Stop blaming the victim

‘Ladies, if you wear low-cut tops I will look down at them. If this is a problem, don’t wear them!’ tweeted @davidfaux the other day in 140-characters since deleted.

The sentiment at first is laughable, until the implications of that simple opinion are considered. If you’re wearing a low-cut top, it’s your fault that you feel uncomfortable and that people are ogling. As I replied to @davidfaux, ‘Women must change their behaviour but you won’t?’

Fifty men at a taxi rank in Johannesburg thought the same last year about a woman wearing a mini skirt. They acted like a short skirt was an invitation to grope and harass her; they were helpless at the glimpse of her thigh, their actions not their own responsibility.

Victim-blaming is the common term for it: laying the blame for the actions of the attacker at the feet of the attacked. It is a term used most commonly with rape victims. As the Saartjie Baartman Centre wrote in 2006, only one in nine women come forward and report that they were raped. No wonder. Most anti-rape campaigns centre around the principle ‘don’t get raped’ rather than the thought ‘don’t rape’. A recent campaign by the West Mercia police force in the UK received a lot of criticism for such sentiment.

The problem is that the onus is placed on women. Cover your breasts – men are helpless at the sight of breasts. If you wear a short skirt, you’re asking to be harassed. If you get drunk, no wonder someone took advantage of you.You were being completely irresponsible. This applies from the ankle peeking under a burqa to gaping cleavage.

Of course one must act responsibly, as an article on Vagenda points out – leaving your house unlocked in a dangerous area is not ‘asking to get burgled’ (an analogy used in the article), but it is still better to lock your house and look after the key than otherwise.

Despite the truth of that sentiment, rape, sexual harassment and general rudeness are not the fault of the people on the receiving end of such behaviour.

We live in a country where our President was acquitted of rape. One of the statements made by Zuma’s defence was that wearing a kanga (a wrap-around cloth) ‘had provoked the sexual encounter,’ as the BBC wrote. We live in a world where comedians think it’s funny to joke about women getting gang-raped. We live in a world where women are victimised constantly.

The sad truth is that women are more vulnerable because physically, we are weaker (that’s why we compete in separate events in the Olympics). Societally, women are earning less. As transgender biologist Joan Roughgarden (now Jonathan; he completed his transition in 1998) from Stanford says in the Wall Street Journal, ‘[Women] have to establish competence to an extent that men never have to. They’re assumed to be competent until proven otherwise, whereas a woman is assumed to be incompetent until proven otherwise’ The list goes on. So casual statements like ‘If you wear a low-cut top, I’m going to stare at them [you better change your clothes so I don’t have to control myself]’ aren’t actually that casual after all.

So people, come on. August is Women’s Month. Let’s try, at least for thirty days, to show a little respect.