Huffpost Black Voices
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tracy Clayton Headshot

In Memory of Common Sense: VSB's 'Rape Responsibility' Fail

Posted: Updated:

So I'm thinking that the folks at Very Smart Brothas should consider changing their name. To Very Misled Brothas. Very Loud and Wrong Brothas. Or Very Well Intentioned But Ultimately Failing Brothas. Their latest post entitled "'Rape Responsibility' and the Fine Line Between Victim Blaming and Common Sense" makes a very good case for doing so.

If you cringed at the very mention of that title, congratulations! You have approximately 30% more sense than the bloggers at VSB think women do. The article was written in response to a piece that appeared at Ebony.com entitled "Stop Telling Women Not to Get Raped" by Zerlina Maxwell of Loop 21. Zerlina basically said that cautioning women on how to behave (dress appropriately, don't leave clubs with strange men, etc.) as a means to prevent rape is ineffective, and that the real change will ultimately come from teaching our boys not to rape. VBS's response was essentially, "Yes, I agree with all that... but y'all still need to be careful." Seems innocuous enough, right? It's not. Here's why.

Firstly, if you think that there is a "fine line between victim blaming and common sense," that's a problem in and of itself. There is no fine line. Talking to women about rape and responsibility shouldn't be any kind of sticky situation because it's as simple as this: there's not a single iota of a bit of a percent of fault that a woman bears when she is raped. It is never the victim's fault. Ever.

This is the most problematic part about the whole thing. Cautioning a woman on what she can or should do to promote her personal safety has no place in a conversation about stopping or preventing rape, because there's nothing we can do to prevent it. Suggesting that a woman can somehow avoid being raped implies that she can also invite it or create an opportunity for it to happen, which is completely untrue. Women don't provoke rape, nor can they prevent it. There is no amount of precaution she can take, no amount of clothing she can wear to stop it. Because rape isn't what happens when a man gets a little hot in the pants after seeing some cleavage. Rape isn't a response to the sight of a woman's bare shoulders in a tube top on a warm day. Rape isn't a risk a woman should run if she flirts with someone at a bar and dares to go home alone rather than with him. Rape is not sex. It's a crime founded on power, violence, and control, and a man who will rape a woman will rape regardless of what she does, where she is, or what she has on. Women in hijab and burqas get raped, too. That is common sense.

When I started college, I remember a campus-wide assembly in the first week where we, collectively, were informed about date rape and what goes on at parties and all that. The message that was given to use, male and female alike, was "Girls, don't leave your drink unattended. Girls, don't get so drunk you can't take care of yourself. Girls, don't go alone." Never was it said, "Boys, don't rape anyone." And what a perfect time it would have been to say it. But it's never said. Any pushback against the idea that it should be said is weird. And suspect.

To posit that a woman's behavior can be a means for stopping rape is slap in the face of all the women who "followed all the rules" and still got raped; the women who were in sweats and messy ponytails, the women who avoided dark alleys and never talked to strangers, the women who were sure to avoid certain streets because of the kind of company they keep, even if it meant a longer walk home. Life isn't a live-action 'Law & Order' episode where women get bopped on the head and dragged into dark alleys or kidnapped and held for grillion-dollar ransoms. Rape is habitually committed by people that women know, trust, and feel safe and secure with. Per Department of Justice stats, "of female rape or sexual assault victims in 2009, 21 percent were assaulted by a stranger. Thirty-nine percent of offenders were friends or acquaintances of their victims, and 41 percent were intimate partners." So much for being cautious, huh?

What I'd like to know: why does the author seem to think that women aren't taught these things? Why does he think we're not exercising common sense? Of course we're cautioned on how to act and how not to act (Don't dress like a whore! Don't act like a slut! Don't be a tease! Don't get drunk!). In excess. That's why the vast majority of women feel guilt and shame after being raped ("I should have known better, I should have been smarter, I shouldn't have flirted with him..."). We're constantly told and reminded how to conduct ourselves, and guess what? Rapists are still raping. In excess.

Nobody is fighting against being told to be careful. We're asserting that more often than not, we ARE careful, and we're constantly educated about it, and rape still happens, everywhere, all the time.

Educating boys does not mean that we stop educating girls. It doesn't mean that we're given "carte blanche," as the author whines, to run around acting reckless -- even though I should in a utopian society, be able to skip down the street naked as a jaybird and drunk as a skunk without being assaulted or accosted. It seems that the author thinks that women can't be trusted with conducting ourselves appropriately if men begin to take their rightful responsibility for rape. Like we'll all just run around half-nude, shaking our boobs in their faces like a carrot dangled in front of a horse. Give us some freaking credit. The very thought that this would or could happen is, again, weird and suspect.

I could go on about this for a month of Sundays, but there's little point. The people who need to hear this probably won't due to male privilege, which I don't fault anyone for. Just like it's difficult for white folks to understand what it's like to be racially profiled, it's just as difficult for men to understand what women go through, because they're men. That's not their reality, and I get that. I don't blame the author for being ignorant. There's no crime or harm in just not knowing things. But it becomes harmful when you fail to recognize and admit that ignorance; when you choose not to humble yourself and shut up long enough to listen to the stories and experiences of those who do live this reality (the comments section of that post is an amazing, empowering by-product where women opened up and shared their own personal stories of rape and assault); when willfully opt to stay in the dark because you fragile ego won't let you say the words "I was wrong." When you screw up, don't blame it on your increased readership and Facebook likes. Take advantage to turn this trainwreck into a learning opportunity and a safe space for open discourse that will require, for men, more listening than speaking.

Or, just dive deeper into douche-hood. That's clearly the option the author took with this unapologetic apology

RIP, common sense. See you at the crossroads.

PS - I miss my Uncle Charles, y'all.