“Women are made aware by their social surroundings that they live in a dangerous world and that they have to change their behaviour to suit this world.”
I walk across the room, and speak with my hands. I think about how each year in Stellenbosch the campus police would come to our residence and tell us how to behave in order not to get raped. It never crossed my mind that there was something wrong with this until I wrote my thesis. Words flow from my mouth.
“Some of the men I interviewed described South Africa as a dangerous country to support the idea that rape is a ‘women’s problem’. For example, one said: ‘Especially in South Africa, you need to be careful. It’s a lot harder for a woman to walk around by herself … it’s a much bigger security risk.’
“Another guy said: ‘Unfortunately, with our rates of rape in South Africa and crime … it’s an unfortunate product of a corrupted society that one has to be aware of evil.’”
I look one of my female friends in the eyes. Why are we the ones who have to adjust our lives?
“By recognising and accepting the world as a dangerous place, they ignored how rape limits the social spaces that we have access to. They describe rape as an inevitable consequence of living in our ‘dangerous society’. Following on this way of thinking, blaming the victim was the knee-jerk reaction of every single one of the men.
“As one man said of the case study: ‘The fact that someone was walking behind her, and it didn’t arouse suspicion, to me that seems, like, a bit naïve.’ They described the female victim as ‘stupid’, ‘foolish’, and ‘silly’.
“When people use words like these to describe the rape survivor, it reduces her status as a legitimate rape victim by implying that she triggered her attack through her own carelessness. The responsibility of the rape is removed from the rapist and is placed on the victim. It becomes a case of ‘she got herself raped’ instead of ‘the rapist did this to her’. The rapists’ behaviour is ‘normalised’ and the victim is blamed in a way that seems ‘rational’- she should have known better. When victims become the focus of a crime, they also become the target for intervention. Society is preoccupied with changing and controlling ‘wayward’ females, while the seriousness of rape as a crime is undermined.”
It is important to me that everyone realise the truth. We blame the victim because it is convenient. We blame the victim because we think we can rationalise and control his or her behaviour. It is the comfortable option, thinking that if we can adjust the potential victim’s behaviour we can avoid this horrific crime. But, in doing so, we forget the choice that the rapist made. We forget that, no matter what the victim did, the rapist chose to rape.
I go on: “Society also provides a context for rape by setting preconditions of what is acceptable behaviour from both men and women. The ‘acceptable’ behaviour is defined by patriarchal standards of feminine and masculine qualities – women are passive victims while men are active, strong and powerful. For example, one man said that, ‘Like the guy would go out late at night clubbing or partying and he would be fine, if girls do that maybe on her way home she might get raped.’ It was acknowledged that men have an inherent physical power over all women when one of the men I interviewed said, ‘Any man can rape.’
“Statements like these reinforce patriarchal notions that depict women as weak objects onto which men can force their strength. Also, the men in my study expressed more shock when referring to a male being raped as opposed to a female being raped: ‘It’s a bit strange that he is a man and got raped by a man because you should be able to fight him off. I mean, women are obviously, like, less able to do that…’
“Many of the men in the study also used patriarchal notions of what was acceptable behaviour from females in general. Through their talk, it was clear that conservative women deserved more respect while females who act ‘inappropriately’ (by getting drunk or wearing ‘slutty clothing’) were met with disgust. It emerged from five of the participants that females had to act according to a set standard of what is acceptable before they could be respected by men.”
I hear Ashley snort. Both she and I have been the girls that behave ‘inappropriately’ because we chose to live our lives according to our impulses and have fun. Why are we judged for trying to explore and make sense of our lives in the way we choose?
“In other words, women are socially deviant when they do not follow rules set for them by a patriarchal culture. In this way, they are to blame for men wanting to rape them. A ‘Just World’ way of thinking comes into play – women are raped because they broke set rules of appropriate feminine behaviour. It assumes that, if the woman didn’t break these rules, she wouldn’t have been raped.
“While most of the men in my study believed that the rapists are psychopathic strangers, numerous studies have found that most rape victims are raped by someone they know. By insisting that the rapist is an ‘unknown, psychopathic other’, the men in the study failed to recognise the role that all men play in supporting a rape-supportive culture in how they talk and act. In this way, they could distance themselves from the act of rape and deny responsibility for all rapes, as they themselves are not deviant, psychopathic individuals.”
Question: How do you think Michelle is doing in her presentation up to this point?