Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Problem is the Bear

"What's going to happen's going to happen. Just make sure it doesn't happen to you."

"Max, don't you EVER say that again!"

The Sound of Music

TW: Rape.

So, if you've been on the internet at all in the past week, I assume you're up to speed on #YesAllWomen. If not, head over to Twitter and read for a few hours.

You back yet? Okay, good.

In the conversations that have been consuming nearly all my energy and attention, I've repeatedly seen comments encouraging women to protect themselves from rape. Lots of resources have been suggested: the buddy system. Martial arts training. Keychain pepper spray. Apps like Kitestring. Clothes like AR Wear. Viciously spiked anti-rape condoms like RapeX. (Though the vindictive part of me clamors approval for any measure against rapists that involves viscous spikes. But, as you'll see below, even spikes don't address the real problem.)

Those with a little more experience in the conversation decry these suggestions as "victim blaming." But the people making the suggestions don't seem to get it. So here's another way to think about it.

My freshman year of college, I was walking home late at night. A young gentleman, the worse for drink, approached me and introduced himself. He was from Texas. He wanted me to run away back to Texas with him. He was rather insistent.

Luckily, he'd encountered me only about a block from my apartment, so by the time his invitation escalated into a shouted monologue in which the word "bitch" featured heavily, I was in my well-lit courtyard surrounded by people and could sprint up the stairs into the safety of my kitchen.

I did everything right. More than everything. I was taller and heavier than this guy, and I have a few years of martial arts training. Beyond that, the party I was on my way home from was a medieval one, so I was wearing a sword. Yes, a sword. I was safe that night. Nothing happened to me.

But that guy was still wandering the neighborhood, drunk and looking for some action.

Was there another student walking home later on? One not as big and powerful as I am, one without the confidence that comes with martial arts, one who was unarmed, one who had more than a block to go before she reached safety? What happened to her?

No matter how many resources we employ to ensure our own safety, at the end of the day, we're not stopping rapists. We're just redirecting them onto someone else.

It's like the old joke: How fast do you need to run to escape a hungry bear? Answer: faster than the slowest person in your group.

I've been through so much this week. So many stories, from strangers and from dear friends. Stories of molestation, manipulation, and assault, of broken lives and shattered safety. Stories of good returned missionaries who wouldn't take "no" for an answer and of good bishops who told rape victims they needed to repent. And through all of it, I'm naturally thinking: Thank goodness that hasn't happened to me.

Of course I'm glad it hasn't happened to me. I'm human. Having a bad thing happen to someone else is infinitely preferable. But it still isn't good enough. Because rapists are not an act of God, like a tornado or a hurricane or a deer walking in front of your car. They are human beings with free will who make the decision to rape. Not all of them know that's what they're doing. They may not call it that in their heads. But they make the choice to gratify their own desires at the expense of someone else's safety. And that's behavior. And human behavior, unlike tornadoes, can be changed.

The problem here isn't the speed of the various members of your group. The problem is the bear.

So please, everyone: stop, stop, stop. Stop telling women to learn to run faster. Stop telling us to carry weapons, cover our shoulders, stay inside after dark. Stop telling us to make sure to always run with a slower person, who can be eaten by the bear in our stead. We're sisters. All of us. And none of us should be eaten by a bear. Making it happen to someone else is not enough of a solution.

Maybe that drunk Texan raped another student in my place. Maybe the man who tried to get me into his car when I was fifteen persuaded some other girl in my neighborhood instead. And I'm not okay with that.

So let's talk about reporting and prosecution. Let's talk about those thousands of untested rape kits languishing in police labs across the country. Let's talk about teaching consent. Let's talk about how to make raping more shameful than being raped. Let's talk about how we can deal with the bear. Because I'm sick of running.