Rape Culture 101: Why Mamamia has some explaining to do
Earlier in the week, Mia Freedman published an opinion piece on her website, Mamamia, outlining why she plans on telling her daughter that binge drinking means dramatically increasing her risk of being sexually assaulted. The thing is, Freedman says, is that she can’t understand why mean old militant feminists want to convince everyone that this innocent attempt to protect her daughter is “victim-blaming”. Why do those filthy feminists gotta get up in a steam about everything?! whines Freedman, the self-proclaimed feminist, wringing her hands online.
Okay. You know what? I understand, at some sort of very basic level, these sorts of arguments, which always seem to plead us to consider what is and what is not “common sense”. I don’t condone these sort of arguments (for why please see Clementine Ford’s brilliant article, “Your vagina is not a car“) but I understand them. I’m all for locking my doors, locking up my bike in shady areas, not yelling out “Yo dickhead!” to fierce looking biker dudes on the street, and all the other analogies that love to be dug out when debates like this crop up. I’m all for taking care of yourself, helping your loved ones to stay safe, and making sure everyone is made aware of just how shitty the world is in general. Love that kind of stuff.
But Freedman’s piece is still victim-blaming, and I’m going to break down why.
There is a difference between empowering your daughter through education, and stripping her of her power through rhetoric that frames a girl or a woman as being responsible for the actions of someone else. There is a difference between telling your daughter that drinking can impair her judgement as well as the judgement of others around her, and asserting that such knowledge is the game-changer as to whether or not she will be sexually assaulted. “I’ll tell [my daughter] that there is a crystal clear connection between alcohol and sexual assault”, Freedman writes. (Emphasis my own.) Well, no. That’s not a particularly thought-out or accurate statement. The twain shall sometimes meet, yes, but they are not mutually inclusive. Jessica Alice has written a really great article in response to Freedman’s about why this kind of talk is classic misdirection, but to sum up: sexual assault occurs in all areas of life, and when we put the onus on women to protect themselves by opting out of life (by, for example, not drinking), we are participating in a fucked up rape culture. Telling a woman she should dress differently, use different roads, keep different hours, and decline to participate in the activities men enjoy just to keep herself safe is rape culture 101.
This is what should be crystal clear: telling your daughter that “binge-drinking dramatically changes your ability to make good decisions or protect yourself from bad ones made by others” will not “dramatically reduce the likelihood of her being sexually assaulted during her lifetime.” I suspect, when Freedman talks about the raw power this amazing knowledge (i.e. drinking can make you vulnerable and make other people jerks, which, y’know, sorry Mia but unless y’all don’t own a TV, this is not gunna be news to her) has to “dramatically reduce” her daughter’s risk of sexual assault, she doesn’t mean the power of this knowledge by itself.
She means that making sure her daughter never gets drunk is what’s going to dramatically reduce the risk of sexual assault, right?
Here is where we get into the nitty gritty about why this article is messed up:
1) Your daughter is probably going to get drunk.
2) You are teaching her that if she does and something happens, she has “dramatically” increased the likelihood of it happening to her.
3) You are teaching her that all girls that get drunk have dramatically increased their risk of assault.
4) Congratulations, you have just encouraged your daughter and all of your readers to participate in rape culture and place the blame squarely on themselves if they are sexually assaulted.
Maybe those filthy feminist killjoys are on to something.
And perhaps even more troubling? A string of Freedman’s tweets, published immediately following the article’s publication on Mamamia:
“Interesting that those being most abusive on to me about this post do not have daughters”
“Lightbulb moment about this post after some heavy internal debate at Mamamia today.”
“Those at Mamamia who disagree most strongly are 20-something women who fear shaming sexual assault victims about alcohol.”
“They fear any talk about the connection between alcohol and sexual assault make victims feel worse afterwards.”
“My perspective, however, is from the point of view of a mum, thinking about the girls it hasn’t happened to and wanting to keep them safe.”
Mia Freedman’s right: I’m not a mother, and yes, I am a 20-something. However, I don’t believe that either factor means that I don’t get to call out victim-blaming bullshit stemming directly from rape culture when I see it. I don’t believe either of those factors should be used to try and silence my voice when it comes to the issue of sexual assault. What is the point being made about 20-somethings? And what is this “lightbulb moment” after the fact? Considering the fact that statistically, half of Australia’s women have experienced at least one incidence of physical or sexual assault (mostly from domestic violence, not from going to nightclubs, I might point out – wondering if Freedman will advise her daughter that remaining single for the rest of her life will dramatically reduce her risk of being sexually assaulted?) it seems remiss to publish an article that Freedman openly accepts will be read as victim-blaming without first considering these women. Lightbulb moment: it only occurred to Freedman that she would make victims feel worse after she published something offensive on a purportedly feminist website? Unacceptable. Neither my age or lack of progeny means that I get to be any less pissed that Freedman cares to think only of “the girls it hasn’t happened to”.
So, I’m not a mother. I don’t have a daughter. But what would I tell her if I did?
I would tell my daughter the same things that I would tell my son. I would tell them that there are bad people in the world. I would tell them to try at all costs never to be one and not to hang out with any if it can be avoided. I would tell them to try and look out for themselves and for their friends. I would tell them that shitty things happen to good people and sometimes we can avoid them and sometimes we can’t. I would tell them that women deserve respect, all women, and that respect is non-negotiable. I would teach them about consent, and how to say no and how to properly check for yes. (And yeah, I would tell them, in a separate discussion, that alcohol can be fun and nice and that it can also be weird and that it can sometimes be scary. I would tell them about why it’s dangerous to accept drinks from strangers, and why they should never be offended if someone turns one down. I would tell them not to drink and drive. I would tell them that if someone drinks rum and turns into a massive dickhead, then they should probably stop drinking rum.)
So, let me try and sum up my feelings:
It’s okay to feel scared. For ourselves, for our friends, for the strangers “wearing high heels click clacking down the street on their way home at 2am”. It’s okay to take measures to protect ourselves, or to protect others, and it’s okay not to. It’s okay to whisper “Be safe,” when you kiss them goodbye for the night.
It’s not okay to act like it’s a reasonable thing for girls to stay at home while their brothers go out drinking. It’s not okay to tell a woman that binge drinking will dramatically increase her risk of being sexually assaulted. Because – and I can’t believe we have to come back to this very basic truth – being sexually assaulted is never your fault.
Finally, it’s never okay to perpetuate rape culture. Ever.