Friday, February 7, 2020

Barend Vlaardingerbroek: Those who play with fire

The old saying about people playing with fire burning their fingers comes down to the commonsense observation that if you knowingly and willingly expose yourself to danger, you should not be surprised when adverse consequences arise – and by implication, you have only yourself to blame.

Let me tell you a really daft story. One night, as a dare, I walk on my lonesome down dimly-lit streets in a seedy part of town with $50 and $100 banknotes protruding from gaps in my clothing. Surprise, surprise, I get mugged and robbed. I go to the police, where, instead of sympathy, I get a flea in my ear about my grossly irresponsible behaviour. “You were asking for it,” the officer on duty says sternly. “But I had a right to be there!” I protest. “And I didn’t go there wanting to be robbed! Those muggers didn’t have the right to rob me!” I leave the cop shop mumbling about ‘victim blaming’.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t get much sympathy from anyone else either. And yet I was technically correct about three things. First, there was no law stopping me from being in that part of town at that time. Secondly, I did not go there expressly wanting to become a crime statistic. Thirdly, the miscreants who did me over broke the law by robbing me. Not that any of that makes a scrap of difference: I acted with wanton disregard for my own safety – which is what ‘asking for it’ means – and paid the price.

Amazingly, we hear this story quite often in real life, albeit with a few substitutions: an attractive young woman for an ageing Dutchman, daring attire (“dressed up to ‘ere and down to ‘ere”, as they say in the UK, with appropriate hand gestures) for the banknotes, and a sexual assault for the mugging and robbing. The standard reaction nowadays to an account along the lines of our tweaked story is to say that she had a right to be there – whether in a dodgy place full of uncouth types with a runaway testosterone problem or in the private quarters of a man she ‘met’ on social media and went with upon their first meeting in the flesh – and that this did not give the assailant(s) the right to molest her. Hey, nobody’s saying otherwise. Nor is anyone claiming that she wanted to be assaulted. The fact of the matter is that she chose to be there, and she’d have to be unbelievably dense to not have realised the dangers she was exposing herself to. It’s not a matter of ‘rights’ but a matter of how she chose to exercise those – in this instance, recklessly.

Now before anybody starts putting together a lynch mob, let me make it plain that I am not claiming that all sexual assaults are self-induced any more than I would claim that all muggings and robbings are brought on by rash risk-taking behaviour. Indeed, most are not. But there is no denying that some are.

Having a right to do something does not mean being able to exercise that right injudiciously and not be held responsible at least in part for the consequences of that choice. I hear the cry of ‘victim blaming’ but it isn’t. It’s recognising that we owe it to ourselves, and to others who are affected by what happens to us, to observe a duty of care to avoid foreseeable injury, including to ourselves. It is also good old-fashioned common sense. You have a right to play with fire, but you must at the very least acknowledge the possibility that you will burn your fingers in the process. If it was an act of bravado on your part – if you’re the kind of person who gets a buzz out of pushing your luck to the limits – you really have only yourself to blame in the final analysis.

It may be said that all this is ‘discriminatory’ because young men do not face the same restrictions as young women – they are freer with regard to where they go and how they dress in the sense that they do not run the same risks. True enough. But bear in mind that the restrictions we are on about here are not imposed by law – there is no difference between the legal rights of men and women in this context. The restrictions, where they are abided by, are self-imposed, and wisely so. That young women and not young men are well advised to observe these limitations on their personal freedom arises from biology, not statutes. Mother Nature does not suffer from any delusions about males and females being the same, which is a misreading of ‘equal’. Boys and girls are actually rather different (gasp!). Their sexual psychology is different (see my articles ‘Girls who like bad boys’, Breaking Views 2 July 2015, and ‘Incel – a lethal combination of victimhood culture and social media madness’, Breaking Views 5 June 2018). No amount of political correctness is going to change that in a hurry. A typical male response to the suggestion that dressing ‘provocatively’ and placing himself in a ‘dangerous’ environment dominated by lecherous females may result in his being sexually assaulted would be a jocular, “I wouldn’t be so lucky, mate!”

In 1971 or was it 1972, I came across a report (I think it was in Newsweek) about a group of young women in Holland who made a point of wolf-whistling at attractive men on the street and pinching guys’ bums in confined spaces. Their reasoning was that men and women are ‘equal’ (by which they too understood ‘the same’) so if men can wolf-whistle at attractive women and pinch girls’ bums (a practice still common at the time, although increasingly frowned upon) it was only good and proper that they should emulate those behaviours. The ‘movement’ didn’t exactly take off. What a surprise, I’m sure.

To anyone who finds my message objectionable, let me ask you a question: What do you tell/what are you going to tell your daughters? Are you going to say, “You’ve got rights to be wherever, whenever you like, tarted up as you like – there won’t be any negative consequences because these are your rights.” I suspect the answer is ‘no’, and so it should be – it would be a gross dereliction of parental duty to tell them that. What you’ll probably do is warn them about the possible outcomes of exercising those rights without due care, and impress upon them that they have a responsibility towards themselves and their families to exercise those rights prudently.

Tell them that men are like fire: with proper handling, you can use them for warmth and pleasure, but recklessly toying with them is likely to result in burns – which, on occasion, may be fatal.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek BA, BSc, BEdSt, PGDipLaws, MAppSc, PhD is an associate professor of education at the American University of Beirut and is a regular commentator on social and political issues. Feedback welcome at


Auntie Podes said...
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Absolute common sense! BUT - unfortunately - absolutely contrary to the current "proggressive" PC brigades dogma.

Anonymous said...
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My daughter would vehemently dispute this view (although she never dresses provocatively or walks dark streets alone - maybe because on some unconscious level she heeds her mother's advice) while I wholeheartedly endorse the view.

I have four brothers and have been married twice and all of these males have in some way or another intimated that, while most men would not act upon their feelings, there are those that do and the fault is not all theirs.

Prevention is better than cure!