I’ve been deliberating on how to approach this subject as it is something which really angers me. I want to put forward my opinions on this matter in a rational and calm way, though I will find it difficult to completely remove my feelings about it – this will no doubt show in the way I write.
Let me start by defining rape apologists and slut-shaming. ‘Rape apologist’ is the term given to rapists and other who doubt the credibility of rape victims and rationalise the assault. For example, it is not uncommon for rape apologists to say, ‘well, if you don’t want to get raped you shouldn’t go out in mini-skirts’, ‘how can it be rape when he’s your boyfriend?’, and my favourite, ‘how can you rape someone who has sex so much as it is?’. Slut-shaming behaviour is often in abundance when a rape apologist makes their case. Slut-shaming is an social norm which has ironically become a part of our hyper-sexualised culture. Though the term ‘slut’ is a subjective, baseless term, I am in no doubt that it has been applied to every woman at one point or another in their lives. In school, if you kissed a boy you are a slut. For young women, you can be a slut if you sleep with your boyfriend too soon, if you date a couple of guys at the same time, or even if you date someone who used to be with someone you know. As you can see, there is no clear line between being a slut and not being a slut. To put it bluntly, no matter what you decide to do with your personal life, there will be someone out there who decides that you are a slut.
I find slut-shaming so ironic because our culture fully encourages women to look sexy. We are told by the media that unless we are sexy, we hold little value. We are taught to wear tight clothes, to starve ourselves, to wear push-up bras and to wear make-up. Even kids are being groomed from a young age to be like this. In a society that expects women to look sexual appealing at all times, how does it make sense to then shame the women who actually enjoy sex?
Is it because we are objects for men to enjoy, and the very thought of us getting any kind of sexual gratification will destroy our male counterpart’s libido? How ironic that men are pressured to be hyper-sexual beings, but women are taught to simultaneously be sex symbols and virgin brides. I duly note the pressure that men are under to live up to the role of the alpha male; I feel as though the pressure to force men to be emotionless, dehumanised and sexually aggressive is equally as harmful to them as the virgin/slut paradox is for women. Gender roles not only prohibit individuals from being comfortable in their own skin, but also creates a dangerous society.
It doesn’t make sense to me that we live in a supposedly progressive society which embraces secularism and has started to accept racial diversity and homosexuality, yet there is still a stigma attached to promiscuity. Never mind the fact that gender roles are still so rigid! Funny, when not many people save sex strictly for procreation!
Applying the virgin/slut paradox to rape, the ‘don’t dress like a slut or you will get raped’ myth is harmful, offensive and utterly ridiculous. For one, rape apologists who choose this as their mantra are defeating their own argument by pretty much saying, ‘all men (and women) are pathological rapists so you must take precautions in order to not set them off.’ So, not only are you implying that all men (and women) are capable of rape, but also that we must tip-toe around them instead of dealing with the actual problem.
There are many studies which show the inaccuracies of this assumption, not to mention statistics. Does that argument apply to women who wear burkas, or elderly women? Or what about the straight men who rape other men, in and outside of prisons? Roy Hazelwood is a leading expert in sex crimes, and he outlined the four categories of rapists. The first, and the most prolific, is the power-assertive rapist. These rapists commit rape as a display of power over their victim. In many of these cases the rapist will not ejaculate, which demonstrates that the rape was not about sexual gratification. The second type is power-reassurance. This kind of rapist will rape a woman in order to feel wanted, and in many of these incidents they will tell their victims to say that they love their rapist, or even pretend to be their wives. One of the more uncommon types of rapist is the sadist; this rapist commits rape in order to see their victim in pain. The final category of rapist is the opportunistic, which accounts for the smallest group of rapist. These rapists will attack their victims because they happen to be there whilst the attacker is committing another crime.
If the ‘don’t dress like a slut or you will get raped’ argument can be applied to any of these categories, it is more likely to apply to the smallest group, the opportunists. As a minority, it does not make sense to hold all victims accountable.
Fundamentally, as a society we should be told, ‘don’t rape’ rather than ‘don’t get raped’. In what way, shape or form can a person be responsible for getting raped – an act which is defined by the unwillingness of a victim? It is stupid to tell women to never leave the house alone, or to stay away from dark alleyways. It is patronising and offensive. The overwhelming majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, and fairly often in their homes – there are a high number of cases in which women are abducted in shopping car parks. Do we just tell women to stay out of their own homes, never associate with anyone and never go shopping?
The truth is, it is difficult to know what kind of person can be a rapist. So many people are unaware of the warning signs that can indicate whether a person is capable of rape. Fortunately, Pat Craven’s brilliant book named ‘Living With The Dominator’ identifies common traits which exist in abusive people. The book is mainly aimed at women as her work led her to starting a a support group for the victims of domestic abuse. However, those who are being abuse by their gay or female partners should not be excluded from the help she offers. She outlines the different types of abusers (for example, the jailer and the head worker) and she discusses the many different behaviour patterns they exhibit.
I feel as though we, as a society, are in need of a major perspective shake-up. So many changes have happened over the past 60 years, and I have full faith that the issue of slut-shaming and victim-blaming will be a thing of the past one day. All it takes is for individuals to reassess their value and show the same compassion to strangers they show to those they care about. It really does take individuals to create a world-wide change. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”