The late Marilyn French has often been quoted for saying that “all men are rapists”. She never actually said this, a fictional character in her book The Women’s Room did. In fact, the real sentence is: “In their relations with women, all men are rapists, that’s what they are. They rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes”.
There are of course many reasons why Marilyn French’s “all men are rapists” is taken out of context time and time again. Sadly, more often than not, it’s used to ridicule feminists and dismiss rape as some minor fact of life. This repeated kind of attitude ends up leading to study results like the one that came out last month in the UK.
The study claimed 54% of women (yes, women) thought rape victims were to blame for their attacks. Over one in ten (and one in four of the 18-24 year olds) said that dancing provocatively, flirting, wearing revealing clothing, accepting a drink or having a conversation with the rapist made the victims “partly responsible”.
As for the men, one in three of them claimed they didn’t think it was rape if they made their partner have sex when they didn’t want to, and 13 % admitted to having had sex with a partner too drunk to know what was happening. (And why shouldn’t they? After all, in 2005, a UK High Court set the tone by throwing out the case of a student raped while she was drunk and unconscious, stating: “drunken consent is still consent”).
In other words, rape happens, deal with it. You’re probably to blame for it if/when it happens to you anyway. And, above all, do not expect pity from other women. This is nothing new. As the Marilyn French character also said in The Women’s Room: “Most women don’t want to know much about rape. It’s men who are interested in it. Women try to ignore it, try to pretend the victims asked for it. They don’t want to face the truth.”
When I was 20 years old, I did a short internship at a TV station. The only person there who was nice to me was a sports reporter. He took me with him when he did interviews and I was flattered when he asked me out for lunch on my last day. At the restaurant, he held my hand and showed me his press card. I was impressed (and yes, inexperienced in many ways). On our way out, he suggested we have coffee at his place, just a block away. I acquiesced without hesitation to be polite but also because I was interested in seeing how he lived. We hadn’t even kissed so I did not for one moment imagine that we were going to his place for anything else than coffee.
The moment he closed his door, he changed dramatically. Two minutes later, I was pinned to the floor and he was telling me to shut up. He said no one could hear me because the neighbours were all at work. When he’d finished assaulting me, he stood up, zipped his pants and told me I’d better leave because he had a scheduled game of tennis.
I left with my ripped shirt and torn self and wandered around aimlessly for hours before finding a train home. And I did something terribly stupid: I didn’t talk about what had happened to anyone for over six months. I believed I was responsible for what had taken place because I had gone home with him for coffee. I felt guilty for not having been able to fight him off. I felt incredibly stupid for having lain there helplessly instead of punching him.
I ran into my assailant less than a year later at a sports event we both were covering. He couldn’t understand why I told him to go away when he came over and started chatting, assuring me that he remembered what had happened between us “fondly”, as “a tender moment”. To this day I remember his smile when he said it, and to this day I hate myself for not having shut him up.
When I finally started talking about what I’d been through with my closest friends, I found out many of them had been sexually assaulted too, some in ways and at ages a lot worse. They didn’t like talking about it though and none of them had reported it because they somehow felt they were accountable for what had happened. As the eminent Dr Freda Adler says “Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused”.
And that is what women – and men – are still being brought up by society to believe. Rape is still pretty much “allowed”, the majority of rapes are not reported and of those who are, only one in 14 ends in a conviction (in the UK). It’s even widely allowed to laugh about it. There are t-shirts on sale saying things like “It’s not rape if you yell surprise”, “Sometimes no means yes”, “It’s not rape if she blinks twice for yes”, “Anti-abortion but pro-date-rape”, “Wanna go 50/50 on a rape charge?” or (the female version) “No means no… Well maybe if I’m drunk”.
One of six American women has experienced an attempted or completed rape. A woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read. In India, a rape takes place every 25 minutes. Are these violated women (and girls) to blame? Never. Not even if they’re drunk, if they’re wearing a short dress or if they’ve been friendly to their assailant(s). Never.
Today – March 8 – is International Women’s Day. As every year, there will be thousands of people – men and women – who will make jokes about it, about obsolete feminists and about how there is not much left worth to fight for. But there is. And we should.