Saturday, 26 January 2013

Get drunk and get raped - thanks Joanna Lumley

Yet again this week we got the message that women who drink too much and dress too little are inviting rape. This time it came from a surprising source - the actor-turned-campaigner Joanna Lumley, someone who should know better.

Lumley is known for being extremely posh and extremely elegant - not the kind of woman to be caught flashing her crotch coming out of a nightclub. But the role Lumley is best known for is Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. Patsy is exactly the kind of woman to do this kind of thing.

In an interview in the Women's Life section of the Telegraph, Lumley says: "Don’t be sick in the gutter at midnight in a silly dress with no money to get a taxi home, because somebody will take advantage of you, either they’ll rape you, or they’ll knock you on the head or they’ll rob you."

I'm not advocating that women/girls do these things. She's right - it's not a good look. And I can see that she's trying to encourage young women to protect themselves.

But in doing this she suggests that getting raped is women's fault, something that women need to guard themselves against, and that women don't have the same freedoms that men have, to behave as they wish. Lumley doesn't exhort men and boys to avoid these kinds of behaviour. And isn't it equally unpleasant having shouty vomity lads staggering around the streets as shouty vomity ladettes?

Maybe Lumley is just trying to advise and protect, but she should know better. She could have encouraged both sexes to not get drunk and disgrace themselves. By putting it on women she places the responsibility for rape at the victim's door, not the rapist's. This is not on.

As one of my wise Facebook friends said this week: "Alcohol and short dresses don't mean people get raped, rapists' decisions mean people get raped."

Should Patsy be raped?
Lumley's character, Patsy, is a drunken, lecherous old sot, who expects to live the high life but give nothing in return. She deserves a lot of things, but she doesn't deserve to be raped. Patsy is sick in the gutter, on herself and on other people, she wouldn't be seen dead in anything that wasn't a "silly dress" and she never has ready money for anything, not least getting a taxi home.

According to Lumley's description, Patsy would indeed be raped, knocked on the head or robbed, probably all three if you take into account the regularity with which she does these things.

Excusing rape
In telling people that rape is a consequence of skimpy clothing, we give rapists and potential rapists an excuse. We encourage them to go ahead, because she's asking for it, in that dress.

Rape is not a passive activity. You cannot accidentally rape someone. Rape is a deliberate, violent and intentional act of abuse inflicted on one person by another. There really is no other way about it. Society needs to accept that the responsibility for rape lies firmly at the door of the rapist.

Role models like Joanna Lumley may think they're trying to protect young women, but by not thinking their advice through before doling it out so publicly, they are giving rapists an excuse and putting the responsibility for this horrible, abusive act onto the very people they are trying to protect.

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