Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Dear Caitlin

Dear Caitlin, I loved your book ‘How to be a Woman.’  It made me feel like I could identify as a feminist, that being a feminist didn’t mean I shouldn’t shave my underarms and spout man-hating rhetoric.  I read it and I realised I could say I was a feminist and yet still enjoy painting my nails and caring about my appearance.  I read it and realised that being a feminist really meant I was being a woman.  You wrote in an engaging, self-deprecating, humourous way.  It was accessible, enjoyable and you inspired me.

When other feminists complained that you weren’t inclusive enough, that your point of view was too white-focussed, too you-focussed and that as a result you never should have claimed to be writing for all women with the book’s title, and criticised your comment about ‘not caring’ that you hadn’t been inclusive and represented the experience of women of colour or others, I kind of understood.  The need to always be aware of inclusivity and entitlement within feminism frustrates me because it makes me feel that I am always having to apologise for being myself, for having the privileges in life that I’ve had.  I am white, middle-class and have had an education.  My perspective will always be coloured by my background & experiences, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be empathetic of others’ experiences.  In a way, the furore that surrounded your comments taught me to be more self-aware, if not apologetic.

But, Caitlin, this time you’ve made me deeply sad.  Your career, the success of your book, have given you a voice, a very loud & influential voice.  And you’ve used it this time to do harm.  I don’t know whether you meant to do harm, but harm you’ve done.  What you said in the interview with Mia Freedman basically boiled down to saying that if a woman wore heels that go clickety clack, she is advertising herself to rapists – that it is her fault.  I’ve tried re-reading the interview, giving you the benefit of the doubt, trying to see some attempted humour (however misguided humour with regard to rape is), but I can’t.  It reads exactly like victim blaming. 

Caitlin, you have a voice, whether you want to have it or not, you have it.  Women listen to you.  And you just told them things that are wrong.

1.       You said that a woman can avoid rape if she doesn’t draw attention to herself with the sound of her heels – and implicit too, in the clothes that she wears.
This is false.  Women are raped in their pyjamas, in the their own home.  Women are raped in jogging trousers.  Women are raped in hijabs.  Women are raped if they’re wearing flats, or running shoes.  Women are not raped by their clothes, they are raped by rapists.
2.       By saying that, you’ve implicitly blamed women for their rape.  You’ve made women feel that, if they were wearing heels, they were the stupid ones, it was partly their fault.  You’ve made it harder for a woman to recover, not to feel shame, to not feel stupid, for something that wasn’t ever a woman’s fault.  Rape is only ever the fault of the rapist.
3.       You’ve also exacerbated the myth that women tell themselves to feel safe – that if they take certain precautions, this horrible thing won’t happen to them.  This is a lie.  The perpetuation of that myth means that society still blames victims.  The reality is that most rapes are not ‘stranger’ rapes, the majority of rapes take place inside victim’s own homes, by someone they know well. 
4.       You basically said that rape is a class thing – that rich women don’t get raped because they can afford a taxi home.  It appears I did take a taxi home, with the rapist.  I have no recollection of that journey, but he came into my home and the mode of transportation was taxi.  And of course, there have also been high profile cases of the cab driver being the rapist.  And, rich women are as at risk as anyone else of being in a relationship with an abuser, or finding out the hard way that one of their so-called friends is an abuser.  Rape is not a class thing.

Caitlin, you have a voice, a loud voice, and people listen to you.  You are lauded as a feminist.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is not unequal pay or everyday sexism.  It is not our right to shave or not shave our legs, underarms or muffs.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is that somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 8 of us will be raped or sexually assaulted in our lifetime.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is that society apportions some of the blame for that rape on the women who were raped.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is that society tries to redefine rape into something lesser, to diminish the horror.  The single-biggest issue facing women today is the rape epidemic. 

Caitlin, you have a voice, a loud voice, and people listen to you.  Please, listen to me.  My voice is only a whisper, but I am begging you – use your voice wisely.  You could do so much to help change the way the world is, to say it is not right that society partially blames me for my rape, to say it is rapists who rape, to say you are sorry for the pain your comments have caused so many who are struggling to get by day by day from a trauma which still lives with them. 

Caitlin, I hope you read this through.  I hope you think on it.  Your book inspired me.  What you said was such a deep disappointment to me, has caused me so many tears of frustration because when someone like you says something like that, I fear the world will never change.  And I simply have to believe the world will one day change, because it cannot go on like this.

Thank you for reading.

[The interview between Caitlin Moran and Mia Freedman is here: http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/mia-freedman-interviews-caitlin-moran/

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