The XX Factor

Blame Rapists for Rape, Not Women

Last Tuesday, in the debut of Double X , Linda Hirshman said that the bloggers at Jezebel need to accept that they may be raped if they’re going to insist on being such public sluts. (I’m paraphrasing here, but not as much as I wish I were.) Latoya Peterson responded by rightly pointing out that screeds like Hirshman’s give feminism a bad name . The Internets erupted . And now, just what we needed, the Observer has swooped in to Explain It All to Us , clucking their editorial tongue about the whole “infighting” mess.

Missing from this entire kerfuffle is one crucial point. Women aren’t raped because they’re being sexual in public or private, and they’re not raped because they’re drunk. Women are raped because they’re women.

Statistics vary, but we know that the vast majority of rapists aren’t the men we randomly meet in bars one night-they’re the ones we already know. The idea that women are more likely to be raped while they’re being “bad” is a nasty myth created to keep women in our places. Rape has never been an act of sexual incontinence committed because we’re just too darn available and tempting, and being “smart” or “good” isn’t going to keep us safe.

Sure, men rape women in drunken party atmospheres. They also rape women on quiet nights in, but we get no warnings about the dangers of playing Trivial Pursuit in mixed company. Yes, rape risk increases when alcohol is involved, but if someone is drunk during a rape, it’s more likely to have been the attacker than the victim. And yet where is the public service message warning men against the dangers of drinking and raping?

I’m not a big Jezebel defender on this subject, precisely because of the type of posts that Hirshman and the Observer point out. They excuse rapists’ behavior and perpetuate the myth that if a woman was drinking or being sexual, she is in some way responsible for another person assaulting her. But Hirshman’s complaints about Jezebel fall into the exact same-very dangerous-trap. If it’s possible for women who are raped to deserve it as a “consequence of their own acts,” as Hirshman says, then you can hardly blame the rapist for that act, now, can you?

This controversy isn’t about “choice feminism”-dressing in skimpy clothing, drinking, and having casual sex aren’t inherently feminist choices any more than wearing billowy skirts and Birkenstocks, drinking herbal tea, and being celibate are. But our approach to rape prevention is a feminist choice. We need to face the fact that focusing on the consequences of women’s actions instead of on the actions of rapists has done precious little to reduce the incidence of rape.

You know what else is a feminist choice? Refusing to do the work of the patriarchy. So if refusing to police my own sexuality and blaming rapists for rape in all circumstances makes me a slut, then I wear the name proudly.