Schroedingers Rapist Debate

June 27, 2010

I’d love to know your opinions on this, as we’ve just been having a discussion about it on Twitter (follow us @dawnhfoster and @carmenego)

I read a post this morning that I found interesting and re-tweeted it:’s-rapist-or-a-guy’s-guide-to-approaching-strange-women-without-being-maced/

I’d better clear some things up on a personal level as I have a lot of friends and fellow Twitterers who were offended by this article.

  1. Most women probably don’t spend every waking minute of their day wondering whether the postman or unusually friendly man at the bar will rape them. I know I certainly don’t. This article says they definitely do, which would be impractical if you’re a woman and have a job or letter box or any sort of social life.
  2. I live my life, like the vast majority of women, on the basis that I will not get attacked, mugged, run over, slip on a banana skin cracking my skull open, fall off a cliff, die under a piano etc etc.
  3. Whilst the article is worded a bit (ahem) contentiously, I think there are some good points made, that have perhaps been lost in the overprecautious anecdotes and blunt tone.

The way that I read the article was as an exaggerated anecdote about personal safety. Ok, it reads as if the onus is on women to not get attacked, rather than this tiny proportion of men who commit rape to just not attack. I’ll get back to that in a minute. What I was particularly interested in was:

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a man who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions.

From time to time, I get people approaching me out and about, telling me I look nice, yet I find it very difficult to take it as a compliment. As much as I’d love to take the compliment at face value, I instantly check what I’m wearing: Is it low cut? Is the skirt too short? Were the fishnet stockings and hotpants combo a bad idea? Am I wearing something that indicates I’m “up for it”? I’m really sorry that this is such a backwards thing to say, and that’s it’s opinions like these that propagate a culture of fear. But when a compliment is given out of context, I question it.

@HolfordWatch tweeted:

Also issues with risk assessment? In broad terms, people often overestimate risk of violent crime compared to other risks / + to what extent can one accurately predict the risk posed by one person or situation over another?

We can do our own research and find out for ourselves that nearly 9 out of 10 rapes are perpetrated by someone known to them. And yet look what our beloved news is telling us…

This constant narrative feeds into us women, and it’s hardly surprising to see articles like this:

So when a stranger approaches you out of the blue and starts a conversation, I’m not sure it’s completely unfair to suggest that some women might question your motivation for doing so. @LouiseJJohnson says:

When approached by a bloke, many women think “Oh No Not Again” because too often, a similar situation has turned out badly.

What do you think? Are you a woman who modifies your behaviour to the same extent that the woman who wrote the original blog post does? And if so, why? If it doesn’t make a statistical difference if you get assaulted then why is it such an issue?

Were you offended by this article? On re-reading, substituting gender for ethnicity, I have to say I see the point that a lot of men raised, that it was playing on the assumption that all men are potential rapists. We do not assume that all Muslims are potential terrorists, or that all women are potential bunny boilers, or that all white people are racist, why should this be any different?



5 Responses to “Schroedingers Rapist Debate”

  1. @smileandsubvert Says:

    okay, as you seem to have got lots of negative feedback from men on this whereas I thought it made total sense, I thought I should give it another read.

    This bit:
    “If you expect me to trust you… See more—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of guy—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.”
    I do NOT agree with. As a stranger talking to a woman I actually DO expect her to accept me at face value as a nice sort of guy, until I act otherwise. However I would also expect her to be extremely careful around me too, until she knows me better. I certainly don’t think that me expecting her to take me as she finds me (a nice sort of guy) is me being cavalier about her personal safety.

    I didn’t like this bit either:
    “This means that some men should never approach strange women in public. . . if you have tattoos of gang symbols or Technicolor cockroaches all over your face and neck ”
    Really? In this day and age? Fair enough this may not appeal to a lot of women but is it a reason to NEVER approach a woman? What if the woman was pierced, had facial tattoos? That would obviously change the dynamic though I’m sure the non-facially tattooed can be attracted to the facially-tattoed and vice versa! I guess I didn’t like her use of the word ‘never’.

    “Ask yourself, “If I were dangerous, would this woman be safe in this space with me?” If the answer is no, then it isn’t appropriate to approach her.” Rubbish! Surely this depends on your approach? If you start up a general, friendly conversation and she shows no interest in continuing/responding then surely if you back right off and leave her alone then there’s no harm done? She’s not going to be fearful of you unless you were a bit weird or didn’t desist, no? Maybe I’m wrong on this but I don’t see an issue with a guy starting to chat with a woman on a tube or bus, so long as he desists IMMEDIATELY if she shows no interest. (“On the other hand, if she is turned towards you, making eye contact, and she responds in a friendly and talkative manner when you speak to her, you are getting a green light. You can continue the conversation until you start getting signals to back off.”. Exactly)

    Everything else she writes I agree with entirely. I think those who felt the article was attacking them, and all men, as potential rapists missed the point. If I’m walking down the street late at night and I’m catching up with the woman in front of me then I’ll cross to the other side of the road well before. This is not because I consider myself a potential rapist. It’s because I have a basic grasp of social interaction and human thought processes. Also the idea that the article ‘reads as if the onus is on women to not get attacked, rather than this tiny proportion of men who commit rape to just not attack’ I feel is also missing the point. Surely then the onus is not on me to cross the road to prevent the woman feeling fearful, I should just continue walking behind her until society is such that the real perpetrators, the minority who rape, get their act together and stop attacking women? This is nonsense. We should all do our bit to make society a nicer, less fearful place to live, not just wait for those responsible for making it worse to come to their senses.
    I found the article to be mainly common sense written by a woman who is very cautious and fearful of her personal safety, a little bit more than my female friends I reckon (I’m pretty sure my female friends don’t leave the guy’s name and phone number somewhere/with someone safe when they go on a date. This, however, is a damn good idea.)

  2. Chris Says:

    Good post; you’ve made me think about this a little more.

    I’ve a question I’d like your opinion on. I simultaneously believe that (i) if a woman is raped, it is NEVER her fault, and (ii) a woman CAN behave in a way that makes it more likely she’ll be raped.

    Do you think that these two beliefs are self-contradictary?

    • carmenego Says:

      That is a really good question. I can’t help but wonder if there are ways that men behave in order to increase their risk of getting raped?

      I’m not sure I know how to answer that without trying to delve into the minds of attackers, who perceive women (and perhaps men, this isn’t limited to female rape) as being objects rather than people. The act of invading someone in that way smacks of a desire to exert control over someone. To forcibly take what would otherwise be given in a loving mutual agreement. In that way, it wouldn’t matter if a woman was half naked, drunk, stumbling around at 2am down an alley, the fact that someone might see that as an invitation to rape (and not put her in a cab home, or call an ambulance) says more about the person who could take advantage of a situation like that I think.

      I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the matter. Can’t wait to discuss this in the Roebuck next week!


  3. dawnhfoster Says:

    I think there are things you can do to make yourself more likely to be raped, for instance, choosing not to live in a lead safe for which only you hold the keys. Anything you do can make you more likely to be raped. It’s not really a question I believe is worth entertaining.

  4. […] came to Phaedra Starling’s Schrödinger’s Rapist post via a discussion at the Reclaim The Pub blog. Whilst Starling’s post, written as a guide for men on how not to approach women in […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: