That didn’t take long. We spent about 24 hours discussing the ridiculously lenient punishment that The Commish, Roger Goodell, handed down to Ray Rice for ostensibly knocking out Janay Palmer and then dragging her off an elevator. And then, like clockwork, we had a major media personality—this time it was Stephen A. Smith—discussing how Janay, and women in general, can do more to prevent this type of violence from befalling them.
And while the Twitterati was very quick to denounce and ridicule Stephen A., here’s an unfortunate reality: His beliefs are WIDELY held by many men, and even some women, throughout this great country of ours. It usually goes something like this, “Obviously nobody should ever harass/hit/rape a woman. HOWEVER, women should recognize things they can do to prevent becoming victims.”
We hear this when it comes to how women dress, how much women drink or the people women choose to associate with. And it’s all just patently ridiculous and completely lacking any sense of the reality of the world in which we live.
Potential rapists or abusers don’t advertise. They don’t look any different than the average guy. They often don’t show any signs of their propensity to violence until they are already being violent. Quite simply, if you’re a woman, any guy you meet at a bar, and guy you go on a date with, any guy you ultimately marry, could one day victimize you. This is a sad fact, but it is a fact.
Some of you, in fact some of my coworkers, are going to say this and have said this to me in the past: You have a daughter, aren’t you going to tell her to avoid certain neighborhoods? To lock her car? To cross the street if a shady character is walking towards her? How is this any different than what Stephen A. said?
Well, what Stephen A. and the other victim blamers don’t understand is this: What you are asking women to do is to be in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilance and awareness. You are telling women that it is NEVER safe to have a little too much to drink. You are telling women that they can NEVER say something harsh in an argument. You are telling women that they might just be better off staying at home or not dressing sexy or not going on dates, because, well, you just shouldn’t put yourself in those situations. Because ultimately, when it comes to sexual assault or domestic violence, all neighborhoods are dangerous, everyone is a potential perpetrator.
Our alternative is this: We could go the other direction, the direction that many men simply aren’t comfortable with. A direction that says this: It’s up to us as a society to make it clear that we won’t accept harassment and domestic violence and rape as a simple fact of life. That we won’t act as if men are no different than animals in the wild. We will stop giving mealy mouth excuses like that while abuses towards women are deplorable, they are ultimately understandable if given the right circumstances. We will stop acting like men are the monkeys at the zoo who throw their shit at the glass because, well, they just can’t help themselves.
Ultimately we will have to make a choice as a society, and the choice is simple one: Are women full citizens, worthy of the same rights and experiences and protections as men? If they answer is yes, then we will stop trying to explain away instances of harassment, violence and rape as crimes that involve two parties, that share at least some culpability. We will see them for what they are: Criminal acts perpetrated against an unwilling victim. If the answer is no, well, then we will keep talking about how women dress, how they “push all our buttons” in an argument, and how much they drink in a fraternity house, as if any of those extenuating circumstances to them losing a piece of their human dignity.