Yeah, but she asked for it… How my mind changed on victim blaming.

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Liberty Responsibility - George Bernard Shaw

Quote from Shaw’s play titled “Man and Superman.”  Image from AZQuotes.com

 

In my teens and twenties, I remember thinking that a woman who went out into a questionable area while dressed provocatively was responsible for increasing her risk of being the victim of a crime (e.g. mugging, kidnapping, rape, etc…).  It seemed a purely matter-of-fact, logical, and unavoidable argument to me.  In the form of a classic syllogism, my argument looked roughly like this:

  • Premise 1: Many men* have very little impulse control, and can easily be provoked into committing crimes against women.
  • Premise 2: Women can provoke men into committing crimes against them by dressing or acting provocatively.
  • Premise 3: Women don’t want crimes committed against them.
  • Conclusion: To avoid crimes being committed against them, women shouldn’t dress or act provocatively around men.

It seems clear as day, right?  I mean, isn’t it like suggesting that going out into a blizzard without shoes is going to cause me to get really cold really fast?  Isn’t it just one of those Newton-esque “equal and opposite action/reaction” kind of things?

Or is it?

In the example I gave of going out in a blizzard barefoot, we’re talking about pure physical processes.  Human tissue reacts very poorly to extreme cold.  And the cold acting upon my feet is not a conscious agent.  The blizzard doesn’t choose to freeze my feet.  Can we really say the same about men?  Are men just purely physical processes?

As a male, I’m pretty confident in saying “Umm… No.”  Despite our sometimes simplistic thought processes, men are a bit more complex than that.  Men make decisions, and thus can be considered responsible for their actions.  And when men choose to commit crimes, we hold them responsible.  When a man chooses to steal your car, break into your house, or commit fraud, we hold him responsible.  Even if you left your car or house unlocked, or were fooled into wiring him your money, we don’t hold you responsible.  We hold the criminal responsible.  He chose to break the law.  You are not responsible for crimes committed against you.  And neither are women when they dress in a way that some men find enticing.

If our first inclination is to focus on blaming the victims of crime, telling them how they should have acted differently to avoid enticing the criminal, then we’ve failed to focus on the conscious agent who was motivated to (and did) commit the crime.  We’ve distracted ourselves from the actual problem.  And in so doing, we’ve precluded any actual improvement in the culture that helps to form these criminals.

But there’s another problem with my old argument.  You see, I failed to explain a very important term.  What counts as “dressing or acting provocatively?”  Who decides?  The man who just committed a crime after being “provoked?”  (The spineless wanker who either A) couldn’t control himself, or B) is claiming to have been provoked to shift the responsibility for the crime away from  himself?**)  We’re going to trust his judgement as to what was so provocative that he just couldn’t help himself?  Or are we all going to become fashion and behavior critics, together deciding on exactly which clothes, types of makeup, gestures, or levels of inebriation are sufficient to provoke a man?

If you don’t already think this last suggestion is ridiculous, allow me save you some time and point towards a an example culture that has implemented this style of formal fashion and behavioral critics for women.  Consider Iran, the most influential proponent of Shia Islam in the modern world.  There, officially sanctioned “morality police” patrol the streets looking for salaciously dressed ladies.  They routinely arrest, imprison, and/or publically shame women for provoking male lust with their behavior or dress.  And the male criminals?  They’re punished rarely, if ever.  Women have even begun to start cutting their hair and dressing as men to avoid persecution.  Amazingly, we’re told that all of this legally sanctioned harassment and bullying will protect women***.

So let’s stop pretending that making women responsible for the choices male criminals make is a reasonable position.  You want to make a real difference in this kind of crime?  Start talking to the men in your life – the younger they are the better.

  • Be the example you want them to be.
  • Give them as many opportunities to socialize with women as you possibly can.  Don’t encourage boys fetishizing women by keeping them separate.
  • Don’t keep two different sets of rules for boys and girls.  Everyone plays by the same rules.
  • Focus on our commonalities, not what separates us.  The more we pick out and focus on what differences there are between the sexes, the more different males will consider females to be.
    • This can be a bad precedent to set, as it can be easy to attach moral significance to any of these differences (e.g. a woman’s virginity – but not a man’s –  is the repository of hers and/or her family’s honor).
  • Support women learning self defense.  Give them every tool available to either avoid/escape from criminals or make them think twice about committing a crime.
  • And lastly, when you hear about a crime – blame the criminal – not the victim.

*More specifically, a significantly higher proportion of males than females have very little impulse control.

**Feel free to decide which of these two options is more likely.

***Or their family’s “honor.” You pick.  They’re both equally asinine rationales.

 

Edited on 6/1/2016 for grammar and clarity

 

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