Tag Archives: victim blaming

Dear Good Men

My dear Good Men,

I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but, there is more to being good than simply not being bad. As the priest in my favorite movie, Boondock Saints, reminds his congregation, “We must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of Good Men.” It is this indifference that I want to address. This indifference toward the lived experiences of women, their lived terror at the hands of men.

Worse, we need to discuss the fact that even as I wrote that last sentence, I felt compelled to add, “not all men, not you, of course, not you” to pre-emptively assuage your defensive anger at being lumped in with those other “bad” men you work so hard to not be like. It is this combination of casual indifference about the actual plight of women, combined with your knee-jerk defensiveness when we try to discuss it that makes it hard for me to accept you at your word, to accept you as Good Men, or allies, or safe.

I understand that you would like to be Good Men. I want to help you. I want to tell you what I, a woman, need from you in order to bestow that designation. In order to understand what is needed, you’ll have to take off your Good Man badge, let your guard down, listen, allow yourself to become uncomfortable. You are not under attack, the women you know are. All of the women you know. This is about what we experience, weekly, daily, sometimes hourly. You need to let yourself feel that discomfort, it is the only way you’ll be able to grasp the solutions.

The story starts like this: I’m 15 years old. I tell my sister about being sexually assaulted by a married man. She hugs me and says, “I’m so sorry. Welcome to the club.” And then it’s her turn to talk. Her turn to tell a story. The first time she was assaulted…

The first time. Not the only time. Not the last time.

The first time.

Because once it starts, there isn’t an end. At least not while we still have breath. And we hope, each time it happens, that we will retain our breath, regain our breath, reclaim our breath.

Breath to keep going.

Breath to whisper our story.

Breath to change the story.

Some of us run out of breath. Some of us can’t hold it anymore, our breath, and we let it go rather than have it stolen from us one more time. Some of us lose it all to our attacker, have it pulled, choked, torn from us, never to return. Our breathless, broken body becomes our story, told for us on the 9 o’clock news.

But those of us who hold our breath long enough, who keep it, tight in our chest, guarding it against the next attack, and the next, we go on.

Our story continues.

When I reported my first sexual assault at the age of 15, nothing happened to the man who assaulted me. No reports were filed, no charges levied, no warnings given. Instead, I was sent home from my year abroad because my presence became too uncomfortable for him. His comfort was more important than my safety.

Welcome to the club. The guys all like it here.

When a man followed me home, pushed his way into my apartment and assaulted me, a Good Man asked why I hadn’t stopped him. The women I told hugged me and shared their stories.

Welcome to the club. What did you do wrong to gain membership?

When I told my boss, a Good Man, that I could not help a customer because he had been stalking me, I was told to do my job or go home. It was not safe to be polite to my stalker. I quit and hid in a bathroom until my co-worker came and told me my stalker had left the building. But first she told me her story…

Welcome to the club. This is a terrible club.

When I told my first corporate boss, another Good Man, that I wouldn’t feel safe if he hired someone who listed “pick up artist,” “ladies man,” and “playa” on his resume, he told me to relax and get a sense of humor. After all, this candidate had hard skills. I was replaceable. When I asked women about filing a complaint they all shook their heads and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. How do you think this club got built?

By the time my rapist showed up, I knew better than to report him. There was too much at stake. I had already seen how the system worked against women who spoke up. The “choices” we were given by Good Men looking out for their bottom line. I had too much to lose. The women I told held me tight and told me their stories…

Welcome to the club. None of us asked to join.

A Good Man asked me recently why he’d never heard these stories, if every woman I know has one, and they all have one, most have many, why hasn’t he heard them?

Welcome to the club. The first rule of survivor club is, don’t talk about what you’ve survived. It makes the Good Men uncomfortable.

When I went to college, I was forced to attend an orientation that told me how to keep myself safe. They never said, “from men” because there were men in the room and no one wanted to imply that we would need to stay safe from them. After all, they were our dorm mates, our class mates, they were Good Men.

I was given a set of rules to abide by to keep myself safe:

Never walk alone at night, don’t let a man walk you home at night…

Don’t wear tight clothes, don’t wear loose clothes, don’t wear flirty clothes, modify your fashion if you don’t want to be raped

Always carry your keys in your hand, always be ready to defend yourself…

Always keep an eye, and a hand, on your drink, better yet, don’t drink

Make eye contact, but not suggestive eye contact

Be alert at all times – no listening to headphones, no talking on your cell phone, the attack could come at any time…

Vary your routine, you never know who’s watching…

Mark out “safe-houses” along your routes in case you need to run to one, make sure you run to a house with women in it

The men at this orientation were not taught similar precautions. They were not taught to protect themselves. Nor were they asked to consider their role in the precautions women were being told to take. They were not asked to look at themselves as anything other than Good Men, because clearly, only Very Bad Men hurt women. Monsters.

But none of the rules that women are supposed to follow in order to keep ourselves safe from Bad Men work. None of them kept me safe. None of them kept my friends safe. None of them will keep my daughters safe, or your daughters safe…

Because Bad Men are not the problem.

No, the Monster we must battle is not Bad Men, but the indifference, the blindness, of Good Men.

The indifference that makes it possible for Good Men to ignore the catcalls, the jokes, the threats, the violence of other Good Men.

The blindness that makes it possible for Good Men to ask me what I’ve done wrong to deserve the violence I experienced, what rule I broke. As if violence is like mud puddles – an inevitable inconvenience that women simply have to look out for and step around – and if we forget or get distracted and step into a puddle, well, that’s our own fault, isn’t it?

Welcome to the club. Stop playing the victim card.

You see, there is no message in The Rules about Good Men standing up to Bad Men. There is no message that sometimes the Bad Man in the room is your friend, your peer, your professor, your boss, your brother, you.

There is no message that being neutral in the presence of violence makes you complicit in that violence and revokes your Good Man status.

The Good Men in that room were not asked to see, and so they did not.

Good Men, I am asking you to see.

It is not fair that men feel entitled to wear their Good Man badge every time they don’t actively, physically hurt a woman, while women feel grateful every time they simply survive another day in a world populated with men.

Good Men, do you feel that difference? Do you begin to see why we are tired of rewarding you for simply not killing us?

It is not enough.

So, Good Men, I will give you the message you’ve been missing. The message no one wants to give you lest it upset your fragile self-image as a white knight who is good simply by not being bad.

That is not enough.

It is not enough to not be a rapist, an attacker, a harasser.

That’s standard. That’s the default.

Good is something altogether more.

If you want to be Good Men, you must be good enough to say, “We should not hire someone who lists “pick up artist” on their resume, that creates an unsafe culture at our company.”

You must be good enough to say, “If an employee is threatened by a customer, we should ask that customer to leave rather than lose a good employee.”

You must be good enough to say, “It’s not okay to joke about other people in ways that dehumanize them. It’s not okay to talk about women as if they are meat.”

You must be good enough to say, “Leave. What you’re doing and saying is inappropriate and is making others feel unsafe.”

You must be good enough to say, “Back off, she said no.”

You must be good enough to hear “no” in the silent absence of a “yes” and act accordingly.

You must be good enough to hear, “I have been hurt before. I need you to approach with caution and kindness.” and not take it as an attack on your Goodness.

In order to be Good Men, you must open your eyes and ears and hearts. You must learn what violence looks like and sounds like so that you can call it out and tell the perpetrators to stop before it erupts.

You must be good enough to listen when women speak of the violence done to them, to believe them, and to not get angry at them for making you uncomfortable. If you respond with defensive anger, you are telling them that your comfort is more important than their safety, than their very life.

As Margaret Atwood so famously said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”

If you want to earn your Good Man badge, you must be good enough to put women’s safety above your comfort. You must go beyond “not bad” and behave in ways that actively promote equality and justice.

“Not bad” is the default.

“Not bad” is neutral.

And neutral is the playground of the oppressor.

Welcome to the club.


(Note – this piece was written for one of my classes. A few of my fellow students wrote that they hoped I would publish it, so here it is. My regular readers will read/hear echoes of previous pieces, but I do believe this one ties many threads together into an approachable package. As always, feel free to share. Thank you.)



Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

What I mean when I say it isn’t the victim’s fault

The world is an inherently risky place.

There are all kinds of things out there that can, and will, hurt us if given the chance.

Some of these risks come in the form of natural disasters, toxins, disease, allergies, loose rocks, animal attacks – whatever. They are risks that stem from living on a volatile planet in the middle of space. We have little to no control over these “When nature attacks” kind of threats. I mean, yes, we can talk about global climate change, and human settlements encroaching into wildlife habitat, and how in our desire to over-sanitize the world we are simultaneously creating super-bugs and increasing the instances and severity of allergies… But that is a whole other blog post.

This one is about the risks of living in society – with other people. This is an important point to make because often when I try to have this conversation many of the arguments against putting blame on perpetrators of certain types of violence instead of their victims use these kinds of “false equivalence” comparisons to try to make their point. But taking steps to avoid the risk of falling off a cliff is different than taking steps to avoid “provoking,” “inviting,” “encouraging,” or “inspiring” violent behavior from another person.

Because the risks inherent in living in society stem from the reality that we cannot control each other’s behaviors or actions. We are only ever directly responsible for ourselves.

This is not to say that there are not things that we can do to reduce many of the risks of cohabitation – not eliminate them, but reduce them.

We can look both ways before we cross a street. We can lock our doors. We can avoid certain venues that have a reputation for being violent or dangerous.

As a society we can enact laws that say, “We as a group have decided that this action is not okay and there will be artificially imposed consequences for anyone who commits it.” We do this to deter actions such as theft, murder, drunk driving, consuming certain intoxicants and then getting behind the wheel of a car…

But taking those actions does not eliminate risk, taking those actions does not guarantee our safety.

And choosing not to take those actions is not the same as consenting to violence.

Most of the time we, as a society, remember this.

I drive a piece of shit car. I rarely, if ever, lock it. I don’t leave the keys in the ignition (usually) but if someone wanted to go in and dig through the mountains of garbage littering the floorboards to steal my old CDs, there’s really nothing stopping them. If they wanted to hotwire my car and take it for a joyride, they wouldn’t even have to smash the window first.

And yet, if someone did decide to take my unlocked car, society at large would still call that theft. If I called the police and reported it, they would still investigate and arrest the thief. Because me leaving my car unlocked (or even unlocked and running) is not the same as me giving someone permission to take it.

We understand that.

If someone comes into my house without my permission, even if I left the front door unlocked – I have the right to shoot them. Yeah, I can take away their “right to life” just because they stumbled into the wrong house. If I choose not to shoot them, I can still call the police and they will be arrested for trespassing. They might also be charged with attempted burglary, or attempted assault, or attempted whatever potentially criminal act we think they were trying to do when they opened a door that wasn’t theirs.

I don’t have to post “No trespassing” signs on my front door to invoke this right, or lock my door, or even close my front door. My home is my castle and you don’t get to come inside unless I invite you.

But… my body?

Not so much. At least not according to current legal rulings. Not according to people looking for a way to excuse certain types of violence directed at other people.

Too often when it comes to personal violence, especially sexual violence, we (as a society) try to use the victim’s actions against them to excuse the actions of the perpetrator.

This is called this “victim-blaming.” And no, it is not feminazi’s attempt to make it so that victims are not held accountable for their actions, or so that victims can do anything they want consequence free. We are simply saying that perpetrators of violence should be held accountable for their choice to commit violence regardless of how “easy” their target made it for them.

When a bunch of TV personalities support the thesis that the biggest threat to fraternities is drunk girls coming in and tempting all those upstanding young men – that is a case of victim blaming. It also erases the long and storied history of fraternities throwing parties for the express purpose of getting women too drunk to say no. (Because in a “no means no” model of consent, that isn’t rape. But in the up and coming “yes means yes” model, which so many people are freaking out about, that is rape.)

So, when I say that it does not matter if a victim is drunk, dressed in skimpy clothing, completely naked, flirty, passed out or otherwise making themselves an “easy target” for violence, what I mean is that the victim’s behavior should not alter the sentencing of the perpetrator of the violence, nor be used to excuse their behavior or actions.Did the victim make a choice to engage in certain actions? Yes. Does that mean they consented to violence? No.


I am not asking for victims of violence to be coddled, or saying that actions shouldn’t have consequences – I am saying that violence is not the price someone should have to pay for being in public or living in society. I am saying that violence is not the price that anyone should be expected to pay for enjoying the same social privileges as their peers such as enjoying a drink – or several, wearing revealing clothing, walking at night…

not asking for violence

Clearly asking for it.

I am saying that the victim’s actions and choices do not negate the responsibility of the perpetrator, nor invalidate THEIR actions and choices to commit a crime.

Let’s look at a couple of specific examples.

Late last year a Montana judge sentenced a teacher who repeatedly raped one of his students to only 30 days in jail. Why? Because, he claimed, the student was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation as her teacher.”

Here’s the thing, there is a reason that there are rules prohibiting teachers from having sex with their students – there is an inherent power-imbalance at play there. This is also why there are statutory rape laws, because a 49-year-old man should know better than to have sex with a 14-year-old, but 14-year-old children more often than not don’t have the information, emotional maturity, or psychological understanding of long-term consequences, etc. to make that call. Again, there are power dynamics at play in that age differential, not to mention differences in knowledge about healthy relationships, sex and sexuality, etc. Those differences are easy for the older person to exploit to their own ends, severely damaging the youth in the process.

The victim in this case committed suicide while the case against her attacker was still pending.

This is a case where a judge seemed to be trying to do everything he could to create wiggle room for the perpetrator of a violent crime. In defending his sentencing of the teacher to only 30 days, the judge said, “This wasn’t forcible beat-up rape.” which is a way of saying that the victim wasn’t victimized hard enough to punish her attacker even to the MINIMUM requirements laid out by the state in which this judge presides.

We also have a case out of Texas from earlier this year in which a young man plead guilty to raping a 14-year-old girl. Both the victim and the accused testified that the girl said “no” and “stop” repeatedly. The man was facing 20 years in prison for this crime, the judge instead handed down a 45 day sentence because the victim “was not the victim she claimed to be” according to the judge, because the victim had had consensual sex with three other partners at some point in her life prior to the rape.

There are two problems with this argument – the first, if we take the judge’s statement about the victim as truth, is that it assumes that once a person has consensual sex once with someone, they are somehow consenting to all sex forever with everyone. This is a common argument in rape cases, as if people lose the right to sexual discretion once their “cherry” has been popped.

I don’t understand this argument at all. I don’t believe we lose the right of refusal once we’ve said yes once, or twice, or a thousand times. I don’t think that a person who has consensual sex becomes magically unrapeable.

The second problem is that the victim claims she was a virgin before the rape. While the judge says she has access to confidential medical records that show the girl had three previous sexual partners and gave birth to a child – both the victim and the victim’s parents deny this. That is worthy of an investigation right there. How did the judge get these medical records – and why? Shouldn’t it be the perpetrator being investigated, not the victim?

But all too often in rape cases, defense attorneys are encouraged to go for the “slut” defense – “The victim slept around, so this couldn’t have been rape.” and both judges and juries are willing to give those arguments weight.

We saw this in another big news rape case recently, Steubenville, OH. Where, despite video footage of the rape taking place, the defense still tried to go for the “she was a slut” and “she was asking for it” defense. I am not sure how someone who is passed out drunk can ask for anything… But then we are back at only “yes means yes” rather than, “See, the victim didn’t say no.”

Did this girl’s actions make it easier for someone to rape her? Yes. Does that in any way excuse the actions of her rapists, or the crowd of peers who watched, photographed, filmed and cheered on the rape? NOT ONE SINGLE BIT. Does she deserve rape as the natural consequence of getting drunk at a party? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Should she be allowed to report her rape and, with the support of a thorough police investigation, be able to prosecute her rapists? YOU BETCHA!

Just as the woman who left her car running to dash into the store made it easier for someone to steal her car, that did not excuse the actions of the person who took advantage of that opportunity. Her actions did not prevent police from investigating the crime, nor did they absolve the criminal of choosing to commit their crime.

When people say they are not victim blaming, they just want to help victims protect themselves from rape, I think that they are forgetting – we’ve already heard it. What we are asking for is that we talk to perpetrators and potential perpetrators as well, that we focus at least half our energy educating people on what rape is and how to avoid committing it. We are asking for police, medical personnel, judges, advocates and allies to step back from asking what “don’t get raped” rule the victim may have broken and instead focus on what the perpetrator chose to do wrong.

We live in a country where only 50% of rapes are even reported, and it is estimated that only 3% of rapists ever see the inside of a jail. Rape is a hard crime to report – the victim’s body becomes the evidence and collecting and cataloging that evidence for trial is invasive and unpleasant and often performed by people with little sympathy. While I fully support the “innocent until proven guilty” judicial standards in our country, when other violent crimes are committed we rarely try to deny the existence of the crime in order to set the perpetrator free, we instead acknowledge that there was a crime and simply quibble over who committed it.

When we focus on what the victim did wrong, or what the victim did to invite this crime, or how the victim wasn’t victimized enough to take seriously we are giving perpetrators of violence a pass and telling them that their actions are justifiable because they picked a an easy victim. So many rapes, the majority of them, are opportunistic rapes. Serial rapists know which victims to prey on – the kind who won’t be taken seriously, the ones who are a little too tipsy to be reliable witnesses, the ones who have a reputation for sleeping around, the ones who are too young or immature to fight back…

But if we treated rape and sexual assault the way we treat other crimes – by starting with the assumption that the crime being reported actually happened, and that the job now is to discover the perpetrator and bring them to justice, instead of questioning the integrity of the victim, this dynamic would shift in really important ways.

First, it would help victims come forward, knowing they would be respected, listened to, trusted. Knowing that they would be believed. Second, it would help encourage a culture where bystanders would want to intervene lest they be charged as accessories. Third, hopefully it would make perpetrators of this kind of violence think twice, if they knew that their victims would be heard.

Last, it would let people know that social freedoms, privileges and responsibilities are the same for everyone, shared by everyone and that violence is not an okay price to pay for exercising them.

In fact the first social responsibility we all share is the responsibility to treat others with decency and respect and not violence, and I’m pretty sure that we as a society have agreed that violating that responsibility should come with some judicially imposed consequences.

asking for justice

The only thing she’s asking for is justice.







Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Guns, rape and self-defense

This is part one in a planned three-part discussion on gun culture in America. This post is a response to something a friend sent me. The other two posts will have a broader focus.

A friend of mine sent me this article, which is a response to something John Scalzi wrote about the desirability of guns for self-defense. He wanted my take.

To save you from having to follow the links, here’s my breakdown:

On the desirability of guns for self-defense – a former Marine talked about his perception of the reality of owning/using guns for self-defense.

His basic response was that, guns kill people. Given that, unless you are going to take the time to get trained to use the weapon properly and safely you are putting more people at risk than you will ever help, that even people who are trained miss the person they are aiming at more often than not (70% of the time) because fast-paced, high stress moments do not make for good marksmanship. And last, that if you do use your gun in self-defense and you use it correctly and you hit your “target” there is a solid chance that you will kill another human being. Make sure you are okay with that before you decide on a gun as your primary self-defense tool.

Scalzi’s response was to say that he agreed with many of this man’s points, while also supporting a person’s right to own guns as part of their personal security system, but that he hopes gun owners engage in significant training and be responsible with them. And then he infuriated gun fetishists, the folk who open carry AK-47s because GUNS EVERYWHERE!, by saying that when he sees them he doesn’t see a strong, confident patriot, he sees someone who is afraid of everything all the time.

So, the response – a long piece about how using guns for self-defense is really the only rational thing to do in this world, especially when it comes to preventing rape.

First this man talks about prevention of rape and sexual assault. He does give a passing nod to education – making sure that everyone knows what rape is, not using taking advantage of drunk people as a humor device in movies, and otherwise giving more people a clue and compassion for what rape is and what it does to the victims.

Then he talks about sociopathic rapists, not just the clueless, bumbling “oops, was that rape?” nice guy rapists, but the drug your drink with the intent to rape you, jump out of the bushes to ravage you type rapists. He says there is no preventing them, just as you can’t prevent a rabid dog from biting, or an arsonist from lighting things on fire.

I want to pause for a moment here to say that I think he paints the sociopathic rapist with a very broad brush. I personally believe that there are a lot of social and cultural factors that go into creating people (often male) who believe that other people’s bodies (especially women’s) are up for grabs. While it is intimidating to think about changing our culture because it feels like a huge task, it is not an impossible one. Culture shifts all the time, I don’t understand the resistance to doing it with deliberation and foresight to create a better, safer world. Unless, of course, you are one of the people who benefits from the current power dynamics and who would lose status by promoting equality.

Saying, “This is the way the world is, live with it.” sounds depressingly defeatist to me. Especially as a historian who knows that this is not the way the world has always been, and therefore this is not the way the world has to be. Nor is it the way the world is everywhere now. There are cultures where rape is statistically at zero. Rape is not an inevitable consequence of sharing space, it is a result of imbalanced power structures.

So to me, the sociopathic rapist is, like the sociopathic arsonist, a product of our culture, which means that if we really want to, we can change not the individual, but the circumstances that created them, over time. It is within our power.

create change

It’s not a question of can we do it, it’s a question of WILL WE?

However, in the meantime, in this current reality, yes, we have rapists.

So – what do we do about them right now?

The author discusses avoidance. He states that educating people on ways to avoid attack is not blaming the victim, because the agency is on the attacker always.

And… In many areas of life this is true. While I am encouraged to lock my car doors, and my house doors, if I fail to do so and my car is stolen or my house is broken into, the police will still come, they will still file a report, they will still follow-up if there is enough evidence for them to do so – and in the meantime hopefully I have insurance that will reimburse me for those losses, regardless of how lax I was in protecting my possessions.

If I am violently assaulted or killed, the police will again arrive, take reports, collect evidence, process the evidence and (unless I am a person of color) do their best to find the perpetrator and bring them to “justice.”

However, if I am raped… That all breaks down. Yes, the police might gather evidence and put together my rape kit. But the chances of them processing it… slim to none. (Though that is starting to change.) The chance of them pursuing the case – that will depend entirely on who the alleged rapist was, whether I act properly victimized, and how many of the “don’t get raped” rules I broke, because while this author believes that agency always belongs to the attacker – when it comes to rape, our culture and our justice system disagree.

Again, that is the part we have to change as a society. And all the guns in the world aren’t going to move that needle.

But yes, by all means, let’s avoid dangerous situations. For women that means wearing burkas and never leaving the house. Oh wait, that doesn’t prevent rape either. Damn, what’s a girl who wants to exist to do?

And so we get to: Reaction – how to react or respond to your rapist.

Guns and violence.

The author states that, “The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage.” And he does list a bunch of links and studies which show that guns and violent resistance do deter aggressors.

And then after making sure we know and believe that violence ends violence, he states that therefore bringing a gun to your rape is the best way to prevent the rapist from completing the rape.

EXCEPT (and these are his words, so I don’t even have to do the dirty work here!) “It’s less effective for date rape, rape involving drugs, marital rape.  It’s most effective against direct physical attack, which may or may not be part of the above.”

In other words, bringing your gun (that you are trained to use) to your surprise attack rape could, possibly prevent it. But, that still leaves the other 90% of rapes (on college campuses) or 78% of rapes nationally.

And this is really where the “just get a gun” argument falls apart for me, and for most rape survivors that I know. Bringing a gun to our rape means pointing a gun at and possibly using a gun against someone we know, and possibly even someone we love. And that is true for the VAST MAJORITY of rape victims.

Date rape, acquaintance rape, marital rape… These are the most common forms of rape. And yet they are taken the least seriously unless they are accompanied by additional violence and are the least talked about because – what the fuck do we do about them? Do we really shoot the perpetrators? Because it turns out, women who do that tend to end up in jail. Oddly “Stand Your Ground” and even basic self-defense arguments don’t seem to work out so well for us. Funny that.

stand your ground

Stand your ground. Unless you’re a woman.

And even if going to jail for defending ourselves wasn’t likely, we would still have to live with killing someone!

When I think back to my rapes, my sexual assaults, my stalkers even… Could I have killed any of them? Who would I be now if I had to add that to my conscience?

The author says that by calling the police on my stalker I was committing violence by proxy (except, of course, the cops never showed up. But in their defense they did say that if he managed to break in and rape me they would come collect evidence afterward, so there’s that.) and that really, I should have taken matters (violence) into my own hands instead of outsourcing it. And sure… I was already there. If I’d had a gun I could have killed him and felt safer for a minute. But somehow I imagine that the same cops who wouldn’t come to my defense when I called them, would have arrived in a flash if I shot my stalker off my porch. Cops tend to frown on citizens taking matters into their own gun warmed hands. And even if I did get off on a self-defense plea… Once the initial feeling of safety wore off, I would still have to live with having killed someone. I don’t know about that.

(And as for simply brandishing the gun to get him to go away, this is a person who my father dangled over a three-story balcony while threatening to rip his balls off and force him to eat them if he ever came near me again. And that didn’t work. Clearly his fear response was underdeveloped.)

Even this author, a male survivor of sexual assault, admits that a gun would not have prevented his assault – because he was drugged and could not use it.Which is sort of ironic since the person who drugs a drink and rapes is the exact example of the sociopathic rapist that cannot be stopped, except by a gun, that he cites to remind us feminists that insisting on culture change is somehow enabling the aggressor.

Meanwhile, in many of those drug & rape scenarios there are witnesses and additional participants who do nothing. Do not speak up, do not intervene, do not call the police and certainly do not pull out a gun and insist that the rapist stop raping on behalf of the drugged victim. Why? Because of the culture that we have created that says other people’s bodies (especially women’s) are up for grabs. But yeah, changing that and getting people to intervene when they see sexual violence happening is totes enabling the aggressor.

Bringing a gun to your rape, might prevent it. But… I wonder, and I would love to see the study that says how determined and able to use the gun you have to be for it to work as a deterrent. Is it enough to point a shaky gun in the general direction of an aggressor while sobbing? Do you have to have clear eyes and something that looks like good aim from the barrel end of the gun? Do you have to look like you really will, and are able to, pull the trigger?

ready to fire

Are you feeling lucky, punk?

As someone who was taught gun safety at a young age and who married a gun owner, the first lesson I was taught was only point it at things you INTEND to put a hole in. Ie; if you’re not planning on firing it, don’t point it. If you can’t follow through it’s better not to get it out at all. So bluffing with a gun is out.

Finally, the author talks about the “myth” of being disarmed and having your gun used against you – but says he can’t find any examples of that.

So, I’ll give him two. I am a 5’6″ 135ish pound, untrained civilian woman and I have disarmed two men with guns. In both instances I was in my 20s and much smaller than I am now. I disarmed one physically, taking the gun from him and disarmed the other by talking him down. Granted the one I talked down was threatening himself, not me. But the one that I disarmed physically was pointing it at me. It was not hard to take it away from him. I could teach most able-bodied people how to do it in a couple of minutes of practice. Why? Because most people with guns think the gun will protect them from action. They rely on your panic to stop you from moving at them.

As for women having their own guns used against them, yes, there are records of that happening too. Remember that most rapes occur within the framework of an intimate relationship or solid acquaintanceship. This means that many perpetrators have access to the victim’s gun, and that even if the victim is holding the gun – there are some confusing emotions roiling around in there and her grip/aim/resolve might not be as strong as that of the person who thinks he is entitled to her body.

Yes, sometimes guns have stopped violence. They have also escalated it. And redirected it. And made it worse.

Ultimately, do I think women should be allowed to own guns for self-defense. Yes, if that is the method they choose – but like Scalzi, I think they should engage in significant and ongoing training and be responsible with their guns. Also, I think that all people who use guns as their primary method of self-defense should recognize that having a gun is not a guarantee of safety.

As a nation, I would like us to consider whether adding more guns to the gun pool instead of limiting who gets to go swimming in the gun pool is the national safety strategy we want to pursue.

More on that in Guns in America – Part II & III

It’s less effective for date rape, rape involving drugs, marital rape.  It’s most effective against direct physical attack, which may or may not be part of the above. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf
The solution to violence is almost always more violence, escalated to the point where the attacker decides to disengage. – See more at: http://www.michaelzwilliamson.com/blog/item/rape#sthash.VKIZzJEz.dpuf


Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Taking Responsibility for Rape

I wrote this post over a week ago.

I meant to publish it then, but life has been busy and it got away from me.

Then another rape story hit the news cycle, and another round of hand-wringing and victim blaming – complete with literally burning the victim’s house to the ground – made the rounds. Lot’s of things have been said like, “What did she expect at 1am?

Another woman took the time to write a piece saying that if we want to end rape, we’ll just teach women not to drink.

Lots of people jumped all over that, as they should – because female sobriety doesn’t stop rape.

Then someone I generally respect tweeted out:

“Sooo interesting: Is it supporting “rape culture” to remind young women not to binge drink & leave selves vulnerable? http://bit.ly/15MCDxy

Here’s the thing – WE ALREADY KNOW THAT!!!

dont drink dont get raped

Ad in a women’s restroom – stop drinking if you don’t want to get raped tonight!

Women are told on the daily how to not get raped. We are taught not to drink, not to wear revealing clothing, not to walk alone at night – or in the day, especially in “bad” neighborhoods. We are taught not to smile at men, but also to not be stand-offish because that too might provoke them. We are taught to guard our beverages if there are men around, whether those beverages are alcoholic or not, because we might be roofied. We are taught that we trust men at our own peril – not only strangers, but also men we know.

We are taught that any time we go out in public, the price we might pay is rape – and that we should expect that and accept it if we want to have a social life.

I for one am sick of it.

What this does is give the impression that all men are rapists. What this does is tell men – and women – that men can’t help themselves. And that is insulting to the many, many, many great men I know.

What the “don’t get raped” and “don’t be so rapeable” conversation also does is convince victims that they are ultimately responsible for their own rapes, because they broke one of the “don’t get raped” rules. It teaches victims to not blame the rapist – after all, they couldn’t help themselves. It encourages victims to not report their rapes, to not get the help they need, to deny the seriousness of the crime.

It also empowers people to look for ways to blame the victim and scapegoat the rapist if a victim does come forward.

The conversation has to change.

Rape should NOT be the price women have to pay for social freedom. Potential victims should not be responsible for preventing their own victimhood.

Which brings me to the original trigger for this post. It was a man who said that letting women who go to parties, get drunk and wake up raped prosecute their rapists allows the women to abdicate personal responsibility for the choices they made that put them in that predicament.


Rapists cause rape

A rapist caused my rape.

So – the post. (Written in an angry rage late at night on my phone.)

If getting raped is an “acceptable” consequence for women who drink, then going to jail for being a rapist should be an acceptable consequence for men who rape.
Why is it that some people think that calling rapists rapists is letting women avoid responsibility for their choices?
The man made a choice too. He chose to have sex with someone who did not consent.
If rape is her punishment for being drunk in public, what is his punishment for taking advantage of her? If she should learn from her mistakes, shouldn’t he?
This is one of the ways rape culture supports the status quo, by convincing us that we aren’t victim blaming when we say things like yeah, she was raped a little, but what did she expect? Or, yeah she was raped, but if he goes to jail, what are we teaching HER?
We need to change the conversation.
We need to change the definition of consent.
“No means no” clearly isn’t enough, there are too many ways to prevent someone from saying no that still aren’t them saying yes.
We need to teach everyone what a positive model of consent looks, and feels, like. We need to teach people that sex isn’t about conquest, it’s about pleasure FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED.
I don’t want to raise girls in a world where they are seen as “rapebait” by any of their peers.
I don’t want to raise them in a world where I have to tell them that they can have the same social freedoms as men. But only if they are willing to accept a little rape as the price of admission.
That’s not okay.
It’s not okay that women are expected to carry the burden, not only of their own sexuality, but also that of every male they encounter. It’s not okay that people rush to defend boys behaving badly as. “In my day, that was a hot date.” While simultaneously condemning the girls who were out trying to have the same good time for being stupid and therefore deserving of rape and abuse.
If we are going to hold women to this high standard of conduct wherein she is expected to be responsible not only for her own actions – getting drunk, wearing clothing (or not), dancing with boys, maybe even kissing some, as well as holding her responsible for other people’s reactions to her – getting aroused, acting on that arousal without her consent… Then why shouldn’t we be holding boys and men to the same standards?
I keep hearing that if I get drunk at a party I need to accept the consequences of that and take responsibility for my choices.
What about the men at that party?
When do they have to step up and take responsibility?
They were drinking too.
They got flirty.
They took off their shirts, and pants.
They passed out.
So, if I bend them over and peg them, is that okay?
Is that what they should expect and accept as the natural consequence of having fun in mixed company?
Because violence isn’t the price of admission. Because I don’t have the right to violate their body just because they’re drunk and having fun. Because getting wasted and passing out naked IS NOT CONSENTING TO SEX.
It’s the same lesson we need to be teaching our boys.


One of the other pieces that we need to re-examine is the “rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power” narrative.

Certainly, on many levels rape is about power. It IS an act of violence. But it IS also a sexual act. Sex is one of the motivators for rape.

The rape as power narrative eliminates many of the “date rape” scenarios where a person (often a male) feels entitled to get physical pleasure from another person’s body regardless of their consent. These people will use coercion, threats, force, alcohol, date rape drugs – anything they need to – to get sex from this other person. For them consent is irrelevant. They want sex, and they’re going to get it. In their minds, their actions don’t constitute rape. It’s just sex, that the other person didn’t want…

Until the definition of what is and isn’t rape matches up in the minds of both the perpetrators and the victims, we can’t win. We can’t even nudge the needle.

We have to start teaching EVERYONE what rape is, what it looks like, what it does – and what the consequences are. We have to start taking rape seriously.

And we have to start teaching EVERYONE a positive model of consent. We have to teach people what YES! looks like – and that without it, sex is off the table, it’s not an option.

Only Yes means Yes.

Only Yes means Yes.

No one has the right to use another person’s body without that person’s explicit, enthusiastic consent. Period.

If women have to take responsibility for having a social life, then men need to take responsibility for crossing the line.

Not sure where the line is? Step back and ask. If that doesn’t clarify it – walk away.


Get consent.


Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

In the Aftermath of Tragedy

I have been waiting to write this post.

Waiting for news, for facts.

I did not want to base what I have to say on speculation – mine or others. Sadly, speculation has become a sad, ugly, horrific fact. And the repercussions of this are beginning to roll out even as I type. The emergency broadcasting system was used to warn everyone of a mad killer on the loose. Doors are being locked, children are being hidden away. Fear – some rational, some not so much – is taking over.

You may ask, what right do I have to comment on this tragedy? Ultimately, this post is a response to friends, to family, and also to some strangers. To the friends who have asked me, “what now?”, to the family members who have supported my answer, even when they disagreed, and to the strangers who have been cruel and callous enough to have hung the blame for this horrible tragedy on Jessica Ridgeway’s mother, instead of on the person who committed this terrible crime – and the society that aided and abetted him (or her – face it, we don’t know yet).

To my friends and family: What now? What do we do now that there is a killer in our midst? In our headlines, our nation, our state, in some cases, our neighborhood? What now?

The answer – it depends.

Of course it depends. See, if I lived in the immediate radius of the crime, I would absolutely be on guard. I would be sitting at the table with my children, instead of typing at my computer, and we would be talking. They would know that one of those rare “bad people” that they’ve heard about was loose in our town, and that he or she had targeted and killed a child on her way to school. They would know that if they went out, they would have to stick together. Honestly, I would probably even keep them in sight until this person was caught, or until enough time had passed that one could reasonably assume this was an unfortunate, terrible, one-time crime. (I do not know what that time frame is. I suspect, like so many things, it is something that must be determined by individual families, individual communities.)

But, living many towns away from this horrible tragedy, I cannot let the fear of rare possibility rule my life, or my children’s. If I lived states away, I could not let a distant fear of a distant crime take away one iota of my children’s freedom or independence.

Because while we know about this particular “bad guy”, there are plenty more we do not know about. If we say we will keep our children, many towns and states away, safely locked inside until this criminal is caught, then what happens afterward? Do we then let them loose until the next attack many states away? Or do we slowly let the fear own us and keep our children inside forever?

Because here’s the thing, we know bad things happen. We knew that even before Jessica Ridgeway was snatched off the street. Her abduction and death is a horrible, horrible tragedy. My heart cries for her parents and family, for her friends, for her neighbors and school. What happened to her sucks. unequivocally. And I would not wish that on anyone.

Yet – I refuse to jail my children in the name of keeping them safe.

The truth is, it could have been my children. My husband and I could be those parents. It’s something we had to come to terms with the very first time our daughter looked us in the eye and took two toddling steps the other direction. As sucky as the possibility is – we knew that there was a chance we would outlive her. We knew there was a chance that something terrible would befall her. And that chance still exists. It won’t cease to exist just because we keep her locked inside a glass tower.

Rapunzel escapes. Sleeping Beauty wakes. Sooner or later children break free.

Kids are snatched, not just off street corners, but from their beds while they sleep. They are killed in car accidents daily. Kids are hurt by camp councilors, and uncles and mothers. Bad stuff happens. Even to good people.

So, in full knowledge and acceptance of the truth that bad stuff happens and there is no 100% way to stop it, we made a choice. A choice to ensure that our children LIVED before they died. Whether they died at age 1 or age 100, we wanted them to have the opportunity to experience as much of life as they possibly could. We made a choice to prepare them to the best of our ability for any possibility, rather than protect them from rare chance.

And so, to the strangers who have condemned Jessica’s mother, and who have, in the past condemned me and my husband and wished this same fate on our children in order to prove their point that allowing a child to walk to school is bad parenting…

My response is simple – where were you? Where ARE you?

Think about it.

This tragedy happened a week ago. One full week. And to my knowledge not a single witness has come forward. Not one.

Jessica Ridgeway was taken off the street IN HER NEIGHBORHOOD, where she should have been safe. She was snatched during the morning school rush when the street should have been filled with other children walking to school, with parents walking with their students, and with people driving to work. She was taken in full view of what should have been a community of people.

But it wasn’t.

Instead of living in communities, we live in houses. And we rarely leave them. We wake up, get dressed, eat, walk through the house into the garage, and drive away. We don’t talk to our neighbors anymore. We don’t speak to other people’s children, for fear we might become a suspect. We don’t sit on our front porches, most of us don’t even have front porches. We don’t walk our children to school, we drive them. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

How many of us know our neighbors?

Jessica’s backpack was dumped 6 miles away in another neighborhood. Another neighborhood where no one saw anything. Now, I don’t know what time of day this was, so I will refrain from passing judgement. Her body was found in yet another location. Again, no witnesses.

People – you want to stop these crimes? Don’t blame the parents, who were doing the best they could by their child.

No. You want to stop this – Get out of your houses. Go talk to your neighbors. Meet them. Introduce yourself and your children. Make sure the world, or at least your corner of it, knows who you are, and who your children belong with. Take an evening walk together after dinner, and say hello to your neighbors.

If your kid, or kids, want to walk to school, set up a walking pool (think car pool). See who lives along your route. Have the first kid (and their parent if needed) walk to the first house, then have all the kids walk to the next, and the next until by the time they reach the school there is a full gaggle of children all walking together and looking out for each other.

You want to stop this? Form a “Take Back the Day” march and get all the neighborhood kids together to walk, in broad daylight, around the block, or the neighborhood, or the park. Not just one or two, but all of them, together. Form a parade. Take back the day. Take back your neighborhoods. Reclaim your community.

And for goodness sake – talk to your children. Inform them. Prepare them. (Don’t just scare them – tell them what they can do, role play with them, show them how much power they have.)

Last – to the parents of Jessica. I do not know you, and it’s probably not my place, but someone needs to say this – you are not to blame. Allowing Jessica, at the age of ten, to walk to school did not cause this. I am so very sorry that this terrible thing happened to your child, to you, and I wish I had a magic wand that could turn it all into some bad dream, some horrible mistake. I wish I could bring her home to you. You did not, you do not, deserve this. Nor did she.

Do not listen to those who speak hateful words based in their own fear. Jessica was loved, and I am sure that she knew that.

My very wise mother told me once, when I was a brand new mom, that being a parent was the hardest thing I would ever do. She also said that to do it right was easier than anyone would ever say. So simple it could be summed up as such: Love them. Love them every day. Never stop loving them. That is all you can do, and if you do only that, you’ve done it all.

My heart is with you.


Filed under Kids, Rant