Tennis star Serena Williams made some silly remarks about rape the other day for which she has now apologised. Responding to the outrage generated by her original remarks, in a statement posted on her website yesterday Williams said she was "reaching out" to the victim's family to let her know that she "by no means would say or insinuate that she [the victim] was to blame".
Tennis star Serena Williams made some silly remarks about rape the other day for which she has now apologised.
Responding to the outrage generated by her original remarks, in a statement posted on her website yesterday Williams said she was “reaching out” to the victim’s family to let her know that she “by no means would say or insinuate that she [the victim] was to blame”.
Except that was exactly what she did, if not say, then at least imply.
During an interview with Rolling Stone, Williams said that a teenager who was raped by two high school football players was “lucky”, and that “it could have been a lot worse”.
“I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”
I’m not blaming the girl, but…
Once you start a sentence with phrases like that it’s really a question of how far the brain rot has set in rather than whether it has or not.
Instead of feeling self-satisfied and viewing the incident as a chance to pillory one celebrity, however, it’s worth reflecting on just how common such views still are in this country.
A survey of more than 1,000 Londoners in 2010, carried out to mark the 10th anniversary of the Haven service for rape victims, found that more than half of those questioned said there were circumstances when a rape victim should accept some responsibility for an attack.
And a 2008 poll of Northern Ireland university students commissioned by Amnesty International found that almost half of those polled believed a woman to be partially or totally responsible for being raped if she had behaved in a flirtatious manner.
The controversy last year over the student website Unilad was perhaps most striking for the fact that the creators of the site did not consider their rape ‘banter’ to be anything out of the ordinary until they were pulled up about it.
As I’ve pointed out before, the idea that a woman can dress how she pleases, drink as much as she wants and lie in bed with a man without being obliged to have sex with him remains a revolutionary one.
It also seems likely that these sorts of attitudes are related in no small part to the demonisation of women who are perceived to be promiscuous.
Women know that arbitrary judgments will be made about them based on how many sexual partners they have had. As Jessica Valenti points out in her book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut:
“I was called a slut when my boobs grew faster than others. I was called a slut when I had a boyfriend (even though we weren’t having sex.) I was called a slut when I didn’t have a boyfriend and kissed a random boy at a party. I was called a slut when I had the nerve to talk about sex. I was called a slut when I wore a bikini on a weekend trip with high school friends. It seems the word slut can be applied to any activity that doesn’t include knitting, praying, or sitting perfectly still lest any sudden movements be deemed whorish.”
It seems that society passes judgement on women who has been raped based on similar arbitrary criteria – that is, real or imagined promiscuity.
If a woman has a reputation as a ‘slut’ or as ‘easy’, or if she is drunk, or wears a skirt that is ‘too short’, or if she sends out the wrong ‘signals’, then in the eyes of many men and women she apparently forgoes the right to decide who can and can’t impregnate her.
Dropping our sexual double standard over who is a ‘stud’ and who is a ‘slut’ would go some way to combating this pernicious tendency to blame the victim.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.