Tuesday, March 13, 2007

asking for it

I really hate Cosmopolitan and all those other You're Ugly And Wrong magazines.

The perpetuation of knight in shining armour myths, the focus of attention on to every last physical detail of a woman's body and how the reader can improve theirs (message; it needs improving you scuzzy blemished worthless git).

But as if this wasn't enough to undermine womens' self-confidence, there's a full-page advert in this month's (and presumably elsewhere too), placed by the UK government.

Government rape awareness ad

I can't explain how fucking furious this makes me. I wanted to tear the magazine out of the hands of the woman on the train, brandish it and shout at the whole fucking carriage.

Didn't we sort this one out a generation ago? The idea that if she was wearing a short skirt she wasn't necessarily asking to be raped? That maybe women have the right to do what they want and if a man feels unable to control his violent sexual urges then it's him that has the problem?

I have no reason to doubt that one in three rapes happens when the victim has been drinking. But in making that the only statement of the advert they are implying something. That if she had not been drinking it mightn't have happened. That therefore her drinking must take some of the blame. That, as the person who administered the drink, she bears that blame.

Why stop there? When is the Home Office going to follow this one with other pertinent facts?

Most rapes happen when the victim has a vagina.

Most rapes happen when the victim has spoken to a man that day.

Most rapes happen to women who don't lock themselves away in their rooms, scared to go out, scared of anything and everything.

Most rapes happen to women who don't sit in a chastity belt until rescued by a knight on a white charger.

Most rapes, for that matter, happen to women who own socks. But neither the socks, nor their choice to drink, is to blame.

If the victim has been drinking, is it conceivable that the rapist has been drinking too? That alcohol's well-documented unleashing of pent-up aggression in the attacker should be more to blame?

It is the attacker's psychology and behaviour that needs changing here. Fuck a government that implies otherwise and tries to scare women out of enjoying their lives by making them responsible for someone else's intolerable actions.

A woman has a right to drink. She doesn't have to 'know her limits'. She has a right to get absolutely fucking bladdered if she wants to, and to do it without fear of rapists.


Unknown said...

I wish I could hug you! xx

Anonymous said...

Aw hell, I'm going to disagree with the premise of this piece. And of course that makes me look like I'm saying "it's the victim's fault". Which I'm not. I'll trust, Merrick, that you know me well enough to realise that's not where I'm coming from. But for others reading this, let me state upfront and without any catches or loopholes...

If a woman doesn't clearly consent to sex, then it's rape and the rapist is 100% responsible. The woman shares zero percent of the blame.

OK? And that's not just a 'get out clause'. I firmly and unequivocally believe that is the case.

Now the controversial bit. Except it's not fricking controversial! (or shouldn't be)

Firstly I'm assuming that the facts are accurate... a third of rapes occur when the victim has been drinking. If that is the case, it is quite possible that rape advisory services and/or the police believe that partial or total incapacitation due to alcohol may potentially play a factor in the rape. Certainly that's the implication of the advert, right?

What factor might it play? Well, it could be that a potential rapist might specifically target a woman who appears very inebriated. Why? Firstly it's likely that a drunk woman will put up less of a struggle than a sober one. Secondly it's likely that a drunk woman will have more difficulty remembering the details of the events and her attacker. And a rapist may be aware that -- if caught -- his victim will make a less reliable witness because of that.

(And neither of those are specific to women... drunk men are physically uncoordinated and suffer memory loss too)

To me that poster is actually saying to women: "Look, turns out rapists are more likely to prey on you if you're pissed. So be careful when you are." If that's a statement of fact, then it seems to me that the authorities have a duty to make it known.

Let me provide an analogy (not a direct comparison, but it comtains the same logical point)...

Imagine the authorities become aware that a serial rapist is active in a certain park in your town. They know therefore, that until they catch the bastard, if a woman walks alone through that park at night, she greatly increases her chances of being raped (over and above the chance should she walk around the park).

A poster campaign informing women of this fact does not imply that a woman in that park is to blame for any attack that might occur. It's providing information so that women can make a better informed decision on which route to walk.

The mere idea that the authorities should say "well, every woman has a right to walk through that park, so we won't make it known that it'll increase their chance of rape if they do" is a very strange one.

I hate the fact that I live in a world where a woman getting drunk makes herself a target of evil scum. But if we do live in that world, I'm flabbergasted that anyone should seek to deny women that piece of information.

Anyways, please don't take this as anything other than an alternate interpretation of the advert.

I don't think people are to blame if they catch sexually transmitted diseases. But nor do I think an advert saying "if you don't wear a condom, you're more likely to get AIDS" is suggesting that. It's just providing information so that we can all make better decisions.

My sister goes out drinking most weekends. Of course she has the right to get bladdered and return home unmolested. But if she's planning on it being a serious session she'll make sure she's in the company of a couple of friends. And that's not an acknowledgement of partial blame, it's just a damn sensible thing to do.


A woman has a right to drink. She doesn't have to 'know her limits'. She has a right to get absolutely fucking bladdered if she wants to, and to do it without fear of rapists.
Yes. But given that there are rapists, is it not sensible to let women know what factors may increase their risk?

Also, no woman 'has' to know her limits. But every woman should. And every man should. Whether it's alcohol or crack cocaine, being advised to know your limits is just common sense. Nowt to do with rape or with what sex the person is... knowing your limits (even if only so that you have the choice as to when you want to exceed them) is something I've been preaching ever since I took far too much acid one night when I was 16.

Didn't stop me doing acid. Didn't stop me exceeding my limits. But I like that decision to be in my hands.

Anonymous said...

when i was a teenager i was raped by a very good friend cos i was pissed out of my skull, as ididn't know my limits.
i don't really think a poster would have helped in this case, and i do agree with merrick, the poster heavily implies it is your fault for getting pissed. it has taken me so many years to realise this was not true.

merrick said...


I agree that if there were a rapist in the park then the authorities are duty-bound to inform people. But that's not a fair analogy. This is like saying women shouldn't go in parks, how anywhere out of doors is a possible rapist safari park.

I think the creation of an ongoing climate of fear among women, not based on the individual threats of the kind you cite but in a generalised and permanent way, is hugely disempowering and entrenches the power relationships that create rapists.

It's not a black and white issue, but there is a disturbing subtext in the warnings that puts the responsibility on to women. It's like the way muslim blokes explain making women cover themselves up because otherwise men will become so uncontrollably aroused that they'll be driven to acts of sexual violence. I think the onus is on the men not to rape rather than the women to hide.

The context of Cosmo - very very deep into making women self-hate and feel wrong for just being women - really emphasises that subtext.

no woman 'has' to know her limits. But every woman should

Poor phrasing on my part there, sorry. The use in the advert isn't so much 'know your limits' so much as 'stay within them'; my response is that, contrary to the real message of the advert, every woman has the right to exceed her limits and not be blamed for people who take advantage of that state to sexually violate her.

Anonymous said...

I understand your anger at this advertisement, but you have missed the point. This ad does not imply any blame or shift any guilt towards the woman for being drunk.
Every rape is a tragedy, so lets do all we can to protect ourselves. Leave sorting out the rapists for the government, the police and God.

I support this ad, as it is only concerned for women's safety and health.

merrick said...


This ad does not imply any blame or shift any guilt towards the woman for being drunk.

Sorry, but it does.

Medellia said...

This ad is so bad.
The problem is that A LOT of rape victims blame themselves for what happened. If they see this, they will be very likely to think "oh shit it's because I was drunk", which is completely false and ultimately will make the healing process so much harder.
I don't see how this add does anything but make assault victims feel bad about themselves. If it was better phrased, had more explanation to it, was more educational ; then I would say maybe it could contribute to women's security (although I really doubt an ad would do that).

Anonymous said...

An interesting debate. Although, as a British citizen, I feel I must agree with the author.
The government seems to enjoy treating the people like dirt- wagging a finger with one hand and robbing your pocket with the other.

merrick said...

Anonyperson, I'm not sure i understand what you mean.

Why does your nationality make you disagree?

In what way is any of this the government 'robbing your pocket'?

nudel said...

There's all sorts of wrong here...

Best put via comments on the current change.org petition: "3 in 3 rapes happen because the perpetrator is a rapist."

However, as misplaced as the message in this ad is, it's also logically dodgy... If 1 in 3 reported rapes are when the victim was drunk, then 2 in 3 reported rapes are when the victim *wasn't* drunk. It stands to reason then that, statistically, it's safer to be drunk!

Sense = None

nudel said...

PS: Jim, I'm sorry but this ad is telling women "don't drink or you're asking for it." Don't dress 'slutty', don't go out, don't talk, don't socialise... DON'T!

That one's ability to think and act appropriately is compromised when drunk is a given. Incredibly(sarcasm coming), women *can* work this out for themselves without any intervention by the NHS.

Gyrus said...

I completely accept Jim's point, but the people who designed this ad accepted this point and nothing else. And when the rest of the stuff going on here is the crippling irrational guilt that a lot of women feel for a very long time after being raped - let alone raped while drunk - that's a serious fuck up. There's an argument that this is - at best - patronising, like all women are teenagers just getting to know what drink actually does to them. The designers are trying to be hard-hitting, but they end up hitting the victims. At best it's a patronising and a deeply insensitive design. And presumably those "1 in 3 drunk" stats include plenty of women who were as able to defend themselves physically as they would be when sober? I mean, as nudel said, 2 in 3 weren't drunk, and they got raped anyway. Just a terrible poster.