Bloody hell but things have come to a pretty pass when people can’t tell the difference between being advised to take care of themselves, and being blamed for anything that might happen to them. The distinction between blame and responsibility is crucial and frequently misunderstood, the former usually an angry moral judgement, the latter a necessary character trait.
The fault doesn’t lie all on one side, let me hasten to add. There is a certain type of opprobrium that is all too often applied to victims of all kinds of insult and injury, as if the very fact that an offense was committed against them indicates a moral weakness on their part.
My mother was good at that: if anything happened to you it was undoubtedly your fault, and then it was even more your fault if you inconvenienced everybody by complaining about it. Anybody who’s grown up in that kind of atmosphere can be understandably touchy about being told you have to take responsibility for yourself or you’ll get what you deserve.
But these are in fact two entirely different messages. 1.It is essential to take care of yourself. 2. Being injured by another is what you deserve, because you obviously haven’t taken care of yourself like you were told in the first place.
The all too common conflation of these two vastly different pieces of information leads to trouble for people such as Andrew Scipione. Scipione recommended that young women organise a buddy system when they go out for a big night on the piss, and in particular, let a friend know if they’re planning to have sex so if they’re seen wandering off with a stranger their friends will know whether it’s by choice, or their drink’s been spiked and they’re about to enter a danger zone.
I can see problems inherent in the last bit of advice, and if the girlfriends get the vibe wrong, all sorts of trouble might ensue.
Be that as it may, many women reacted to Scipione’s recommendations with outrage, reading them as a blame the victim ploy. In other words if you get too drunk to know what you’re doing and get raped, it’s your own fault.
Personally, I don’t agree that was Scipione’s message. I understood him as saying that in certain situations there’s nobody to protect us but ourselves, and as no law enforcement agency on the planet has as yet managed to prevent rape, the reality is we have to take precautions against it. Taking all the precautions in the world might still not guarantee our safety, but we owe it to ourselves to minimise the risks.
This is entirely different from telling us it’s our fault, or that we deserve it if we haven’t taken proper care of ourselves like we were told.
The two messages come from different places in the human psyche. “Take care of yourself” is an expression of concern and care, a hope that no harm will befall you and that you will do what you can to keep yourself and others safe.
“It’s your own fault if you don’t and something happens to you” is an expression of anger, hatred, and desire to punish a victim. Usually the person expressing this point of view has serious difficulties managing their own vulnerability. Seeing vulnerability in others freaks them out, enrages them, and makes them want to inflict punishment for what they perceive as a contemptible weakness. Only the weak and stupid are victims, is the guiding principle in this attitude. I didn’t pick up that attitude in Scipione’s advice.
Nobody is ever to blame for another person’s violent and abusive actions. Perhaps public figures making pronouncements such as Scipione’s need to say this as well. Perhaps if Scipione had added that a woman is never, ever to blame if someone rapes her, that rapists are always entirely responsible for their own actions, his message might not have gone quite so askew.
The fact that he didn’t say this does indicate the presence of a deeply ingrained and largely unacknowledged cultural belief that women are expected to be more responsible than are men. That women are expected to be more in control of situations than are men, especially sexual situations. That men can’t be relied upon to behave properly so women have to do it for them.
But sexual assault is a crime, not a category of blokey irresponsible behaviour, and has to be identified as such in public discourse. By all means advise women to take care of ourselves and minimize risk. But never, ever do it without clearly acknowledging that women are not responsible for the risk of sexual assault we all have to negotiate all our lives, and that those who threaten and harm us are entirely responsible for everything they do.
- Hey Scipione, don’t lecture us on sex and booze (thepunch.com.au)