I've been thinking a lot this semester about advice I get from concerned friends and relatives, especially after the string of assaults this past summer. I got a can of pepper spray and a whistle from my aunt, and countless people warn me against walking home alone. I think I can safely say that nearly every college-aged woman hears this kind of thing (along with "don't drink too much,""watch what you wear," etc). I get it. This advice is nothing but well-intentioned. It's coming from a place of love and concern, and I appreciate the sentiment. I really do. But what I don't appreciate is how this advice is part of our culture that nearly always teaches "don't get raped" instead of "don't rape."
A commenter on the blog Jezebel posted the following in response to a story about an awesome campaign in the UK to finally send out the message "don't rape." This was in response to the comment by adventure!: "This is highly refreshing in a sea of 'don't wear that sort of clothing, don't get drunk, don't flirt with dudes, don't walk alone, close your windows at night, wear a chastity belt, carry a gun with you everywhere you go, live in a plastic bubble, etc.'" BIP_Roberts' comment really sums up my feelings about why this kind of advice is problematic.
I agree with you 1000%, so don't misconstrue anything I say following
The problem with that kind of advice isn't that it's not somewhat legitimate, it's that a)it mischaracterizes the more common occurances of rape, and b) it's presentation as a public service highlights the victim-blaming portion of the advice.
One, this kind of advice is stranger-rape-centric and stranger-rape is far less common than non-stranger-rape.
But, the victim-blaming aspect of that kind of advice is kind of based on a false dichotomy. In essence and intent, such advice is really just saying "be careful." It's saying you can do things to help minimize the likelihood that you are victimized. Let's take this out of the rape realm for a second to a less loaded analogy. If I told my new hip hop superstar buddy, hey, it might not be a good idea to wear that $60K to the projects, I'm not sure people would leap out of their seats in outrage.
It does not unilaterally follow that because you can do things to minimize the likelihood of you being victimized, if you do get victimized it is because you failed to sufficiently guard against that.
The fact that people are so sensitive to the victim-blaming undertone of this advice is due to the larger victim-blaming culture that surrounds rape in general. There are other analogous pieces of advice that aren't called out as victim blaming (don't flash your jewelry in the hood, eat right and exercise to prevent a heart attack) not because analogous advice isn't given, but because there isn't as strong a culture of victim blaming around these issues in general.
I certainly agree with everything BIP_Roberts says, but I would add another point. For me, hearing this kind of advice is just a constant reminder that I, as a woman (and especially as a young woman in college), am likely to be attacked. Not more likely than not, but it is far from a vanishing chance. Our culture that accepts rape, excuses its perpetrators and blames its survivors victimizes women in many ways. We are attacked, we are forced to live our lives with caution and fear, and then we are constantly reminded by those around us that we should be afraid. As a SAPAC volunteer, I am part of the movement to change the big ones, but as an individual the least I can do is change the latter. I would rather my family and friends not constantly remind me to be afraid, remind me that I am not safe and remind me that those around me have been victimized.
I guess my argument is that if people really took rape as seriously as it need be taken and address rape culture head on, reminders to "be careful" wouldn't carry so much baggage. ...This is just a symptom of the larger disease.
So, thank you for caring about me enough to want me safe. It's wonderful to be so loved, but please stop the advice like this.
-Emily, NPA Volunteer.