Perhaps you remember the article we republished in 2014 about the Montreal Police’s press release to women suggesting they avoid taking a taxi ride alone for fear of what may happen. If not, click here. There are a number of these cautionary lists, either published by police or by media outlets – there’s a lovely and concise article listing the top 9 contenders of these “suggestion” lists found here.
These lists are, by and large, entirely useless. While I appreciate the idea that if all women walked home with their “hall buddy” (anyone else remember that phenomenon from grade school) or simply never drank, or wore baggy clothing, or took self-defence classes, or got married… then they’d never be assaulted.
Well golly-gee wilikers, I promise to be home from the malt shop by 7:30, Mom and Dad, and no I won’t hold hands with Jimmy… I’d hate for him to get any fresh ideas. I’m a good girl.
These lists tell me, as a woman, that my actions directly affect whether or not I’m raped. And maybe my actions would have some direct impact if I was the chosen target of a rapist. However, the emphasis of these texts suggest that women need to protect themselves by sometimes taking some extraordinarily restrictive measures. I certainly don’t follow the suggestions – I expect that I should be able to live in a world without fear of recrimination because I wanted to wear a short skirt out. Instead of selling women on the idea that they should live a sheltered existence, maybe put your time, energy and resources into rape prevention programs? Wouldn’t everyone’s time be better spent trying to change the dominant culture than tell women to protect themselves from it?
So Sarah Silverman has changed the tables, and I giggled a lot reading her list of tips for rapists to avoid raping. Apparently… it wasn’t taken so well by some folks on twitter. The response being: this is sexist towards men. Well… it is, a little. But mostly it’s poking fun. It’s playful. And if you were really a feminist (as @dezzyboy claims) who was offended by this list (and I mean actually, jaw hit the table, wanted to punch through the wall offended), then I’m surprised that you don’t see this as equal fun for all the female-bashing jokes that get played off as “just being funny”. Put another way: if 60 years ago the dominant male culture was allowed to make jokes about how Susie doesn’t show enough leg at the office, then perhaps you could check your privilege and think about what it actually means to be a woman.
Originally published by Quartz on March 23, 2015. Written by Meredith Bennett-Smith.
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) March 21, 2015
The list highlights a common double standard in the way we talk about rape prevention. Unlike countless guides directing women on how to stay safe from rape, these tips are aimed at potential perpetrators. It includes such gems as “When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her,” “Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks,” and my personal favorite: “Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.” Predictably, not everyone was pleased. Silverman’s feed was crowded with comments, plenty complaining that the list was offensive or unfair to men.
@dezzyboe yeah it’s extremely offensive. It implies that it’s common for men to think about ways to rape girls, when that’s nonsense
— Zac Lee (@Zaclee_nyc) March 21, 2015
While it’s true, of course, that not all men commit rape or would ever consider doing so, the reaction seems to miss the point. Rape is depressingly common: In 2011, a national survey found that 1 in 5 American women reported having suffered a sexual assault.
The list Silverman shared has been cheered by advocates frustrated by prevention campaigns that still suggest women who dress or behave in a certain way or drink too much are at least partly to blame for their assaults. The fact that these PSAs are often devised by government agencies and even police departments is particularly galling.
Besides promoting the illogical assumption that rape victims somehow deserve it, these campaigns do nothing to address the underlying causes of rape. Rape is not about sex, it’s about power and violence—meaning no amount of restrictive curfews or dress codes will stop rapists from raping.
We will never reduce sexual violence if perpetrators are allowed to hide behind language that implicitly or explicitly blames victims. The simple fact underlined by the list Silverman tweeted is that rape is a choice—one that the rapist makes.