I consider myself a feminist. I consider myself a feminist who is somewhat knowledgable about a few feminist issues – and a complete dumb-ass on most other issues. So I am educating myself and taking you along for the tour (if you want of course, otherwise you should probably just read something else). This week I had a bit of a wake-up call about my own ignorance and it has to do with women and the streets.

When I started looking into feminist issues of this day and age – to read about issues relating to earlier times, check out my waves of feminism blog here and here – and one of the many pressing issues that came up is “victim-blaming”. Essentially it is the idea that if a woman gets raped, she must have somehow be to blame. Wether it is because she was drunk or wearing a short skirt or didn’t say no to some kissing, somehow she must have made the attack possible. After all, men will be men and they cannot be helped for their actions, so women should – and more crap like that.

I’ve always found this idea completely ridiculous. How can anyone believe that deep down any woman would want a man to enter her body without her consent? I wouldn’t shove a cup of tea down your throat if you were not in the mood for a cup right? But sadly, this believe permeates our society.

From the mayor of Keulen who claimed that women should keep unknown men at arm’s length to prevent an attack, to video’s of frat boys shouting “no means yes, yes means anal”, from only letting a woman go out in public escorted by a father or brother or husband, to asking a victim what they were wearing, how drunk they were and wether or not they’d had intercourse before. Somehow, a victim is never blameless when it comes to sexual assault.

Last week, I was finishing a book by Rebecca Solnit called “Wanderlust – a history of walking”. In it, she traces the history of walking, from ancient Greek philosophers to modern day activists. The history of male walking that is. Men, who were allowed the time and safety to walk out. And then she comes to women.

Women walking the streets have had a bad rep for centuries. It’s not safe for a woman to walk about the streets – what with all the men wanting to be with her – so a woman on her own, must have been a streetwalker – a prostitute. Thank god we do not believe this anymore. Thank god women today – in the Western world that is – can just walk outside, whenever they want, where-ever they want.

Except maybe at night. And in certain areas.

Back to victim-blaming
And then I got my eyeopening. I was talking to a girl who is battling street-intimidation because I am looking into the “safe cities” concept. I was giving her examples of how a city could be safer – well lit streets, busy foot traffic, camera’s maybe – and she stopped me. Saying that what bothered her most about this, is that we are thereby making it the responsibility of women to only walk in areas that are safe. And if we don’t… we must be stupid? In part to blame for whatever happens?

And I had to think about it. As much as I believe that safer cities for women, mean safer cities for everyone, I was confronted with how deeply rooted victim blaming really is. Even I had taken the “avoid dark alleys and streets to prevent getting raped” so far, that I didn’t even question my own assumption: that to make the streets safer, we need to make them more accessible.

But all the accessibility in the world are not going to make the difference we need, as long as we keep on blaming victims of sexual assault for what happened to them. Nobody has a right to infringe in that way upon anyones body. Not when you are drunk, not when you are wearing a short skirt. Not even when you are walking on a dark street.


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