Earlier this week, Serena Williams made some seriously victim-blamey statements about the Steubenville Jane Doe. She apologized, but the apology wasn’t exactly spot-on. I wrote about it in my Guardian column this week, arguing that Williams’ comments were beyond the pale, but they’re part of a bigger cultural problem. The full piece is here; a snippet is below the fold.
In a political and cultural climate so hostile to women, and so toxic for rape victims, is it any surprise that a whole lot of women would like to convince ourselves that we can avoid rape if we’re good girls who make the right choices?
That’s what Serena Williams’ comments come down to: an assumption that rape happens because a woman makes a mistake. She’s hardly the first to make that argument. Even people who claim to want to end rape and advocate for safety do the same things when they tell girls and women not to walk outside alone, not to wear particular articles of clothing, not to drink too much, never to accept a drink from anyone else, and on and on. That advice doesn’t just put the onus on women to avoid normal behavior like walking in public or going out with friends; it fundamentally misstates the reality of most rapes, which are disproportionately perpetrated by someone the victim knows, usually in her home or theirs.
It’s more convenient, though, to imagine a rapist as a scary stranger rather than a classmate, a friend or even a romantic partner. Our cultural narrative about rape implies that women are at risk if we leave our homes, which handily fits into a conservative ideal about where women belong. Women and girls are raised with that pervasive sense of vulnerability. Of course we want to personally escape from it. Of course we want to believe that the power to avoid tragedy befalling us is entirely in our own hands.