Wednesday, October 2, 2013

In Defense of Young Women

By Sandra Parshall

Do you believe today’s teenage girls and young women are Too Stupid to Live, like the “heroines” of old-fashioned damsel-in-distress novels?

Does the very mention of a high school or college girl bring to mind the image of a dummy who spends all her time texting?

Apparently a lot of people, male and female, still think that way.

Recently I participated in a discussion that made me realize just how little respect young women receive from both men and other women. We were talking about those old damsels in distress, and I suggested that today’s young women are more savvy and sophisticated about the dangers around them than those of the past.

My statement was greeted with a chorus of “No!” One woman said, “They’re all too busy texting” – meaning, I assume, that they wouldn’t notice they were in peril until they were tied up and a rape was underway.

If they’re abducted or raped, it’s their own fault, because they’re not paying attention. Too Stupid to Live.

A lot of people in the room looked old enough to have teenage or young adult daughters – or granddaughters. I felt like asking them if they held such a low opinion of their own flesh and blood, and if so, who they blamed for the girls being idiots.

I didn’t get a chance to ask, which is probably just as well. I also didn’t get a chance to point out that the world is filled with teenage girls and young adult women who are smart, accomplished, and focused on achieving their goals in life. I didn’t get a chance to point out that almost 50% of both medical school and law school students are female, and nearly 80% of veterinary medicine students are female.

When one of these undeniably intelligent young women is raped and/or abducted and held prisoner, does it happen because she’s “too busy texting”? Is it her own fault?

Abduction and long-term imprisonment is an extremely rare crime, although publicity about three or four cases in recent years might make it appear to be something that happens every day. Each time someone is freed from such a situation, we start hearing the same question: Why didn’t she escape? Even when people are charitable enough not to blame a girl for being abducted from her home in the middle of the night or grabbed off the street and being forced into a vehicle, some want to hold her responsible for her continuing captivity. She should have found a way to escape.

Rape, unfortunately, does happen every day – many times a day, in every community. Victims are still reluctant to bring charges because they know they will have to prove it wasn’t their fault. They will have justify being in that place at that time. If a girl was drinking when she was raped, she can forget about receiving sympathy from any but the diehard bleeding hearts. She was “asking for it” – she had to know the minute she took the first sip in the company of a man or men that she was giving them permission to have sex with her, even if she lost consciousness. If a man put a date rape drug in her drink, that was her fault too, because she shouldn’t have been drinking in the first place. Who can blame the guys? We all know that men, and young men in particular, have no self-control when it comes to sex. It’s all up to the female. If she’s raped, it’s her fault, whatever the circumstances.

But the truth is that rape can happen to the most careful of women, of any age. Men who rape strangers often plan their crimes and stalk their victims. They know where and how to commit their crimes without getting caught. They are almost always bigger and stronger than their victims, they may carry deadly weapons, and they have the advantage of surprise. Men who rape estranged wives or girlfriends are all too often aided by police and courts that fail to enforce protection orders, then bring charges against women who dare to defend themselves with weapons.

I don’t believe today’s young women suffer from wholesale stupidity. I don’t believe they’re all as empty-headed as some older people insist they are. I believe a huge number are achieving great things despite growing up in a society that still places little value on women’s achievements and is still inclined to blame the victim when that victim is female.

Our young women deserve better – especially from other women.


Sheila Connolly said...

Sigh. I wish I could argue that things have changed since we were young women, but I don't think I can. It's an issue I address in a coming book, where a group of sixty-something women from a college class come together and encounter a former professor who slept with a lot of undergraduates, and no one ever complained.

Maybe the best we can do, as women writers, is to create strong, intelligent female protagonists and hope someone sees them as good role models.

Janet C said...

Put me down as a diehard bleeding heart then. Where I volunteer, I meet many young women who are also volunteering. They are intelligent, caring, and have serious long and short term plans for themselves.

Vicki Lane said...

Well said, Sandy!

Deborah said...

Well said. Young women today are as vibrant and capable as ever, and meeting challenges like no other generation. We need to mentor and not blame them for the sins of others.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Anne Perry's last Pitt mystery, Midnight at Marble Arch, deals with rape and its aftermath, and cultural tolerance. An insightful exploration of the topic. I was touched when Pitt sees his young son and realizes he does not want the boy to grow up in a culture that tolerates rape and tells men they can abuse their physical power that way.

Sandra Parshall said...

What happens to rape victims on the witness stand in open court is nothing short of torture. Rape trials are still all about the woman. Did she "ask for it"? Did she "want it"? Was she drinking? Did she wear provocative clothes that left the man/men no alternative but to rape her? Look at the way the young female military cadet was treated in the recent gang rape trial. It's disgusting. And in the US, the conviction rate in rape cases is shamefully low.

Kris Bock said...

The stereotypes are insulting to men as well as women. Really, a guy is such a slave to his impulses that he can't control himself around a drunk woman? If that were true, no man should be able to walk around unsupervised.

All crimes should be blamed on the criminal, not the victim. If I leave my house unlocked, it's not an invitation to come in and steal my TV. If I go out in skimpy clothing, it's not an invitation to assault.

The stupid people are the ones who blame the victims. I suspect it's really a defense mechanism, though – "if you got hurt, you must have done something wrong, and if I don't do anything wrong, I can't be hurt."