Women and rape: offense or defense?

TRIGGER WARNING: this article talks about rape. No specifics, but lots of hypotheticals.

Have you seen the “Don’t Rape Her” meme? It goes something like this:

A lot has been said about how to prevent rape. Women should learn self-defense. Women should lock themselves in their houses after dark. Women shouldn’t have long hair and women shouldn’t wear short skirts. Women shouldn’t leave drinks unattended. Hell, women shouldn’t dare to get drunk at all. Instead of that bullshit, how about:

  • If a woman is drunk, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is walking alone at night, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is drugged and unconscious, don’t rape her.
  • If a woman is wearing a short skirt, don’t rape her.

This meme is causing controversy for… well, some reasons I maybe understand, but others I totally don’t. It seems a lot of people really do think teaching the women in their lives karate and tea-totaling should do the trick.

I have some better suggestions. If you really want women to prevent rape, let’s be freakin’ serious about it. There may be some facetiousness in this post, for the purpose of demonstrating how ridiculous it is to hold victims responsible, but I’m not telling you which bits I’m serious about. I want you to, for five seconds, feel the fear I live with.

  • All women will be issued handguns by the government and trained how to use them properly.
  • Instead of conditioning women to think, “Gosh, I’m sure he’s not going to rape me, I must be misunderstanding” and wait until it’s too late for self-defense, we will train them to err on the side of caution and shoot first.
  • If a man touches you without permission, shoot him because he might be a rapist.
  • If a man catcalls, whistles, or yells out observations about your body, shoot him because he might be a rapist.
  • If a man startles you, you’d better shoot him just to be safe.
  • If you have already been raped, hunt down the man who did it and shoot him so he can’t rape anymore women. (The only non-serial rapist is a one who died or got imprisoned after committing the first rape.)
  • Additionally, starting at the age of 6, girls will be taught how to emotionally abuse the hell out of men in case there’s a child rapist in their home. I started learning these skills when I was 8, and it kept me safe from my home predator, but a lot of daddy/uncle/friend of family rapists start earlier than that, so girls need to be prepared.  To this day, I can verbally castrate a stranger at ten paces and send him off to find an easier target.

This way, the criminal justice system need not bother dealing with rape, and men need not change their behavior. They will simply get dead. A lot.

Some of these men will be innocent of having had any intent to rape, but that doesn’t matter. It’s never mattered that women don’t deserve rape – it happens anyway. Fair’s fair.

Like I said, there is some facetiousness in this post – maybe a lot, I’m not saying – but you should be uncomfortable talking about rape. You should not think you have all the answers, because no one does. You and I both should be jarred once in a while out of our answer boxes and forced to think over the problem from another angle.

Tomorrow, I’ll write up what I really think about this meme.


  1. Mecha says

    *sigh* Ugh. I hate that list for a lot of reasons. But one reason I don’t hate it for is the sentiments behind it. Because the concepts it’s grasping at are really, really important ones (‘rape happens because of rapists.’) It’s just grasping at them poorly. Nobody seems to consider that.

    I have more to say, but time and again I know that I am not truly welcome to say it. Because this is not my space. Even though the list talks to me. Even though the list tries to make it a men’s problem. All I can say at this point is ‘So be it.’


  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Mecha, you do know this post was not directed at you, right? 😉

    I’m still not sure I fully understand your problem with the meme – probably because I haven’t read your original comments on it from way back when. If you want to restate them here, go right ahead.

    To me, the meme is just a satire that makes a good point. A lot of those points, I’ve been making to men all my life because where I grew up, discussions of rape cases in the news sometimes brought a male response of “But sometimes you have to force her”. WTF?

    And those are more or less the people this above post was directed to – again, facetiously.

    Tomorrow I present my own list, and it’s fer reals serious. Some things I think all reasonable people should do (or do their part on) to change the situation.

  3. Mecha says

    I know it wasn’t really directed at me, but all the same, every time I talk about the list, what you say is the response. “I don’t like the list’s phrasing.” “So, you support rapists and think it’s all women’s fault and you don’t get anything!” I am seriously not kidding, and it is seriously incredibly tiring.

    Furthermore, this _is_ a feminist space, and as such, this is _not_ my space to comment. (Maybe I was being a little passive aggressive there, but it’s tough to phrase that sentiment at all.) After _writing out_ all my arguments, I’ve tried to summarize them and respond to you more directly, because I realized it was unfair to just sorta spew my arguments against the list without addressing you… after I wrote them. Ah well. ^^;

    The problem with it being satire, Beta, is in its explicit construction and presentation. What it is satirizing (women being told to avoid rape (passive role turned active due to patriarchal assumptions)) is not the same as what it says (you, yes you, the male reader, are a rapist (active role that only the patriarchy might argue is passive, but not really, and is more likely to tell men that they want.) It is further presented memetically, without context or an attached safe space of discussion. It’s a cannonball fired into your living room, as it were, and then any man who feels offended and responds is in a minority space and feminist argument that they are likely ill equipped to deal with, which never deals with the fact that the list is _badly phrased_. Put those two together, and you don’t really have effective satire. I could see a man, with patriarchal ideas, writing this exact same list and slapping it up on a board. Because that’s the conception of men it supports. It doesn’t engage men. It doesn’t really challenge them. It just tells them they’re rapists-but-for-circumstance over and over.

    I can see how some of the points are things that try to be said, but there is a difference between telling them to someone in an open forum, and telling them to someone who is trying to argue that ‘poking the unconscious woman is a good time.’ One is an assumption of explicit desire to rape. One of them is a response to an expressed desire to rape.

    And the people you wanted to get this point, Beta, are never going to see or care about this list. The only people who will see it are normal people, possible allies or people who don’t understand the arguments underlying it which aren’t well presented. Who are being told that even feminists see them as mindless childlike rape machines. Ha ha ha. That’s funny satire… right? Right…

    Compare to Tekanji’s privilege list. Biting Beaver’s rape list. They’ve had problems, they’ve had argument, they’ve had offense, but because they’re not essentially a chain letter, they are _controlled arguments_ in a _controlled space_ which _actually do some real good_. Has this list… ever done real good, except in allowing women to nod their head, and pass it on, and add more weight to the assumption that men are childlike rapists? It just doesn’t serve its purpose. Addressed towards men, telling them what the patriarchy and feminists think of them. Even seeing the satire requires serious analysis, _and that analysis will still end up with problems in construction_.

    If I’m wrong, and this is really a brilliant piece of satire which informs and enlightens the men it is directed to, and amuses most women who read it, I’d love to know why. I’ve never seen it do either one of those fully, and that first one not at all (I sure as hell didn’t learn the concept of ‘rape happens because of rapists’ from this list.)


  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Okay, as we discussed in chat, I didn’t follow all the meta on this thing. I thought, “Hehe, good satire” and moved on.

    If people are applying it literally and talking like it’s a brilliant step forward in understanding… I can see where you would have a legit problem with that. (The individual items are true, but they’re as hamfisted as saying “If you see a wall, don’t drive into it.”) The DRH list should not be seen as helpful for the same reason the “Don’t Get Yourself Raped” lists shouldn’t be.

    It should be seen as clever only because it exposes exactly what’s so wrong with the DGYR lists.

    The clever point would be more apparent if you had it side by side with a complete DGYR list. Those lists treat us all as victims like this list treats all men as rapists. And those lists never include anything truly useful, like “get entitled, learn to say no quite freely, trust your vibes, don’t be so desperate to have a man that you might compromise your good judgment and get with one who’s evil.” Because then women might really learn not only to avoid rape, but to compete with men in business and positions of power and stuff.

    The DGYR lists achieve exactly the opposite: they tell women to go live in fear instead of competing with men in business and stuff. Which is what the patriarchy wants.

    The DRH meme is probably actually enlightening to tadpole feminists just learning “Oh, so drinking DOESN’T mean she deserved it”, who will then be confused/angered as to why you’re saying there’s something wrong with it. What’s wrong with it is that, like most satire, out of context it’s not so clear what the original intent was.

  5. Mecha says

    I do think that drawing an explicit parallel would help the list a bit. I think the ‘tadpole feminists’ comment is an accurate one, but the enlightenment doesn’t come with understanding (which, if it was its point, failed. You see I harp on that ‘failed to get its point across’ thing a lot. ^^;)

    After a year and a half I was able to really see the satire element well (and not just the anger element) but it’s _still_ phrasingly problematic. I try to thrash through it, but it is difficult to phrase. It’s still wobbly, but perhaps this will help make it clear.

    In short: Both types of list assign ‘responsibility’ to the reader, but only the DRH list assigns _explicit criminal intent and desire_.

    To use a weaker example, a ‘don’t kill others’ and a ‘don’t get killed’ list both assign blame, to a point, to the intended reader (potential killer (strong, male) versus potential killee (weak, female)), but only one of those is explicitly criminal. DRH versus DGYR also has a stronger audience assumption than that list: DRH is talking to men. DGYR is talking to women. Stereotype and assumptions at work are immediately visible. And that just makes it a thousand times easier to react to, even if you can’t get the analysis.

    I’m trying to decide if the fact that people think that the DGYR list is good is an accurate indication that being raped = being called a rapist in society’s eyes, from a/most womans’ perspective, or if it’s just close, or if it really is a drastic difference. But I don’t think that you can argue that the explicit writing tone is just radically different.

    (The ‘Useful Advice, not just DGYR lists’ idea, you talk about well in your other post, and I don’t have much to respond to, there, other than that the concepts of teaching people life solutions, not just situational responses, is good IMO. They’re very differently purposed lists, with different intents.)


  6. says

    I think there may be one other element at work here.

    You and I are in an alley. There’s a dead man and a gun on the ground. Cops enter the scene. Who do they immediately look at?

    You. You might be the killer. And me? I was probably there to be killed, and maybe you even saved me. But no way did I kill – women get killed, they don’t do the killing.

    I cannot even conceive of what a man feels like when he’s accused of committing a crime, or assigned the ability/intent to commit one, because it is presumed I lack both the nerve and the agency to commit one.
    I resent the assumption that I’m 100% passive so much that I can’t quite truly understand why it would bother you to be accused of having agency (I get what you’re telling me intellectually, but on an emotional level I just can’t imagine). Evil agency, yes, but that’s one more form of agency than I routinely get credited with.

    I also think some of the men reading this think, “Well, I could be a victim of something – I can imagine what women are going through”. That’s not the same as understanding what it is like your whole life to be presumed a victim, to be “lucky” if you don’t get raped, to be presumed incapable of acting constructively or destructively.

    Men can be criminals or victims, just like they can be employers or employees, governors or the governed, etc. The full range of human experience and endeavor is routinely assigned to men, while women only get the presumption of passivity. Like objects.

    I don’t know that it’s worse to be assigned the ability/intent to do something (evil) than it is to be denied the ability/intent to do anything. None of us can have both experiences and compare. And this may be where some of the discussion is breaking down. It’s “obvious” to men why it would hurt to have people assume you can do evil, and it’s “obvious” to women why it would hurt to have people assume you can do nothing.


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