The Illusion of Personal Responsibility; Women Can't "Make" Men Do Anything, Including Not Rape Them

So much of women's media is focused on this idea that we can make other people do something: make him want you, make him never look at other women, make him eat his vegetables, make make make.
Publish date:
November 16, 2012
rape culture, victim blaming, logic and then the explosion, personal responsibility, M

Ed says that I have this way of operating, of approaching the world and my responses to it. He calls me a Vulcan and it’s mostly a joke, but when I told Harriet-the-Therapist about it, she agreed, like it was completely obvious.

My general methodology for life:


Oh, my friends, we have hit the BOOM part of my responses. It’s a visceral thing. It’s waking up in the middle of the night to realize that I haven’t been grinding my teeth -- no, I’ve locked my jaw and I’m biting the tip of my tongue so hard I can’t feel it anymore. My teeth ache from the pressure.

All of it kind of coalesced this morning, into a coherent understanding of WHY I am so angry. So I guess that’s a good thing. Emily sent round her list of daily topics, some people said some things, and then it Suddenly Made Sense. It was totally a Moment of Clarity style revelation.

We’ve been having, in some form or another, the same conversation all week: Women need to say no even when men won’t stop badgering them for sex, women need to prevent their own rapes, women need to do whatever it takes to prevent their partners from cheating (not all the convos were going on here) (it’s been a really long week, y’all). Women need to tie themselves into tiny little knots so that they can make other people -- so that they can make MEN -- do the right things, do the things that women want them to do, do the things that they need to do to be decent fucking human beings.

Women need to somehow do and be enough to make men do all of these things -- even though men are the ones making the choices in these scenarios.

The greatest trick that Keyser Soze ever pulled was convincing the world he was Kevin Spacey. And the greatest injustice we continue to perpetuate on ourselves is the belief that if the victims of injustice just change enough, the problems in our societies will be solved.

It’s such bullshit. It’s a cultural paradigm that makes us blame those with the least power in any situation.

Lady, you shouldn’t have worn that short skirt. You shouldn’t have trusted that frat boy. You shouldn’t have “let yourself go.”

Blame the victim. It’s the new same old hotness.

So much of women's media is focused on this idea that we can make other people do something: make him want you, make him never look at other women, make him eat his vegetables, make make make.

My very first therapist, when I was 13 years old, told me that you cannot MAKE another person do anything -- if absolutely nothing else in life, our responses are our own. She didn’t mean you can just magically choose not to feel sad if someone is a douchebag; she meant that you can decide what you’re going to do (or not do) in response.

It’s not a perfect maxim by which to live -- because people CAN literally make us do things, can force us into situations and choices we would not make on our own. And those are the situations in which I have shared Emily’s thought: “Thank God. Thank God, I can always kill myself.”

You don’t make someone rape you by passing out drunk at a party. The rapist chooses to do it. You don’t make an abuser hit you by doing something “wrong.” The abuser chooses to do it. You don’t make a cheater fuck someone else by not shaving your legs as much as they want you to. The cheater chooses to hook up with someone else.

But somehow women are meant to take personal responsibility for all of these choices made by other people.

Why are we not expecting men to use their big boy words? (Especially in cheating scenarios.) Why aren’t we reading Cosmo articles about 25 Ways to Drive Yourself Wild Because Screw Him If He Doesn't Want To Play Along? Why aren’t we goddamned pissed off about the constant barrage of “How to Win a Man” stories, like we’re all on some Battle Royale manga island?

I’m a cultural constructionist and it makes me so angry that instead of trying to change the culture, we just keep parroting the idea that women are at fault.

“We live in the real world,” people say. “We make ourselves victims when we don’t take personal responsibility!”

Except the whole point is that us taking personal responsibility for our safety is not actually going to change the goddamn culture or make us safe. It's like we have this pathological need to pretend we're in control of stuff we are not in control of. Is it because we're afraid? Is it because we think we'll never get another man if we don't somehow manage to hang on to the one we have somehow magically scored? Is it because we think it will somehow make bad things happen to us to admit that we can never be in complete control? What is the damn deal here?

No one is saying women shouldn’t take self-defense classes or walk home with their buddies or wear the sexy nightgown that their partner likes. But the idea that conversations about rape culture should be framed in those terms as though those things will somehow magically make us safe is self-delusion at best.

At worst, we are saying, “You deserved it because you did not take as many precautions as I did.” At worst, we are saying, “I am only concerned with my own protection, not with changing the system."

Acknowledging that there is a power imbalance in our culture does not make me scared. It makes me angry. Acknowledging that our system is set up so that men can victimize women does not make me feel like I am a victim. It makes me EVEN MORE angry.

If we cannot begin to hold men accountable for their own actions, if we continue to live the fantasy that we can make other people do anything if only we are *fill in the blank* enough, then we continue to set ourselves up for failure. And by failure I mean: rape culture.

Let's take some personal responsibility for changing our culture. Life is a big scary thing. We are not entirely in control of it.