Saturday, February 26, 2011

Victim Blaming In The Courts Is Alive and Well

Man, I gotta stop thinking Canada is some liberal, egalitarian wonderland. A judge convicted a man of rape, but didn't sentence him to jail because the victim was sending him "signals."

Ahh yes, because that's how women communicate consent, signals! Clearly if a woman looks nice, not only is she trying to attract a man, she's trying to get him to have sex with her too. Now of course, that is sometimes the intent, but it shouldn't be the assumed intent.

One of the big problems with using "signals" to determine consent is we assume women do everything with the intention of attracting men. If I wear a skirt, it's to "show off" my legs to all the guys, and allow the guys who sit on stoops and leer at women all day a better view of my crotch. It couldn't be because I want to look good and be stay cool on a hot day. I remember someone asking me as I touched up my makeup before a school play rehearsal "who's the makeup for, Allison?" as if the only reason I was wearing only makeup was to attract someone.

We can't win when it comes to getting dressed - if we look good, we're supposedly inviting creepy guys to stare at us and make lewd comments, and we can't complain because that's what we were asking for when we put on a tank top instead of a sweatshirt. BUT if we don't look nice when we're out and about, people look at us, unable to hide the grossed out, judgmental expressions on their faces like we're disgusting excuses for women, because we're not putting enough effort into giving other people (read: men) something nice to look at.

When we go out into the public sphere to party - go to clubs, bars, parties, etc. - it's assumed we go out to meet guys and turn them on. And a lot of women play into this in the name of "empowerment," but again, just because that's usually the intention doesn't mean it should be assumed about everyone. And even if a woman is trying to attract someone, doesn't mean her attempts should be taken as consent to any intimate act with anyone.

Sadly, to this judge, they do.

The assumption that all women act the way they do with the sole purpose of attracting men ignores the women who do things for their own happiness and entertainment. It's hard to encourage such empowered behavior when it's barely ever acknowledged as normal.

Going back to an earlier post, one reason men read signals as consent is that women aren't taught to speak directly. Instead, we're socialized to be passive, subtle, and indirect in communicating with others, both men and women. When women learn to speak in code and nonverbal cues beginning in adolescence, it's no surprise when men try to all nonverbal cues as communicating something more, and when they take one thing to mean something else (for example, hearing "No" and interpreting it as "Well, I shouldn't . . ." or "Not yet, gotta try harder big boy" instead of "Put that thing away, it's not happening. Seriously."

And not to blame women for what happens to them, but it doesn't exactly help our cause when so many women say "no" and then eventually give in. Guys shouldn't be coercing women to have sex, and they should be taught that manufactured consent isn't real consent and is a form of rape, but the guys who do use those tactics typically get away with them and learn that it's okay to keep doing it. If a guy gets used to girls giving in like that, he doesn't react well to rejection.

Again, I digress. The common explanation for victim blaming is that society sees rape as a punishment for women who defy traditional restrictions on women, that they deserve to be raped if they wear revealing clothing or drink alcohol. That may be the case for some people, but most victim blaming may have a different, more modern cause. When women are taught to communicate through actions and signals rather than speak directly, that vague way of communication ends up being misinterpreted and real meanings, if an action has a hidden meaning at all, is lost in translation. Men's egos and what they are taught about sex often leads them to fill in the blanks with wishful thinking rather than reality or common sense. Sadly, women are still not being empowered to stand their ground and fight off unwanted contact, which only further normalizes rape.

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