Blaming the victim – as usual

This is a guest post by Elin Weiss & Hennie Weiss

Creative Commons image - Why does my heart feel so bad?The Canadian government has published a travel guide named Her own way: A woman’s safe-travel guide in which they advise single women travelling abroad to wear a fake wedding ring in order to discourage men attempting to propose or attempting to make romantic advances that the women do not appreciate. Another tip in the guide is to carry a photograph of a fake boyfriend/husband in your purse so that it can whipped out in order to scare off romantic intruders.

This safe-travel guide is quite reminiscent of attempts to keep women safe by blaming the victim and making the woman the one who is supposed to deter men from aggressively pursuing her. Instead of the government actually targeting the men who act inappropriately against women, women should be able to take care of it themselves, simply by printing a photograph of a man and purchasing a fake wedding ring. Simple as that.

We are all aware of how women are judged in rape cases in which the woman’s appearance, choice of clothes, sexual history and so on are indicative of whether or not rape is considered rape or if the woman is just perhaps a bit too slutty. This travel guide is again blaming the victim by telling women that there are things you should do in order to avoid dangerous and scary situations. Thereby, women should not expect to travel to other countries without being targeted by men looking for brief sexual opportunities or a possible (yet involuntary) marriage partner.

Women are encouraged to not wear revealing clothing, to not put themselves in dangerous situations and to not walk on their own late at night. It appears as if little effort is actually aimed at teaching boys and men that no does mean no and that a woman is not being a tease by turning a man down. If a woman is being aggressively pursued by a man all she needs to do is flash her fake wedding ring and the man will back off? Unlikely.

Personal experience also states otherwise. One of the authors herself was put in a potentially dangerous situation when she reacted strongly to a man sexually harassing her younger sister on a London street while simultaneously making sexual and awful remarks about her body and attempting to inappropriately touch her. The man reacted with anger and aggression and thanks to the presence of a number of other people the situation did not evolve into a physical altercation. No wedding ring or a photograph of a boyfriend would have eased the situation and on this occasion no did not mean no but instead was an invite to further aggression and name calling. On that occasion we also did everything “right” according to how women should protect themselves. We did not wear revealing clothing, were not intoxicated or on drugs. We did not flirt with this man. We were not in some random back alley and there were plenty of street lights. We were two people walking down a busy street. All we did was to pass this man on the street and we became instant victims.

Instead of advising women on how to keep themselves safe by focusing on the possible threat of a somewhere present masculine figure, boys and men should be taught to not put women in danger and to not pursue women that are not interested. More efforts should be in place to keep women safe and above all, no more victim blaming.


Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Hennie Weiss is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology. Their interests include feminism, gender, the sexualisation of women and the portrayal of women in media.


Image “Why does my heart feel so bad?” from dall’alba’s Flickr photostream (Creative Commons).

The monochrome image shows a woman, seen from behind, looking out over a city.

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