It is time we stopped blaming women for rape, says Cecilia Chan after reading about a proposal to change the type of uniform worn by schoolgirls because it is deemed to be “a source of distraction for men who are drawn to it”.
This week I read that in France a woman is raped every two hours. During the time it took me to prepare and eat a pleasant meal with family and friends, it is likely that at least one woman was raped.
I also read with great disgust a recent article that appeared in The Star which blared ‘Women Who Are Raped Asked For It’. The article about changing school uniform is ludicrous and insulting to both men and women. National Islamic Students Association Vice President Munirah Bahari proudly proclaimed that, “The white blouse is too transparent for girls and it becomes a source of attraction, it becomes a source of distraction for men who are drawn to it, whether or not they like looking at it.”
What broke my heart most is the fact that this statement comes from the mouth of a woman. It echoes what we have been so arduously trying to eradicate, the blaming on women for rape and violence. When such remarks come from a woman, it is like pouring salt on a raw wound; the pain is hence compounded.
I still cannot forget the intense shock I suffered when I was attending a meeting organised by the Perak State Women, Family and Community Development. It was supposedly a meeting to discuss grants available for the various activities for women. I was caught by such surprise when a gentlemen remarked, “We should call for a ban on Malaysian advertisements of shampoo because they expose women’s hair and also change the uniform for the girls because when the students get wet in the rain, it clings to their body and this invites rape. What I suggest is that we consider ‘waterproof material’ for girls.”
What is more shocking is the response from the women who attended the meeting who merely just nodded their heads as though in great shame of the crime we women have committed.
If we women condone such blame, then why are we complaining?
I often wonder how is it that seldom do people hold those robbed responsible for getting robbed, or those murdered responsible for getting murdered. If we made such statements as a matter of routine, our sanity would be questioned. Yet, it isn’t at all uncommon to blame women for getting raped. Rape is a violent crime and incurs serious physical injury and mental trauma.
Ludicrous criteria such as the amount and type of clothing worn, the moral character, caste, class, and the marital status of the victim (married women can’t report their husbands) are never applied to other violent crimes. But this is exactly the kind of laughable reasoning applied to rape cases. The fact that rape consists of sexual abuse in addition to physical and emotional abuse, should make rape a crime harder to get away with, not easier.
It hurts me so deeply to see how women internalise their own oppression, that we actually believe these lies that we are told all our lives: if only she hadn’t worn that; if only she hadn’t been alone, or out so late or forgot to bring her umbrella and got caught in the rain; if only she had been so careless, she wouldn’t have been raped.
How do we let everyone forget that this isn’t a matter regarding “a woman was raped”? Who the hell did the raping? No. She wasn’t passively raped by some mysterious force. A man raped her. It’s not “if only she had been more careful”. It’s not the revealing dress you’re wearing or the shoes you can’t run fast in. It’s the act of the rapist. It’s “if only that man hadn’t been a rapist”.
Men are not mindless creatures at the mercy of their desires, but intelligent adults capable of delaying gratification, capable of resisting temptation, capable of respecting women. Men are not lascivious beasts just as women are not dangerous temptresses and it is about time we stopped propagating the set of stereotypes that underpins this kind of thinking.
If I were a man, I would feel offended if the behaviour of some violent men was generalised as reflecting all men. To believe that men’s violence against women is a natural act, that all men are abject creatures at the mercy of their hormones, compelling them to uncontrollable acts of sexual atrocities at the sight of female flesh is a specious view of male sexuality. It deprives all men of their rational and moral agency and places them at par with sociopaths.
If male sexuality were so unmanageable, almost every male would be a potential rapist. Therefore, to excuse some men’s violence by dressing it up as a biological argument that applies to all men does disservice to the vast majority of men who are not rapists.
It is certainly time we stopped blaming women for rape. For one thing, it is an insult to the intelligence of men.
Cecilia Chan belongs to the Perak Women For Women group.