July 2014

17 Jul Rules for Women

It is quite hard being a woman. There are lots of rules. They are not written down explicitly in a list. They turn up implicitly in editorials, popular commentary and casual conversation. A woman works them out from reading between lines and divining the assumptions upon which people’s statements are based.
So a woman doesn’t go to Wiki and read a list of rules about what women should or shouldn’t do to avoid sexual assault. Yet we all know what is on that list.
The first unwritten rule is, of course, that it is up to women in the first instance to avoid being sexually assaulted. She mustn’t be out at night, alone, in a dark place. She mustn’t be drunk. She mustn’t wear a short skirt or revealing top. The onus is on her, if she doesn’t want to be sexually assaulted, to not look like does.
She mustn’t meet someone and get in a car with them, obviously. She mustn’t trust anyone or take them at face value. She mustn’t assume that anyone she doesn’t know yet is a good person. That would be silly, and asking for trouble.
This is despite the fact that it is estimated 85 per cent of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim. Most of the time, you might conclude, a woman would be safer with a stranger.
But we must travel in groups and dress Amish, and drink green tea and stay home a lot. Then, if the worst thing happens, we’ve spent our whole lives being ready for people who ask if we broke the rules.
It has become clear in the past week that there are unwritten rules for how a woman should behave, not just prior to a sexual assault, but after one has been alleged.
She shouldn’t talk about it, for starters. Maybe if she’s weepy and looks damaged and frail, sure. If the victim is dead, we’ll take anger and outrage from her family, criticism of a system that let them down. But not from a victim who appears confident, articulate and certain of things. That feels inappropriate somehow, right? We know what a victim should look like. And it shouldn’t be stronger and smarter and braver than us. That makes us uncomfortable.
And she shouldn’t talk about it too soon. Maybe after everyone else has spoken she can have a turn. Though she shouldn’t leave it too late, either. We’re suspicious of those women who leave it years to tell their story. Were they really working up the courage? Or just working on their story? If it really mattered, they would have said something at the time. There is a right moment for a victim to tell her story. We’ll tell her when. It’s not like she’s new to being diminished and dismissed.
Or here’s a different rule we could try: If you can’t trust yourself not to sexually assault someone, don’t go out alone. Stay home, stay sober, wear pants and call a trusted friend.

— Michele A’Court

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