There’s a story that’s been running through my mind all week. It’s about a woman who posted a photo of her beaten face on Reddit after she was sexually assaulted, and the community responded by claiming that it “looked fake.”
One user claimed that since she’d used makeup to dress up like a zombie before, then it was probably fake. Another user claimed that he was a medical student (and therefore qualified to judge) and that the bruise just didn’t look genuine. Yet another user claimed that because the woman in question had mentioned previously that she has anal sex and that she likes being burned during sex, she must be faking.
The douchey Redditors didn’t let up until the woman responded, saying that she’s unsure of how to prove that the wound is real short of running a wet cloth over it and posting a video. They convinced her to do it. She did. Only then did they start going back on their previous judgments.
What disturbed me most about this story wasn’t the fact that there were a few douchebags on the internet. Rather, it was many of the comments on the Jezebel piece I linked to, which included the following:
Of all the places on the internet, why the fuck would you go to Reddit looking for sympathy and support?
This whole thing is pretty stomach turning. But I still don’t understand why one would want to take their story of sexual assault to a space like Reddit. It doesn’t, uh, seem like a safe space.
That’s what I was just thinking! Of all places, why would you post there?
There’s some truth to these comments, of course. Reddit really isn’t anything close to a safe space. However, I’m pretty disturbed by the idea that many people have–even commenters on a progressive blog like Jezebel–that some places are just unsafe and some people are just bad and all we can do is avoid those places and people.
As members of a sentient race, yes, we have the right to expect and demand a reasonable degree of civility from our fellow humans. I’m really no idealist, but I still don’t think there’s any reason we should assume that where we are now is the apex of human development. Shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Yeah, well, what did you expect?” doesn’t change anything, and it doesn’t help anyone.
One commenter put it this way:
The whole “You should have known better than to post here” thing gets really close to victim blaming, IMO. The Reddit community is perfectly fine with providing group therapy and noncontroversial messages of support 90% of the time. Safe spaces exist (though with all the transphobic shit occuring in /r/femisims, I’m not sure it is one), but that doesn’t mean you should expect to be harassed and denigrated in “unsafe” spaces. That’s akin to saying “Well of course you had some people catcall you when you went out in the street. Why didn’t you just stay at home, where it’s safe?”
Like this commenter, I can easily see the connection between “Yeah, well, people are just assholes” and “Yeah, well, men always catcall and rape women.” Not only do statements like these put the onus on the victims to change their behavior (don’t go out alone, don’t post your story on the internet), but they’re pretty dismissive towards our fellow humans. People can be taught not to catcall and rape, and they can be taught not to be assholes to others on the internet. Not immediately, perhaps, but over time.
Like I’ve mentioned before, I think that people have become too cynical about changing the status quo. We’ve gotten into the habit of selling people short by assuming that they can’t change. But I think it’s worth pointing out that there was a time when a woman who was beaten by her husband for not fixing dinner would’ve been met with the response, “Yeah, well, what did you expect? You didn’t fix him dinner!” An African American who was beaten for using a “white only” drinking fountain would’ve been told, “Yeah, well, what did you expect? You should’ve used the ‘colored’ fountain!”
Obviously, beating people up for stepping out of their culturally-sanctioned proper place is in no way equivalent to being a dick to a woman who’s just been sexually assaulted. But the similarity lies in the idea that some things, while unfortunate, are “just the way things are.”
Don’t be an apologist for douchebags. Next time you see or hear about a story like this one, don’t ask, “Yeah, well, what did you expect?” Instead, ask, “What could we do to change that?”