There is no place that will crush your faith in the common sense/decency of humanity more than the comments section of most online articles. They seem to be a breeding ground for misinformed opinions, an invitation for the idiotic and insensitive to take up their digital megaphones and trample over the valid feelings and attitudes of others. I read a lot of pieces on feminism, and always masochistically trawl through the comments afterwards, leaving me shaking with rage and metaphorically weeping for the sheer ignorance that seems to reign triumphant in my community of fellow readers. But I’m not one for getting into arguments with anonymous fools over the internet, as a) no one ever changed a bigot’s mind by hitting ‘reply’, b) often people are coming from emotional, not logical standpoints and c) you can’t argue with stupid. So this weekly feature is my antidote, and each instalment will take one infuriating comment and break it down in an attempt to claim a small right against a small wrong in my own small space. This week’s was in response to Sarah Ditum’s ‘Three reasons why a vagina is not a laptop’, which reacts to Nick Ross’s suggestion that our attitude to theft prevention should be reflected in our attitude to rape prevention (as well as a whole load of other unhelpful and inflammatory remarks). Here is the comment I’ll be taking issue with this week:
I have two main gripes with this clearly moronic retort, but let’s start with the shortest one which references the final sentence. I hate it when journalists, commenters or people in general take a thought-through point and reduce it to some hyperbolic disfiguration. I see this happen time and time against particularly with feminism, where instead of addressing the actual problem being raised, individuals try to silence that problem by making out like the writer is hysterical or the issue simply doesn’t exist (a perfect example of this is this disgusting article on the NUS lad culture report). This kind of reaction is a dismissive one that is painfully unhelpful but gains a hell of a lot of airtime in our media. For one thing, it’s simply not a refutation to put words in someone’s mouth that suit your misogynistic narrative. Secondly, and most importantly, to solve a problem we need to understand it. Hideous remarks like ‘they were excusing the behaviour of child molesters’ are a way of refusing to understand that problem.
My second issue is the notion of victim blaming and responsibility for personal safety. In the wake of Steubenville my friends and I got into a discussion of this topic, which centered around the whole ‘we’re taught not to get raped, rather than not to rape’ idea. This commenter reduces the topic to a very simplistic argument, suggesting that telling people to protect themselves has no repercussions beyond being good advice. Now, if I’m walking home late at night I try to make sure I have someone with me and that I stick to well lit areas. However, all that is doing is plastering over the cracks. In making how to protect ourselves the focus of media conversation on rape, we are concentrating on the consequence, not the crime. Change never came from slapping on a plaster time and time again. All of this builds up to the question of what is a helpful conversation to have. I do think that the media has a social responsibility, and the minute the Daily Mail or any other outlet decides to publish material on how not to become a victim, rather than how not to become a rapist (as simplistic as it sounds, that’s the dichotomy we’re dealing with) it continues to fuel an unhelpful conversation. A strictly informative news article telling its reader that a woman was raped at 11:30pm whilst walking home alone gives enough information for the reader to deduce that such a scenario poses a potentially increased threat. Hell, a basic chat with your mum or dad, the type you’ve probably been having since before you hit puberty tells you what to do. So simply put, giving out ‘good sense’ on a platform like Ross’s doesn’t end there. Instead it does perpetuate a culture that is still, incredulously, not paying enough attention to what we need to do to tackle rapists. Call me naive, but shouldn’t our aim be that a woman can walk home from the library at 11 at night, by herself, without being followed (true story, folks)? It’s not enough to settle with essentially accommodating a problem by curbing our freedom in line with its threat. Containing the problem is not the same as overcoming it, and that’s a point articles like Ross’s and comments like Spike501’s refuse to incorporate in their narrow-minded monologues.