Sunday, January 6, 2013


This picture is the best illustration of my feelings on rape that I have ever seen.

While I was in the Army, a female soldier who lived in the same barracks as I did invited a fellow soldier (male) to her room, alone, at about 10:00 PM, for some drinks.  After several drinks, the man attempted to put the moves on her.  She resisted.  He attempted to force the issue: in other words, he attempted rape.  Next thing you know, we’re having endless meetings about reporting rape, lectures about responsibility and a whole lot of yelling, for weeks.  After a few days of this, everyone I know is furious…at the girl.  For being an idiot.

And she was an idiot.  Inviting a guy to your barracks room for drinks?  Alone?  When you have no intention of fucking him?  That’s dumb.  The male soldier was probably younger than 25 and almost certainly sex-starved.  Alcohol never helps these things, and an invitation back to one's room for drinks late at night is a nearly-universal code phrase for “I want to fuck you”.  Talk about mixed signals.  That girl made a stupid, terrible, almost comically bad decision.

And also, she did not deserve to get raped.  She was not “asking for it”.  This is where things break down, from both the feminist and what I’m going to call the masculine perspective, even though I know all men do not share it (any more than all women share a feminist perspective).

As a good feminist, I’m not supposed to call the girl an idiot.  She has every right to ask a man over for drinks without wanting anything more, right?  Sure, she’s got every right to do it, just like I have every right to start shouting anti-Obama slogans up and down the streets of Hyde Park, Chicago.  Free speech, right?  A thing can be both within our rights and a terrible idea.  I don’t recommend doing either thing, ever.

All my male friends got this part right—it’s a terrible idea for a woman to invite a man to your room, alone at night, for several drinks, if you’re not planning on some kind of sexual activity later.  There is no scenario in which this move does not end in some kind of unpleasantness--a fight, disappointment, awkwardness at the very least.  But a lot of them missed the second part of this equation—it doesn’t mean that the girl deserves to be raped.  The guy who cuts you off in traffic is an idiot, but doesn’t actually deserve to die in a car crash.  The rude lady at the grocery store doesn’t deserve to die of cancer.  Saying that a girl deserves to get raped for being an idiot is like saying someone deserves life in a maximum security prison for shoplifting a tube of lipstick. The punishment does not fit the crime.

Back to the picture.  This beautiful and half-naked woman is not asking to be raped.  Is it a good idea for this girl to walk around without her shirt outside of this protest?  Probably not.  But is she asking to be raped?  Definitely not.  These aren’t mutually exclusive ideas.

I like this picture because it makes people uncomfortable.  Since she’s beautiful and sexy, she inspires sexual thoughts.  “What”, say some men, “So I’m not allowed to look?”  Of course you're allowed to look.  I’ve looked at this picture a whole lot, and I’ve even thought about what it might be like to touch her, to take her to bed.  That’s fine!  You just can’t rape her.  It really is that easy.  Looking, contemplating, fantasizing is fine.  Acting without her consent would be rape, and rape is never justified.

A common response to this picture is that she’s “just looking for attention”.  Of course she is.  She’s at a protest, doing something provocative.  She is drawing attention to herself, and also to a serious problem within human cultures around the globe, including our own.  We can quibble about the exact percentage of women who have been raped in America—is it 18%14.8%16%?  Take your pick—it doesn’t matter, that’s a lot of women.  That’s so many, too many, a ridiculous number of people who have been sexually violated.  Some men seem to think that because they don’t rape anyone, because they would never rape anyone, rape isn’t an issue.  These men need to stop taking outrage against rape as a personal attack: there are a lot of men out there, and clearly some of them are rapists.  It’s a problem.  Yes, this woman is looking for attention.  Maybe we ought to pay a little bit of attention to her and her message, because no matter which rape statistic we choose, they all show that some people have clearly not gotten the memo on consent, and yes, it could be someone you know.

The most interesting comments, however, are the ones which allege that this picture is all about “shock value”.  Why does she have to be so aggressive about this?  Couldn’t she make the same point without being shocking?

Over the last few weeks, there has been a lot of reporting on the horrifying gang rape in Delhi.  A 23 year old student was violently and brutally raped for two and a half hours, beaten with an iron rod, and left to die.  After hospitalization and intensive treatment, she eventually did just that.

Does that shock you? 

Were you shocked when you read about that crime?  I’ll bet money that you were appalled, maybe sickened…but not shocked.  Let me spell this out: there are people who were shocked by a beautiful and topless woman saying that rape is wrong, but not by a brutal and murderous gang rape.  If you’re one of those people, I urge you to take a good, hard look at what the word “shocking” means to you.  Be shocked at the rape, at both, or at neither: you cannot be shocked at the woman but not at the rape without implicitly accepting that rape is more natural and acceptable than a beautiful woman with sharpie marker on her boobs.

Women do not deserve to get raped, regardless of circumstances.  All this girl is asking is that we, as a society, recognize that rape is a problem, and that the problem lies with the rapists, not with women.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Laura!

    My name is Emily Evans and I'm a journalism student at Edith Cowan University. I am very interested in what you wrote here and was hoping to get your opinions for an article I am writing on the topic of "should women cover up?" aka. dress modestly.

    The questions I would ask are as follows:

    - Who are you and what do you represent?
    - What are your beliefs concerning women and their place in society?
    - Should a woman cover up and dress modestly? Why/why not?
    - What is your opinion on the photograph you just posted and a comment which was made on facebook stating: "then again, it's like putting a meat suit on and telling a shark not to eat you"?

    I look forward to your reply!

    Thank you,

    Emily Evans​