Title: She Asked for it!  Did She?  

First Published in Hudson Valley Woman, April 1992

Events of the past few years have focused much public attention on the sexual harassment and rape of women. What has been brought to the forefront by the headlines is something quite commonplace: women are often too embarrassed or intimidated—physically, socially or financially—to accuse the harasser/rapist publicly, and he freely goes on to his next prey.

The embarrassment and intimidation arise because women are still being blamed, if not for “asking for it,” then at least for not handling the situation correctly. I have been amazed by the number of women, some of whom call themselves feminists, who say “She asked for it” when referring to the Central Park jogger, the woman who was gang-raped by a bunch of college jocks, the woman gang-raped in a bar, Anita Hill, Desiree Washington (the Tyson case), Patricia Bowman (the Kennedy Smith case), and others. 

A woman wants desperately to believe that she could “handle” a dangerous situation, that she could somehow get out of it—or not get into it in the first place. In cases where she becomes the “victim,” she often therefore faults herself. She may even think she “asked for it.” To admit that it is not that other woman’s fault reveals the vulnerability of all women, herself included, in such situations and means that even if she follows all the rules, she can still be raped or harassed.

The lack of organized consciousness-raising in the feminist movement in recent years has meant a return to the individual isolation that keeps women ignorant of their mutual reality, leaving us to blame each other—and ourselves—for not being individually smart enough or strong enough or moral enough to escape an act of violent male domination. 

When I hear “She asked for it!” or some version thereof, my consciousness-raising experience in the Women’s Liberation Movement kicks in, and I recall all the times in my own life when I could have been raped or when I was sexually harassed on the job and didn’t quit or speak up. I remember “making out” with guys I had no intention of “going all the way” with, of being alone with men in some situation where they could easily have raped me. That’s part of how one goes about finding a mate, or how one moves through one’s work and social life. 

I often go shopping alone at night and park in mall lots. I’ve let repairmen into my house when I was home alone. I’ve been in men’s homes, apartments—yes, even hotel rooms—at times, with no intention of having sex. I sometime go walking, hiking or swimming alone when I can’t find a friend to go with me. If I drank, I suppose I might go to bars alone. In my younger days I wore miniskirts and bikinis in an attempt to be to be fashionable and attractive or to just enjoy the sun. 

None of these actions meant that I wanted to be raped. A woman should be able to walk stark naked down Main Street and not be raped. No man has a right to invade her territory uninvited. Period.

Are men “born” rapists?
The biological determinists tell us that men have always raped women and it’s just part of their natural sexuality. Wrong! Rape is not biological, it’s political. Men aren’t born rapists and harassers, but are able to grab what they want because they have power over women. They know that society is, for the most part, on their side. The more powerful they are, the more easily they get away with it when some woman dares to say “enough.” A wealthy white William Kennedy Smith is often exonerated; a well-heeled but Black Michael Tyson often goes to jail. 

Are men “conditioned” to rape?
The psychological/sociological determinists tell us men are just “brought up that way.” One of the early “rules” of consciousness-raising was always to ask who benefits from an act of oppression, and how. The argument that men are “conditioned” to oppress women may have some superficial validity, but it leaves out the underlying cause. Not all men rape. Women certainly do not bring up their sons to rape. Sexual harassment/rape is an act of male domination, a way of putting a woman in her place, which is somewhere—anywhere—below that of the man. Keeping women subordinate results in very real economic, social and political benefits for men, from better jobs to more money to more free time to being the ones who make the rules and decisions.

Rape is sexual harassment escalated to the level of physical violence. “The war of the sexes”—as it used to be so cutely called—is about power. It has striking parallels to the wars of nations. As Karl von Clausewitz once put it, “All know that wars are caused only by the political relations of governments and of nations; but ordinarily one pictures the situation as if, with the beginning of the war, these relations cease and a totally new situation is created.... On the contrary...war is nothing but the continuation of political relations, with the intervention of other means.” 

Rape/sexual harassment is nothing but the continuation of sexual politics—the unequal power relationship between men and women—and it is there that we must make a change.

Imprisoning women is not the answer. The solution to rape is not to further curtail women’s freedom. Everything a woman does to avoid rape or sexual harassment usurps her time, resources or freedom in some way. To say a woman shouldn’t go out at night or do this or that is to aid and abet the forces that would keep her from exerting her rights, reaching her full potential, pursuing her own happiness and well-being. I don’t go for walks alone in my neighborhood at night; I’m too afraid. But if a woman were attacked for doing so, I certainly wouldn’t blame her; I would blame the rapist. I’m all too aware of the limitations that fear puts on women’s lives. Those who break through the fear and take the risks need and deserve our support. Rather, we must make it unsafe for men to harass and rape.

Women want/require/demand the same room as men to move, to grow, to explore, to fly, to achieve, to relax—to be safe and at ease in the world. 

April 1992







© Copyright 2011 Carol Hanisch. All rights reserved.

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