What Scipione should have said

11 Oct

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.


6 Responses to “What Scipione should have said”

  1. paul walter October 11, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    I agree they’re entitled to say they ought to have equality of access the same of the rest of us.
    Your problem seems to much the same of mine (the piece is is about differentiating blame from responsibility), some times also other well meaning folk like Scipione, who probably share and feel concern as to women’s concerns as to being out at night in a roughhouse society; other wise why expend thought on practical ideas for defence against the wolves in our unreconstructed society, gets caught in the crossfire as some women react angrily to problems women face having a night out.
    As the 4 Corners episode on state sanctioned slave knocking shops (different but arguably related) demonstrated, some sick and cruel things go down when it comes to women, at worst.


  2. Sam Jandwich October 12, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    “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.”

    I don’t agree. I think the fact that Mr Scipione didn’t say this is because he takes it as given that there is a cultural belief that rape, or even attempted coercion or cajoling into sex, is deeply wrong – but that the risk still exists in spite of this, and so it’s necessary to ask that people take every precaution to prevent it. I think he is coming from a place where he feels that to have to say that “rape is wrong” is to degrade society, as it would infer that reasonable, well-balanced people can’t figure this out for themselves – and if that were the case then what would be the point in even trying to work for the betterment of society (because as we all well know there’s no place for sheep). I feel as though there is plenty of information out there in the form of public education campaigns etc so that even the most media-eschewing isolationist would have enough information to figure out that men should be equally responsible – and I think that “Skippy” is making his statements against this contextual background

    Sometimes it scares me how angry I get when people like the writer of News With Nipples state so vehemently that they see an implicit sinister meaning in such statements – or to put it another way, to assume, wrongly, that they know better what the person is saying than the person who said the thing originally (though I wonder whether perhaps that’s because my own mother was very good at doing that;-). But equally I think the most interesting thing about this whole kettle of fish is that this perception exists at all – and with my newly-indoctrinated child protectionist hat on I wonder whether this perception is an indication of the extent of unresolved childhood trauma in the community. I think there’s always more to thought than rationality, and I think that the lack of faith and trust in other people demonstrated by those who claim “he’s blaming the victim” has to come from some significant failure of caregivers to provide for their emotional needs in early life, and a subsequent cynicism about people’s motivations. Interesting theory anyway…


    • Jennifer Wilson October 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

      Yes, I agree with you that Scipione ( and anyone else) would likely not even think it necessary to explain that rape is a criminal offense and deeply wrong. At the same time, I do think there is a a lingering belief in some quarters that women have to control men. I glean this from listening to some women around me talk about their male partners. It profoundly annoys me to hear women infantalize men, however, many still do, and one of the forms that takes is to frame men as overgrown boys and women as mature responsible adults who have to pick up their slack.

      What puzzles and horrifies me even more is an attitude that seems quite prevalent across the board, that men can be persuaded to do things, usually domestic chores, if you give them sex. I remember hearing a self-described feminist advising women to “close up shop” if their male partners didn’t do their share of the housework. I couldn’t believe my ears. Sex between people who love one another reduced to a bargaining chip to get the washing up done? Why aren’t the MTR brigade protesting about that travesty?

      I seem to be developing a serious Twitter habit and it’s all David Horton’s fault. I need a pre-commitment thing. More than so many tweets per day and my privileges are taken away.

      And now I have a Skype habit, that’s my family’s fault, and Telstra tell me my iPhone has left the warehouse. Now and then there’s a fool such as I. Somebody help me.


      • Sam Jandwich October 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

        Surely if an iPhone was that good it should just be able to zap itself to your place, instead of relying on the in-comparison antiquated postal service. Quite an existential dilemma when you think about it.

        And yes – controlling men, witholding sex etc – to me that doesn’t sound like a relationship; more a state of mutual exploitation. Have you ever read Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook? It was “recommended” to me by an infamous ex-girlfriend and self-described feminist, supposedly as a treatise on the machinations of relations between men and women. To my mind it’s a treatise on what happens when people who are no longer capable of love decide they need intimacy, and instead it turns into a mutually exploitative, self-destructive mess. It saddens me to realise that a lot of women seem to relate to that book, but actually a lot of the relationships I’ve seen tend to play out that way – hence the need for controls and rewards.

        Still, it seems there’s very little people won’t do to avoid being lonely… Does Twitter help? 🙂


        • Jennifer Wilson October 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

          I read the Golden Notebook years ago – I do like your synopsis, makes me want to fish it out and read it again.
          Twitter is really scary. If I was lonely it would make me suicidal.
          Actually, the loneliest I’ve ever been in my life was in a marriage.


  3. paul walter October 12, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    Sam Jamwich, there is no end or permutations when it comes to these behaviours amongst people-men do it to women, too, some times out of ignorance or carelessness, sometimes in a performance designed to “punish” a partner by employing coercion and then excess “speed” in the performance to rob a partner of her share of the dividend, in terms of fulfillment.
    The ultimate depiction of the sexual battle field, at its absolute worst, showed up on 4 Corners the other night. That’s how low it can get with people.


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