Two Quick Tests


Have a couple of quick heuristics to make your life easier.

Test One: Are you blaming victims?

Sure, sometimes you do have to explain how to do some basic things. I have friends who didn’t grow up in the U.S. I have friends who were very sheltered for religious or other reasons. Sometimes you say things that some across as condescendingly obvious for a good reason.

When these things are about not, say, getting drugged by someone who may want to rape you, you may be told that giving that kind of advice is victim-blaming. You may be tempted to shrug off that idea. Before you do that, ask yourself one question: What do you have left to say to the person who doesn’t care to take your advice about a class of behavior. When someone tells you, “Thanks, but I enjoy dressing up/chatting with strangers/expressing my opinion/walking around at night/getting drunk every now and then”, what do you say?

If all you have left to do about the problem is throw up your hands and tell someone you can’t help them, you’re victim blaming.

Test Two: Does your group have a problem?

Sexual harassment is being fought on many fronts right now. Pretty much anywhere that men have considered themselves to be entitled to a social, vocational, or physical space and women are contesting that entitlement, harassment is a big deal. Because harassment is one of the tools used to deny women these spaces, we’re mounting campaigns to identify and fight the harassment in these spaces.

When that happens, you may feel a need to stick up for those spaces. You may want to disavow the association with harassment that comes from being part of one of those spaces. Before you do that, ask yourself one question: Is the harassment effective in your particular space? Are women leaving because they can find something else to do that doesn’t expose them to the harassment, event if that doesn’t happen in that part of this space that is under your direct control? Are there people you don’t have the opportunity to work with/hear from/be challenged by because of the harassment?

If you lose out on any of that because of harassment, your space–and you–have a sexual harassment problem, even if you didn’t create it.

Comments

  1. Kierra says

    Test Two seems like it would be hard for someone to implement correctly if they don’t already believe that harassment is a problem. The type of person who doesn’t “see” harassment happening probably isn’t going to notice the lack of women or is going to assume that lack has something to do with women’s temperaments.

  2. A Hermit says

    Ive always liked Massimo Pigliucci as a thinker, but that kind of nit-picking minimizing nonsense kind of lowers my opinion. The headline he’s complaining about simply asks “Does philosophy have a sexual harassment problem?”

    it’s not “Does philosophy have a worse sexual harassment problem than other fields?” I would have thought the answer to the actual headline is an uncontroversial “yes.”

  3. says

    THANK YOU. Your first test is especially perfect. I will be linking to this and using it many times, I’m sure (unfortunately, as much as I’d like to think these discussions are eventually going to stop, that’s probably an unrealistic hope).

    Instead of getting in a back-and-forth debate– “that’s victim blaming” “no it’s not” “but it shouldn’t matter if she’s drunk” “people need to take personal responsibility” “but what if you were drunk” “i’m just trying to help”–it cuts right to the heart of the issue: the only thing that “causes” rape is the presence of a rapist. So what if I like drinking? What if I don’t want to be forced indoors any night that I’m without an escort? If you think I deserve to be raped, or even if you simply think I would bear some responsibility if I did get raped, then bzzzt, congratulations, you’re victim blaming. Either fix those beliefs or accept that you’re an asshole; those are really your only choices.

    Awesome. It’s so simple and easy, and addresses the real issue, without forcing me to grant any of their blamey propositions “for the sake of argument” or validate any part of the paradigm. You’re brilliant. :)

  4. khms says

    [quote]Have a couple of quick heuristics to make your life easier.[/quote]

    … and if you’d said this explicitely applies to rape, harassment, and similar stuff (like the second one at least strongly hints), I’d have zero problems with it.

    But looking at the first, that certainly sounds as if it would be victim blaming if we were talking about drunk driving. I don’tt think so, and I suspect neither do you.

    It’s only victim blaming if there is a perpetrator who could be blamed who is different from the victim.

    (And of course, victim blaming even happens with stuff as banal and commonplace as plain theft. Such as insurances not paying because you didn’t keep your stuff securely enough, thus making a thief’s job easier. It’s a deeply ingrained part of our culture. Because – like it or not (and for me, it’s mostly [i]not[/i]) – it is useful, and not just in sheltering bad guys too much like yourself.)

    [Is it just me, or is preview b0rken?]

  5. says

    It’s only victim blaming if there is a perpetrator who could be blamed who is different from the victim.

    I don’t understand your objection here. That’s definitional to victim-blaming.

    And of course, victim blaming even happens with stuff as banal and commonplace as plain theft.

    Yes, and it’s wrong then too. If we were arguing about theft and someone made those two videos, the point would be the same. Of course, people don’t make theft videos like this and expect to be treated like decent human beings.

  6. freemage says

    khms: If I post a video saying that anyone who goes out driving on New Years Eve, sober or not, deserves to get hit by a drunk driver, THEN I’m victim-blaming for drunk-driving, and I’m a horrible person.

    A drunk driver who has a wreck is not a “victim”, hence, blaming them for their actions is not, in fact, “victim-blaming”. Get it?

    ***

    Unrelated to that reply:

    One thing that I think needs to get underlined is WHY ‘helpful heuristics’ aren’t useful in general discussions, even if they may be ‘good advice’ in specific situations.

    To-wit: Predators prey. It’s what they do; the type of predation (theft; character assassination; sexual assault; you name it) doesn’t change this simple fact. Likewise, the vast, vast majority of predators do not decide, “I’m not going to prey on someone if no one fits my ideal victim profile.” Instead, they decide, “I’m going to go after the most vulnerable target at the time.”

    This is important, because it means that even in a situation where a particular protective action is practiced by 100% of the targeted population, the predators will still be out and looking for the next-most vulnerable targets. This is why Islamic nations with strict modesty laws still have rapists; the fact that all the ‘dangerous behavior’ has been virtually eliminated by force of law has absolutely no effect on the fact that rapists are still looking to rape.

    So at best, following the ‘useful tips’ will not stop a rapist; instead, he will decide to focus on another target (assuming your specific useful tip is something that applies to his MO, of course). In short, these are ‘rapist re-direction tips’, not ‘rape prevention tips’–and then, in a horrible fashion, they only work to the extent that they are NOT universal.

    Short form: Scenario A: Rapist enters party room. One girl is sober as a judge, and with a ‘buddy'; another is extremely tipsy and on her own. The rapist will go after the solo, drunk girl, because she’s a more vulnerable target. Scenario B: Rapist enters a party room. All the girls are sober and with buddies. Rapist alters his approach to attempt to isolate women, or make them vulnerable even in pairs, or seem like a ‘nice guy’ in order to set up an attack at a later time. It does NOT magically make him a not-rapist.

  7. says

    Ignorant man (me) warning here, who likes to think he mostly gets it, but obviously lacks the perspective to really know, so bear with me.

    One thing I thought about is: How would the grenade post not also be implicit victim blaming, in the sense that it is telling women that they’d better not let Shermer get them drunk? Of course PZ didn’t say anything in the post in terms of women acting dangerously around Shermer, unlike Dalton’s “how to not drink too much wine” meant directly for the victim, or the almost victim, if you believe his story. The best way I can put it is “alcohol doesn’t directly cause rape, rapists directly cause rape” and the grenade post is warning women about the Shermer in combination with the M.O. he uses. The grenade post also extends beyond just warning women as it is clear from the C&D letter and Murphy interview that Shermer is well aware that cat is out of the bag and hopefully that changes his behavior (specifically, the rape part).

    To refute the theft victim blaming scenario, I’ve had cars broken into/stolen several times, a few times because I had nice stereo equipment in there and other times for no good reason I can discern. The only complete solution seems to be not to have a car to avoid car theft. Tell me how in the world a women is not supposed to be a women in order to not be raped?

  8. mildlymagnificent says

    Tell me how in the world a women is not supposed to be a women in order to not be raped?

    We are women and that’s unalterable so we do what we always do. We play the odds.

    If we’ve previously been to a bar or other venue where we’ve never had a problem and nor has anyone we know, we’ll prefer that place to another if we have the choice. We observe the behaviour of men in our work and social and neighbourhood environments and we do or don’t interact with them based on our own judgement. When others tell us that certain groups or individuals or places are problematic, we avoid them as much as we possibly can.

    We don’t always win, but most of us win (it’s really not losing rather than winning) most of the time.

  9. eigenperson says

    One thing I thought about is: How would the grenade post not also be implicit victim blaming, in the sense that it is telling women that they’d better not let Shermer get them drunk?

    Well, using your car analogy, this is like making a map that shows which streets have the highest rates of car break-ins. That’s not victim-blaming in and of itself.

    Of course, if you then park on a street labeled on the map as having a high rate of burglary, someone steals your radio, and then later your friends say “Well, I’m not that sympathetic since you decided to park on that street,” that’s victim-blaming. But it’s your friends doing the victim-blaming, not the cartographer.

  10. says

    One thing I thought about is: How would the grenade post not also be implicit victim blaming, in the sense that it is telling women that they’d better not let Shermer get them drunk?

    Victim-blaming is victim-blaming because it focuses (when the topic is rape) on the victim rather than the rapist. Identifying a rapist is identifying the actual problem, as long as the identification is correct. Additionally, it is pointing out something that is not obvious, that victims don’t generally have foreknowledge of and aren’t expected to. People don’t wear name tags that say, “My Name, Rapist”.

    That said, I have seen some reactions to that post that have come at least uncomfortably close to victim-blaming. The people who say they instantly identified Shermer as a skeeze and avoided him should probably give some thought to what they’re trying to put across as their message.

  11. says

    Tell me how in the world a women is not supposed to be a women in order to not be raped?

    There you go. Congratulations, you’re almost there. Most men, in my experience, never make it this far.

    Try taking the next step.

    Tell me how in the world a women is not supposed to be a women in order to not be raped?

    Put that on for a minute. Try to feel what that would mean in your day-to-day life. Now, that feeling, endure it, for as long as is healthy for you right now. And if you can, imagine living with it, not as a momentary intellectual exercise, but as a truth you feel down to your core, every day, all your life.

    There’s a reason we’re so passionate about this issue.

    (Of course, the next step is to extend that to other vulnerable groups–a step a lot of white, cis, neurotypical and able-bodied women never take. And to recognize that as a privileged person you will never be able to truly experience what it means to live with that vulnerability in your day to day life, the sacrifices and compromises you’re forced to make to negotiate the world. I can try and understand what trans* women, for example, experience, but I’ll never fully get it. However, I can listen and remain open to learning, which will lead to a deeper awareness and empathy.

    And I fight to make the world a little safer.)

  12. says

    Thanks all for the responses! I think I had a straw person thought in my head that trying to provide any helpful information to avoid rape would just be considered victim blaming. Context, context, context… But, this is probably not a bad default position to have as a man, not because the information is necessarily bad, more that mansplaining to women about something men don’t have to live with is not likely to be helpful (“the road to hell is paved with good intentions mansplaining”).

    EEB, it absolutely infuriates me to even start thinking about it. My wife was raped as a teenager (family member) and we’ve got the most beautiful daughter (almost 4), so I generally have little trouble whipping up the adrenalin to want to change the world. I’m just trying to figure out how to help and it’s frustrating.

  13. jaggington says

    Context and timing …

    Warning someone beforehand that certain action can help avoid an unpleasant situation is advice. It appears that some women have been advising others to avoid certain Skeptic Thought Leaders for quite some time.

    Telling someone who has been raped that there is an action that they should have taken to avoid it and implying that they have personal responsibility for not taking this action after the fact is victim blaming.

    It kind of riffs of the gender stereotype that women sympathise whilst men look for a solution to the problem, without acknowledging that there is no solution to the problem once the crime has been committed other than comforting the victim, prosecuting the rapist, and working together to help prevent it happening again.

    Is anyone else a bit uncomfortable with the continued use of car theft analogies (“Don’t leave it unlocked/keys in the ignition/parked in the wrong part of town”)? Comparing any kind of assault to theft of property just seems a bit, I don’t know how else to phrase this, missing the point and wrong.

  14. D. C. Sessions says

    Necessary distinctions:

    * The moral blame for drunk-driving wrecks [1] falls 100% on the drunk driver.
    * This does not render the advice to avoid driving on New Year’s Eve to be “victim blaming.”

    We live and make our decisions in the world we have, not the one we wish we had. Which does not absolve us (to paraphrase the Talmud) from working to improve the one we have.

    [1] Barring issues extraneous to DWI such as “and the other car was going the wrong way on a one-way street.”

  15. says

    Such as insurances not paying because you didn’t keep your stuff securely enough, thus making a thief’s job easier.

    Stop, you’re making an error here:
    Those are terms and conditions that are imposed by a private company on a contract: They cover your ass but you have to minimize risks. BUT this doesn’t apply to the law side of things. No matter whether you have insurance or whether they’re paying, the crime remains the same, the blame remains the same.
    The thief doesn’t get acquitted because I only locked the door once instead of twice.

  16. leftwingfox says

    Useful comparison.

    When talking about drunk driving, 90% of campaigning is “Don’t Drink and Drive”, and ways of preventing people from drinking and driving.

    When talking about rape, 90% of campaigning is on the potential victims of rape to defend themselves or restrict their behaviours.

    Imagine if that were switched? If all of the money spent on drunk driving campaigns were aimed at defensive drivers to watch out for potential drunks on the road, and only a fraction on actually stopping drunk drivers? I can’t see that being all that effective. So what would happen if 90% of our efforts went to policing potential rapists, rather than telling people how to avoid them?

  17. freemage says

    jaggington: There’s two reasons for the use of ‘theft’ analogies:

    1: Dealing with the threat of theft is an actual problem that men out of prison have (unlike rape). so it’s an effort to give us an a bit of the emotional reaction. Personally, I prefer mugging as my go-to in most cases, because it also contains the threat of violence and the fact that every assault is different, meaning that the Monday-morning quarterbacking that goes on is utterly absurd.

    2: The depersonalization of the threat (the very thing that makes it seem so wrong to you) also serves to help underline the fact that, to the predator, the victim is just an object. He’s not making a moral judgement about the victim; while he might try to justify his actions that way if called to account for them, at the time of the crime, he’s simply acting on his desires without any regard at all for the victim’s rights. That, in turn, feeds back into my point that most ‘rape-prevention’ strategies are, at best, ‘rape redirection’ strategies. It becomes clear that the car thief is going to take the easiest target in the lot–but since that’s a relative thing, it doesn’t matter if they all have alarm systems; he’s just going to adapt to beating those systems.

  18. D. C. Sessions says

    So what would happen if 90% of our efforts went to policing potential rapists, rather than telling people how to avoid them?

    That depends on facts not in evidence. It’s quite possible that the effectiveness of rape deterrence in “rapes prevented per unit cost (pick your cost metric)” is much lower than that of rape avoidance as set against the same metric. Besides the problem of choosing a suitable metric (because both have large externalities such as forcing women to live in fear vs. general police-state awfulness), there’s a lot we don’t know.

    Personally, I’m inclined to agree that our efforts are out of whack — but I’m trying to be honest enough to face up to the limits of my own knowledge here. IMHO if nothing else an emphasis on “avoidance” vs. “rapist prevention” is close enough to victim-blaming that a lot of people will cross the line. Many of them would anyway, but I don’t like giving them any more help than I could avoid.

  19. says

    DC Sessions:

    This does not render the advice to avoid driving on New Year’s Eve to be “victim blaming.”

    No, but it’s victim-blaming to say after the fact, “You shouldn’t have been driving on New Year’s Eve!” and disregarding that people have lives that sometimes require them to be out on a holiday.

    A very limited “Don’t be that guy” poster campaign in Edmonton cut reported rapes on campus by about 20%.

  20. says

    The problem is that educational efforts and police lectures are almost always aimed at women. We’ve seen plenty of comments lately where people simply refuse to believe that raping a person who is too drunk to consent is rape. Where are the police campaigns that say, “Your sexual partner must be conscious” or “Make sure that you have enthusiastic consent” or “Getting someone drunk to have sex is wrong” or “Driving someone miles from home and threatening to leave them is not getting consent” and “When in doubt, wait for another day”?

  21. nathanaelnerode says

    “Where are the police campaigns that say, “Your sexual partner must be conscious” or “Make sure that you have enthusiastic consent” or “Getting someone drunk to have sex is wrong” or “Driving someone miles from home and threatening to leave them is not getting consent” and “When in doubt, wait for another day”?”

    Well, hell, let’s figure out how to fund exactly that public service ad campaign. There’s gotta be a way to get a grant for it. I’m not quite sure where to start.

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