Safety Tips for Ladies
So have you heard about this #safetytipsforladies hashtag? For those of you who haven't, it's basically a whole bunch of ironic and increasingly absurd "tips" for how not to be raped. For example: "Tell your attacker you're all out of rape and offer him a package of Ramen Noodles instead" and "Most rapes happen inside or outside. Avoid these places". If you haven't already done so, it's worth a bit of your time to go check it out because 1.) they're very funny, and, 2.) they're quite on the nose.
It's profoundly backwards that we spend so much effort in our society telling girls how not to get raped rather than telling boys how not to rape. As writer Zerlina Maxwell told Sean Hannity when she went on his show a few weeks ago:
"I think that the entire conversation is wrong. I don’t want anybody to be telling women anything. I don’t want men to be telling me what to wear and how to act, not to drink. And I don’t, honestly, want you to tell me that I needed a gun in order to prevent my rape. In my case, don’t tell me if I’d only had a gun, I wouldn’t have been raped. Don’t put it on me to prevent the rape."
That the responses to Maxwell's statements included rape threats is telling, if unfortunately not so surprising.
I get why talking about this stuff makes people feel defensive. Most men have never raped anyone, nor will they, and are rightfully horrified by the thought it it. And so it's natural to think of rape as the kind of thing that only crazy, monstrous, aberrant people do. It's easy to look at the boys who were convicted in the Steubenville trial and say "That is not normal behavior. Those boys are terrible people, and it's right that they're going to jail, but they're outliers." But as Maxwell, herself, pointed out in a follow-up piece she wrote: "The young men in Steubenville aren’t monsters. They did something monstrous and criminal but perhaps we should begin to stop repeating the notion that “criminals” are the ones raping 1 in 5 women."
And the thing is, it's simply not the case that a woman can always prevent her own rape. Because rape happens even to women who are sober, dressed modestly, armed, and in "safe" neighborhoods. Maxwell is absolutely right that stopping rape is something that has to start with teaching boys how to see girls and women as people. Lots of parents already do this, and that's great. If you're such a parent, good on you. Sadly, many aren't.
Now, as you may recall, I'm in the process of investigating my own attitudes and trying to examine if or how I'm sexist. And here's where things become tricky for me. Far be it from me to want to sound like Sean Hannity, but while I don't think that rape is solely the province of obvious monsters and criminals, I do think that no matter how good a job we do at raising our sons and eliminating rape culture, there will always be some rapists, just as there will always be murderers and thieves. And even if at some point in the future we are able to live in a society that doesn't have a pervasive thread of blaming victims and excusing rapists, we don't live in that society now. As a practical matter, it seems like a reasonable thing to both insist that the ultimate responsibility for preventing rape lies with men, while also trying to give my daughter some tools to help recognize and avoid dangerous situations.
Several years ago, when I was on vacation in a foreign country, my rental car was broken into and several bags were stolen, including the ones that held my wife's and my passports. Now, clearly the blame for this crime lay entirely with the criminals who committed it, and that's not mitigated by the fact that we left our bags in the back seat of an unattended car, in full view of anyone who might have walked by. Ever since then, though, I've been careful to only leave things in my car if they are out of sight (in the glove compartment or trunk) or to simply take them with me, and no one has stolen anything out of my car since.
Now, let me be clear: my car getting burglarized is not at all the same thing as rape. It was not even remotely as traumatic, nor did anyone blame me for what happened. And the precautions I now take are both much simpler and far more effective than the kinds of things women are told to do to avoid being raped. It's not the same.
Furthermore, I am doing everything I know how to do to instill in both of my children the values and empathy that would keep them from being thieves or rapists, or any other sort of criminal, for that matter.
I still can't help feeling that it's not enough for me to raise good kids. And that even though preventing rape is not something that ought to be my daughter's responsibility, and that it may not even be possible, and that putting any of that burden on her might be sexist, I can't help but feel like I want to tip the odds as much in her favor as I reasonably can. And if that means telling her not to get falling-down drunk (really, something I would rather neither of my children did, for reasons that have nothing to do with rape), or to keep an eye on her drinks, or not to go out alone at night in sketchy parts of town, I have trouble feeling like that's wrong of me. And, for that matter, I don't know why I wouldn't tell my son the same things.
As a parent, I feel like my job is to teach my children how to be good people, and also to give them the skills to survive in a difficult and dangerous world. Neither is more important than the other, and both are obviously a lot broader than just preventing rape. And I think that it's possible to do these things without being sexist, and without putting the responsibility or blame on victims. But, as always, I may be missing something, so if you can see it, let me know.