The recent leak of celebrity nude pictures has raised an issued outside of simple cloud security, but one that requires just as much attention: victim shaming and blaming. Over the last few weeks or so, websites reporting the leakage found their comments sections turned into a battleground, with groups of posters saying the celebrities affected were naive for taking nude pictures in an age of social media and digital leaks; and another group decrying the almost senseless placement of blame on the victims. The former insist that private matters, well, should be left private and the phenomenon of nude selfies, at an extreme, is a moral abomination regardless if the photos were taken for their partners. The latter, on the other hand, argues that those who look and share the pictures contribute to a culture of rape and female abuse. Beyond the scandal, victim blaming has been garnering a lot of attention, especially among feminists in their discourses on sexual abuse and harassment of women as whole, and in rape prevention efforts.
A few weeks ago I saw someone’s Facebook post about rape culture. Below is a copy of her status:
The problem with rape culture is that time and again, girls are being taught that the most pragmatic course of action to take is prevention under the guise of modesty and caution. Not only is this an ineffective solution to a constant problem, it’s also a terrible message to send to society: women who do not observe “proper” decorum are asking for it, and the men who commit the crime are blameless, faceless beings.
While the argument that women who dress provocatively are like “shark bait” seems compelling, let’s not forget that men are NOT sharks. They are not animals. They are rational beings who understand right from wrong and are capable of acting accordingly, just like any other normal human being could. By taking responsibility away from the perpetrator, you are downgrading him into someone incapable of basic comprehension. Your “boys will be boys” attitude is incredibly counterproductive and disrespectful not only to women, but also to men.
Yes, prevention is important. Taking care of yourself is important. But we’ve heard this way too many times before, and it isn’t helping. Let’s stop pretending that modesty provides women absolute protection.
She later expands her argument in a response to someone’s comment:
But is modesty just protection from rapists? Is poetry just a means of making sure one is not understood?
I understand that modesty is an integral virtue that everyone should posses, not just for protection, but also for self-respect. Nudity is a way of forfeiting our ownership on our inner selves, subjecting us to other people’s interpretations and exposing our intimacy. I’m not saying that there should be complete disregard for modesty. I’m just saying, what should happen when modesty is out of the picture? Does this mean that, given the opportunity to violate others, people are automatically entitled to claim it? No.
In fact, it says in philo anthro that what separates man from animals is his ability to rationalize his tendencies into making good choices. So maybe that’s the lesson we need to teach our sons: that a woman’s skin is in no way a ticket to unwarranted sexual advances, instead of constantly teaching our daughters that the amount of clothing they have on (or the hour that they’re out at night), will effectively get them out of trouble, because in reality, it won’t, so long as we condone that kind of apologist behavior. Victim blaming does nothing but further marginalize the victim. It doesn’t solve the problem.
I strongly agree with her point that victim blaming only worsens the problem. Given the trauma the victim already has to endure after any abuse, blaming her (or even him) is the manifestation of “adding insult to injury”, and contributes to a propagation of impunity. However, I do disagree with her idea that modesty and caution as a practical to rape prevention, sends a wrong message to society and does little to protect women.
Time and again I’ve seen women wearing extremely short shorts or flimsy dresses getting an eye from strangers on the street without them knowing. I find it demeaning and offensive when they take an extra glance or too at a woman’s legs, breasts, or behind. A woman’s skin does not give a man claim to sexually objectify her, but I can’t help but wonder why do women choose to dress revealingly in the first place?
I do not believe the reason is comfort, or something as simple as keeping up with the trends. I do think women wear such scant articles of clothing to be perceived as attractive. Through the strength of media, sexualized images are becoming the norm and the exploration and expression of sexuality through one’s way of dressing is even encouraged. Just look at Miley Cyrus or all the popular female Disney stars who transitioned to “womanhood” through sexualisation. It’s almost as if maturity can only be achieved through the sexualisation of one’s image. After all, if you have it you better flaunt it, right?
So while I’m pretty sure women who dress revealingly aren’t asking for it, it’s easy to assume they do want to be seen as physically attractive. That’s not a problem and should be left as an individual prerogative. However, to assume that all men are rational creatures capable of responding maturely to “sexed-up” images of the opposite sex is too ideal. Of course one or two will find a sexy woman an object of fantasy. Of course one or two will be checking out breasts that are out there for everyone to see. Of course one or two will get an erection when they see those longs legs, the tightly-wrapped skirt showcasing her figure – men’s eyes harass just like their hands.
When you live in a country with high crime rates, it is not only practical but also logical to be responsible about the way you dress and vigilant when moving about. Men, while rational beings, are still beasts. This is what parents already know. This is why they are protective of their daughters. Watch the news and see how many young girls, women, and even senior citizens are being abused. Apart from rape, many other crimes also proliferate – snatching, holdup, kidnapping, drug pushing. As a parent, it would certainly be logical to remind their children of preventive measures corresponding to certain crimes. As parents, it is only practical to encourage their daughters to wear something more modest, to be mindful what time they will be coming home, to be vigilant when commuting (don’t text inside the bus or the jeepney). Our dysfunctional and crime-ridden society compels them to be distrustful of the system. You don’t tell your daughter you can wear whatever you want and walk in a seedy street in Manila because she can expect men to be rational creatures. It pays to be proactive rather than reactive.
Obviously, even modesty and vigilance is not enough. Even in stricter and more conservative nations like in the Middle East, or less developed countries in Africa, sexual abuses are not uncommon. There, women do not share the same status as men, and are considered more as objects than persons with dignity. No amount of clothing could shield them from an already oppressive male culture. In many of these nations, victim blaming is not only widespread but even seen as the norm. Reports of sexual abuses are too few in between not only because of social stigma but also due to the possibility of facing prosecution under the laws that may include capital punishment. Under these extreme circumstances, fighting victim blaming is necessary to uphold
Yet in a country where one enjoys a greater amount of freedom and operate in a workable albeit dysfunctional democracy, victim blaming should not correspond to a disregard of personal responsibility and even common sense. Taking adequate preventive measures is necessary because there are variables we can control given our social condition.
You live in a country where more people would rather watch an evening melodrama series than read Nick Joaquin. The life of the mind and our indulgences with the rational cannot be guaranteed because some of our most basic needs aren’t even being met. Poverty remains an issue and not everyone is fortunate to get an education that fortifies philosophical and anthropological inquiries regarding man’s rationality. While advocating against victim blaming is necessary and good in itself, we must, at the end of the day be practical too and avoid the romanticized notion of goodness in this world. We’re bound to face some sort of evil in our lives one way or another. The challenge now is to appreciate the importance of preventive measures, take them, and at the same time, educate our sons and daughters about the dignity of the human person. Along with it, there should be a stronger support system for victims of sexual violence, and a stringent enforcement of our laws on perpetrators. Given the situation right now, the failures of the state, social institutions, communities, and the individual only says one thing: we’re all to blame.