14 Jun 2011

I'm appalled that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a woman who has spent a great deal of time admirably taking to task Islamic fundamentalism and its shitty treatment of women, seems to be adopting the exact mindsets of those who believe sexual violence is - at least partly - the fault of the victim. But that's exactly what she seems to have done in her article in Monday's Independent, "How does dressing like a 'slut' help protect women?". It's the kind of knee-jerk victim-blaming and rape apologist tactics that I'd expect to find in The Daily Mail, and is therefore especially worrying when you consider that it's actually from a supposedly enlightened, liberal woman. Firstly, Alibhai-Brown lazily stereotypes and wilfully misunderstands the concept of Slutwalk, declaring that it consisted of women "dressed to pull...in uplifted bras, thongs, Playboy outfits", ignoring those who marched in jeans and jumpers, or those who held up signs saying that the latter is exactly what they were wearing when they were raped, and posing the question "...did I deserve it?". If you believe Alibhai-Brown, the answer goes something along the lines of "less than those naive tarts who wore miniskirts".

It's disconcerting to see an intelligent woman buy so thoroughly into the victim-blaming trend by not only equating 'provocative' dress with invitation to rape, but even going so far as to defend the Toronto policeman who inadvertently triggered the whole Slutwalk phenomenon with his comments. "Surely he was only saying women need to be sharp and savvy?". Um, no Yasmin. He wasn't saying that at all. He was perpetuating several gross, offensive and repeatedly disproved myths, those being that:

1) Rapists are not really responsible for their actions

2) Rape is just really sexual desire that gets out of control

3) Rape is only committed by strangers in dark alleys who leap upon scantily-clad women.

I've written about why those three statements don't stand up to scrutiny so much that I can barely be bothered to repeat myself, but it seems that the message still isn't getting through. How can Alibhai-Brown acknowledge that "women in burkas...are still as likely to be victims as the flesh-flashing demonstrators" in one breath, then go on to lay the blame for sexual violence solely at the feet of those very 'flesh flashers', in the next? How can she believe that rape is caused by the "flesh-baring daily dress...sex mime" if it happens just as much TO WOMEN WHO COVER EVERY INCH OF THEIR FLESH!?!?

She tries to dodge criticism by playing the class and race card, claiming that Slutwalk is the premise of pampered middle class ignoramuses with nothing better to do than patronise 'true' victims, and speculating that "there weren't many women on the march who have endured domestic rape or have been trafficked." Well Yasmin, how would any of us be able to find that out, considering one of the main problems surrounding rape is how its victims are forced into silence and shame by attitudes not dissimilar to your own? Bafflingly, she then brings in a story of an African cleaner being sexually abused by her British employer, as if to imply that Slutwalk is somehow an insult to 'real' rape victims, who presumably have to be poor, downtrodden, and definitely not wearing anything sexy, to qualify.

Although Alibhai-Brown claims to understand that rape is a heinous crime whether committed by Gaddafi's henchmen in Libya, "by soldiers in the Congo, [or] by civilian blokes in the home and on the streets", her words elsewhere in the article directly contradict this. In fact, it's less an article than an incoherent mish-mash of grotesque stereotypes and unsupported statements such as "there is more evidence that drunkenness among young women (and their revealing clothing in some cases) make them vulnerable to sexual assault". I'd really like to see the 'evidence' that supports that massively loaded statement - and I'd also like to hear what Alibhai-Brown thinks makes toddlers and grandmothers vulnerable to sexual assault, seeing as she seems to believe that rape victims are somehow guilty of collusion in their assault.

As I've said a wearisome number of times before, the blaming of a scrap of material or a glimpse of thigh for a man forcing his penis into a woman's vagina, anus or mouth, is not just bizarre and offensive because of what it says about women. It's also because of what it says about men. A-B seems content to believe that the modern world and all its provocative accoutrement has resulted in a society where "even more men seem to defile babies and toddlers, their own teenager children and partners, and violate innocent females, the elderly included" (ah. So there are SOME 'innocent' victims, are there Yasmin? How old, young or covered by cloth does one have to be to qualify exactly?). Her thinking seems to be that, as hemlines have shortened, men's brains have short-circuited, and rape and violence have increased because these middle class bitches just won't keep their cleavages covered. Wow. If men really are as basically-wired and easily provoked to violate a woman as Alibhai-Brown seems to think, isn't there a fairly strong argument for institutionalising, electronically tagging, blinding or at least castrating the lot of them?
But funnily enough, I'm not someone who wants to do that. I do believe the majority of men to be intelligent, logical and in possession of reason, and strangely enough, as a Slutwalker's placard pointed out, not compelled to commit rape by mere items of clothing (or lack thereof). Rape is entirely caused by the decision of vile, sadistic individuals, who are not just 'overly horny' or 'a bit too rough in the bedroom' or 'unable to control themselves'. Quite the opposite - they are calculating, cruel and determined to inflict pain and humiliation on a woman, and know that forcibly penetrating her body is an effective way to do it. No one rapes just because they got too aroused at the sight of an expanse of uncovered leg. They do it for the same reason they would defecate on a person - to shame, subordinate and silence them.

So Yasmin, please adopt some silence of your own until you can abandon your scarily right-wing woman-hating attitude, and consider that perhaps there is some truth to the statement that "rape predates miniskirts". None of us are naive enough to believe, or propagate the belief, that the world is safe for women. That was never the point of Slutwalk. The point was to say that the world SHOULD be safe for women, and no one should ever stop trying to make it that way, and a world in which rape is excused and accepted is a world which can never be excused and never be accepted. My last words to Yasmin, and your charming (interestingly all male) supporters who followed your article with letters to the Independent proclaiming that "The feelings aroused in men are something over which they have no control" and "If those women...don't want to be mistaken for prostitutes, they shouldn't wear the uniform" (because it's fine to rape prostitutes, isn't it chaps?) can only be another slogan from a Slutwalk placard: 100% OF RAPES ARE CAUSED BY RAPISTS.

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