape, like the one in Steubenville, a super-majority of Americans gasp in horror instead of grasping for excuses for the young men that committed the crime.
Diaries in the Series: