Last night just prior to my departure from Sydney I was sitting in my host’s kitchen drinking wine with a group of young activists from all over the country. We got to discussing gender, sexuality and feminism and the conversation fell to sexual assault prevention. I am always so incredbily grateful for the feminist men in my life, for the men who think rape prevention is everyone’s job. Because it is. This was part of my contribution to the discussion.
From the moment women can think, they are saturated with the viewpoint that sexuality is a gift, to be guarded, protected and ultimately, kept hidden. Female sexuality is fragile, where as male sexuality is aggressive, and therefore it is up to women to prevent themselves falling victim to the predatory (natural) instincts of men.
it is this viewpoint that is a part of what is so wrong with conventional discourse on sexual assault prevention. Young women internalize the viewpoint that they didn’t do enough to prevent sexual assault if it occurs and this furthers the common view that it is up to women to protect themselves, rather than men to not rape. Three years ago, I sat in a seminar in South Australia with educators and activists who were concerned with the levels of violence enacted towards South Australian young women. The facillitator of the seminar were workers from the local rape crisis centre and the final session of the day was on the ways that the community could respond to sexual assault and work towards prevention. It made me incredibly sad to hear that so many of the (predominantly female) audience believed that “safety” campaigns were the only ways in which we could prevent sexual assault, or work towards reducing the amount of victim survivors in our community. When I asked for a clarification of what was meant by safety, I was told that things aimed at encouraging “safe” partying, socializing, and travel. None of these acknowledged the root causes of sexual assault, power and a desire to exert that power in a violent way. None of these suggestions acknowledged that it is the responsibility of men not to rape NOT WOMEN TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM RAPE. So much of this feeds into victim blaming attitudes, perpetuating myths and other things that put the burden of sexual assault firmly in the lap of the survivor, where it does not belong.
I ventured further by saying that we needed education aimed at men, particularly young men who are forming ideas on respect, consent and sexuality that details their responsibilities, and the things that are appropriate and not. But with the benefit of a few years hindsight i’ve come to the conclusion that it is not up to women to be the educators of men, it is up to men to make the conscious decisions to educate themselves.
Sitting in a kitchen in Sydney is only part of the way forward… We’ve got to take the ideas from kitchens, from discussions amongst ourselves, and make them public, those that understand need to speak up. It is the only way forward.