September 3, 2014

My Middle-Aged White Lady Perspective: Victim Blaming

I'm going to step into another fray, I'm sure, but that's OK.  Tonight, instead of politics, let's talk about political correctness. Specifically the kind that relates to bad things that most often happen to young women, and what we are or are not allowed to say about those bad things to young women.

Date rape and sexual assault, with or without intentional ingestion of alcohol or drugs. Sexting. Revenge porn.  Nude photos shared without permission. There are probably more but these are the most frequent situations that I see where what was once known as sage advice has now become victim blaming.

  • Example: suggesting to young women that the biggest thing they can do to protect themselves is to not get drunk at a party, or certainly that they not get so drunk as to not know what's going on.
  • Example: suggesting to young women - even tweens -- that they should not take sexually explicit pictures of themselves. And they should not send any such pictures, should they fail to listen to the first part. To anyone. Even friends. Even the cute kid in study hall. Never to the cute kid in study hall. 
  • Example: suggesting that, if you're old enough to make your own decisions (or if you have no advisers helping you make good decisions, or if you have bad advisers helping you), you shouldn't put nude or semi-nude or explicit pictures into photo-storing websites, even ones run by reputable companies.
  • Example: suggesting that you don't walk home alone at night, or take shortcuts down dark alleys, or do any of the other things we know are stupid when we see them on scary movies. 
I'm not sure how we got to the point where this kind of advice, the kind that caring parents readily gave their daughters, from an early age, is now considered to be victim-blaming.  From my middle-aged white lady perspective, it would be neglectful at the very least if parents - mom and dad, two moms, two dads, doesn't matter - didn't have these heartfelt conversations with their daughters, regularly.

I heard my generation's version of this, in elementary school and high school, the message increasing in specificity as I got older. I heard it at college, where we were all given rape whistles as part of our welcome kits. I heard it at work, about not walking to the parking lot alone. I heard it from friends when we were out, about not ditching the group and leaving with someone. I heard it from my older brothers, about not being stupid. And when I didn't listen and was stupid, my friends got on my case, as I got on theirs when they were stupid. Because we knew that we were our own best defense, and we weren't afraid to remind each other of that.  

In the modern world, when date rape, sexual assault, sexting gone wrong, revenge porn, or hacking of personal photos happen, and perpetrators are identified, they go through the system and are punished if found guilty. The victims, they are punished no matter what. 

In an ideal world, though, these things wouldn't happen at all, because personal privacy and boundaries would be respected, and no one would think it was reasonable to forcibly take things that did not belong to them, or things that were not offered freely and clearly without chemical interference, and so on. And there wouldn't be a need to remind young women to protect themselves, to be their own best defense. 

But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where these kinds of acts are all too common, and where real victim-blaming occurs in the name of finding justice. Where paparazzi are ever more boldy going where no man has gone before to snap the 'gotcha' shot of a lifetime. Where careers are built on leaked sex tapes. 

Where men, feeling guilty about looking at stolen pictures of breasts, buttocks and vaginas, assuage their guilt by trying to donate money to a prostate cancer charity (always being true to their school, if you will), and where we learned today, stars and wannabe stars under the age of 18 have had nude photos stolen, potentially subjecting countless voyeurs to child pornography charges.  (The charity rejected the money, by the way; and there are lots of scared boys and men out there trying to delete the pictures they downloaded before they get in real trouble).

Protect yourself. The best thing you can do is control your own destiny as much as possible, because no one else is going to do that for you. 

That's not blaming. That's good advice.