We’ve all been there: you’ve just had a long, hard day at work, during which it’s become evident that the project which is three months’ behind schedule (and which you assumed everyone had forgotten about) is still expected to reach completion next Monday. You’ve picked up your kids only to find that they are far more whiny and annoying than you remember them being (especially the one who keeps brushing past the other simply in order to get another opportunity to say “Muu-uuuu-uum! He pushed me!”, again and again). You’ve got the buggers to bed, settled down with a glass of wine and finally you’re all set to relax. Only you can’t sodding well relax. Relaxing doesn’t feel normal. In fact, it feels positively unsettling. You desperately need something to irritate you again. Well, here’s a suggestion: pick any Guardian Comment Is Free piece on the subject of rape and scroll down to the comments. It works every time.
This evening I found myself reading Zoe Williams’ piece in response to the latest Met “rape prevention” campaign. Then I carried on reading through the mindless, repetitive feedback that followed, pretty much all of which can be summarised as follows:
- advising potential rape victims* to behave differently in public isn’t victim blaming, it’s just common sense (*by “potential rape victims” we mean “all women” – but no one actually states this for fear of admitting that radical feminists were right all along)
- telling rapists not to rape is pointless because they’re going to rape anyhow, so you might as well focus on the potential victims (who can be scared witless into changing their ways – phew!)
- one doesn’t wander round Moss Side/Brixton/the seventh circle of Hell waving around one’s mobile phone/iPad/massive wad of imaginary cash, therefore potential rape victims should always leave their bodies behind – preferably in a safe – before leaving the house
- potential rape victims should bear in mind that “removing all clothing and starting foreplay” could be seen as “contributory negligence” when it comes to rape
Actually, I made that last one up. No, hang on, I didn’t (as in, it’s not a legal thing, but it is nevertheless what some real, live person thinks. So yeah, muse on that, fellow victims [current, former and/or potential]).
One of the questions Williams asks is why campaigns that are supposedly aimed at minimising the incidence of rape don’t focus on those who have most control over this, i.e. those who rape. This is considered by many commenters to be plainly ridiculous:
You wouldnt get a slogan against burglary saying: “Come on now, that stuff doesnt belong to you” and expect it to deter burgulars.
If potential rapists are not deterred by the criminal law and the prospect of a prison sentence then they will not be deterred by an advert.
How about an ad campaign aimed at murderers pointing out to them that they shouldn’t be murdering people?
Interestingly, these same commenters do not appear to be similarly provoked by the suggestion that some rapes occur due to a lack of awareness of what constitutes consent. While there clearly isn’t a need to make murderers or burglars aware of what they are doing, there is still evidence of widespread ignorance of what rape even is and of the harm it causes. Some police forces have noticed this and based campaigns around it. But then again, what if they’re wrong? What if rapists aren’t shaped by the rape-apologist culture that surrounds them? What if they’re just born that way and destined to rape? What then, fellow victims, what then?
It seems we women/victims need to be constantly reminded that there are Permanently Bad People out there (Permanently Bad People who often happen to be our partners, neighbours, friends and relatives – but who are nevertheless total aberrations and NOTHING like the people who rush eagerly to every internet piece on rape in order to warn those who carelessly place their orifices in the way of such monsters). But if these people are just rapists through and through, what’s the point of us modifying our behaviour? Won’t they just rape someone else – someone less “deserving” of rape, since if none of us are getting off our faces any more, surely that urge to fuck someone who isn’t even conscious still has to go somewhere?
I am wondering – in cultures where women cover themselves from head to toe and never, ever drink, do we seriously believe that the incidence of rape is lower? Because then, what happens to all the latent urges? Surely people who don’t give a shit about women won’t give a shit about them in any context. If we all stopped doing the things which made us apparently rape-worthy, would that really mean we wouldn’t get raped? Wouldn’t the measure for what’s considered rape-worthy just get revised? Because if rape-ability is still considered a quality pertaining to certain women – regardless of whether we repackage it as “vulnerability” or “recklessness” – rapists will never be forced to hold themselves to account. What’s more, we won’t be holding them to account, either.