This is my manifesto: I believe that the things I do have the power to change my world.
I am not a fan of powerlessness. I believe in agency. I believe that the things I do make a difference. I believe that my actions have the power to change my future.
Do you believe that your actions have the power to change your future? If so, which actions? Just the ones that lead very very directly to a definite outcome, as when you push a handle and the door opens? Or can your actions also change your future even when they are slightly more removed from direct cause and effect, such as when you study hard and pass your toughest class, or skip too many classes and then do poorly on the final?
Personally, I believe that all of my actions – even the small and indirect ones – have enough power to change my world.
Because I believe in my own personal power, I utterly reject any set of ideas that says my choices don’t matter, that the way I choose to live my life makes no difference in what happens to me, that I am at the mercy of other people’s choices and there’s therefore no point in making choices of my own.
I categorically reject the lie that says I have no power over my world.
When I want to reduce my risk of being harmed, I refuse to wait for unknown other people – or worse, for an entire culture full of other people – to change. I will make myself safer through my own choices. I do not choose to passively wait for someone else to decide that my life and happiness are worth saving.
While it would be wonderful if other people decided to change in order to keep me safer, until that happens I will do what it takes to protect myself.
That’s my story.
Apparently, this belief in my own agency, my acceptance of (and insistence on) my personal ability to make meaningful choices that can affect the outcomes I experience – this odd belief that I do in fact have some control over my own life – makes me a victim-blamer, a blind and crabby denier, a rape apologist defending rape culture.
Or, you know … not.
Because the storyline these days seems to be that individual women actually have no power. We are all at the mercy of systemic bias. We are victims of unassailable societal factors. We are the helpless subjects of rape culture.
This mystifies me.
Once upon a time, right-thinking people championed the belief that women do have power and should have power over their own lives, just like men.
But the revised story goes like this: There is no one-to-one correspondence between a victim’s actions and a criminal’s actions, in that many people who have tried to avoid crime still become victims of it. This holds true for all types of crime and not just the sex-based ones, but sexual crimes get inside the victim’s brain in a way that other types of crime do not, and many victims spend years feeling guilty as they spiral down the coulda-woulda-shoulda cesspool. That being the case, it is morally wrong to suggest that any woman might want to think about her specific risks and make choices that she believes will help her stay safer. Because we live in a rape culture, women can’t be expected to choose between safer choices or less-safe ones. It’s all pretty much the same thing, and even when it’s not, suggesting that a potential victim might want to change her behavior in any way is just victimizing her all over again.
To continue that reasoning, since we can never absolutely guarantee that a rapist won’t decide to rape someone who has made careful and crime-aware choices, and since it is so unfair to ask the victim to change, and since criminals should be told they’re wrong (because they are in fact wrong), therefore none of us should ever take any specific action to keep ourselves away from danger or to protect our own bodies. Certainly, we should never suggest that anyone else might want to change her personal choices in response to perceived danger (that’s judgmental). We sure don’t want to talk with other women about strategies for improving their odds of avoiding or surviving a violent crime, because we can’t guarantee that playing the odds will work. No woman has absolute and ultimate power to prevent herself from becoming the target of a crime (whether and who to attack is ultimately the criminal’s choice, not the intended victim’s), so it’s morally wrong to suggest that any woman should exercise the limited power she does have to reduce the likelihood of her being chosen as a target.
Instead, that modern reasoning continues, we should lobby for men to exercise their unlimited social power on our behalf. We should get men to tell rapists and potential rapists to quit raping, because the rapists are the ones in the wrong. 1
Weirdly, inside this mindset it’s perfectly okay to expect women to say no with our words. But it’s not okay to suggest we should ever say no with our actions in situations where the words did not work.
To my way of thinking: In situations where life and health are clearly at risk, it is actively good to say no and mean it! And it is actively good to enforce that boundary with whatever degree of force meets the standard of reasonableness in any given situation.
In the case of a potentially-deadly bodily assault, nothing says no quite so effectively as a 9mm hollowpoint to the chest.
Don’t want to shoot someone, even a violent criminal assailant? Neither do I. Ever.
That’s one of many reasons why I believe that a person who wants to be safer as she goes through her life might want to look at her own behavior patterns compared to the patterns most associated with criminal victimization, and then change whatever she is willing to change in order to stop those patterns from matching up. Because we don’t want to hurt or kill another person, unless we truly have no other choice.
We’re also told that men never feel any measure of fear that they will be chosen as crime victims, especially not of sexual crimes, so men never use crime-avoidance strategies in their daily life. This isn’t true, but it’s the cultural story right now.
At the same time, we’re told that suggesting preventive strategies to any woman (the only people who do feel such fears) is wrong, victim-blaming, disempowering. She shouldn’t have to change, because the criminal is the one in the wrong. We should make the criminal change.
And that is true. Deeply and profoundly true. The victim is not the one in the wrong. The criminal is. And the criminal should change.
But when he doesn’t? What then?
It amounts to this: instead of making individual and personal choices to claim our own place in this world, too many modern women want to simply explain the problem to the guys and then wait – patiently, impatiently, loudly, quietly (does the adverb even matter?) – for the repentance and reform of all potential criminal assailants, which will mean the end of rape culture.
How many more women will suffer and perhaps die, waiting for that?
- All of this framing completely rejects the sad truth that some women also commit rape and/or sexual assault, and that many men have been victims of rape and/or sexual assault. A subject for another day! But for now, there’s this: we have made sexual violence a gendered issue, by suggesting that only women can ever become victims of sexual violence and by suggesting that women rarely or never commit this type of crime. That’s a dangerous lie. No demographic group is immune to this type of violence, either as victims or as perpetrators. ↩