We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

There’s been some lively discussion this week over at the “Rape Analogy: The ‘Walking in a Bad Neighborhood’ Theory” thread, which addresses the popular perception that women who wear short skirts and other feminine accoutrements are just asking to be raped.

I’d love to revisit all of these comments—-especially the one from the guy who wrote, “But make no mistake, The Scary Man will rape someone today just as sure as the lion will kill and eat the slow, sick wildebeest”—-but alas, I only have so much space on this old Internet. So I’m going to highlight one particularly smart argument, from commenter Emily H., who somehow manages to make her point without comparing rape victims to infirm exotic animals.

She writes

You focus here on privilege, the fact that many people can’t afford to stay out of “bad” neighborhoods, and for most women, it’s hard to avoid doing “feminine” behaviors like adorning oneself/wearing makeup. I’d just want to emphasize that since these allegedly “risky” actions are legal and morally unobjectionable by themselves, they don’t need to be defended by pointing out that the person didn’t have any choice. Even if they had 100% free choice, it’s the criminal who committed a crime, not the victim who did something “stupid” by being victimized. For instance, let’s say I could afford to live in a nice neighborhood pretty easily, but I choose to live in a “bad” one because that’s where all my friends live/I’m saving up to go to Europe/I hate all the yuppie jerks who moved into my old neighborhood/whatever. That’s valid in its own way, and doesn’t make it less illegal to mug me on my block.

Similarly, I’m in a graduate English program & move in pretty enlightened circles, so I could probably get away with not acting “feminine,” without too many negative repercussions. (I know a lot of butch women who are popular and successful.) But I don’t want to — it’s fun for me to wear short skirts, heels & makeup, and dress “sexy,” so I do. The thought of doing things in a more utilitarian way doesn’t appeal. And I don’t think that makes it any less of a valid way to be. Just bringing this up because often, feminists defend sexiness & femininity solely by pointing out that “that’s how women are expected to act.” As if they were sort of necessary evils. Even if they were not at all necessary and totally avoidable, that doesn’t make them any more blameworthy.

Photo by arkadyrose, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0