Always act like everything’s your fault
Emily Yoffe of Dear Prudence wrote a piece for Slate that asked college women to stop getting drunk because they might get raped.
The whole internet then lost its mind.
A lot of the discussion revolves around the various notions people hold about moral responsibility. I want to make one more nomination: you should always feel personally responsible for anything bad that happens to anyone.
If a rapist rapes someone, the proper legal answer is to assign moral responsibility to the rapist.
But let’s say the victim was your kid. As a parent, some large fraction of you feels tremendous responsibility for anything that happens to your kid even if it isn’t your legal fault. Even if no reasonable person or unreasonable person could have predicted it. Even if there was no way you could have prevented it. Even if it’s leukemia.
As a parent, you perceive everything as your fault. This perception isn’t legally accurate or even psychologically healthy, but it is practical view to hold.
If parents perceive everything that happens to their kids as their fault, they will do everything they can to protect their kids and not just filling the role of parent. If you are merely playing the role of a concerned parent, you will give your kids the prescribed Bill-Cosby advice and if something bad happens, well you did what you could.
If you are a genuinely responsible parent, you will insert yourself into your kid’s life in such a way that other parents will hate you. And you won’t care because that is the price you pay for shouldering ultimate responsibility instead settling for what it is reasonable to expect from Concerned Parent #317 in the script.
If you are a parent who bears ultimate responsibility, you probably ask your daughter to read Jessica Valenti’s description of what happened when she wore a skirt on her 17th birthday and Daisy Coleman’s description of her rape way before children should have to learn that such things are possible.
It might be OK to lie to your kid about a risk if you can protect them from that risk. If, however, your kid can influence the risks taken and you can’t fully protect them, they ought to know. If a 13-year-old girl is a candidate for sneaking out their bedroom window to hang out with men, she ought to know the possibilities.
No one other than the attackers is legally or morally at fault for their victimization, but that is beside the point. The point is to avoid becoming the victim, even a faultless victim.
You need to learn to bear ultimate responsibility for what happens to your kids, and your kids need to bear that same ultimate responsibility too no matter how young. And if one of us is standing around when something happens, that ultimate responsibility falls on us as well.
There is no rule that says all responsibilities must be fractional and add up to one. That’s accounting work, performed by juries, directed by lawyers, pointing at rubble.
If you care about what actually happens to people rather than who gets blamed for it, the only part of the system that it makes sense to blame is the part that you control: you. Act as if everything were entirely your fault. Yes, rapists have agency and are blameworthy in a way that cancer isn’t, but both are out there, and everyone has a responsibility to do what they can to stop both along all means available to them. In that spirit, check out Jennifer Dziura’s awesome suggestion:
If there’s some guy jumping out of the bushes and attacking female joggers, I want highly trained, gun-wielding, small female cops to jog around that lake until that guy jumps out and gets himself arrested and/or shot.
Is there a bar where women have reported that they think their drinks may have been drugged? I want hot female cops to leave their drinks unattended, a hidden camera to be trained on the drinks, and the bartender regularly clearing away those drinks and testing them.
We could even train female cops to act really drunk and accept rides home from strangers. There would be police backup, of course. The random navy blue Camry behind the rapist’s car? Full of cops with guns. The undercover cop’s earrings? Hidden cameras. Of course, if you’re a good guy who just drives the “drunk” female cop home, you’ll never know about any of that. (It’s possible you may get out of a speeding ticket later and not know why you’re on some cop’s good citizen list!) But you try to force your way into her house, you will find yourself on the ground within seconds.
Like Dziura, I don’t know why this doesn’t exist yet. Of the many Wars on ___, why was it never deemed fashionable to declare a War on sexual assault with the accompanying stampede of police forces trying to get their hands on federal grant money?
If we have a problem, it is not one of people assuming too much responsibility for what happens to them and for others. It’s that we didn’t assume enough and failed to pursue every avenue towards preventing bad things from happening.
As for the appropriateness of Emily Yoffe’s piece, let me offer a couple of thoughts. If
P(rape | reading the article) < P(rape | not reading the article),
then good on her. I am partly sympathetic to the notion that her column is only half-written in addressing only college women and not men. But the Slate url includes “double_x” twice. I question whether she could have expected as many men would read her words as did.
Addendum: If there were lots of people who said that someone got what he deserved when their car was stolen, then perhaps people who say people should lock their car doors would be accused of victim blaming. It wouldn’t change the fact, however, that It would be a good practice to follow.
Photo credits: FreeFoto and dark-moon1 and nadialeather at deviantart.com