Follow-up: How I made sure I didn't go home with a rapist

by Amber Collins // 10 July 2014, 09:30

Tags: comments, facebook, rape, rape prevention advice, victim-blaming

Commenter 1: This is a ridiculous post. Sorry. Banal and slightly patronising, most people have the common sense not go home with strange guys who raise red flags via online dating. 1. Double standards on sti's, "don't care if I get them in the mouth though because I like giving bj's" is just...what. 2. Using the term 'mansplaining' is disgusting.
This isn't feminism.

Commenter 2: Totally agree. Although there is some good advice here, it is no way to avoid a 'rapist'. You can talk to someone online (someone you've known or seen around your social circles for years) and they can come across kind and trustworthy. Once you spend a night with them, you can discover things you would have never been able to identify with a check list.. I'd like to see less articles directed at women about self protection and more directed at men on 'how not to become a rapist'

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In light of these two comments on Facebook responding to my post yesterday, How I made sure I didn't go home with a rapist, it seems there are some points I need to clarify.

1. This post was an answer to a question

To take you back to a comment on my first post on online dating:

Do you ever worry for your physical safety? I think the main thing that would stop me from doing something like this would be concern that I may not be safe going home with total strangers.

Not only is this concern not "ridiculous", it is also a question that would appear in the FAQs of Amber's Sex Life, if that were a website I were so inclined to make. This is a question people ask often, and it is a valid concern for which I wanted to give a considered and helpful response beyond "I took risks all the time, it's impossible to guarantee safety." If you weren't curious about the problem raised in the title, this post wasn't for you. That's fine! It doesn't mean that the question, or anyone who has asked it, is ridiculous. It means you should have scrolled on by. 

2. This was not a post on how to avoid rapists

I'm sorry if the "How I" title decision threw anyone. I thought it was a cute callback to my first post and might be an easy way to pull this series together within my wider body of written work.

That's obviously a decision I'm now reviewing given that it seems to have come across to some as a "How to" guide.

My list of red flags was not a recommended "checklist". It was not some guide to "self-protection" from rape, as if that's even possible. It was a personal account of my experiences (as I'd ironically hoped would be implied by the words "How I").

I'll be honest, I really resent the implication that I was in some way contributing to victim blaming with this post, especially since I deliberately incorporated explicitly anti-blaming statements. Victim blaming is NEVER acceptable, and that includes making comments like "most people have the common sense not go home with strange guys who raise red flags". It's actually not that simple, because...

3. Not everyone recognises what appropriate boundaries are or how to enforce them

Hollywood, television and other media teach women that they should give the Nice Guy(TM) a chance, give the lovable loser a chance, give the socially awkward guy a chance, give the guy you've only ever thought of as a friend a chance, give the guy you suspect you'll never be physically attracted to a chance, give the guy who just won't stop pursuing you a chance. Those who do not give these men a chance are uptight and those who require that the men tick certain boxes before even meeting them are clearly superficial and incapable of love.

Growing up immersed in this media teaches us that when we recognise red flags and code a guy as 'creepy' - or even just uninteresting or unsuitable for whatever reason - this is an instinct we should overrule. Women are trained to give men the benefit of the doubt BY DEFAULT, even if they are anonymous strangers who have not yet earned that privilege. I certainly did when I first started this adventure, allowing men to cross lines repeatedly until I realised that now I was only arranging to meet them to prove a point, even when I wasn't enjoying our conversations or looking forward to being naked with them.

I don't think it's unusual for people to drop standards developed for romantic relationships when you're only planning a one-night stand, especially if, like me, you were deliberately attempting to explore, experiment and push your boundaries. However, lowering my usual requirements considerably in order to personify some open-minded ideal just led to boring conversations at best, blocked nuisance callers at worst. In this post I had hoped to remind people that it's okay to decide you have limits and expect others to stick to them, especially if you are concerned about safety.

It is not narrow-minded to require your partner to meet some kind of criteria. It is not irrational* for these criteria to seem obvious to one person and unreasonable to another. It does not make you a bitch to adhere to these requirements strictly, nor does it make you a bitch to decide to make an exception. We do not and cannot have guaranteed safety, but we do have agency. Recognising that agency and using it to make yourself feel more comfortable with the people you meet is one tool that can help you enjoy the online dating experience more as you avoid prolonging the inevitable for people who were not born with the right to your attention.

Finally...

"don't care if I get them in the mouth though because I like giving bj's" is just...what.

IT'S A DECISION.

When guys dodged condoms, their preference was to put me in a situation that I deemed to be of unacceptable risk. That was their preference. I refused.

No part of this is a double standard. All of it is a decision. An informed, independent decision which actively handed my partner options and free rein to consent or not. I made the call to risk herpes in my mouth. (And, for the record, I got tested every three months and I never contracted anything.)When I offered the option between oral sex without protection, vaginal sex with protection or no sexual contact at all, that was my compromise to reduce the risk to a level I deemed acceptable, having done my homework and reached a thoughtful conclusion. The guy was always free to refuse. And some did - but always those worrying about when my last STI tests were, not those who were trying to fuck me bareback. 

Moving on. For being "slightly patronising", I apologise. I'm new to blogging and I'm still figuring out my voice. I'm trying to be relatable, informative and interesting, and it's entirely possible that I'm misfiring on one or all of these. I will of course continue to keep working on this.

I make no apologies for using the word 'mansplaining'. It's a widely-used word with an accepted and specific definition.

You know what's actually disgusting? Telling a woman talking about her own experiences that this is "not feminism." You should take a good hard think about what you said there, and perhaps question your place in a movement that deliberately encourages women from all backgrounds to have a voice and a platform on which to use it.

As a final note, I don't use Facebook, and I won't. I would much rather have the opportunity to address concerns directly, especially if I really have miscommunicated and these comments represent a much larger number of readers who think I'm victim blaming or feel patronised. If you have a comment for my posts I would ask that you please make them here, where I can respond and we can actually come to an understanding.

*ETA: Thank you to those who called me on my use of the word 'crazy' instead of 'irrational' here - I try very hard to avoid using disablist language but crazy', 'mad' and 'insane' are words I still use far too frequently. I will continue to work towards removing these words from my everyday vocabulary and appreciate those who help me by pointing out when I slip up. 

[Image is of a yellow post-it note on a white background with a small, three-dot ellipsis written on the very bottom-right corner. Photo by Don, shared under a Creative Commons licence on Flickr.]

Comments From You

Sister Flick // Posted 10 July 2014 at 10:08

Thanks Amber. I just want to say that in feminist discourse, even in disagreement, it's important that we treat each other with respect. And I can't help but feel it's never, ever ok to say to another feminist "that's not feminism." I have personally also found the term "mansplaining" an absolute Godsend in terms of explaining a specific type of male patronisation.

I admit I found the title of the piece questionable, and did worry that it would serve as a trigger. But I also know that at no point in this piece was victim blaming insinuated. I hope this can be a learning process for all those involved rather than a slanging match.

Saranga // Posted 10 July 2014 at 10:25

I have really liked both your posts.

The Goldfish // Posted 10 July 2014 at 11:30

I'm really sorry and surprised you had this negative response. You've answered it very well, and I think it is especially important to talk about red flags . I'm amazed anyone would consider that stuff common sense (although very good for them - it's something that took me a few decades to master).

It is true that anyone can turn out to be a sexual assailant, but it is also true that women repeatedly have their instincts and autonomy undermined; it's rude to say no when someone asks you for something, it's rude or "too picky" to wish to avoid those others consider respectable. And so often, we end up absorbing weird vetting systems from friends and family like, is he a nice middle class boy? Does he have a good job? Even, is he British?

It's certainly not something created by Fifty Shades of Grey, but that offers an extreme example of a story common within our culture: the hero performs scarlet semaphore and the heroine swoons because he's handsome, rich and says she's special. Many of us have been taught that it is flattering when (the right sort of) men defy our wishes in order to get our attention.

It's also interesting that it's probably far more socially acceptable to have casual sex if the circumstances are spontaneous - you're out drinking, you meet an attractive stranger, you go home together for a drunken roll. What you did is perhaps a little shocking; you brashly sought out these encounters. But meeting them on-line - a method by which many still consider you can't really get to know anyone - you were able to vet them and keep everything on your own terms.

Not that it's not still luck that you weren't raped, but that applies to everyone, in all circumstances, any time we are around other people.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 10 July 2014 at 23:02

I really liked your post about deal breakers and boundaries, especially in regard to women being trained to ignore our gut instincts on these matters.

For me, though, the title seemed a little glib and dismissive, and also not totally related to what you ended up talking about. That's not to say you shouldn't have used it, just that - for me at least - it pushed buttons and sounded alarm bells that actually weren't played out in the body of the post. I guess it's at least partly the depressing fact that, all over the web, there are indeed articles with the theme that 'How I made sure I didn't go home with a rapist' implied, which are thoroughly victim blaming and naive.

It was hard not to react to that. I was glad the post ended up like it did, and explored some great areas and issues. But - for me - the title was problematic.

Cycleboy // Posted 16 July 2014 at 16:10

I read "Girl with a one track mind" a few years ago and what strikes me is the lack of personal jeopardy she encountered. Perhaps she just left out the scary bits to make the book sell better, but she did not dwell on any men she met who turned out to be sleasy or scary. Maybe she was just lucky or perhaps the circles she moves in are inherently safer than others.

Belle Liberte // Posted 18 July 2014 at 09:48

Hi Amber,
I really enjoyed your original post. I thought that you dealt with a sometimes tricky subject that often invites critique with a sense of humour. I personally prefer to approach these topics in a way that makes me smile (if ironically) rather than feel frightened constantly.
We can't think of every single man that we meet as a potential rapist - it's just exhausting. And there is nothing we can do to prevent getting raped. I was raped by my long term boyfriend, in our house, in our bed. How was I supposed to prevent that happening? Go figure.
What I liked about your post was your strong voice and how you laid down your own personal boundaries. I didn't find your voice or tone patronising at all. I like the tone that you're setting for yourself in your blogs - I don't feel that you need to change it at all. The whole point of your blog is that you're telling people about your experiences, so you should absolutely write in your own voice. You can't please everybody - if someone doesn't like your tone, then they don't have to read/listen.
Nothing about this post brought up anti-feminist flags for me.
I can understand why some people have taken issue with your title (though I took it in the spirit that it was intended - not as an instruction manual). You should still be able to write about what you want.
To me, your piece was about your personal choices. I thought that it was intelligent, sensibly approached, and well written. I shared it on Twitter and Facebook. I loved it. I will certainly continue to read and enjoy your blog. Thank you for writing it!
X

Amber Collins // Posted 27 July 2014 at 08:05

Huge apology time - I have not been receiving email notifications for all my comments, so some of you have been sat in commenting limbo for over a fortnight. This is down to teething troubles with me getting to grips with the platform TFW uses, and not because I was trying to shut down conversation in any way - as you might guess given that all the comments here are lovely and supportive. I am mortified and sincerely apologise. I will be checking the comment queue routinely from now on.

I deleted just one comment: one I wrote myself, fuelled by red wine, and that, thankfully, I also didn't get the email notification for. (Valuable lesson learned: insert one night's sleep between writing and posting comments on upsetting topics.)

This was a huge learning experience for me, as the first time in a while that I have had to actually get over myself. As anyone who knows me in real life will testify, I try very hard to be respectful and acknowledge privilege where it exists, and carefully select the language I use in public to reflect this. This is the first time in a long time that I have been called on my privilege and I have struggled to see it.

I think Phillippa - whose post I originally wrote the red wine response for, so thank you dodgy email notifications for protecting me from myself - has actually nailed it: yes, I chose the title for a specific purpose, yes, it may well achieve that purpose, BUT IT IS STILL A TRIGGER. My privilege of living an untriggered existence shows up in the fact that this did not even occur to me when I wrote it. For a stubborn person who likes to be right that has taken me some time to process and come to terms with.

If I were to write the article now it would be with a slightly different title, one that undercuts it in the same breath, so consider that another lesson learned. I'd like to thank you all for engaging with me on this and for all the support I received, particularly from fellow bloggers Laura and Holly. This is a great community to be a part of, and I have a feeling this is only the beginning of my feminist education here.

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