It’s virtually a law of Internet discussion that any conversation about rape will turn into a debate about the need for women to keep themselves safe. The attitude that women have the responsibility to protect themselves from rape is, at the most generous reading, an uncritical acceptance of the idea that men cannot be prevented from raping. At its worst, it is yet another example of the way society makes women responsible for anything men dislike. And all the while, there is no acknowledgement that this is just the mechanism by which sexist men can benefit from rape without themselves committing it.
That women are sexual beyond the ways men wish them to be disturbs a certain kind of man. The fears that once kept female sexuality in check are gradually being eroded by social change and medical advances: fear of ostracism, fear of disease, fear of unwanted pregnancy. But fear of rape remains, and it can be a powerful weapon.
There was one piece of fall-out from the paratrooper incident that I didn’t mention. A family member learned that I’d gone back to the camp with a couple of men for sex. He had no reason to think anything non-consensual had happened, but he was horrified all the same. He told me that my behaviour was disgusting and that I should be ashamed of myself. Friends and other family members defended his attitude by pointing out what many people in the other thread pointed out – that I’d put myself at quite some risk.
That explanation failed to convince me. Disgust and shame are appropriate responses to moral wrongdoing, not foolhardy risk-taking. He was horrified that I’d allowed myself to be sexual in an unapproved way; the risk of rape was a justification, not his true motivation.
It shocks some people that I want sex and don’t want to submit to male authority. It shocks them even more that these two desires outweigh my fear of rape, so that I dare to gratify both by picking up paratroopers in a pub. The “prudent” suggestions for keeping myself safe always boil down to giving up sex (or at least, the kind of sex I’m interested in) or submitting to male authority.
These “solutions” might well have no effect on my risk of being raped. But even if they were guaranteed to protect me from all risk, they wouldn’t be worth it. I think I’d rather be raped than spend the rest of my life turning aside from what I wanted and settling for something less. I know I’d rather take risks than allow fear of rape to control my expression of my sexuality.
In my ideal world, men would not be tempted to commit rape. Sexual encounters would be handled with negotiation, not with one partner’s insistence on getting what he wants at the expense of another. Men would respect the desires of women to control what happens to their bodies, whether they’ve known each other for ten minutes or ten years.
And in my ideal world, the fear of rape could not be used as a justification for slut-shaming.