The short version:
- Mia Freedman, Caitlin Moran and probably most other people think it's only prudent to caution young women/daughters not to get too drunk while out at night to reduce their risk of rape
- Others argue that this is "victim blaming" and lets men off the hook
- Mia Freedman says the division of opinion is basically between older women who have daughters (motto: commonsense) and younger women who don't (motto: Slutwalk).
I have daughters, and as my mother did before me, I will certainly caution them on risks of sexual assault and teach them the usual ways to (hopefully) stay safe.
It was not until I read three opinion pieces this year that I finally understood - really understood - the point people have been making about "victim blaming" and the problems with "staying safe."
These were a bit of an epiphany for me:
- Five Ways That Staying Safe Costs Women - Salon, August 2013
- An Open Letter to Caitlin Moran: Feminism 101 - Ladypercy blog, December 2012
- Rape and Property Theft: Some Obvious Differences - Glosswatch, May 2013
They shouldn't have been. The first one points out things that had made me angry for years, especially when I was younger. The costs of always "staying safe" are high: reduced mobility, fewer opportunities, more money spent (taxis), and the biggie: the massive and constant psychic and emotional energy invested at all times in "being careful", weighing up risk, etc. But please do read the article - it says all this and more much, much better than I can.
The third one explains the (in hindsight obvious) logical error in comparing "avoiding rape" to "you lock your window to prevent burglary" which, I admit, I hadn't been able to figure out for myself.
I had felt angry about all these issues forever, but still hadn't quite got the link to the arguments made against the "commonsense/staying safe" brigade until I read these three posts. Until then, I admit I was one hundred per cent with Mia Freedman, Caitlin Moran, and every other cop who comes out and says the same things albeit far less diplomatically.
But it's a slippery slope from those arguments (which really are a kind of common sense after all) to the comments made by some clerics here and in the UK a few years ago (and no doubt still!), that women dressed "immodestly" are like "uncovered meat" that attract voracious animals. (It's an interesting exercise googling "women like uncovered meat" to find that link, by the way. This seems to be a simile on fairly high ongoing rotation).
So, look. In a nutshell:
- Of course every mother (yes, even a feminist one!) is going to teach her daughters how to be careful and stay safe
- Parents teach their sons this stuff too - sure, to a lesser degree, but that is changing, I think
- Taking basic measures to stay safe (such as avoiding getting too drunk, not accepting rides with strangers and so on), are indeed common sense, and are not victim blaming.
- But many of the things we teach our daughters to help them "stay safe" don't work, or are irrelevant. (See statistics: who really gets raped and where?)
- The focus of any public safety campaign should always be on teaching men not to attack/hit/rape