Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Learning About Sexual Safety From Facebook

Today, let’s discuss rape.

The South African media has a sick fascination with rape.  For advertising, each morning the newspapers print posters with the most outrageous headline for the day and attach them to street lights.  I can’t drive to work without seeing at least one poster about rape.

“Rapist Given Jail for Life”
“Man Rapes His Own Grandmother”
“Rape Victim (11) Gives Birth to Baby Boy”

Every day.  Every day I wince as I drive by these unavoidable posters.

I don’t know how to interpret the prevalence of these posters.  Rape stories must sell papers.

What does that mean?

I find it difficult to unpack the connotations attached to rape and sexual assault.

On the one hand, it has a bizarre romanticism to it.  Consider Bella in the Twilight series.  In the first novel, she is surrounded by a group of men when suddenly Edward bursts through in his sports car and saves her from becoming a victim.

“What those men were thinking about you… I wanted to kill them,” Edward tells her.

(Or something along those lines.  I don’t remember word-for-word.)

That’s romantic, right?  Those men desired Bella to the point of violence.  But it’s ok because Edward saved her before anything bad happened.

But rape has nothing to do with attractiveness: it’s about power.  It’s about easy targets and easy victims.

Society can try to blame rape on the victims all it wants, but that’s bullshit.

There’s currently a document going around my Facebook friends entitled “Through a Rapists’ Eyes.”  It begins with tips for women to avoid being victims of sexual assault.

  1. The first thing men look for in a potential victim is hairstyle.  They are more likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun, braid, or other hairstyle that can be easily grabbed.  They also likely to go after a woman with long hair.  Women with short hair are not common targets.
  2. The second thing men look for is clothing.  They will look for women who’s clothing is easy to remove quickly.  Many of them carry scissors around to cut clothing.
  3. They also look for women using their cell phone, searching through their purse or doing activities while walking because they are off guard and can be easily overpowered.

     10. Keys are not a deterrent because you have to get really close to the attacker to use them as a weapon.  So, the idea is to convince these guys that you’re not worth it.

Every time I see this thing in my News Feed I want to throw my computer out the window.  Hairstyle.  Seriously?  You seriously think that wearing my hair in a ponytail makes a significant difference in my chance of being raped?

And the clothes advice.  Pretty much since the beginning of time (this is an exaggeration), men have tried to blame rape on women for dressing slutty and hence encouraging men to violence.

Will it make me look insensitive if I comment, “Thank god for hipster style!  Skinny jeans and toques – rape statistics should decrease dramatically!”

Unfortunately, I really shouldn’t joke about skinny jeans.  Apparently they’re a legitimate piece of evidence in a rape trial:

Number 10 also doesn’t make any sense to me.  Usually you have to get close for rape, so don’t tell a woman not to get those keys ready to slash at his face.  “The idea is to convince these guys that you’re not worth it.”  Could the author have worded that any more poorly?  Why do some women romanticize rape?  Precisely because they think they’re “not worth it” – not worth tenderness or patience or exultation.

The Facebook article also intrinsically separates “rapists” from everyone else.  It ignores the fact that 80% of sexual assault is by someone the victim knows – a family member, a friend, a teacher, etc.  Rapists aren’t monsters walking around with scissors in their hands; for the most part, they’re functioning members of society.

Stopping rape is not as simple as empowering women and educating men.  The problem stems from deeper fissures in society.

For example, how can a woman leave her abusive husband if he’s her only source of income?

We can’t continue with a socioeconomic system that systematically disempowers people and then act surprised when people assert themselves violently.  We need to provide education and jobs and welfare and housing!  We need to examine patriarchy and address the subtle ways it manifests itself in our lives!

And – maybe, just maybe – we should all start wearing skinny jeans.

Don’t you feel safer already?


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