The recent rape controversy in India has led to some interesting findings:
There’s a tendency to assume the victims of sexual violence somehow brought it on themselves. In a 1996 survey of judges in India, 68 percent of the respondents said that provocative clothing is an invitation to rape. In response to the recent gang-rape incident, a legislator in Rajasthan suggested banning skirts as a uniform for girls in private schools, citing it as the reason for increased cases of sexual harassment.
At the risk of pissing off the impotent manginas known as men’s rights activists, I think it’s worth pointing out that sometimes women don’t deserved to be blamed for their own rape because they happened to be wearing “provocative” clothing. Blaming provocative clothing for rape is not always valid because of confirmation biases, rationalizations, and cultural relativism.
In the first place, a man looking to rationalize rape will always find the grounds to do so. If some random guy feels like forcing a girl to have sex with him, any excuse will do. The man who randomly rapes strange ladies while said ladies are out getting groceries will justify their behavior on the grounds that if the lady wasn’t a slut, she wouldn’t have been shopping alone. If some other guy wants to have sex with a girl, the fact that she’s dressed like a slut is an obvious indicator that she wants to have sex with him. The rationalization is exactly the same, in that the rapist is seeing only what he wants to see; thus, he suffers from confirmation bias.
In the second place, cultural relativism makes it more difficult to discern sexual signals. Touch can be extremely meaningful in some cultures and nearly meaningless in others. Going topless can be extremely provocative in some cultures and nearly meaningless in others. What is sexy to one culture is disgusting to another culture and meaningless to yet another culture. What is an obvious come-on in one culture means nothing in another culture, and is a mixed signal in another culture. To assume that one always correctly interprets every signal of sexual interest and disinterest is simply absurd. There is, thanks to the magic of diversity, a very strong chance that you may misinterpret a girl’s signals.
However, this doesn’t mean that women have no part to play in their rapes. Sometimes a woman is a completely innocent victim; sometimes a man is an easily manipulated stooge. Most of the time, though, both parties are complicit to some degree. The woman who goes running at night, alone and unarmed through dark allies, though not asking to be raped, is not doing much of anything to prevent it. The woman who dresses provocatively and flirtatiously teases a drunk male is hardly in a position to deny that she was asking for sex. This is nothing more than a continuum of rape complicity, and to assume that any woman who was raped was asking for it may be true to some degree, but it is foolish and short-sighted to assume that the man has no complicity as well.
Ultimately, there needs to be some middle ground were both men and women can admit that signals are not always sent and received clearly, and that misunderstandings are not a crime. A provocatively dressed woman at a frat party is foolish to think that she can do whatever she wants and everything will magically go her way. She can’t reasonably expect to send out mixed signals and expect every last one of them to be read correctly. By the same token, no man should be foolish enough to think that a woman who happens to smile at him is basically begging for sex. If a man inadvertently crosses over a line, he shouldn’t bullheadedly pursue it further; if you misread girl and come on too strong, apologize and move on. If a woman leads a man on and discovers that he won’t take no for answer, she should deal with the consequences and move on.
Ultimately, people just need to act like adults about relationships. Relationships are not perfect, and the mistakes that inevitably arise are rarely the fault of one party. Instead of placing the blame on the opposite sex by default, why not actually take the time to figure who is to blame and to what degree? And failing that, why not simply refrain from opining?