Last night I did my usual end-of-day Twitter check and the (generally innocuous) Northern Line account had tweeted something that made my inner feminist seethe. It was a link to a ‘safety campaign’ from TFL instructing us silly, irresponsible women on how to not go and get ourselves raped. The polite, more English way of saying that is, of course: ‘don’t get into an unlicensed cab, you could be sexually assaulted’.
By now, we know this drill; we’ve seen these campaigns before (previous posters run by the Metropolitan Police showed a wide-eyed, crying women begging us to not take an unlicensed cab; the rape implication hidden in plain sight on the victim’s face). So, what should we make of this? Should we be grateful that the horror of rape is ever-present in the minds of authorities and they are keen to spend money to keep women safe? And, as journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan asked, “Do I really have to Instagram a picture of myself arriving home without getting raped as though it’s an achievement?”
No: fuck that. This is the same old victim-blaming game and I am so damn fed up with it. TFL, please don’t congratulate yourselves on this campaign; it is an epic failure. Have you already forgotten the victims of John Worboys? Over a hundred women raped by a Black Cab driver. And you suggest that licensed and regulated = safe? You insult all his victims when you pretend a licence is any guarantee of safety.
This was never about keeping women safe, was it TFL? Despite the myriad ways in which women are told that it’s their fault if they get raped, it’s ensuring that if women don’t ‘heed the warnings’ we can all safely point the finger and say “told you so”. How many people will make the leap from “don’t get into an unbooked cab” to “what were you wearing?” “were you drunk?” “did you go home with him?” “did you buy your own drinks?” or any other of the many ‘reasons’ why you got raped when you did? Yes, they’ll examine all the “reasons, except perhaps the only one that actually means something. Rape is the rapist’s fault. It’s a simple concept really, but after centuries of misogyny in a culture consumed with its own sense of patriarchal entitlement, somehow it still isn’t – it’s women’s fault; mine and yours and all of ours.
The threat of rape has been dangled over my head all my life. I’m 37 years old and I don’t recall a single public campaign that put the onus and responsibility of rape where it belongs – on the man. This campaign is nothing special; despite its attempt to glamourise women’s safety with the odious and extremely misguided #homesafeselfie angle. Get home safe and celebrate that achievement (because that’s what it is, right?) by tweeting a picture of yourself looking drunk but happy – happy to be tucked up in bed, unviolated for yet one more day. Well done you!
I’ve often been told that, in order to think your way out of a problem, you need to see it outside of yourself. So, let’s step away for a sec. From the outside, it seems fairly straightforward not to get raped. We “just” have to abide by an ever-increasing set of rules that govern: our behaviour, our words, our clothing, the time of day that we travel, the type of work we do, the friends we have, the men we date, the men we speak to in bars and clubs, the men we have relationships with and of course, the men we allow to drive us home after a night out. Every aspect of our lives dictated to by a society that knows the problem (don’t believe for a moment this is down to ignorance – this is wilful and hateful and completely intentional) but refuses to name it. The problem is, has always been, and will remain, male violence.
Understand this one, salient, overriding fact and maybe we can start to do something about it. This is more than the elephant in the room, this is what rape culture looks like and feels like. The silent but oppressive scarlet letter just waiting to be branded onto us, if through our trangressions and our own pathetic and weak neglect of our personal safety, we become the victims our society has long set us up to turn into.
The TFL campaign is just another expression of rape culture. A culture that has normalised misogyny to the point that we ask women who are abused why they stay with their abusive partners, but we never tell men it’s not ok to hit. It is a culture that has created a thousand little loopholes through which a rapist can walk out of court smiling smugly knowing he raped a woman and got away with it. Because jurors need to hear how the woman often goes out drinking and had an abortion at 18, but will not be told that the man has a history of violence, maybe even rape, because then he may not get a fair trial.
I was seething when I saw the ill-conceived and sexist TFL campaign; I’m still seething. Every leaflet, every booklet, every article I ever read told me the one thing I should say to a woman who’s been attacked – “it’s not your fault”. But, everywhere else, in every nook and cranny of our violently misogynistic society, the collective finger gets pointed at the victim and she remembers (because she’s always been taught it) that maybe it is her fault. If only she hadn’t…….then maybe it wouldn’t have happened?!
These campaigns should tell men to not rape, to not abuse, to not harass. That they continue to blame women is the running joke that’s been played on all of us for far too long. A woman’s body is not a punchbag; a woman’s safety is not a punchline. I’m not fucking laughing. Are you?