I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter

18 Mar

I don’t have to tell you that Steubenville is all over the news.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s a fucking joke that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two teenagers convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, were only sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile prison. Each will serve a year for the rape itself; Mays will serve an additional year for “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

I probably don’t even have to tell you that the media treatment of this trial has been a perfect, if utterly sickening, example of rape culture, with its focus on how difficult and painful this event has been for the rapists who raped a sixteen year old girl then bragged about it on social media.

And I almost certainly don’t have to tell you that the world is full of seemingly nice, normal people who want to go to bat for the convicted rapists. I’m quite sure that you already know about the victim-blaming that’s been happening since this case first came to light. You know about the fact that people have actually come out and said that the real lesson to be learned here is that we need to be more careful with social media (i.e. go ahead and rape but make sure you don’t get caught). You already know that people seem to think that being a sports star and having a good academic record should somehow make up for the fact that you are a rapist.

I don’t have to tell you any of that because it’s all par for the course.

What I do want to tell you is that you need to stop using the “wives, sisters, daughters” argument when you are talking to people defending the Steubenville rapists. Or any rapists. Or anyone who commits any kind of crime, violent or otherwise, against a woman.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this line of rhetoric, it’s the one that goes like this:

You should stop defending the rapists and start caring about the victim. Imagine if she was your sister, or your daughter, or your wife. Imagine how badly you would feel if this happened to a woman that you cared about.

Framing the issue this way for rape apologists can seem useful. I totally get that. It feels like you’re humanizing the victim and making the event more relatable, more sympathetic to the person you’re arguing with.

You know what, though? Saying these things is not helpful; in fact, it’s not even helping to humanize the victim. What you are actually doing is perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.

The Steubenville rape victim was certainly someone’s daughter. She may have been someone’s sister. Someday she might even be someone’s wife. But these are not the reasons why raping her was wrong. This rape, and any rape, was wrong because women are people. Women are people, rape is wrong, and no one should ever be raped. End of story.

The “wives, sisters, daughters” line of argument comes up all the fucking time. President Obama even used it in his State of the Union address this year, saying,

“We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

This device, which Obama has used on more than one occasion, is reductive as hell. It defines women by their relationships to other people, rather than as people themselves. It says that women are only important when they are married to, have given birth to, or have been fathered by other people. It says that women are only important because of who they belong to.

Women are not possessions.

Women are people.

I seriously cannot believe that I have to say this in 2013.

On top of all of this, I want you to think of a few other implications this rhetorical device has. For one thing, what does it say about the women who aren’t anyone’s wife, mother or daughter? What does it say about the kids who are stuck in the foster system, the kids who are shuffled from one set of foster parents to another or else living in a group home? What does it say about the little girls whose mothers surrender them, willingly or not, to the state? What does it say about the people who turn their back on their biological families for one reason or another?

That they deserve to be raped? That they are not worthy of protection? That they are not deserving of sympathy, empathy or love?

And when we frame all women as being someone’s wife, mother or daughter, what are we teaching young girls?

We are teaching them that in order to have the law on their side, they need to be loved by men. That they need to make themselves attractive and appealing to men in order to be worthy of protection. That their lives and their bodily integrity are valueless except for how they relate to the men they know.

The truth is that I am someone’s wife. I am also someone’s mother. I am someone’s daughter, and someone’s sister. But those are not the things that define me, or make me valuable in this world. Those are not the reasons that I should be able to live a life free from rape, sexual assault or any kind of violent crime.

I have value because I am a person. Full stop. End of argument. This isn’t even a discussion that we should be having.

So please, let’s start teaching that fact to the young women in our lives. Teach them that you love, honour and value them because of who they are. Teach them that they should expect to be treated with integrity because it’s a basic human right. Teach them that they do not deserve to be raped because no one ever, ever, ever deserves to be raped.

Above all, teach them that they are people, too.


1,126 Responses to “I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter”

  1. Rosie May 16, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    Reblogged this on FEMBORG.

  2. veedya101 May 25, 2013 at 7:36 am #

    I read your post on the rape in India. As an Indian I can tell you that, while you say that the Steubenville victim might someday be someone’s wife. The rapes that happen here are so brutal, so horrifying and so absolutely abominable. The victims rarely survive, and even if they do they become pariahs in society, blamed for some pathetic man’s lack of control, they will likely never make it to being someone’s wife someday, because that’s just hwo the Indian society is wired. I know of my own family members who blame the Delhi gang-rape victim for having gotten on the bus after 9. I’m not encouraged to leave the house after 7 even. The value women have here is close to zilch, as people or even as wives, daughters and sisters. What hurts more than all else, is that nothing is being done. Recently, a law was even passed allowing a victim to marry her rapist, an option the victims are often pressured into by their own families. Families who are ashamed for some reason, of their own daughter for a crime that was committed against her.

    • Carly June 9, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

      Wow. What you have written makes my heart and soul ache. .. I have travelled India and it has this amazing beauty and wonder but also has a scarily vile dark side… there are no words to respond to what you have said. All I can say is that I send you love. You and every woman that suffers for being a woman.xxx

  3. Nina June 17, 2013 at 11:58 pm #

    LOVED this.

    One comment (and I admit I haven’t read all the comments below) is that the mothers/ sisters/ daughters argument both hinges upon and reproduces the myth that men never physically abuse or sexually assault their own family members. Bullocks to that.

    I teach sexual ethics and consent workshops and I’ve seen other presenters in the field sometimes say to groups of boys/ men: “remember every girl you hook up with is someone’s daughter/ sister etc” it infuriates me because (a) it locates a womans value in her connections to men and (b) that argument presupposes that men never disrespect or abuse women they are related to (which is one of the many many myths about violence against women we need to bust if we want to get real about the issue).

    I absolutely love this blog post. X

  4. adignorantium October 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    Great post!
    However, when I use the “Daughter, Sister, Mother” example, I’m using it as a frame of reference to men who know now better. Sometimes it’s best to use the most effective tools available.

    Of course women have their own identity apart from men. I would argue that a woman’s value is more than that of a man. Perhaps that’s why men are always trying to overcompensate.

  5. mahmoudbensalha46 November 1, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    A reblogué ceci sur mahmoudoun and commented:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

  6. Ira November 17, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    About this typical media argument:
    “You should stop defending the rapists and start caring about the victim. Imagine if she was your sister, or your daughter, or your wife. Imagine how badly you would feel if this happened to a woman that you cared about.” and what you wrote later.

    I just want to add, that I see it’s even wider problem than degrading a person as someone’s female partner or relative. The stupid thing about all people is fact they lack even a tiny bit of empathy unless they have sort of private connection to that person. They mistake self-interest that comes from forming bonds with pure empathy, and that’s what I don’t like about masses and many individuals.

    People in general lack the ability to feel compassion/ need for help and support for the mere bad experiences. Murder, rape, abuse of all sorts, manipulation, poverty, illnesses, everything that happens to both men and women- I see those things are OBJECTIVELY evil, I don’t see why the fact that you don’t relate to the person in question or didn’t have similar experiences makes that thing less shocking.

    And that comes from just what you wrote: from dehumanising person from being a person. I know, that right now I’m going off-topic, because what you we’re writing about is specifically about women, and the bad implications that people may do by describing women with just terms such as “wife/sister/daughter”, sometimes without even knowing that… and I’m sorry for that…but this relates to so many things, I have to deal with or hear about…. and I just wanted to voice that out.

    Because people tell me:
    – Why do you care? They’re not your friends/family/you don’t know them
    – If people would care and feel compassion so much, they would end up as a emotional, sobbing wreck (Why people think that empathy will do that to you? Why is the feeling of emotional support without self-interest seen as something that makes you lesser human?)

    And that ends with the same conclusion. I wish that people would treat the victims of any vile misfortune as persons. Not in light ot that persons gender, relation to others, etc. (even though I’m not – I’m sorry, I know what you meant in your article in concects of law and basic human rights, but I don’t like to always see these terms is such one-sided light…- villifying the terms mother/daughter/sister by assuming they just mean “posession of child/husband/brother”- they can be just that, but also they are more than that in so many cases, when both sides dedicate themselfes exually to build strong and meaningfull relationship, without defying themselfes as a persons, because, yeah, relationship with family and partners are something that rather you define in these times, not it defines you or passively let’s you define yourself. Or it can, but you know, like any experience/integration with other people can change people for better or worse. Everything influences us in one way or another, regardless if we accept it or not, but every mature person knows, it’s just a merely part of us, or being one (girlfriend), doesn’t cancel being another (gamer/scientist/photographer/etc.) and there’s no need for rejecting anything. A rather offtopic thing, sorry, but it’s just what I wanted to tell, it the light of general belittling of relationships).

  7. feminarian December 19, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    Thanks for so clearly articulating the problem at work in what is most often a well-intended statement. I noticed that I cringe when I hear people say this, but I couldn’t explain why until now.

  8. Cammy January 12, 2014 at 6:57 am #

    Reblogged this on I eat sacred cows. They make the best hamburger!.

  9. Cammy January 13, 2014 at 6:30 am #

    I would hope the Golden Rule isn’t taken so seriously. Thinking of it in sexual preferences is problematic. To add to the humanization of victims, it goes another way: men who support the sex industry do not want positions in it for their mothers, daughters, wives, girlfriends. Deep down they know it is wrong, and they handle it in their conscience by putting a divide between “good” women from “bad” women. We hear it in sayings like,”Can’t turn a ho into a housewife” or “Once a ho, always a ho” or “Never trust a ho.”

    • Cammy January 13, 2014 at 7:20 am #

      EDIT: It’s dicey. Sure, we can evoke it [the Golden Rule] when women don’t want to have anal sex or something, but the fact that we have to resort to it to convince a man tells me consent is the real issue. Translated to the sex industry it would be like,”Do not wish for other women what you would not wish for your [own] women.”

  10. annienicole March 5, 2014 at 4:42 am #

    Reblogged this on Not Your Mom's Sex & Gender Ed. Class.

  11. DLD April 22, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    I totally agree with this post, I have used similar words before, myself.
    I have also found myself saying the very things you criticize – to my boyfriend and to his friends. Because they honestly have a difficult time empathizing with females. My boyfriend in particular enjoys the most misogynistic exploitation films and porn that revolves around gang-bangs and bondage/rape, and has a hard time understanding what’s wrong with objectifying women. So I regularly ask him “So, imagine your daughter (who he worships) in one of these roles, with people looking at her and thinking of her the way you think of these other women. Is it okay now? And he says, ‘absolutely not.’ But it doesn’t change his mind about the material. I had a conversation with one of his friends who lives in Paris, and this friend was defending Roman Polanski and saying how uptight Americans are for being mad at him. So I said “Well he’s lucky you live in town and have a cute daughter, who at 9 years old will soon be just his type. You can introduce them.” That shut the guy up right fast. But it didn’t change his mind.

    So, while this looks like a way to get the point across, it doesn’t. Because men who only seem to care about females when they are their own offspring aren’t really “caring about women,” they are exercising their own masculine power in their own sphere of influence. But what do we do, then, to convince men that women have real feelings, as worthy of consideration as those of men?

  12. morue douche de sperme June 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

    On peut te dire que ce n’est guère inexact !!!

  13. lorevalkyrie June 6, 2014 at 2:04 am #

    Reblogged on valkyriefromthelore.wordpress.com

  14. hannahmathew19 March 9, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    Reblogged this on Just another teenager? and commented:
    women are people. EVERYONE IS A PERSON,and hence noone deserves to be raped.

  15. The Shameful Narcissist October 21, 2015 at 5:48 pm #

    Thank you for this. That litany has become so ingrained in our culture that many don’t realize how terrible it is. Yes, I am someone’s sister and daughter, but I’m also a person, and my wellbeing and bodily autonomy are valuable for that reason alone.

  16. Kari June 9, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

    I can’t believe this still needs to be said/read in 2016… So relevant still, with the Brock Turner case. Thank you for writing this piece.


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