What Was She Thinking?

Advice columns generally are a throwback, but this one throws back to about 1620 or so:

Dear Amy: I recently attended a frat party, got drunk and made some bad decisions.

I let a guy take me to “his” room because he promised that he wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t comfortable with.

Many times, I clearly said I didn’t want to have sex, and he promised to my face that he wouldn’t.

he quickly proceeded to go against what he “promised.” I was shocked,
and maybe being intoxicated made my reaction time a bit slow in
realizing what was happening.

We were soon kicked out of the room by the guy who lived there, who was pretty angry.

I guess my question is, if I wasn’t kicking and fighting him off, is it still rape?

I feel like calling it that is a bit extreme, but I haven’t felt the same since it happened.

Am I a victim?

Victim? in Virginia

Dear Victim?: First of all, thank you. I hope your letter will be posted on college bulletin boards everywhere.

Were you a victim? Yes.

you were a victim of your own awful judgment. Getting drunk at a frat
house is a hazardous choice for anyone to make because of the risk
(some might say a likelihood) that you will engage in unwise or
unwanted sexual contact.

Jude sent this to me with an exhortation to stop killing journalism. My immediate reaction was to grab the nearest scotch bottle and a straw and go back to bed for the rest of the day in hopes of killing the brain cells that processed this. My more considered reaction was ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

Leaving aside the classic YOU FILTHY WHORE and quibbling over “forcible rape” at work here, this is my problem generally with a lot of what young women hear as “rape prevention” strategies: They focus entirely on the woman’s behavior, on controlling women and making them fearful. Don’t go alone to a party. Don’t drink at a party. Don’t drink too much (and of course you always know how much is too much, and of course you would never just let loose and have a good time like a guy could) or kiss someone you don’t know. Don’t walk home alone. Don’t walk home late. Don’t walk home at all. Be on your guard constantly. Be afraid to go outside. Be afraid of sunset. Be afraid of yourself. Be afraid of every man you see.

Be constantly constrained into a smaller and smaller box, until someday you can’t move at all. And then be hurt from within that box, when it’s your husband or your brother or your friend. Look, I’m not being naive here. I’ve been in situations, traveling alone, where I lied to a stranger that friends back at the hotel were expecting me when there were no friends and was no expectation. I lock my doors at night. I walk all over at all hours, sure, but I know always, always, that if something were to happen to me the first question would be not, “What bastard could do this?” but “What was she thinking doing that?” I, like most women, hell like most people, live knowing that anything shitty that happens to me will somehow be my fault, because that’s what we need to believe in order to live without knocking down all our assumptions and all our fears.

But I don’t for a minute think that the problem with the world is that I don’t take enough precautions. I think the problem with the world is that such precautions are necessary.

This just kicks in my whole kink about our security generally, that we — men, women, all of us — place all the burden on ourselves to avoid trouble, rather than making sure trouble does not exist. We drive an extra mile to get around “that” neighborhood, we draw these imaginary walls and then stay within them and tell ourselves it’ll all be okay if only we color inside the lines. When something horrible happens in our own little imaginary fortresses we say, “But this is a NICE community” and act like the world has come crashing down on our island of exceptions. It’s the world. And either you fix it or it’s a matter of time before it fucking finds you. That’s it.

If our streets are not safe for young women the answer is not to tell young women to stay off our streets, it is to make those streets safe. If frat houses, as one of the many outraged commenters to this steaming pile point out, are rape houses, the answer is not for people to stay out of them but for many, many more people to go in. If a woman drinks too much at a party and gets raped the proper action, first last and always, is not to tell her to drink less but to tell the man in question TO RAPE LESS. Preferably while said gentleman is occupying the rear of a squad car.

Which, another commenter:

Amy, how often do you tell young men to watch how much they drink, so
that they don’t rape someone? How often have you advised young men not
to rape? When the majority of rapes against women are perpetrated by
men they have pre-existing relationships with (family, friends and
acquaintances), you would think that we as a society might see the
value in telling young men not to rape their friends and loved ones.
Instead you chose to engage in victim-blaming a women who came to you
in pain.

The next time a rape survivor comes to you, please remember that not being raped is not a skill or a talent.

you’ve never been raped, Amy, it’s not because you figured out some
secret of common sense ViV didn’t. You deserve no pat on the back.

you’ve never been raped, Amy, the ONLY reason, is because you have
never been in the presence of a man who wanted to rape you. Nothing

Fucking THANK YOU.


15 thoughts on “What Was She Thinking?

  1. You forgot the other part, where she’s like ‘were you raped? I dunno, ask your rapist.’ That for me was where it went from offensive to full bore fucking crazy.

  2. Whet, there was only so much nutty I could take before the computer was like, “Seriously, no more, I’m done here.”

  3. If our culture were really serious about preventing rape, they’d aim rape prevention skills at men, not women, and redefine consent explicitly as the presence of yes, not the absence of no.
    The only difference between being raped and not being raped is whether or not there’s a rapist around. That actually goes for every behaviour Canadian law would classify as “sexual assault,” which covers the spectrum from inappropriate sexual touching on down.
    I guess it’s easy for some people to blame the victim if they’ve never been victimised themselves; I’m glad I’m not that empathy-impaired.

  4. Oh, it’s so nice to be told, “Hey, you women can stop things any time you want.” If we could really do that, I’d certainly stop much, much more than rape, but dammit, it ain’t happening.

  5. You know, the victim-blaming wouldn’t even bother me as much if it were done consistently.
    But when was the last time it was socially acceptable to tell, say, a captured pilot that he was a victim of his own poor judgment for not being able to avoid anti-aircraft artillery? Or to tell a cop that she was a victim of her own poor judgment for entering a profession where there’s a chance you might get shot?
    We don’t do that. We reserve victim-blaming for categories of people that are already (relatively) disadvantaged: The poor in our capitalist society, minorities in our racist society, and women in our sexist and uptight (about women’s sexuality) society. There are of course other groups, and naturally there is a lot of overlap among these categories. But we blame the victims so we don’t have to blame ourselves formaking the conditions that allow shit like this to happen. Oh, 1 in 8 people in the country are on food stamps? And this correlates with downturns in the economy? Nah, it must be because those fat, lazy jamokes won’t take care of themselves and get jobs. We just don’t shame them enough.
    It’s a hell of a lot easier to blame individuals than the society we all help create. In other words, it’s easier to blame someone other than yourself.

  6. I particularly liked how she immediately focused on the behavior of the victim…without once even *mentioning* the behavior of the rapist, who was also drunk at a frat party. By her logic, the rape behavior is predicated on the getting drunk at a frat party behavior. Therefore, she should also, by her logic, mention that perhaps the frat boy oughtn’t get drunk at frat parties lest he be tempted to rape some poor schmo.

  7. In addition to that, this perpetuates the “men can’t control themselves, therefore women have to control THEMSELVES” myth. Gah.
    I’m curious if Amy would have had the same advice to the poor girl if she’d been stone cold sober when she went to the room with the guy. She probably would have said “well, going to a room in a frat house with a stranger is pretty much a guarantee you’ll be raped, honey!”

  8. i still appreciate her slapping the chick, and saying STOP BEING STUPID. we have to STOP BEING STUPID so shit like that happens.
    STOP BEING STUPID. and guys who do shit need to go to jail.

  9. i still appreciate her slapping the chick, and saying STOP BEING STUPID.
    No. No, no, a thousand times no.
    Being stupid, whatever the fuck that means, doesn’t mean that you deserve to have your person or your property violated. If I leave my door unlocked, I don’t deserve to have all of my stuff stolen. Yeah, it was stupid, but that doesn’t fucking excuse the behavior of the person who took my shit. The same logic applies here.
    Where does that line of thinking stop? If I had locked my door, and someone had broken in, would I still be stupid for having possessions? I mean, just by having some nice things, I’m asking for someone to take them, right?

  10. Athenae,
    This is a great post.
    Our fear of each other causes so many more problems than it solves.

  11. De-lurking for just a moment to say that, well, of course it was stupid–in the same way, as Jude said, that leaving your door unlocked is stupid.
    The fact that the girl in question did something stupid has absolutelynothing to do with the fact that she was raped. My question for Amy Dickinson would be, what level of caution is sufficient for the frat boy’s act to cross the line from “unwanted sexual contact” to “rape”? By the standard evident in the column, if a man walks up to me in the street with a knife and demands my wallet, the circumstances determine whether that’s “aggravated assault” and “theft”, or merely an “involuntary weapon-adjacent donation”. Should I get in touch with the mugger to make sure takes responsibility for his actions?

  12. this is my problem generally with a lot of what young women hear as “rape prevention” strategies: They focus entirely on the woman’s behavior, on controlling women and making them fearful.
    I understand, alas I disagree that this is solely aimed at women and rape scenarios. An example – there are many brutal crimes committed in housing projects in Nola, so would any regular guy just strut down the street in one dripping in diamonds and wads of cash hanging from his belt with no protection? No! That’s called preventing disaster. Crimes happen. They are always wrong – no one is arguing that crimes are not bad. But I don’t believe in tempting a robbery, murder, or rape either. We can AIM for a safer world, but we must be prepared for the reality of the one we live in. I tell people this all the time – I love guns, shoot them well, and carry one often, but when I see drunks or thugs down the street I AVOID it. Confrontation is a last resort. Removing yourself from bad situations is the best defense, which is why women are taught all those rape *prevention* strategies.

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