Monday, June 20, 2011

"A critique of SlutWalk Singapore? Try again." by Desirée Lim.

ETA 22 June 2011: You can read Ben Cheah's reply to Desirée Lim's piece and Lim's further deconstruction of that email at her Facebook note. And if one's feeling extra intrepid, one can witness more FAIL from Cheah here: (TRIGGER WARNING - and yes, you have to copy and paste the address if you really want to feel the pain) As far as the farm is concerned, we're no longer entertaining Cheah's rubbish on this subject.
Readers will remember our 'favourite' rape-victim-blaming, Rational Male BloggerTM Benjamin Cheah from a while back. Well, Cheah has resurfaced from what little manhole in which he resides to offer more useless cents (and sense) on the proposal to host SlutWalk in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. The farm is honoured and most delighted to host our first guest post, this lovely response to Cheah by frequent #sgfeminists contributor, Desirée Lim. This is x-posted here.

Today I came across a blog post titled "Slutwalk: noble but misguided" by Benjamin Cheah. I am personally for Slutwalk and am pleased that it's coming to Singapore, but as I believe it's important to critique the things we support, I decided to read it. I hoped to read something that could shed light on SlutWalk's shortcomings and limitations in a Singaporean context, which I have been ruminating over the last few days: boy was I disappointed. If anything, it's shown me, all the more, how goddamned pervasive the exact attitudes SlutWalk stands against are, "academically" expressed or not, and how important it is so rally against them. Here is a brief response.
SlutWalk Singapore x Kuala Lumpur’s Facebook page says that one of its goals is ‘to stop victim-blaming in sexual assault, which is a crime that has nothing to do with what we wear or even sex.’ This reveals a dangerous misunderstanding of sexual assault.

Clothing matters. Rapists prefer women who wear clothes that are easy to remove. Rapists want to do the deed as quickly as possible, to minimise risk to themselves. The more time they spend removing clothes, the more time the victim has to defend herself and call attention to the rape-in-progress. Rapists aren’t necessarily turned on by scantily clad targets – but they will prefer targets who are easier to attack.
Naturally, this paragraph displays an excellent understanding of sexual assault, far superior to that of Slutwalk's! So rapists regularly sit around evaluating women's attire, poised to attack the first woman who has clothes that are "easy to remove".

Rapist: "Hmmm. This one's wearing a jacket, so nah. Shit, that one is wearing stockings and ripping them off is going to hinder my rape, so I'll let her off. Damn it, HER dress has BUTTONS on!"

The next time I walk out in a dress with a zip down the back (I can't think of any other article of clothing that would be easier to remove - maybe my old sweatpants that are loose around the waist and can thus be swiftly yanked down?), God help me. In fact, I should conduct sartorial experiments, just in case - does anybody want to volunteer to rip off a series of my outfits so I can be absolutely sure?
A protest march is a public expression of group opinion – but rapists don’t care. They don’t see themselves as part of society. (More on that below.) Protests can’t pressure someone who won’t feel it.

Workshops, fora and meetings attract people who have a stake in the topic. Rapists do not. They won’t show up. They may know someone who attended such a workshop – so they’ll just take her and her friends off their target list, if they care. Or put them on the list, if they care that much. (Again, more below.)
How does this invalidate SlutWalk? Cheah seems to be suggesting that it is pointless because rapists are not going to join women in the march, speaking out against victim-blaming. By the same logic, protest marches against any kind of injustice would be useless as well, since the perpetrators are probably not going to join in. Moreover, did anyone ever suggest that SlutWalk would stop rape? I doubt so. What we're more interested in is changing preponderant public attitudes towards rape - the very attitudes that Cheah himself, as I will show later, cheerfully propounds. He later continues along the same lines: A predatory rapist isn’t moved by popular outrage. He doesn’t even see himself as part of society. A social rapist doesn’t care…and may turn on ‘his’ woman if he learns she took part in something like SlutWalk. It’s not rape to him; he’s just putting her in his place. Right, and we feminists simplistically believe that SlutWalk can "move" and dissuade rapists. The day a protest march moves rapists to tears when they think about their wrongdoings ("This is it! I'll NEVER RAPE AGAIN!"), I'll eat my hat.
The heart of SlutWalk’s stance on rape is its attack on ‘victim-blaming’. SlutWalk believes that society pins all the ‘blame’ of a rape on the victim instead of the rapist. On the surface, this is only logical. A rapist committed a rape, therefore the rapist is to blame. But this is a shallow way of looking at rape – the rape probably occurred because the victim didn’t look after herself.
What did I tell you? Can a deep, incisive, correct way of looking at rape point us back to (gasp) victim-blaming? If you can bear to, let's read on.
Predatory rapists like to ambush their targets. The key word is ambush. They wait in dark, secluded areas, and assess everybody who walk by. As soon as they see a target, they strike. Predators can be avoided by going where they can’t hide and not provoking an attack. Personal safety is beyond the scope of this blog, but for more information, there are plenty of books and websites available. I favour Marc MacYoung, Gavin De Becker, and Rory Miller. While geared towards an American audience, much of what they say applies across cultures and borders. More importantly, they make sense, and their tactics work.

Social rapists are people you interact with. To avoid being raped by them, cut them out of your life, and spread the word about them. Potential rapists tend to fit a profile: if you know what to look for, you can take appropriate measures. They’re not that difficult to spot; they tend to be misogynistic bullies or slick charmers.

Most rapes occur because a woman took a risk, and got burned. She took a risk by walking down a dark alley, by ignoring the three young men lined up against a wall, by leaving a charming handsome stranger alone with her drink, by continuing to live with her abusive husband, and she paid the price. But these are avoidable risks. Most crimes occur this way. It’s controllable, even eliminated in some cases.
Now, two things. I first need to point out how ludicrous the second paragraph is. So, to avoid being raped, I am responsible for developing an internal Rapist Detector that enables me to systematically de-friend any rapist that could inhabit my friendspace. What's more, Cheah claims that they're "not that difficult to spot". I would love to personally introduce him to all my friends, just so he can tell me, afterwards, who is most likely to rape me - lest I suffer the consequences. It's easy! Cheah also conveniently ignores the fact that many rapists are people that you cannot easily disassociate yourself from with the click of a button - what about family members? Work superiors? Husbands you have young children with? Is it my fault that I am raped, or is it their fault for raping me? No prizes for the correct answer.

Secondly, being strongly against victim-blaming doesn't mean that we can't encourage people to be careful. There is a reason why I avoid walking alone in the dark by myself. It is perfectly natural for me to ask a female friend to send me a text when she reaches home safely. Before I left for university my mother gave me a flashlight/alarm hybrid that I was supposed to set off if someone tried to assault me (I never used it). The problem arises, however, when we say, not only that rape happens because we fail to do these things, but that we, as Cheah implies, have it coming.

Let me use a simple example. This point has been explained to death by more capable feminists, so feel free to skip over it, unless you need to be disabused. I am an amateur sailor who decides to go boating in an extraordinarily violent storm. No doubt, I am taking a risk because I choose to go boating in a storm. If I drown as a result, it will be my foolishness at fault, even if no one will say it at my funeral. How is this different from a woman who takes a risk by walking down a dark alley that might be populated by rapists? The key here, which so many people fail to grasp, is agency. Storms have no agency, but rapists (hopefully) do. A storm will continue to rage no matter what, but rapes happen because rapists actively decide to rape. A woman who does - or fails to - do x is in no danger of rape if men do not choose to rape. If we blame the victim and not the rapist, we are assuming that rapists, like storms, are an uncontrollable constant we should accept as a fact of life. Men rape. That is normal. They can't help it. If we believed this, I seriously think it would be a huge insult to men in general.

With the aid of another analogy:

Either: To stop rape, women take EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE PRECAUTION to make sure they don't get raped. This includes, as Cheah suggests, wearing clothing that is difficult to take off (like thick leather onesies with conspicuous locks on) and fine-tuning their aforementioned Rapist Sensors. Disappointed, potential rapists give up and go home.

Or: Potential rapists stop themselves from raping.

Either: To stop ourselves from being hit by drunk drivers, we make sure we TAKE EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE PRECAUTION to make sure we don't. We wear fluorescent clothing and refuse to cross roads, ever. Otherwise, it is our fault for being hit.

Or: People stop drink-driving.

Which looks more sensible? I leave it to the reader.


  1. Beautifully done, a thousand thanks. You have performed a great kindness. Whenever the Magical Chicken has to write an anti-victim-blaming screed, she does it by tearing her own feathers out to use as quills and opening a vein so she can use her own blood as ink. True facts.

    Does Benjamin Cheah propose, do you think, that men and boys should never walk in dark alleys or leave their drinks alone? If they do so, and they get sexually assaulted (because there male victims of sexual assault too, lest anyone forget) would he also blame them? Or is it only acceptable to require female people to live lives circumscribed at all times and in all places by fear?

  2. Does Slutwalk plan to take a stand against false rape accusers?
    Or are all rape accusations supposed to be viewed as completely true?

  3. Hello Xavier:

    I felt the response to your comment warranted its own post. You can read it here.

    Thanks for stopping by.


Please avoid (1) victim-blaming, (2) justifying any particular instance of oppression/exploitation, (3) explaining that we live in a post-feminist/racist/ablist/enter-oppression-here world, or (4) Mansplaining at all. Barn writers are free to moderate their own posts how ever they deem fit, and not obligated to entertain any comment. If you suspect it might seem offensive, don't comment.

(See our note on comments.)