Not even a fifty-dollar bill, at least? Really?

Posted: March 3, 2010 in feminism, rape

For my very first (real) post, I would like to talk about something awesome: rape apologism!

The inspiration to discuss this comes from this post by Amanda Hess, which is pretty great. I really have no complaints about the post itself insofar as it does exactly what it sets out to do: counter victim-blaming by carefully deconstructing the ways in which the “flash your cash around in a bad neighborhood, get robbed” analogy is terrible. I am all in favor of this approach, generally. It’s an important part of anti-rape activism.

But, you will notice that this post contains many words, far more than it would take me to simply say, “Amanda Hess wrote this post and it’s pretty great.” I kind of do have some criticism, is what I’m saying. Not with the actual content of the post, but with what these types of posts tend not to contain: an attempt to challenge the very problematic concept of “responsibility” which underlies all of these victim-blaming analogies. If only I had my own blog in which to discuss the things that I feel other bloggers are not addressing to my satisfaction!


So here’s an example of the sort of statement I routinely see go unchallenged:

You’re not to blame for being raped simply because you did X, but you need to accept responsibility for engaging in such high-risk behavior. [Insert COMPLETELY SUCKY analogy here.]

More often than not, we actually let this stand. We start arguing about why a woman’s body is not actually like a stack of twenty-dollar bills you carelessly left hanging out of your pocket (and, I mean, why does this require explanation, why), when what we should be doing is pointing out the ways in which this is a completely nonsensical thing to say.

In all fairness, this argument is a slippery little fucker. Annoyingly, it exploits our cultural fetish for the concept of personal responsibility, but more importantly, it hinges on an obfuscation of the meaning of the word “responsibility” and is difficult to respond to without engaging in a logical fallacy. After all, blame always implies responsibility, but responsibility does not always imply blame.

Success, in this case, lies in arguing that it is not functionally possible to separate the concepts of blame and responsibility when discussing a negative outcome. In that context, they’re synonymous; it’s just that responsibility does not imply blame when the outcome is positive. To say, “You’re responsible for the company reporting record profits, but you’re not to blame” sounds odd, but is not logically inconsistent. Compare that with the following: “You’re not to blame for the fact that you smoked four packs a day and now have cancer. But you are responsible for it.” We recognize that this sounds suspiciously like hair-splitting because we’re not twisting ourselves into semantic pretzels to deny that we believe, as a society, that smokers who get cancer are in fact to blame for their condition.

This all probably seems quite obvious. But I see people tripped up by it all the time.

I’d also argue that the wording of the statement itself is a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that it serves as cover for rape apologism, because it’s intentionally imprecise. It’s quite rare to hear: “You need to accept responsibility for the consequences that resulted from your high-risk behavior.” That’s a bit too bald and difficult to deny the implications of. (First rule of victim blaming: make sure no one realizes you’re actually blaming the victim!) The preferred way to phrase it is: “You need to accept responsibility for your high-risk behavior.”

Which, okay, sure. I accept responsibility for wearing a short skirt. I made that decision entirely of my own free will, of sound mind and body, etc. We’ve now concluded that I am responsible for my clothing choices: well done! In the interest of full disclosure, I’m also responsible for those horrid acid-washed jeans that I thought were the shit in 8th grade, and for wearing navy blue with black on occasion. I am all for personal responsibility!

oh I see now. What rape apologists actually want is to make me responsible for the assumed consequences of my clothing choices. I almost didn’t realize that, because of the way the sentence was constructed! This is all very clever!

Posts like Amanda’s tend to focus on how the concept of rape as a consequence for certain actions—all actions which fall neatly under the umbrella of “being around men while female”—is flawed, and that is important, so I don’t at all intend to seem dismissive of that sort of analysis. But I think it’s important not to cede rape apologists even the tiniest bit of ground. Back them into a corner. Force them to admit that they are, in fact, blaming victims for their own rapes. The more intellectually honest among them might even admit that they’re doing exactly that, because, see, twenty-dollar bills and bad neighborhoods and blah blah burble blah, at which point it’s time to deconstruct analogies. But first things first. Imprecise language is a cover; don’t let it stand.

Force it to sit in the naughty chair.



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