My blog yesterday – an extract from one of my chat shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in which rape was discussed – got quite a lot of reaction. Including from my eternally-un-named friend.
“In my twenties and thirties,” she said, “I spent all my time trying to avoid guys presuming things… trying to avoid seeming to be ‘asking for it’ because, all the time, that was the thing that seemed to be happening. You didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by turning them down, but the situations…
“There was a job in a photographer’s darkroom and the guy was hitting on me and I thought There’s no way I’m going to be stuck in a darkroom with him. I was constantly thinking Oh shit! And that was another job gone.
“There was a job at a radio station where the guy wanted me to read something that was all innuendoes and it was just all like that. I couldn’t handle the whole sexist bit.
“There was a job where I was doing glass-blowing on the second floor of a building. It was 9.00am in the morning and the guy goes to grab me. I wasn’t asking for it. It’s 9 in the bloody morning. He was not my type. I don’t know what made him think I was ‘asking for it’, but there are points where you think Just by breathing!… Just by breathing! You’re more accessible if you’re wearing a skirt, but I was wearing jeans and covered from head-to-toe. So it doesn’t matter how you’re bloody dressed.
“I shouldn’t be responsible for that guy’s sexuality. I shouldn’t be responsible for the photographer’s sexuality. I shouldn’t be responsible for the radio guy’s sexuality. I shouldn’t be responsible for the insurance company’s sexuality. There were two guys in the office and all they talked about was whether I was a virgin or not.
“And I don’t know how many other jobs… It ends up where you’re always on the defensive… Guys are not having to live like that.”
“The point being made at the chat show in Edinburgh,” I said, “was that, if a girl goes out wearing a short skirt and a low cleavage and she’s covered in make-up, then what happens is partly her responsibility because she has triggered what happens.”
“If,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “you haven’t zipped up your purse and the top of your purse is peeping out of your handbag, you are not asking for it to be stolen. It’s easier for someone to steal it and bad people are going to steal it if they see it, but it’s the stealing which is wrong and it happens because some people are bad – some people are thieves – not because of the way your handbag looked. You should be able to be in the outside world and not have things stolen.”
“So,” I said, “in that example, the woman is being stupid, but she’s…”
“She’s being careless,” replied my eternally-un-named friend. “She doesn’t want the purse to be taken, but one of the many people she passes by may be a bad person who is a thief.”
“So,” I said, “if a man rapes a woman, it’s because the man is a rapist, not because the woman has turned a normal man into someone who rapes people.”
“When I had a purse stolen,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “I’d put it in the pocket of my jacket but it was a red purse and, ever since, I have not bought a red purse, because I’m aware it’s visually noticeable to someone who is inclined to steal. You shouldn’t have to not carry a red purse. It’s wrong if someone takes it. The person who has done wrong is a thief. You are forced to have to try to avoid it being stolen because there are bad people out there. But you shouldn’t really have to be cautious in an idyllic Utopian world which I can envisage.
“If a young girl’s pissed and goes up some dark alley, if someone takes advantage of that, then it’s the person who takes advantage who is a bad person, not the girl who’s pissed.
“What annoys me is that women are always blamed or held responsible for men’s sexuality. Men should be responsible for their own sexuality. It’s not a woman’s fault.
“If a woman has long hair, large boobs or a pretty face… if you’re friendly and you smile… you’re not ‘asking for it’. Yes, it is nice to have someone fancying you, you do like the attention, but…”
“So it is nice to be sexually attractive,” I interrupted, “but that’s no excuse for people taking advantage of you.”
My eternally-un-named friend replied: “The point is that girls/women are not responsible for men’s sexuality. But it’s always made out they are. If you smile in a friendly way, if you’re pretty and have long blonde hair… at what point are you ‘asking for it’?
“You’re not asking for it if you’re friendly but, because of guys who overly try to grope you or try and do things, you end up where you start not being friendly. Oh, I mustn’t be too friendly. I mustn’t say ‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ Apparently that is ‘asking for it’. There comes a point where it all gets ridiculous.”
“So,” I asked, “if you’re a 19 year-old and you go out with a ‘pussy pelmet’ of a skirt…”
“Well,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “in the 1970s, we were wearing really short skirts. If you raised your arms to put something on a shelf, you could see the knickers. So skirts are no shorter now than they were then.”
“Isn’t that asking for it,” I prompted, “if you wear that short a skirt and go up a back alley with…”
“Of course you’re not,” said my eternally un-named friend, “because you should be able to wear anything. You should not have to wear a burka. That’s the whole point. You should be able to be naked if you really want to be.
“In Sweden, there are people busy having saunas and then leaping into snowy ice wotsits and they’re families and normal people. They’re not ‘asking for it’.
“There are hot countries where women are topless or guys just have some weird thing round their wotsits – and that’s probably only to stop ants eating it! The Aborigines in Australia were completely naked. They were not ‘asking’ to be raped.”