Rape Culture and the Female Moralizing Fallacy

Last Friday, Rodrigo Constantino, in his blog on Brazilian magazine Veja’s website, made a strange comment: “I have no doubt that ‘good girls’ are under less risk of sexual assault.”

The statement was widely discussed and displeased many in social media, especially for following IPEA‘s research in Brazil, in which 58.5% of interviewees agreed with the assertion, “If women knew how to behave, there would be less rape.”

It is true that Constantino considered that the research’s results indicated the backwardness and the macho culture that are still prevalent in Brazil. Nevertheless, he does not notice that his statement is an accomplice of this toxic culture. The quote, in context, goes as follows:

While the machismo culture does not fade away and exemplary punishment does not come, it would be recommended that women should be more cautious, that they should try to look just a little bit more prudish, and preserved somewhat their intimate parts. I have no doubt that “good girls” are under less risk of sexual assault.

Constantino commits the fallacy of moralizing the explanation of rape. Let us compare: Say sex workers had a bigger chance of being raped than the average woman. This is just an empirical question, of knowing whether sexual work increases or not the risk of rape.

Now, imagine we said this: “Sex workers, because they’re acting immorally, have a higher chance of being raped, while ‘well behaving women’, because they act morally, have a lower chance of being sexually assaulted.” This offhand comment about the morality of the act adds nothing to the explanation and, worse, makes “having a lower chance of being raped” something moral, worthy of celebration. It is a subtle instance of slut shaming.

Sarah Skwire notes correctly that one of the distinguishing features of the rape culture is arguments such as “the victim shouldn’t have been there/shouldn’t have drunk/shouldn’t have worn these clothes/shouldn’t have gone to that party.”

As Charles Johnson highlights, here we see the “unwritten law of patriarchy:” culture puts the woman in a position of dependence by the relationship between the violence committed by a few men and the attempt by other to protect and control women. These two behaviors work in conjunction to impose rules on women’s personal lives, limiting their freedom. The moralizing explanation of rape is part of this cycle.

Constantino may as well say, “Women who don’t leave their houses are less likely to be raped.” Well, it depends. If family members or acquaintances rape them, that statement is false. He could also say, “Women who don’t drink are less likely to be raped.” All right, but only if he is talking about sexual assaults committed against drunk women. We cannot extrapolate.

We live in a world where women are deceived into accepting false job offers abroad and forced into prostitution. Where women are raped only for going back home from work late at night. Where women are raped because their house has been broken into. Where there is child prostitution and sexual abuse. Where agents of the state can throw a 15-year-old girl in jail along with several men. Where a community council can condemn a girl to collective corrective rape. Where women might be in the middle of war and cannot flee. Where women hop on a van with their boyfriends not knowing who is inside. Where family members, acquaintances and even sexual partners are ill intentioned.

In a world where women are raped only for being women, Constantino should, at the very least, apologize for his pointless moralizing.

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