It was the most difficult exam I had ever faced that year. Like a bolt from the blue, ‘Belle Brita’ appeared before the computer screen with a comprehensive and concise dictionary of feminist words. Wanting to know what it would be like to talk to someone who calls herself a feminist, I went about with the interview. The answers were spellbinding! Let me introduce to you, Ms Brita Long creator of http://bellebrita.com/, a fantastic repository of feminist thought and practise.
Me: Why does victim blaming happening in most cases of rape?
Brita: Victim-blaming is actually quite complicated, due to a combination of multiple factors. Before I go into that, I want to define victim-blaming for anyone unfamiliar with the term. Victim-blaming occurs when the victim of a crime, an accident, or any type of abusive maltreatment is held as wholly or partially responsible for the wrongful conduct committed against them. In regards to rape and other forms of sexual assault, this is usually the idea that a rape survivor could have prevented their sexual assault.
So why is victim-blaming so prevalent in rape cases? Rape myth acceptance is a big reason. This occurs when people believe that rape can only happen under specific circumstances. Rape myth acceptance is a Catch-22 for rape survivors. If those specific circumstances weren’t present, then it’s “not actually rape.” If the specific circumstances were present, then it was rape, but “you should have known better.”
Victim-blaming can also be used almost like an emotional defense. No one likes to think that they are at risk for sexual assault. When presented with a rape case, it is easier for some people (often women) to find ways the rape could have been prevented. This reassures those people that rape “couldn’t happen to them.”
To be clear, victim-blaming happens to male, female, and transgender or genderqueer survivors of sexual assault. Why victim-blaming occurs is slightly different in each situation, but they all stem from the same unhealthy attitudes about sex, sexuality, and gender roles.
Me: Bands like ‘Pussycat Dolls” have been labelled as women’s rights promoters. This leads me to ask if Women’s Emancipation has narrowed itself down to stripping to the male gaze?
Brita: That’s an over-simplification of both female sexual empowerment and women’s emancipation. This is a good time to remind readers that not all feminists agree with each other, and that’s okay. The important thing is that we’re all working in our own way to promote gender equality.
My simplified goals for feminism are twofold. One, to empower women to make the best choices for themselves according to their unique circumstances. Two, to improve the world so that all people have genuine choices to make. It’s a valid choice for female artists to be sexual, but I also recognize they make that choice within a society that commodifies female sexuality for the male gaze. Some women genuinely feel empowered by their sexuality. For others, it’s a necessary choice to get by in a patriarchal society.
Me: How easily is sexuality confused with voluntary objectification in cases such as the above?
Brita: We cannot label women as examples of self-objectification because we do not know their thought processes. Certainly some people accused me of “flaunting” myself when I wrote about why I wear a bikini. (Read the piece and laugh at the irony).
Me: Why are feminists hated? Is it wrong to ask for equality?
Brita: People who literally hate feminists are mostly misogynists. They either hate women, or they hate women who step outside a certain role. Many people do not actually hate feminists, but rather, they mistrust us. They have bought into the fear-mongering that many conservatives put forth. I’ve had several people in my life tell me that I single-handedly changed their minds about feminism.
It’s not wrong to ask for equality. Not everyone wants equality, however, including women. Some women do very well in a patriarchal system. If a woman is white, middle-class or wealthy, healthy, heterosexual, and educated, she has a good chance of marrying well. By entering into a traditional marriage, she then has the opportunity to live a comfortable lifestyle. While I have no problem with women making this choice, the issue is when housewives and SAHMs ignore their privilege. Depending on a man for financial security requires a great deal of privilege.
Full disclosure: While I’m working to start my own business, my husband is supporting us financially. But I was the breadwinner for several months when he was unemployed. That’s how an egalitarian marriage works. It’s not 100% equal, 100% of the time.
Me: What is your stand on men’s rights groups claiming that feminism has gone too far?
Brita: Men’s rights groups have one fairly legitimate complaint.
There are relatively few shelters for male survivors of intimate partner violence. While women are more likely to experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner (1 in 4 vs. 1 in 7), for all forms of intimate partner violence, women and men experience it in similar numbers (1 in 3 vs. 1 in 4). Attitudes towards male survivors of intimate partner violence are often fairly dismissive. “Men can’t be raped” or “Ha, you got hit by a girl!” are just two examples of how society doesn’t treat male survivors well. However, most feminists are vocally supportive of male survivors. We just don’t like it when a conversation on sexual violence against women is derailed by, “Men can be raped too!” While women can also be dismissive of male survivors, men’s rights groups don’t differentiate much between all women and women who are feminists.
Less legitimate is the complaint regarding gender bias in child custody cases. While I’m certain some men who sought child custody after a divorce were screwed by the court system, statistically, there’s no proof of a gender bias if you actually look at men who request child custody.