How to be a victim blamer
Laura Woodhouse // 17 December 2012
I will preface this post by saying I’d really rather not be writing about Caitlin Moran. I’d really rather she hadn’t put her foot in it again.
But given her media profile, the fact that she’s being held up as a shining example of modern-day feminism by non-feminists and that so many women across the country enjoy her writing, I think it’s important to highlight when she gets things wrong.
The following is taken from an interview with Australian blogger Mia Freedman, and has been doing the rounds on Twitter:
[MF] And of course it should never be about victim blaming but I worry about the idea of saying to women “don’t change your behaviour, this is not your problem!”. I feel like that’s saying, “You should be able to leave your car unlocked with the keys in the ignition, or leave your front door unlocked, and expect nobody to burgle you.”
[CM] Yes. 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.
Where to start? How about with the facts. Only 9% of rapes are committed by strangers. Women are much more likely to be raped or attacked by men they know, in their own home or workplace. So it’s hugely unhelpful and unsisterly – not to mention creepy as hell – for Moran to immediately link the sound of a woman walking home in high heels with her being raped and murdered. Women already feel excessively afraid of walking home at night, and all she’s done here is potentially increased this fear among her many female fans.
In reality, it would actually make more sense for that woman walking home alone in high heels to spot Moran in bed with her husband through the crack in her bedroom curtains and think “Shit, Caitlin’s in her own home, sharing a bed with a man she’s in a relationship with. Does she know she’s putting herself at increased risk of sexual violence?”. Of course, that would be a horrible thing to think, but it’s no more horrible than Moran’s own musings. It just seems worse because Moran’s narrative is what we’re used to hearing.
Then we have this idea that a woman alerting others to her presence is inviting rape and violence. It’s actually pretty damn hard to be a full participant in society without alerting other people to your existence. It’s incredible how often we have to state this, but unlike cars and houses, women are in fact living beings who have the right to freedom of movement and expression. Telling us that we shouldn’t wear heels or should only go to a nightclub if we’re going to get a taxi home impinges on these rights.
And it does so to absolutely no purpose.
Women get raped by taxi drivers. We get raped when we’re wearing super-practical flat shoes (and I’m pretty sure your DMs make a fair old racket when you’re clomping down the street, Caitlin). We may get raped if we cover up and stay at home out of sight, and we may get raped if we wear next to nothing and totter home drunkenly serenading the neighbours at 3am on a Friday night. There is therefore no point curtailing our freedom in order to try and avoid male sexual violence. Encouraging women to do so is basically telling women to give in to male control and live in fear. That’s categorically not what feminism is about.
Finally, let’s just make it clear that rape is not a product of mental illness. Rapists are not “fucking nutters”. They are often very ordinary men, who may or may not have any history of mental illness. Reinforcing the stereotype of the crazed man jumping out of a bush is not only disablist (in that it increases the stigma suffered by people with mental illnesses), it actually puts women at risk. Because when they are raped by a friend, a partner, or a perfectly sane “nice guy”, the police, the judiciary and the members of the public on the jury are less likely to believe it was rape.
Both Moran and Freedman’s comments are straight-up victim blaming, and they hurt women everywhere.
The image shows a placard from Sheffield Reclaim the Night 2012 that reads “I’m safer walking home alone”. The other side of the placard read “9 in 10 rape victims know their attacker”.