Monday, June 08, 2009

He was asking for it

Here's a thought experiment.

A man, smaller than average, less strong than average, walks down a street in the evening in a dangerous part of town. He's dressed in an expensive suit, wearing rings, Rolex showing, and he's counting a big wad of money. He is attacked, robbed of everything but his underpants, beaten severely, wakes up in the hospital, or doesn't wake up at all.

Surely no one will say that his attacker had the right to do what he did. And surely no one will say that the victim had it coming to him. Or that he was asking for it.

But surely it's proper, even while expressing sympathy for the victim, to condemn him as a damned fool. Surely it's proper to point out that human predators exist and we should be aware of them. That's not excusing the predator. That's self-defense.

(I'd like to observe in passing that many, maybe most, human predators are born, not made. Their daddies should have taught them properly? Oh, hell, their daddies probably tried their damnedest and finally gave up in despair.)

I used this invented example years ago, when I was discussing rape with a friend of mine. Unlike some people in today's blogosphere, she didn't blame all men for the rapes committed by a few. (Although she was the first person I heard express the wacko and sexist contention that all men are obligated to teach all other men how to behave.) She did, however, insist that women should be free to go wherever they want and dress however they want and be safe from attack.

And I agree. Of course they should be. Just as men should be, just as the guy in my example should be free to walk down that street, dressed as he wants, flashing his money. That's the way the world should work. It's just not the way it does work.

Most of us realize that. We start learning it when we're kids.

Well, most of us. Some kids never do. All the way up to adulthood, they expose themselves to the predators. It may be dress, it may be behavior, it may be location, it may be dating bad boys. The result can be tragic.

Pointing out the dangers isn't vindicating the guilty or blaming the victims. It's simply pointing out that we don't live in an ideal world.


Kristen said...

The only problem with this is that women are expected to "protect" themselves at all times and in all ways, or someone will come along and say, "Well, surely you shouldn't have been attacked, but...come on. Look at what you were doing."

For example, a UConn girl was sexually assaulted at a campus party a couple of years ago. She was not alone - there were many, many students in the area - and still, not one but two men approached her, one after the other, and assaulted her.

The editor of the newspaper in the area said, basically, that she shouldn't have gotten drunk and walked what's known as The Rape Trail.

Again: she wasn't alone on "The Rape Trail."

But someone still found a way to make it her fault. Silly girl shouldn't have been drinking.

If we took all the "responsible" protective measures we were told by people to take, we'd never drink, never wear anything other than a habit, and - best of all - never leave home.

I'm aware it's stupid to walk alone in a dark alley in ANY clothes, man or woman, but people do like to tell women they should have been more careful rather than first address the rapist/attacker and his behavior.

I truly believe that when attention first goes to the attackers and why men in our society see women as their automatic victims, the behavior of men will begin to change.

(To read a piece written by me and two other reporters in response to our editor, who wrote the column about the assaulted UConn girl, go here:

Leonore Dvorkin said...

" in our society see women as automatic victims"? Kristen, that is as much a wholesale and unjustified slander against men as a man saying that "all women are just sluts at heart and are asking for it no matter what they may say". Both beliefs are absurd. Sure, SOME men are violent and mistreat women and children, or are playboys or drunks or drug addicts, just as SOME women are violent and mistreat men and children, or are sluts or drunks or drug addicts or whatever else you might care to name. Neither sex has a lock on either morality or immorality, on either kindness or cruelty. Some people are good, some are bad. I have been very fortunate in my life to know many, many people of both sexes who are very kind, hardworking, honest, gentle people. I am most fortunate in having been married for 41 years to the kindest, gentlest, best person I have ever known. And guess what? He's a man!

Kristen said...

Sorry - you're right. It sounded like a generalization. It's actually our whole society that sees women as automatic victims. (Women are the victims in sex-murder mysteries and horrors, women are abused - sexually and otherwise - at an alarming rate, etc.)

It was sloppy of me to have written my post in such a way that I sounded judgmental of men. I love men, was raised by a single father, and certainly don't think they're monsters. However, there is something about our society that does put men and women in the position of abuser and abused. If sexual assaults on women, and the general marital abuse of women, were treated as something that should be an anomaly (rather than as something we're "powerless to change because that's just how some boys are raised"), I still think it would be more effective in promoting change than this current complacency.

Leonore Dvorkin said...

Actually, Kristen, unbiased statistics show that women abuse others just as often as men do. There are some terrifically violent women in our society. Ask any policeman. And surely you've seen many mothers jerking, slapping, and verbally abusing their kids in public. What more do you suppose they do in private?
I personally know women who were horribly, viciously abused by their mothers. I watched some of that as a child in Mississippi, where kids regularly got their bare legs beaten bloody by their mothers with switches from bushes, often for nothing more than "talking back."
The most vicious fight I ever saw in public was between two young women. That is, one was obviously trying to kill the other, much weaker one, smashing her face repeatedly against the side of a car, while the male onlookers stood by and did nothing. The brutal girl got away when the cops finally came. Girls often do dreadful things to other girls, tormenting them into suicide or beating them bloody -- or even getting their large, fat mothers to attack the girls who are their enemies. (I saw an online video of such an attack.)
Also, there is far more domestic FEMALE AGAINST MALE violence, and lesbian violence, than most people know about.
What we need in this society is less glorification of violence in general, perhaps starting with sports. And parents need to teach all their children, males and females, to be kinder to and more patient with each other, to solve disputes with words, vs. fists. Respect for and kindness toward each other in a sexual relationship is just a small part of the total picture. If girls would select their boyfriends based on qualities such as intelligence, kindness, and diligence, vs. looks or "manliness," they would be much better off. Handsome is as handsome does.

Kristen said...

Many good points. Thanks for giving me things to think about.