Yes, it is Sunday, and yes, that means I ought to have a Weekend News-Surfing post lined up. But, you know, I’m not feeling up to dealing with the myriad of nastiness that’s around in the news this week, so instead, I have taken inspiration from the long-suffering sidekick of Captain Obvious:

I’m going to give you three quotes that have appeared in the news this week. And then, if you haven’t already guessed, I’m going to point out why one of these things is not like the others.

Pope ‘distorting condom science’:

“the London-based Lancet said the Pope had “publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue”. It said the male latex condom was the single most efficient way to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV/Aids.”

School lunch rules too strict:

“The government had been working with local authorities and schools to create better dining facilities and organise lunch breaks better because it knew students were put off if there was nowhere to sit, long queues, unattractive dining rooms or no time to eat.”

Sex attack on woman in alleyway:

“I would advice ladies in the area to take reasonable precautions and if possible avoid walking alone in that vicinity at this moment in time. If they are walking around during the hours of darkness I would urge them to be with a friend or something like that.”

Have you guessed yet?

In fact, there are two right answers. The first is that one of these things is not held to be “conventional wisdom” – and that would be the second story, which says that students don’t want to stand in long queues to get their lunch.

The second, and the one which I was going for, was that, while the quotes from the first two stories are clearly true all the time, the third story is one of those rare occaisions where the “conventional wisdom” for women is actually relevant.

Here’s what gets to me, Detective Inspector Dilly*: if women in our culture don’t know by now that they’re not meant to walk around late at night without some suitably muscular man to look after them, they never will. You saying “don’t walk around in the dark” isn’t anything new or helpful.

I know I’m not meant to walk around in the dark on my own. I know I’m not meant to go out clubbing in a short skirt, but then on the other hand, if I go out in jeans and get raped, the judge won’t believe me because my jeans will have been too tight for the man to get them off without my help. I know I’m not meant to get drunk, because if I do, I can wave goodbye to that rape conviction – after all, just because I was unconscious, doesn’t mean I didn’t consent! I know I’m not meant to use public transport to get home – but then, if I take a taxi and get raped, who will believe me? I know I’m meant to take my boyfriend with me everywhere I go, so that potential rapists know that I’m somebody else’s property, but then, if my boyfriend rapes me, it won’t even get to court because the police will label it as a “domestic incident”. After all, I don’t normally object to having sex with him, right?!

Of course, if you were honest you might have said, “face it, ladies, whether a man rapes you has nothing to do with what you do, and everything to do with whether that man is a rapist”. But that doesn’t make for nice, friendly police officer advice, does it?

Don’t get me wrong – I want women to be safe. I want to feel safe, as a woman. But let’s face it – the only time I could ever consider myself completely free from the threat of rape is if I was the only person left alive. Being pre-pubescent doesn’t mean I won’t get raped. Being post-menopausal doesn’t mean I won’t get raped. Being lesbian… well, in some places, being lesbian might actually increase my chances of getting raped.

I hope they find that man in Portsmouth. Maybe when they’ve done that, they can work on challenging rape myths so that women actually feel confident in reporting rape in the first place.


*yes, his name really is Dilly.

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