It’s the little things. Not just one by one, like the single instance
I’m going to describe here, but all the little things put together.
They add up. They creep up on us and take root in our thoughts. They
fester and make us doubt ourselves. They are the thin and small voices
that remind us not to show too much skin at the beach or to put on
"sensible shoes" before walking in unfamiliar areas. These little
things, often described as "friendly advice," lay the groundwork for
As I was reading the Iowa Independent commentary by my colleague Douglas Burns, "How to Hit College Campuses with All the Right Moves," I found myself nodding at most of what he had to say. That is, until I got to point No. 7:
Women should always travel with friends to parties.
On the college-campus party landscape, women can be in an especially
vulnerable position. This goes for universities and small colleges
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If you doubt this, ask the directors at the women’s centers on campuses how many calls they get each year about date rapes.
a young woman leaves her group of friends and goes it alone at a
fraternity party, a dorm bash or an off-campus gathering, she is at the
greatest risk of becoming a victim.
Remember, perpetrators generally aren’t the guys who pop out from behind trees in the night. They are friends or acquaintances.
While I find no fault with instructing young people to travel in
groups or with a buddy, I do think it is unfair to only hold females to
this standard of safety. It implies that women are unable to protect
themselves. It implies that freedom, at least if you are female, has
consequences. Far worse still, it implies that women who do choose to
go stag are somehow "asking for it" because — let’s face it — women
have been warned.
Those men, even those you know, can’t be to blame for their actions
if you are alone at a party. (God forbid that a woman should be both
alone at a party and wearing make-up or perfume!) This is presumably
because men are entirely unable to control themselves. It is just as
your dear old abstinence-only educator taught you: women must have
enough control for both genders.
If I could give Burns and other like-minded people a gift it would
be for them to be able to visit a domestic violence shelter and have
the residents speak openly and honestly to them. Most who have never
been subjected to that type of situation often think of it in terms of
violence. We imagine the hitting, the raping, the kicking, the
injuries. But the really deep stuff isn’t typically what can be seen.
It’s the stuff that is carried inside — fear and guilt of the same
type, but on a much larger scale, than what Burns is advocating with
his well-meaning advice.
One of the most poignant things I’ve read this year is "Beyond Rape," a first-hand account of rape by journalist Joanna Connors. It details not
only the rape she suffered 20-some years ago, but her reaction and
embodiment of it. For more than two decades she believed it was her
private burden, but acknowledges that it became little more than a
"genetic disease" that she probably passed on to her children.
There are some of us — myself included — who have had trauma so
great in our lives that we cannot help but to pass some of the fear,
guilt and anger to our children. My children will never have
opportunity to escape their brother’s death. Because I’m afraid, they
will never know a carefree mom who allows them to circle the block
alone on their bicycle. Only time will tell how many generations of my
family will feel the breeze from the butterfly wings that were
fluttered nearly 10 years ago.
A great song that describes the concept of passing fear and
self-blame to subsequent generations is "Because of You," sung by Reba
McEntire and Kelly Clarkson:
Because of you I never stray too far from the sidewalk.
Because of you I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt.
Because of you I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me.
Because of you I am afraid.
My oldest daughter will begin her junior year in high school this
fall. In just two short years I will watch, with much more fear than
should be allotted any one mother, as she takes her final few steps
toward independence. Neither she nor I can escape the fear that has
already been placed in our hearts because of a family member who died
too soon. But both she and I — as well as all the other women in the
world — can stop this dreadful practice of self-doubt and self-blame.
Women don’t make men rape them. Women don’t "ask for it" by the way
they dress, going alone to parties, having breasts or vaginas, parking
in dark areas, carrying condoms or wearing make-up.
Just like all other members of society, we do our best to protect
ourselves. If we do fall victim to some nefarious person, we must
always remember — in spite of the multitude of friendly advice we’ve
been given — that the blame lies solely on the back of those who would