When something utterly unexpected occurs – when, for instance, a stranger leaps out of a car and starts to sexually assault you – it’s funny how you don’t respond in the way you always thought you would. Until it happened to me, I always assumed one or all of the following things would happen: 1. I’d use my keys as a makeshift weapon, stabbing the stranger’s eyes with one hand and bending back his little fingers with the other; 2. I’d run like hell, faster than I’d ever run before, and I wouldn’t get out of puff because there’d be so much adrenalin flowing; 3. I’d memorize the stranger’s face and if he had a car, his number plate, too; 4. I’d do all the right things, all the things you’re meant to do, but then again, it wasn’t as though this would ever happen to me anyhow.
Of course, when a car did pull up in front of me on a dark road I instantly thought “what if someone gets out and attacks me?” And then I did that thing where you think that because you’ve already considered one eventuality it can’t possibly happen. After all, the stranger in the dark alley is way too much of a cliché. Still, it turns out that if you’re as terminally uncool as me, clichéd shit still happens. And when it did, I didn’t do any of the things I’d thought I would. I was too frightened and he was too strong (I remember thinking it strange at the time – shouldn’t the fear have been making me superhuman?). So anyhow, let that be a lesson to you, ladies. Take it from me – don’t ever leave the fucking house after dark.
Only kidding. Most assaults don’t take place in dark alleys. Most attackers aren’t strangers. I just got lucky. So anyhow, forget staying in – it’s even worse if you do. Here are some real common sense, not remotely victim-blaming, rape-avoidance tips to help you stay safe:
- Don’t go home. Stay out all night every night if you have to. Perhaps even buy a tent. Basically, if you avoid having any kind of domestic set-up you can avoid experiencing any kind of domestic abuse.
- Never spend time alone with acquaintances. I am not sure how long it takes for someone you’ve just met to become an acquaintance but to be on the safe side, it’s probably best to switch jobs, friendship groups and families on a daily basis.
- Don’t fall asleep. Ever.
And, if all else fails, here is the ultimate safeguard:
- Always consent to sex with anyone, especially people with whom you’ve had sex already. No one can do anything without your consent if you’ve already consented (and if you don’t feel like it? Well, that’s hardly a good excuse, is it? You “not feeling like it” is what makes it assault in the first place).
These are simple tips but they work. Whereas saying “this is rape – don’t do it” – well, that’s incredibly complicated. So why has no one ever told you all this before? Well, that’s because they’re all too hung up on the stranger in the dark alley (who does exist, but you only tend to meet him once, if indeed at all).
Self-described “foremost funny kind of ninth generation feminist in Britain” Caitlin Moran is still pretty focused on the stranger, though. In an interview with Mia Freedman, during which the latter suggests asking all potential rape victims (aka women) to regulate their behaviour is akin to suggesting that one locks the door of one’s house, Moran expresses agreement before going on to spout the following nonsense about shoes (of all things):
It’s on that basis that I don’t wear high heels – other than I can’t walk in them – because when I’m lying in bed at night with my husband, I know there’s a woman coming who I could rape and murder, because I can hear her coming up the street in high heels, clack-clack -clack. And I can hear she’s on her own, I can hear what speed she’s coming at, I could plan where to stand to grab her or an ambush. And every time I hear her I think, “Fuck, you’re just alerting every fucking nutter to where you are now. And [that it’s a concern] that’s not right.
Society should be different. But while we’re waiting for society to change, there’s just certain things you have to do. But again the thing is, so many things you could do instead are predicated on having money. She could come out of a nightclub and get into a taxi, that would be the right thing to do.
Women, wearing shoes, out and about, “alerting every fucking nutter” to where they are. A disturbing thought, is it not? Not least because you’re not sure whether Moran means “potential rapist” or “mentally ill person” in her use of the word “nutter”. And because you know that flat shoes don’t keep anyone safe – not when you’re still visible to the naked eye, and not when you’re too scared to run. And because you know that taxi drivers can rape too, as can the man who is waiting for you when you get through the front door. All of this is terrifying enough, without the added thought that if you wear noisy shoes – like, say, those yellow tap shoes that Moran tells you to wear in How To Be A Woman – “Britain’s leading feminist” will be lying in bed plotting your hypothetical rape and murder.
Telling women what to do to avoid being raped is always claimed to be some great taboo. Anyone who does this prefaces their comments with “you won’t want to hear this…” or “in an ideal world we wouldn’t say it…” (Freedman goes for “it should never be about victim-blaming but …” while Moran opts for “while we’re waiting for society to change …”). And then people come right out and say the same old crap, over and over again, while simultaneously pretending that no one says it any more. PEOPLE SAY THIS ALL THE FUCKING TIME. What’s more, this is exactly why “we’re waiting for society to change”. It’s because there’s always someone on hand to update the list of “things women do which make them more rape-able”. And in practice it doesn’t matter whether or not women do these things. The rapist doesn’t think “fuck – now Britain’s top feminist thinker has worked out and exposed my time-honored ambush technique!”. All he’ll take from words such as Moran’s is the validation. After all, he can’t help it – he’s a “nutter”. And regardless of whether his next victim is in high heels, flats or carpet slippers, he’ll have absorbed the message that all women are potential rape-enablers.
What Freedman and Moran fail to understand about feminists who campaign against this form of rape apologism is that they’re not for a moment suggesting that rape can be stopped by sheer bloody-minded idealism. Their campaigns are a reassertion of power in and of themselves. It’s not about stopping women being raped – something which is in the hands of rapists, and of those who provide them with their excuses. It’s about preventing all women – whether or not they are victims of assault – from experiencing the threat and the aftermath of rape in everything they do. It’s about enabling women to make their own choices. The psychological assault of rape culture needs to be challenged just as much as the physical threat of rape.
No one needs Caitlin Moran to remind her that she doesn’t want to be raped. Fear of rape, while unspoken and unacknowledged, is with us all the time. That’s why people like me make detailed plans regarding “what I’d do if I were attacked”, only to invent reasons why it’s never going to happen the moment an attack is imminent. And perhaps it’s why people like Caitlin Moran seem to suggest that if you’re rich enough to pay for a taxi and smart enough to wear the right shoes, you can keep yourself safe. Yet rape avoidance – something women are supposed to be engaged in at all times – is ineffective and seems of benefit only to rapists and rape apologists. It doesn’t keep any of us safe. And yes, my shoes on that night were flats.
POSTSCRIPT: This by Jill Filipovic is brilliant in explaining exactly why “helpful” rape apologism is damaging. Really worth a read!