That’s what someone said about a woman’s instinctive response to having a man grab her breasts.  Said response was, instinctively, to slap him — he and his mother had the woman penned in next to a window on a bus.

I always find it interesting when the attitudes of “blame the victim” and “women as dainty flowers” surface in regard to sexual assault.  This isn’t really blaming the victim, but it does seem to speak to the idea of women as passive creatures.  The suggested alternative was that she should have called the police.  I’m not sure how she was supposed to extricate her from the situation wherein she was being assaulted in order to do so, however.

I don’t understand the attitude that doing what you need to do to get yourself out of a horrible situation is somehow wrong, that the only appropriate response is to use your words.  How often does that actually work?  And why is being forceful, acting instinctively, so frowned upon for women?

One of the biggest mistakes someone can make is to ignore one’s instincts in situations like that.  That moment of hesitation, of passivity, can be all it takes for a bad situation to become far, far worse.  Why would we want to subject anyone to that risk?  I just don’t understand it.

I’m fairly certain that the person who said the slap was unnecessary didn’t mean for it to feed into this attitude, but that’s what it immediately made me think of.

Looking at reported assaults, women are much more likely to be victimized than men (the statistics are a bit out of date, but you can see them here).  We tend to be smaller and it’s often assumed that we’re less likely to fight back.  And why not?  If we react viscerally and instinctively, we’re criticized for it, even when that reaction is in defense of our person, our honor, and possibly our life.  If we don’t react and manage to come out little worse for the wear, we’re criticized for not defending ourselves, for not doing enough to protect ourselves.  Either way, it’s our fault.

The ideas are just so pervasive that a lot of the time I think people don’t realize how what they’re saying plays right into the hands of these two, very dangerous conceptions of “how women should be.”  How do you fight something that is so prevalent that it’s  largely unconscious?

I think the first place to start is with disputing statements like the one that spawned this post every time one is made.  Encourage women to follow their gut instincts.  Stop using the term “bitchy” and other negative adjectives to describe assertive, perfectly acceptable behavior in women.

And stop finding any excuse possible to blame victims of sexual assault for their trauma.  The last thing someone, male or female, needs to deal with while recovering from the psychological and/or physical abuse is having people around them second-guessing their every move and picking their behavior apart, looking for the tiniest detail that could make them look bad.  It’s incredibly painful and does absolutely nothing to help the person who was assaulted.

When I think back on what happened to me in Rome, those are the two things that strike me hardest in retrospect: that I didn’t act on that instinct to lash out and that I didn’t stand up for myself when people started questioning all the things I should have done and what I did wrong.  Nobody asked if I was all right.  They just had their own ideas of what I should have done to stop it.

That was unnecessary.

About SouthernSugar

A Southern girl who's used to small town life, I found myself moving to Washington, DC, in 2008 for a new job, and living there was an eye-o
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