Single women: How many times has this happened to you? You meet someone, you exchange numbers, you text about a date on Saturday night. Your date offers to pick you up from your house or apartment and you immediately feel uncomfortable. You don’t want him to know where you live until you get to know him better, so you suggest meeting him at a coffee shop instead. He suggests a bar. But, you’re not sure if you want to add alcohol to the date either without knowing him. So you suggest the coffee shop again.
Things feel awkward, but you’re reluctant to explain yourself. You don’t know how to tell this stranger that dating is a risk-assessment for you. All of your decisions are based on the knowledge that, should things go awry, should he turn out to be a creeper, an abuser or an assaulter, your decisions prior will be called into question.
That’s exactly what artist RH wanted to convey in their comic strip, “Risky Date,” posted on their site Robot Hugs. In it, they say, “We are expected to constantly and correctly take actions to reduce the likelihood that we may be harmed by others and reduce the severity of the harm we endure.”
The strip came out in 2014, but three years later, it’s just as relevant as incidents of victim shaming run rampant. In July, the security director of a New York community college resigned after he was caught on tape blaming victims for their own sexual assaults. Fran Giles accused one of the victims of “seeing a meal ticket” by reporting her assault because she walked and didn’t run from her perpetrator. The school’s president, James P. Klyczek, also made disparaging comments back in April, asking of the victim, “What, is she stupid?” for giving her assailant a tour of the campus saying, “That’s as dumb as can be.” He resigned shortly after.
The Judgment Behind Rape Culture
“There’s an undue responsibility on women to protect [themselves] from sexual assault. We don’t do that for many other crimes. When we’re questioning the victims, it detracts from the crime,” says Tasha Menaker, director of sexual violence response initiatives for the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. Her job is to train those who respond to sexual assault—like law enforcement and domestic violence advocates—how to do so with the right know-how, sensitivity and understanding.
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She says one of the biggest hurdles in her way is convincing people there’s actually a problem. “We still have people who argue with us that rape culture is a myth and doesn’t actually exist. They don’t recognize that it’s those attitudes and behaviors that contribute to rape culture.”
Rape culture, at its simplest, is the act of normalizing sexual violence. Arguing that women’s clothing and behavior dictates whether or not she “deserved” to be assaulted contributes to a culture in which rape is seen as a “normal” consequence of such choices.
In RH’s comic, they write, “My need for an environment and context in meeting you that feels safer for me is … based on my actual, lived experiences of evaluating risk and experiencing unsafe situations, and a constant awareness of a social support structure that will blame me for allowing myself to become the victim of a crime.”
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Menaker says people have different reasons for wanting to refute the idea of a rape culture. They may have been socialized in a rape culture or brought up in a house where they were told it was not a reality. But it could also be a self-preservation tactic.
“To admit it’s going on means you’re at risk for sexual assault, and you have to recognize that if you come forward, you’ll be blamed and disbelieved.”
After a mistrial was called in the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial this past June, one of the jurors spoke out about accuser Andrea Constand’s testimony, implying that her choice of clothing and gift implied consent to sexual activity. “She was well-coached. Let’s face it, she went up to his house with a bare midriff and incense and bath salts. What the heck?” said the unnamed juror.
Persistence Isn’t Always Sexy
In terms of dating, the expectations for women often align with stereotypical gender roles. Women are still supposed to act and dress in a certain way, says Menaker. And men are supposed to be persistent.
“Persistence on behalf of the man is something to be valued. There’s this idea that if he’s not engaging in the chase, then he doesn’t want to be with me that much. It’s really challenging—the persistence myth is the hardest for us to change youth’s minds about.” She encourages people of all ages to disengage from the idea that persistence equals interest, and that not listening to a woman’s “no” is endearing. Instead, rely on honest and open communication in relationships, whether they’re romantic or friendly.
“Part of healthy intimacy is honesty. [A partner] shouldn’t make you feel shamed and embarrassed for you saying you aren’t interested, or that you are.”
Menaker says she hopes women are “becoming more comfortable being outspoken about their rights and boundaries. Women shouldn’t have to feel constrained by their gender role, and neither should men.” She says change starts with having conversations about rape culture. When she goes into college classes to talk to students, she sees a difference from just several years ago. “They’re far less tolerant [about assault] and far more knowledgeable.”
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