The Rape Myth: A Tool of Social Control

Rape Crisis Scotland launched their Not Ever Campaign with a Public Service Announcement broadcasted for the first time during Brazil’s World Cup match two weeks ago:

I had to watch it like three times before I completely understood the accent, but unfortunately the scenario itself is not so foreign. A sexy woman is enjoying herself at a party – drinking some wine, laughing, being fabulous, maybe flirting a little – and a male bystander (presumably a stranger) seizes the opportunity to interject that her skirt indicates that “she’s asking for it.” The viewer is left to make an obvious observation:

Um, asking for what, dude? Asking for another drink? A stick of gum? Directions to the Scottish Parliament?

The short PSA illustrates the absurdity of the “asking for it” rape myth while placing due gravity on its pervasiveness. Yeah, the guy’s an idiot, but he’s also engaging in a pattern of violence, and the real problem is that our culture condones and encourages his violent behavior.

The “asking for it” myth is so deeply ingrained in our rape culture that it’s become second nature to most of us. Sexual violence is treated as an inevitable consequence of certain behaviors, and, when you think about it, that’s a pretty effective way of maintaining social control over women and other disenfranchised groups. We’re frequently asked to surrender our rights to even the most basic of human freedoms in order to avoid being victimized. Don’t live in that part of the city, you’ll get raped. Never walk alone at night, you’ll get raped. Don’t talk to strangers, wear revealing clothing, leave your doors or windows unlocked, take drugs, drink in excess, take public transportation, travel alone, or sleep around – because you will get raped. The list of don’ts goes on and on, each rule wildly impractical, blatantly inconsistent with actual statistics related to sexual assault, and specifically crafted to distract us from the culpability of rapists. Why do we have entire dossiers on How to Not Get Raped and no guidelines for How to Not Rape PeopleWe need a cultural revolution.

I can just imagine the headlines:

Police warn rapists against crime.

Campus leaders urge students to engage in consensual sex.

Why is that message so absent from discussions of sexual assault? Why focus so much time and energy on training women to avoid danger while men walk around with carte fucking blanche? In thousands of ways, our culture has conditioned us to anticipate rape as a natural consequence of violating social norms. Rape myths serve to keep women out of the public sphere, and rape culture wants you to believe that the only safe place for a woman is her kitchen.

You have the right to live your life however you like without being subjected to violence. You have the right to live without fear. And no one has the right to violate you. Ever.

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14 Comments on “The Rape Myth: A Tool of Social Control”

  1. 1 Whitney said at 9:38 am on July 14th, 2010:

    Great post, Miranda! I especially love the link to How to Not Rape People. I really admire your writing.

  2. 2 Ashley Lebesco said at 10:43 am on July 14th, 2010:

    This post is so right on about all the rape myths and why they exist. I take the train to Temple University (in broad daylight mind you) where there is a security guard posted at the train station and at the entrance of the school which is 4 blocks down (so if someone did attack me they would see/hear me scream for help) and people still tell me I should stop going there because I could get raped. Total bullshit

  3. 3 Nobody Asks To Be Raped … Not Ever | Speak to Power said at 11:21 am on July 14th, 2010:

    […] It may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t — at least not in Scotland. Thanks to The Line, I just came across Rape Crisis Scotland’s “Not Ever” campaign — as in […]

  4. 4 Indian Homemaker said at 3:20 pm on July 14th, 2010:


  5. 5 shail said at 10:50 pm on July 14th, 2010:

    How true!

  6. 6 Miranda said at 1:12 pm on July 15th, 2010:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone! I really appreciate it. 🙂

    Ashley, I feel your frustration, m’lady. It’s interesting to think about what spaces are considered safe for certain groups of people, and the mixed messages we receive about our ability to pass through those spaces. Statistically, a woman is more likely to be assaulted in her dorm room by a friend/partner than at the train station by a stranger. We’re supposed to spend all our time avoiding situations where we might be vulnerable to sexual assault (lest we be blamed for someone else’s crime, etc.), but our culture really sucks at having honest conversations about what that means.

  7. 7 Sexual Assault Prevention Tips Guaranteed to Work! « The Life and Times of an Indian Homemaker said at 1:30 pm on July 17th, 2010:

    […] ki beti, rape, sexual harassment, Street Sexual Harassment by Indian Homemaker Thanks SR, for this link. In thousands of ways, our culture has conditioned us to anticipate rape as a natural consequence […]

  8. 8 Haresh said at 8:34 pm on July 17th, 2010:

    Brilliant, to-the-point article!

    We’ve been conditioned into believing so much of crappy stuff!

  9. 9 Barbara said at 6:06 pm on July 20th, 2010:

    As we’ve seen in numerous wars, including the Civil War which freed African Americans and World War II which free the prisoners of concentration camps, violence solves many things. Where is the war against the rapists and other men who regularly abuse women? There has been a war against women for centuries — where is our self-defense? A couple of buildings get blown up 10 years ago, and we’re still killing people over it. Millions of women are attacked by men for centuries, and we do nothing. AND we are expected to MARRY these assholes. Where is the sense in that? ORGANIZE A DEFENSE.

  10. 10 A Culture of Rape, and Control | Subterfuge said at 3:40 pm on July 21st, 2010:

    […] at Where Is Your Line has an excellent description: The “asking for it” myth is so deeply ingrained in our rape […]

  11. 11 Marina Ganzarolli said at 8:48 pm on July 24th, 2010:

    Brilliant!!! (2x)

  12. 12 Miranda said at 3:03 pm on July 26th, 2010:

    I just found a similar campaign in the U.S. that challenges all sorts of rape myths about all sorts of disenfranchised groups.

    Visit, and check out the campaign here:

  13. 13 A Culture of Rape, and Control | Subterfuge Magazine said at 1:43 pm on April 6th, 2011:

    […] at Where Is Your Line has an excellent description: The “asking for it” myth is so deeply ingrained in our rape […]

  14. 14 where is your line? » Blog Archive » Understanding Victim Blaming said at 2:54 pm on May 23rd, 2011:

    […] relies on rape myths. The whole point of the exercise is to promote gender-specific stereotypes that essentialize the […]

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