Sunday, August 17, 2008

Assualt, sexual violence and the confusion around this issue

Trigger alert?
It's possible that this post may trigger some people..there won't be anything graphic in here it's just me speaking about the general attitudes around this, but I don't want to set anyone off if I can help it.

This is a really loong (and possibly unfocused) post, but if anyone gets to the end I would appreciate their comments.


I've been reading bits and bobs on the blogosphere recently about assault against women. No surprise there, it happens a lot, the sites I want to read cover this.
One site is When Fangirls Attack! This is usually a link blog, but as explained in this case, they sometimes cross post. The post in question is this one, dealing with the sexual assault experienced by women at the San Diego Comic Con this year. And I do believe that what is described is sexual assault, I am not here to debate whether that judgement is correct or not and if you disagree on that point I would suggest you don't read any further.

I'm feeling rather sensitive about this subject, you may have guessed.

Like every single woman I know I have been groped, leered at and had stuff shouted at me. I have been told not to walk home alone at night on my own for my own safety, to expect 'attention' if I wear something low cut or revealing, to be told I look whorish if I wear something revealing. At the same time I've been told I'm prudish and not sexy if I wear something more modest, because god knows my main aim in life as a woman is too look sexy and all my self worth should be tied up in that.
(Do a search for women's fancy dress. Of all the modern costumes, being sold in stores now, do you notice a theme? Is that really the only option we've got? To be consumed by the male gaze? I refute that, that's not what I'm here for, I have other functions as a human being and I am worth more than my body).

Anyway, the link to the WFA post. I soundly agree with that essay. Completely. I don't see how anyone could not. Take a look at the comments. Yep, I got involved, but as this isn't a hey look at me post, please look at what the others are saying. You can see why I got involved, I won't repeat myself here.

But the discussion seemed to spiral away from the initial post (not helped by me, I know) until the options became either/or. It doesn't have to be that way, as Ragnell said there are 3 possible approaches to take. (Although I would take issue with the idea that being assertive helps against attack..I have complicated reasons for thinking that which are muddled enough in my own head that I can't go into here. I don't know if she's right or wrong.)

Nevertheless, the views that upset me are that most or all people are taught that sexual assault is wrong, and UNDERSTAND that it is wrong. People really don't know this. Or they don't know what constitutes sexual assault. They think grabbing someone's ass isn't assault. It IS. But because they think everyone knows the difference, they think that it is just 'some' people who don't care. I don't think it's that 'some' people don't care, I think it's that 'most' people don't know what constitutes wrong behaviour.

Ask 100 random people on the street is sexual assault wrong, my guess is most will say yes. Ask them what if the woman was drunk, or wearing 'sluttish' clothing. Then you'll get different answers. Break it down into someone attempting to kiss another, and attempting to have penetrative sex with another, you'll get different answers. Oh but it was only a kiss! It's still assault.

The education I'm talking about would teach respect for other people's bodies, it would cover all the areas above. It will teach why victim blaming is wrong. I don't think that this will eradicate all sexual violence, but it sure would go a long way towards helping.

I don't mean to insinuate that we should never be prepared, we should never fight back, but if we're talking about this issue and we fall back on the personal responsibility argument, we will never get away from victim blaming. We will never start talking about how we teach people that it's wrong to assault others, in any way shape or form. Personal responsibility, when taken by itself, is a reductionist argument that doesn't allow any other views. It takes the emphasis away from the real problem. Looking at why victim blaming is wrong will force many people to look at their behaviour in the past and consider whether it was acceptable or not. And I bet we've all done wrong things, men and women.

My opinion on tackling this problem? Education first. Rules in the handbook/convention book/whatever stating that assault and abuse will not be tolerated, combined with a real system in place to deal with problems as they happen. And lastly, if anyone tries something on smack them in the face. Without fear of retribution. I'm totally with the Digital Femme on this one.

If you want more views on the SDCC controversy here's a second useful link list from WFA:

This whole discussion has come up about because we don't understand that women's bodies aren't our own. We don't understand that our bodies are not a public commodity. We focus the whole debate on what women are doing to themselves and with themselves. On a similar note, I found this essay (through WFA again) about the depiction of the female Muslim within comics, in this case, the X-Men. I link to it here because part of it also deals with women's bodies and how we view them. In this case, how America depicts a female Muslim.

I don't know know anything about Islam really, I suspect that if I do read and agree with a comment about the burka and it's role in preserving modesty, that that doesn't show how much I know, but rather how much I've been shown and haven't questioned. I.e. white privilege. Which is really something I should sort out. For my tuppence worth, I think anyone should be able to wear what they damn well like. So long as it's not imposed on you by anyone else, what's the beef? If we in the west say arr it's a tool of the patriarchy and you're subjugating yourself, aren't we saying that our value systems are better than theirs? And doesn't that stink of privilege and colonialism and racism?

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