The above picture has been widely circulated on social media in the last few days. It depicts a 60 year old woman, who was viciously beaten by a thug in his 20s, after she turned down his advances. The woman, who was visiting London from Austria, politely asked the man to leave her alone and was then grabbed and punched repeatedly in the face, causing injuries that will require surgery.
That such an appalling incident took place is grotesque enough. But today, Ian Payne, a broadcaster on London's LBC radio station, posted a tweet that speaks volumes about why these things keep happening...
There is something massively wrong, here. Let me spell it out for you:
YOU ARE ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION.
This woman politely asked a man to leave her alone when he followed her and kept trying to "chat her up." His response was to savagely beat her. And you seriously want to know how else we think she should have behaved?!
Let me break it down for you.
That woman could have sworn at the guy. She could have yelled "GET OUT OF MY FACE." She could have stuck her middle finger up and sashayed away. It doesn't matter how she reacted to his unwanted advances. She did not owe him anything. He made the decision to start trying to chat her up and, when she politely turned him down, he made the decision to respond with violence. He decided to punch her in the face, over and over again.
To ask the question "how should women reject unwanted advances?" places blame on us. The women. You are, effectively, blaming a 60 year old woman for her own assault. Because your question implies that she should have done something differently.
It's not new. When a woman is raped, we've become depressingly used to hearing questions like "what was she wearing?" or "had she been drinking?" NEVER do we hear: "Why did he feel entitled to rape her?" The questions are rarely about the man's decisions. They're almost exclusively about the behaviour of the woman in question. And that is wrong.
The thug who beat this poor woman does not deserve the luxury of seeing people pick over the bones of his victim's actions. He does not deserve to be "let off the hook" by an audience of fellow men, asking how women should better ensure against this type of thing.
There are questions that need to be asked, in the wake of this shocking incident. Questions such as:
- "Why did this man feel so entitled to this woman's body that rejection was no longer an option he was willing to accept from her?"
- "Why was this man so quick to decide that violence was an acceptable response to her exercising her right to say no?"
- "What changes do we need to make to ensure that women are treated with equal respect and that violence against them is no longer deemed such a depressingly popular option?
- "How can we challenge the misogynistic view that women are property, to be treated any way men see fit?"
All of those questions are valid and need answering. Not only for women, but for men. Because, thankfully, a lot of the responses to the tweet Ian Payne posted, were from men who were just as infuriated by the question as I was. They want to know why the blame has been subtly shifted from the shoulders of the perpetrator of this attack, to those of his victim - and women in general. Again.
In a patriarchal society, we are too quick to shift blame onto the women who are attacked, in order to avoid discussing male entitlement, male violence or misogyny. Until we - as a whole - are able to look at the situation honestly and ask the necessary questions, we will never end male violence against women. How can we, if we barely acknowledge it exists? How can we, if we're genuinely asking listeners to a radio station to call in with their ideas as to how women should reject unwanted advances, rather than asking how to ensure that men handle that rejection - however it comes - without resorting to violence in the first place?
Victim-blaming is like placing a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. It might hold it together for a short while, but it's not strong enough to last. You need stitches. It takes time to really sort out the problem.
Attacks like the one in London last week are not anywhere near as rare as they should be. And they will not dwindle in numbers if we continue to apply a sticking plaster to this wound. It's time to tackle the real problem.
It's time to start asking the right questions, even if the answers make us uncomfortable. Only when we place blame on the attackers, rather than their victims (or potential future victims) can we really start to solve the issue.
As long as we're asking the wrong questions, nothing will ever change.