If you were wondering why women feel unsafe around you, here’s why:

So, a few days ago, I wrote this.

That letter is a semi-autobiographical composite based on a guy who not only stalked me and made me feel uncomfortable and unsafe, but did the same to several other women, including friends of mine. Some of those things he did to me; some of those things he did to other women; some of those things he told us about during group gatherings, seemingly under the impression that we would empathise with him in his struggle against all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad women of the world.

When I wrote that letter, it wasn’t really aimed at the Nice Guy in question (I honestly haven’t seen or heard from him in months, and thank [insert deity/deities/lack of deity here] for that). It was written for every woman who, like me, has known a guy like that or been “befriended” by a guy like that or feared for her life because of a guy like that.

Because yeah, that’s a thing. Women fear for their lives because of guys like that.

That guy? When I very politely told him that I needed him to message me less, the backlash started immediately. He trashed me on social media. He would show up to events he knew I’d be at and find reasons to sit across from me, saying nothing the entire time. He told people what a bitch I’d been to him. He started making ultimatums – he would stop being friends with people if they so much as mentioned me in his presence. He knew where I lived, where I worked, where my family members lived and worked. He had mentioned violent impulses (both internally and externally aimed) several times during our brief “friendship”. He had made life difficult and uncomfortable for friends of mine in the past (which I did not know when I first met him), and now he was doing it to me. And while I like to think that I’m a fairly strong, independent kind of girl who can fend for herself, and while this guy seemed pretty quiet and shy and like he was more bark than bite, I was still pretty fucking scared.

The thing is, women don’t know which guy’s going to get violent when we tell them no.

Will it be the guy who approaches us in a club and insists on buying us a drink even though we repeatedly say we don’t want one? (Friend’s 20th birthday a few years ago – he eventually went and started buying drinks for someone else instead, and my friends and I watched the girl he was talking to like a hawk all night to make sure he didn’t have a chance to get her alone.)

Will it be the guy who calls us a bitch because he was “just trying to make conversation” while we were reading a book with our earphones in? (Outside a shopping centre in broad daylight while I was waiting for a friend to pick me up. He screamed in my face for twenty minutes while I kept telling him he needed to leave. Passers-by did absolutely nothing but look at me in annoyance, as though I was responsible for this public disturbance that was getting in the way of their grocery shopping.)

Will it be the guy who tries talking to us on the bus when we just want to get home after a long day at work, his voice raising in volume every time we steadfastly ignore his leering “compliments”? (Guy who used to catch the bus route that took me past my house. I would wait until the bus had driven off before walking home just so he couldn’t watch me go to my front gate, and I would always make sure to lock it behind me just in case.)

Will it be the guy who offers us lifts everywhere and goes shopping with us and buys us gifts and worms his way into our circle of trust so that eventually we start letting him into our private spaces, where nobody will see if he attacks us?

It could be any of them. It could be all of them. For some woman, somewhere, it has been one or more or all of them. (For some man, somewhere, it has also been one or more or all of them. Predators thrive on societies that will not believe the claims of their prey.)

None of this is news to you, I’m sure – or, if you have even the slightest hint of cultural awareness, it shouldn’t be.

But it was apparently news to this guy:

 

This is an image a commenter made calling me a

not creepy at all, dude. not. creepy. at all.

 

What starts with “r” and ends with “ape culture” and is incredibly well-illustrated by this image? I’ll let you supply the answer.

This is why women feel unsafe around you, Nice Guys – because when we stand up to you, when we point out that your behaviour is predatory and your advances are unwanted and that we want to be treated like actual human beings, your immediate response is to tear us down, belittle us and invalidate us. We feel unsafe around you because you are possessed of so much entitlement that when we don’t repay your (unwanted!) favours with romance and sex, you label us whores and liars and sociopaths. And you are backed up, not just by the friends who don’t want to make things “awkward” by barring you from social gatherings, but by the entire fucking patriarchy, right down to random internet strangers who don’t even know us but will construct elaborate “proofs” that your predatory behaviour is our fault because we should have known what we were getting into when we accepted what looked like an offer of friendship.

You want to know why we don’t want that drink? Want to know why we don’t want a bar of your “normal social interaction” (ha) or your “polite conversation” or your compliments that you swear are innocent?

Because any one of you could be the guy I wrote that letter about. Because any one of you could be the guy backing him up by calling me a sociopath and a liar. Because any one of you could be the one we shouldn’t have trusted, and because when you hurt us, any one of you could be the ones insisting it was our fault all along.

You want to know why women feel unsafe around you? It’s because you’re fucking unsafe, asshole.

[TW] This is rape culture

A college-aged woman goes to a party with friends. A guy who’s had his eye on her for a while sees his chance and starts plying her with alcohol, hoping to turn a long-standing “no” into a brief window of “yes”. Eventually, the young woman falls unconscious. The guy, figuring she won’t remember any of this tomorrow, has sex with her. The next day, nobody questions the motives of the guy who deliberately got a girl who didn’t want to sleep with him drunk so he could have sex with her, but everyone wants to know why the woman wasn’t more responsible. You have to be careful at parties, you know. Don’t you know what kinds of risks you’re opening yourself up to when you drink too much around the wrong people?

An older woman puts on a dress that makes her feel young again and heads into town for a night of drinking and dancing with friends. At a club, a man decides she’s irresistible in that dress and corners her, muffling her protests with one hand as he edges the hem of her dress up with the other. The woman leaves the club early, too ashamed to tell her friends what happened to her. Maybe she should have known better. Wasn’t she asking for attention, dressed up like that? Didn’t she get what she deserved for looking and acting so provocatively?

A teenage girl visits a close friend one afternoon to work on a homework project together. His parents aren’t home, so he seizes the opportunity, locking her in his room and doing what he’s always wanted to do to her. She’s too shocked to say no – she thought she could trust him. When she tells her friends, nobody believes her. He’s such a nice guy! He wouldn’t hurt a fly! When it turns out she’s pregnant, rumours start to spread about all the guys she’s been sleeping with, all the sex she’s been having with nice guys lured in by her flirting and teasing. When she takes her own life to escape the relentless bullying and harassment she now faces daily, people chalk it up as just another attention-seeking stunt.

A girl you know has a reputation for taking a different guy home every Saturday night. One Saturday, a guy she takes home decides that if she said “yes” to the first twenty, her “yes” to him is implied. When she goes to the police, they ask her how many sexual partners she’s had, how often she’s had sex in the past few months, whether or not she was on birth control. They tell her she brought it upon herself, what with that history of being a slut and all. She doesn’t press charges, knowing that if the case goes to court, her entire sexual history will be dragged out for public examination. She can’t bear the humiliation of having a jury judge her for having sex too often, too readily. The next time she sees her rapist – at a party, surrounded by his friends – he’s pointing at her and laughing. Someone high-fives him. She leaves in tears.

This is rape culture – an attitude to the crime of rape that has led to a society where one in four women will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes. This is not dependent on what they wear, how much they drink or their number of sexual partners; it is dependent on a societal belief that women owe heterosexual men sex and that said men have no responsibility to obtain consent before taking what they want. It does not just happen to young, attractive women who dress in revealing clothing and drink a lot and enjoy casual sexual encounters. It happens to women everywhere, women from all walks of life.

An elderly woman has been placed in an aged care facility by a son who can no longer accommodate her in his home. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years ago and has trouble remembering recent events. One of her carers, responsible for making sure she takes her medication every day, rapes her, knowing that not only will she not remember him, but that even if she did, nobody would consider her memory of events reliable. Who would believe a demented old woman was raped by a nurse with an outstanding professional reputation and several years of aged care work under his belt? Alzheimer’s causes people to say the strangest things.

A teenage girl is at her uncle’s house for a holiday celebration. He corners her in the guest room one afternoon and tells her nobody will believe her if she says anything. The abuse continues for months, occurring at every single family get-together. Her uncle has three daughters of his own, all around her age. She doesn’t know if her parents will believe her if she tells them. She’s terrified that her cousins are being abused too but doesn’t want to ask them in case they turn on her for accusing their father. When she runs away from home in a last-ditch effort to escape, it’s her uncle who finds her and takes her back to her grateful parents, who berate her for worrying them. She breaks down and tells them everything. When, to her relief, they believe her and press charges, it’s ultimately revealed that her uncle’s daughters were being abused after all. All of them were too afraid to say something. None of them had any guarantee that anyone would listen.

A husband and wife have been married for twenty years. One night, he’s in the mood and she isn’t. He’s had a little to drink and doesn’t care that his wife is begging him between sobs to stop. He’ll take the kids, he tells her. He’ll take everything. She’ll be left with nothing if she doesn’t give him what he wants. This is what she owes him. They’ve been married twenty years, who will believe her? Her friends tell her to leave him, but she can’t. She may never see her children again. She’s scared of what will happen to them without her. She stays, and over time, she learns not to bother begging him to stop any more.

A young man is sentenced to a year in a juvenile detention facility. His case worker is a woman in her twenties, just graduated and new to the job. He knows she’s the one who’ll tell the judge whether or not he should be released early, which is why he says nothing about the things she makes him do during their sessions together. He knows everyone else knows – the guards, the other social workers, even his fellow inmates. Nobody says anything. He got himself into this mess. He has to be prepared to weather the consequences.

This is rape culture. This is a world in which rape victims are dehumanised, degraded and violated are stripped not only of their humanity but of their right to speak out. It is a world in which we’d rather believe in good boys tempted by bad girls, because the alternative would be acknowledging that rape is a conscious choice a rapist makes without any provocation whatsoever. We turn a blind eye when trans* women, women of colour and sex workers are disproportionately targeted because as a society, we believe – even though we’d never admit it – that they must have done something to deserve it. In fact, all of those victims must have done something to deserve it – dressed the wrong way, had too much to drink, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, sent mixed signals. Rape, we figure, is a punishment for not acting right. It’s a way of keeping people, especially women, in line. It’s what you get for not obeying the rules. It’s what happens to you when you’re naughty.

And this belief is why one in four women – or three in five Native American women, and disproportionately high numbers of women in state facilities, sex workers, queer or trans* women and women of colour – will be raped in their lifetimes: because we live in a culture that says they must have done something to deserve it. We truly believe that female sexuality is something that needs to be regulated, forcibly if need be. We feed into the narrative that the girl must have done something – must have let her guard down, must have provoked her rapist somehow. We refuse to accept that rape is a choice a rapist makes and that he needs no reasons to make it.

Rape is not a punishment. Rape is a crime. Rapists are criminals. They are never justified in doing what they do. Their victims are always, always blameless, no matter what the circumstances. And there is nothing victims can do to prevent being raped. Don’t drink, cover yourself from head to toe, associate only with female friends – you are still at risk, because society hasn’t yet figured out that the only way to stop rape is to stop telling men they’re justified in raping. You can never take the subway home late at night, never find yourself in a lonely alleyway, never put yourself in a room alone with a man you thought you could trust, take every single precaution society has told you to take, and you still have an up to one in four chance of this happening to you. There is no way you can prevent it. There is nothing you can do to make yourself less of a target. If a rapist wants to rape you, he won’t need a reason (though he’ll probably come up with one later, and his fellows will accept it). Rape is a crime committed consciously by rapists. There is nothing you can do to stop them, because you never got them to start in the first place.

It is the year 2013, and women continue to be raped everywhere – not just at parties, not just at clubs, not just in dark alleys, but everywhere. They are raped in aged care, in prisons and in educational institutions. They are raped by partners, family and friends. And they are blameless. They are victims who did not do a single goddamn thing to warrant the heinous crime perpetrated upon them. And this will keep happening until we take steps towards the only rape prevention measure that actually works:

Telling rapists not to rape.

It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing. It doesn’t matter how much she’s had to drink. It doesn’t matter how much you want her. It doesn’t matter if she can’t fight back and you know it. It doesn’t matter if you know she’ll never tell. It doesn’t matter if you took her “no” for a “yes”. If you make the choice to rape, it’s on you. There are no excuses, no justifications, no reasons what you’ve done is okay. What you’ve done is a crime, and you are a criminal. You were not goaded into it. You were not provoked. You made a choice to harm someone because you wanted to. If you make that choice, you’re a rapist, and it is all on you.

We need to stop propping up criminals. We need to stop the rape jokes, the victim-blaming, the public scrutiny of victims instead of their rapists. We need to stop making excuses. We need to stop accepting excuses. We need to stop buying into the idea that she must have done something to deserve it. We need to stop the bullying and harassment of victims, the messy public trials, the culture of shaming within law enforcement, the culture of silence within institutions. We need to stop the hyper-sexualisation of women of colour and trans* women that leads to disproportionate targeting. We need to stop blaming sex workers. We need to stop being enablers. We need to stop allowing rapists to operate with impunity, safe in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, will always believe they were justified in doing what they did.

This is rape culture, and it is failing hundreds of thousands of women around the world every day. It is our responsibility to stop it.

[TW: rape] The myth of the girl who asked for it

By writing this post, I am putting myself in danger.

You see, if I am ever raped or sexually assaulted and I choose to take my rapist to court, I will be subjected to a lengthy, humiliating interrogation about my sexual history. How many partners I’ve had, my dating habits and even what I wear will be subject to scrutiny. Every photo I’ve ever posted to Instagram will be used as proof that my rapist had just cause for doing what he did. Or they could just quote the three words I’m about to type, damning me forever in the eyes of any (probably predominantly male) jury:

I like sex.

By admitting that, I have forever signed away my right to demand that my autonomy be respected. Society as a whole believes that women who like sex or who have sex frequently have given their consent for anyone to have sex with them, whether or not they expressly allow it. By saying that I enjoy sex – and I do, I enjoy it very much – I am opening myself up to judgement from people who think consent is an all or nothing proposition: either I want all sex, or none of it.

Women are not meant to like sex. Sex is meant to be something we give to men as a reward for good behaviour, or as their due for simply existing and being male. The idea that a woman might seek out sex – that she might even enjoy it for its own sake, and not just because she wants to please a man – is enough to brand her an amoral whore in the eyes of society. We are not meant to be sexual beings on our own terms; our sexuality exists solely for the pleasure of men, who are told that they have every right to demand that we exercise it for them and that they may use whatever means necessary to get us to do it. A woman who wants sex is a fearful, abhorrent thing – she is attempting to take control of an aspect of herself that society does not believe belongs to her.

Steubenville proved something that many women have known all along – that when they are raped, the first question will not be, “why didn’t the rapist stop himself?” but, “what did she do to deserve it?” If a woman is forced to have sex against her will, society reasons, it must be because she gave off some kind of signal that she was ready to please a man, and it’s her fault if those signals were misread. Maybe she dressed too “slutty”. Maybe she had too many previous sexual partners, thus making her fair game for anyone wanting her. Maybe she got drunk and needed to be punished for her carelessness. Nobody ever asks why a man rapes – they ask why a woman didn’t stop it from happening. Why didn’t she cover up? Why didn’t she limit herself to two drinks? Why did she walk home through that part of town? Why did she have so much sex beforehand? Can any man really be blamed for thinking that a woman who does these things doesn’t want every man in her life to have sex with her?

Women who like sex are, in the eyes of the men who think they own them, an open invitation. After all, if she liked it with Dave from accounting, why wouldn’t she like it with you?  If she liked it with the boy she went home with at that party you were both at that one time, why wouldn’t she like it when you corner her at the next party and force yourself on her? She liked it once, after all. She must be open to it. She must be asking for it.

Except that nobody ever asks to be raped. Nobody, no matter what they wear, how much they drink, or how often they have sex, is ever asking for their bodily autonomy to be violated. I have said this before, and I will say it again – a woman’s sexuality does not exist for you. Women are perfectly capable of being sexual beings on their own terms, and that means being able to decide when to say yes and when to say no. I like sex – with partners of my choice, in circumstances of my choosing. That should go without saying. I should not have to specify that the fact that I’m not a virgin does not mean that I want to have sex with every man I meet. I am not “asking for it” any more than the one in four women who will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, or the three in five Native American women who will be. Nobody ever wants to be raped.

A person’s sexuality belongs to them, to do with as they choose. Saying yes to a hundred partners does not mean a yes to partner #101 is automatically implied. I say yes to sex with my boyfriend all the time, but I will (most likely) say no to sex with you. This is my right. This is a human right. The right to say no to sexual contact of any kind is not something earned by allowing one’s sexuality to be policed. There is no model of good behaviour that suddenly entitles a woman not to be raped. Not being raped is a birthright. Rapists take that birthright away. They are not forced to do it; they are not provoked. They choose to violate someone else’s autonomy because they want to. They do not have any other excuse.

One in four women have been raped or will be raped in their lifetimes. This doesn’t just include drunk women at parties, or women who walk home alone at night. This includes children in the care of adults who are meant to look out for their best interests. This includes the elderly in aged care facilities, who trust that the staff will protect them and care for them. This includes women who have never had sex and women who have had sex dozens or hundreds or thousands of times. This includes women who like sex with women. This includes women like me, who refuse to be shamed into silence. This includes trans* women, women of colour, disabled women, women in relationships, sex workers, homeless women, women in prison. It includes every woman you know. It even includes men, because nobody – and I mean nobody, no matter who they are or what they’ve done or how many times they’ve said yes – deserves to have their “no” disregarded.

I like sex on my own terms, with partners I choose, in circumstances in which I feel comfortable. This does not give you licence to rape me. Nothing does. Rape is not a punishment for bad behaviour or an overwhelming compulsion. It is a crime. If you do it, no matter what reason you give, you are a criminal. Bodily autonomy is a human right. There is never a reason not to honour it.