Last week, Jada Pinkett Smith gave an interview to Us Magazine in which she elaborated on her participation in the #justiceforjada campaign. She said a number of important, supportive things, and then, with what were clearly the best of intentions, she stepped right into it:
"What I do with Willow [her daughter] is I give her the opportunity to be empowered by having herself first.... Because when you allow a person to be an individual and you allow a person to have power within and have confidence on who they are, you'll never have to look into the eyes of a man and question whether it's a yes or a no. She's gonna be very clear: No. She's gonna be very clear: yes. And she's gonna be in a position to be able to determine how to protect herself. Know when you're in danger. Should you be a girl that goes into a room with four men drinking. Should you? Even if you think you know them? Is this about wanting to be the cool girl or is this about wanting to set a standard for yourself?"
She was blasted for this. People rightly pointed out that she didn't mention teaching her son to respect women, and that her comments read as victim blaming. It sounds as if she is saying that if a young woman is self confident and communicates her intentions clearly, then she can't be raped. The unavoidable corollary to that is that if a woman is raped, she was doing something wrong.
I don't have any brilliant commentary to add, but I do have a few thoughts:
1. This is #387 on my list of reasons I'm glad I'm not a celebrity. It is mortifying enough to mess up in front of a small readership of highly civilized academics. It seems from her other comments that she doesn't blame rape victims, and she must have either expressed herself clumsily or have been quoted out of context.
2. This stuff is really hard to talk about. A woman should be able to drink in a room full of men, especially men she knows, without worrying that her drink will be doctored, that she will be assaulted, and that the assault will be recorded and shared on social media. Saying, "She should have known better" or "she must not have communicated her intentions clearly" not only puts the onus of rape prevention onto women, but it paints men as untrustworthy, out-of-control maniacs who will take hesitation for "yes" and will take advantage of any impaired or vulnerable woman. We all know this is nonsense, and certainly not the picture of the average man we want to communicate to young women.
3. And yet, it seems that every day there is new evidence that rape culture is rampant in American colleges and even high schools. It seems that young women actually can't drink around young men without all the worries outlined above, and if they are assaulted, they will be revictimized by the people they should expect to help them.
I don't know how I would handle this if I had a daughter. Probably not very well. It is much easier to talk to a son — he doesn't need to be scared, he just needs to treat his women friends like human beings, which he does.
Any and all thoughts are welcome.
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