Posted Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010, at 11:07 AM
The BBC reported on a dismaying survey on rape demonstrating that three-quarters of female respondents believe a woman is to blame if a man rapes her after she gets in bed with him, and a third of female respondents blame the victim for a man's choice to rape if she wore something "provocative" or had a drink with the guy. All this is interesting, but probably less surprising information than the finding that women were significantly likelier to blame rape victims than men-71 percent of women versus 57 percent of men. Surprising to most people, but not to anyone who deals with the legal system's response to rape. There, it's been common knowledge for a long time that female-heavy juries often let the rapist go because they believe the victim had it coming.
This tendency of so many women to judge rape victims harshly and blame them doesn't seem to make sense. The behaviors that get you judged harshly are so common that many of the women saying you asked for it have themselves performed those behaviors. Dressing to attract male attention, flirting with men, going to bed with men, having a drink with a man? If women who blamed women for rape were consistent, they'd believe they themselves deserve to get raped.
What's going on, as far as I can tell, is the classic rationale of, "But in my case, it's different." People tend to whip this out in touchy situations in general, but when it comes to women and sex, the tendency to judge harshly in others while forgiving yourself and those you love is extreme indeed. When a stranger dresses for men, flirts with men, has a drink with a man, etc., she's a huge slut. When we do it, it's just dating. Abortion clinic workers have darkly joked about this tendency in their anti-abortion patients for a long time-that anti-choicers make exceptions for "rape, incest, and me." Women are often tasked in our society with the job of Slut Police, determining who is a naughty girl who deserves to be punished with rape or forced childbirth, and we're also expected to live our lives and have sex ourselves. So a lot of women cope by eagerly denouncing strangers while making exceptions for themselves.
That men are more likely to be consistent-thinking well of sexually active women while partaking of the benefits of sexual liberation-is something of a puzzle. Part of it may be that many men know damn well that you don't have to rape a woman just because she had a drink with you or even crawled in to bed with you, and so when other men pretend they were helpless in the face of a woman forcing them to rape her, they see that lie for what it is. But even then, only 43 percent of men surveyed were willing to admit there's no excuse for raping a woman.