Eek! Victim-Blaming!

The Wall Street Journal is on a roll these days, isn’t it? After publishing an article so terrifying that its rampant republication almost exploded the internet, it published this gem by Lenore Skenazy, who has written a book and runs a website called Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).

Ms. Skenazy’s website does not exactly contain what I expected to find. Maybe we should describe her as the anti-Amy Chua: eager to let her kids have their own experiences and their own lives independent of their parents. On some level, that’s kind of cool. Would I necessarily send my nine-year-old child alone on the Subway like Ms. Skenazy does? Almost absolutely not. But would I start considering it at age ten? Maybe. It would depend upon the kid. What about age eleven? We draw these weird arbitrary lines of when things are okay, but shouldn’t it depend upon the person?

But Ms. Skenazy’s WSJ piece isn’t just about kids playing in the woods or traveling on the New York subway:

And so it goes these days, when almost any man who has anything to do with a child can find himself suspected of being a creep. I call it “Worst-First” thinking: Gripped by pedophile panic, we jump to the very worst, even least likely, conclusion first. Then we congratulate ourselves for being so vigilant.

I have to ask: where does Ms. Skenazy think this came from?

Someone’s been telling me to think like this, I’m just trying to remember wher- oh, of course! Every time someone gets sexually assaulted, she fucked up. Don’t trust men!

That’s what a victim-blaming culture does. It creates fear from which we are incapable of escaping.

The problem is that women who get sexually assaulted aren’t at fault (I can’t believe anyone actually has to say that). 73% of sexual assaults are perpetrated by people known to the victims. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) has compiled more statistics that make it clear rape and sexual assault have nothing to do with wearing a skanky dress to a bar at 3am and matching that cute guy drink for drink, like the fact that “50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within 1 mile of their home or at their home.” Or like the fact that 22% – YES, 22% – of imprisoned rapists report that they are married.

Is this an excuse for treating all men like they’re out to get us? People who want to advance a victim-blaming attitude seem to think so. Since it’s a woman’s fault when she gets sexually assault – you shouldn’t have worn that dress, been a slut, had a drink, or talked to that man who was your professor, the guy at the grocery store, or your friend’s dad – we’ve basically been conditioned to think like this in all aspects of our life.

And I do it too. When I’m walking down the street at night, if a man is walking on the same side of the street as me, I immediately think about how I can avoid him. But not all men are rapists, and I don’t have to live in a world where all I consider while walking back to my dorm is how to not get raped.

Ms. Skenazy’s problem is the way society has applied this new perception of men to the way they interact with children – and given that women are generally raising children, this kind of makes sense. We also have a tendency, I think, to apply all of our fears and neuroses to children – so if we’ve been taught that the only way to avoid sexual assault is to live a certain way, we’re going to encourage our children to live that way, too.

Ultimately, I can’t help but wonder if Ms. Skenazy’s article is just…hyperbole and overkill? A bunch of stories isn’t always enough to prove a point. And today was “Kids Take Over McDonough,” where a bunch of little children ran around the gym during the women’s game, following around staff – both male and female – as they attempted to do their jobs. Parents seemed fine with letting their little children run around after the male organizers, videographers, announcers, and students. I can counter with my own stories!

If there is a problem (and given her website, I won’t be able to convince her that there is not), the process by which it appeared is pretty obvious. We’re supposed to act like men are out to get us – otherwise, when something happens, IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT DAMMIT.  Ms. Skenazy’s article fails to acknowledge that there’s probably a large portion of this fear that originates in victim-blaming tendencies.

Be afraid of all men. They’ll get you.

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