Lately I have been coming across quite a few videos on tik tok where victims share a traumatic experience that they endured. Most of the videos that I have been seeing have been shared by women specifically. I genuinely love hearing about other people’s experiences in general whether trauma related or not so I read the comments as well to gain different perspectives. I noticed a common theme on all of these #traumaticexperience videos and it is that the comment section is flooded with users victim blaming and shaming. This made me feel like addressing the elephant in the room.
What is victim blaming? It is when a victim opens up to someone about something awful that happened to them and instead of being seen as the victim in the scenario they instead get ridiculed. A common example of this might be if someone got raped and instead of being questioning to see if they are ok people say things like “well what were you wearing in the first place in order to draw negative attention to yourself”, or “why were you alone.” Other common comments might be “why didn’t you do x,y,z to fight them off then if it was rape”, or “you must have helped them get your jeans off because they are too tight.” Comments like this really frustrate me because rape has been a thing since the beginning of time and it has nothing to do with clothing. I find victim blaming bizarre because instead of focusing on the perpetrator who is in the wrong and holding them accountable, people instead choose to interrogate the victim and make them accountable for the horrific crime that’s been committed on them.
During the Elizabethan era when women wore layers upon layers of clothes with dresses down to their ankles rape was still a prevalent problem in society. It has never been about what women are wearing. Writers among various generations either wrote of rape directly, or included it in their literature as a textual tool to express certain concepts. For example, in the 1500’s shakespeare wrote ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, ‘Titus Andronicus’, and ‘Othello’. The same theme is evident in “Game of Thrones” which is based off books by George R.R. Martin called “A Song of Ice and Fire”.
For this to have been a common theme so long ago, it proves that it was clearly a recurring problem even when women were wearing very modest clothing. Author George R.R. Martin stated in an interview with New York Times that he included rape and sexual assault so frequently in his books because he “has an obligation to tell the truth” in his books. He continued on to say that “they are inspired by and grounded in history.” In Icelandic saga literature it is evident that sexual assault was committed against enemy women as a part of warfare, to dishonour other men. You can see this same thing in the show ‘Vikings’ and also in Ancient Greek movies like ‘300’.
So it is clear that clothing isn’t the problem. Some people might argue that it is but we were all gifted with self-determination and this means that we can all choose to exercise self-control. There is absolutely no reason for someone’s clothing to make another feel entitled to sexual abuse. If you walk by a restaurant and see a delicious meal that you would love to have does this mean you are allowed to go snatch the meal off the table and eat it because it looks delicious and the smell was provoking you? NO!
I personally believe that today’s society only focuses on the correlation between “provocative clothing” and sexual abuse because back in the day society objectified and sexualised women through media. This clearly still happens today and is even more prevalent, however the only difference now is that women of today have a lot more rights. So in previous times everyone else in society would benefit off women being sexualised except for women themselves. Therefore when women were objectified and sexualised during say the early 18thcentury there was not much they could have done other than go with the flow and feel degraded. If they spoke out and said anything to defend themselves they could have faced awful consequences. Women who tried speaking out sacrificed their own lives in the women suffrage movement in the 1840’s.
Nowadays there are still certain countries in the world where rape victims get prosecuted along with than the perpetrator due to victim blaming being such a huge part of the culture. For example in Saudi Arabia there was a famous Qatif rape case whereby a women and her male companion were kidnapped and gang raped. 4 of the 7 perpetrators received lashings or imprisonment however the victims also received lashings and 6 months imprisonment for “being alone with a man who is not a relative.”
In modern times however most countries enable women to speak out against feeling objectified and they are able to re-construct their own identity. There are even some bold women who oppose resistance, and choose to benefit directly from being sexualised and objectified. Amber Rose is a great example because she has created a national movement called a “Slut Walk”. This is where she and fellow protesters march together to fight against victim blaming, slut shaming and to end rape culture. Here sexual assault stories are shared among victims and a safe space is provided for support and education. The common theme here is that almost all of the victims who share their story state that they initially felt shame from friends, family, authorities and other relevant health services due to victim blaming. They embrace this experience even though it was a negative one, because it has allowed many survivors to take back their power and meet many others who have had the same experience. Together they are able to unite and push for a change in this culture. Another example of women who choose to benefit off being sexualised and objectified might be exotic dancers as they are the only ones who are benefitting financially. Similarly, on April 29theach year victims and those who support the movement wear denim to raise awareness for rape and sexual assault. This is empowering for victims because it is their way of saying “stuff you” to those who made remarks like “but your jeans were so tight you must have helped the perpetrator take the jeans off”, implying that consent was given.
I have chosen to focus mainly on women in this post because while I recognise that sexual assault can happen to anyone, statistics show that it is more prevalent among women. According to AHRC (2018) 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed. That means that if you know 50 women then over three quarters of them have been violated. According Our Watch (2015) violence against women is costing Australia $21.7 billion each year and they are three times more likely to experience domestic violence than men. There is no clear answer on how to put an end to this aggressive culture that is imbedded into society but one thing that is clear is that it has a lot to do with power and domination.
Since the early ages women have been considered as inferior for a whole range of reasons. An individuals worth was measured by their place in society and this was determined by physical strength, stamina and endurance. Aristotle was a huge influencer in this belief as he stated that “females are imperfect versions of males therefore their subjugation is virtuous and justifiable.” After centuries of beliefs revolving around this notion I can begin to see why the legacy of rape culture continues on today. It is something that was socially constructed by society and some people are still (consciously or unconsciously) carrying on that legacy.
Evolution is such an amazing thing. Did you know that century’s ago we needed wisdom teeth to help us survive? Then as highlighted by Wilford (2004) as time went on they became less important because we started evolving and our jaws became smaller so that we could make room for a bigger brain. That is why nowadays according to Spinney (2008) 35% of the population do not grow any at all . In the future wisdom teeth are predicted to stop growing entirely because they serve no purpose at all (Flam, 2008).
Just like how we evolve biologically, as humans we also need to get rid of out-dated belief systems that no longer serve us. I have no clue how rape culture would have served humanity as a whole in general to begin with, but this out-dated culture needs to go. It is time for us to evolve and get rid of this legacy. Alongside with victim-blaming, slut shaming and sexual assault. Maybe in history women being oppressed enabled the rest of society to benefit from this oppression but in modern times women are either benefitting from it themselves and capitalising off it this oppression or they are abolishing it all together. If this makes the rest of society mad because they no longer are the ONLY ones benefitting from the oppression then maybe we as a whole need to dig deeper and see why equality is bothering a certain percentage so much? What can they gain from inequality? Beverly Engel has a very interesting book about empowering women to start standing up to oppression called ‘The Nice Girl Syndrome’. I highly recommend it if you are interested in learning more about how to break free from oppression.