Emily Maguire is an award-winning author of novels and non-fiction, including Princesses and Pornstars: Sex + Power + Identity and its young adult counterpart, Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, Power, Choice. Emily was a speaker at the 2012 Melbourne SlutWalk; this piece is an adaptation of her speech.
We all know by now the origins of Slutwalk, about the comments of one ignorant police officer on the other side of the world. But that one police officer isn’t why I support Slutwalk.
I support Slutwalk – because of all the others. All the others who say what he said, who think as he seems to. I support it not because of one comment but because of thousands of comments. Not because of one distant police officer but because of entire justice systems. Not because of one ill-considered piece of advice but because of the avalanche of advice women receive – have always received – telling us how not to get raped.
This advice – god, so much advice on how to avoid being raped. Don’t walk home alone and if you must then carry your keys as a weapon and wear running shoes and don’t wear your hair in a ponytail as it makes you easy to grab. Seriously. Don’t go out alone and if you must don’t wear short shorts or short skirts or midriff tops or tight pants. Don’t get drunk, don’t talk to men you don’t know and don’t flirt with those you do unless you mean it. And seriously, I’m saying this for your own good: re-think your outfit. Those boots send messages.
Me, I’ve been hearing this stuff since primary school. It’s often well meaning, I accept that. It comes from a place of concern. But it’s bullshit. I don’t just mean I don’t like it, I mean it’s actually demonstrably wrong.
We all grow up being taught to pre-empt rape attempts, to second-guess the motivations of the men around us, to protect ourselves. Always protect ourselves. We get it. We live it. We do all that shit. And we still get raped. We get raped sober and drunk. We get raped when we’re out and when we’re at home. We get raped wearing short skirts and wearing burqas, wearing school uniforms and wearing pyjamas. We get raped by men we know and by men we don’t. We follow all of the rules in that stupid email forward purporting to be from some sex crimes expert or we follow none of them and it makes no difference.
And then, and then, when we have failed – despite doing everything or nothing – to prevent our rapes we are forced to fight for the right to even accurately describe what it is that has happened. Legitimate rape, forcible rape, genuine rape, rape rape: which was it?
Come on, you say you were attacked, but did the man know he was attacking you? What did you do to communicate your discomfort with being attacked? Did you fight back? Did you fight back hard enough? Let’s talk about your clothes again: the message of those boots…and also, you’d been drinking, right? I’m not saying it’s your fault, but you need to take some responsiblity…
No. Listen, I’m all about taking responsibility for your actions. You know, if you get rotten drunk and trip over the gutter and vomit all over your dress and lose your handbag, you have only yourself to blame. Suck it up. But rape is not a consequence of getting drunk. It’s a consequence of a man deciding to rape someone.
And you know, if you commit a crime while you’re drunk – if you decide to drive home or you get in a fight and beat someone up – drunk or not, you’re responsible for that. But being raped is not a crime; raping someone is. In no other situation do we hear the victim being told to take responsibility for the criminal’s actions. Only rape victims are told to look to themselves to mitigate the crimes of the person who has violated them. To find in themselves their attacker’s salvation.
Telling women we’re responsible for rape doesn’t keep us safe; it just keeps us scared. It also lets rapists know that they can get away with their crime as long as they pick the right victim – one who ‘makes herself vulnerable’ by refusing to live according to the edicts of a rape-tolerant society. That’s why I support Slutwalk.