Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

Don’t be THAT girl.

I wanted to share something that is currently happening in our city. I am outraged by this self proclaimed feminist author that I cannot even put words together to share my thoughts on her article.

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Simons: True sexual equality the best way to fight rape culture


Simons: True sexual equality the best way to fight rape culture

Two of the Don't Be That Girl posters seen around Edmonton this week. The posters parody a successful anti-rape campaign developed in Edmonton and use images from the Don’t Be That Guy campaign with changed text to send different messages.

Photograph by: Supplied , Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - Don’t Be That Guy. That’s the message behind a provocative, internationally acclaimed anti-rape campaign created right here in Edmonton.

One image shows a woman passed out face down on a couch.

“Just because she isn’t saying no, doesn’t mean she’s saying yes,” reads the caption.

Another features a girl in a pink dress, too drunk to manage on her high heels, being eased into a car by a man.

“Just because you help her home, doesn’t mean you get to help yourself,” it says.

The campaign, specifically targeted at young men, was created three years ago by SAVE — Sexual Assault Voices of Edmonton — which includes, among others, the Edmonton Police Service, the University of Alberta, Alberta Health Services, the Red Cross, and the Sexual Assault Centre. It has won awards and been adopted across Canada, as well as in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Vancouver police credit the campaign with reducing sexual assaults there by 10 per cent.

Now, Don’t Be That Guy has provoked an ugly backlash: a series of satirical posters, called Don’t Be That Girl, that copy the images of the original campaign but pervert their meaning.

For example, that image of the wobbly woman in pink now comes with a new caption: “Just because she’s easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fear false criminal accusations.” Another reads, “Just because you regret your one-night stand, doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual.”

A group called Men’s Rights Edmonton has claimed responsibility for the parodies — which have ignited their own firestorm of response, from outraged social advocates and politicians, who’ve labelled them cowardly, misogynist and a violation of copyright.

Yet these sneering satires constitute legitimate, legally protected social commentary. And they raise vital questions about the assumptions behind the original Don’t Be That Guy campaign.

Let’s be clear. Any man who’d have intercourse with someone passed out cold or too drunk to stand or speak is both a criminal and a loser. Physically violating a helpless body is the act of a coward, of someone who’s too afraid or socially impotent to “score” in any other way.

Still, as a feminist, I’m uncomfortable with the narrative of passive, helpless victimization the original Don’t Be That Guy campaign promotes.

Whether you’re male or female, drinking yourself into a stupor in an environment where you might be vulnerable is damned stupid. No one has the right to sexually assault you when you’re unconscious or too intoxicated to make your own decisions. No one has the right to rob you or beat you in that state either. Yet no matter your gender, if you’re too impaired to take care of yourself, the odds someone will hurt you or take advantage of you certainly go up. To render yourself powerless, trusting to the general decency of those around you, is foolhardy.

But in our society, young women are bombarded with conflicting messages. First, they’re told that they are only valuable if they’re sexually desirable to men. Then, they’re told that if they have sex, they are whores. Young men get equally toxic messages. They’re told their manhood depends on sleeping with as many women as possible.

Little wonder some confused young women use alcohol as a social crutch — not just to lower their inhibitions but to give them social licence to have sex. Drink “too much” on purpose, and if you do have sex, blame the booze.

Do some women make false rape claims because they’re embarrassed by their own behaviour? Because they’re terrified about the way their friends and family might react if the truth about their sexual activities came out?

Not often. But sometimes. To pretend otherwise isn’t just naive. It’s sexist. It traps women in that passive victim, virgin/whore paradigm, instead of acknowledging their authentic agency and full, flawed humanity.

Do men sometimes genuinely misunderstand whether a partner wants to have sex? Of course — especially in those murky cases where the woman herself isn’t quite sure what she wants.

But the problem isn’t too much feminism. The problem is we don’t have enough. If our daughters weren’t taught to be ashamed of their sexuality, if they weren’t taught that the only socially acceptable way to have sex is to get drunk first, if they were taught, instead, to speak honestly about their desires, there would be fewer horror stories. If our sons were taught to see girls as equal people, not sexual trophies or victims, we’d be even better off.

If we truly want to vanquish date-rape culture, we should retire the hackneyed gender-war rhetoric. How much better to free young men of the pressure to measure their masculinity by conquest, to empower young women to take proud ownership of their own sexuality. Instead of abusing alcohol, instead of surrendering control of their bodies and expecting men to look after them, women need the confidence and power to look out for themselves.


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