A woman in Greece was out at a club. A man, a British tourist out at that same club, allegedly exposed his genitals and started waving them around and making obscene gestures and remarks. He then allegedly forcibly fondled the woman, including between her legs.
During the course of this alleged assault, the woman allegedly told him to stop harassing her, and when he did not, she poured her alcoholic beverage on him. When he still refused to stop harassing and assaulting her, she allegedly got out a lighter.
Stuart Feltham is in the hospital with second degree burns on his body, including his genitals. Marina Fanouraki is in court.
Fanouraki says that she did not light Feltham’s pants on fire, that she poured the liquid on him after he assaulted her, and he must have accidentally lit himself on fire while trying to light a cigarette. Feltham denies the sexual assault and harassment, with his parents defending him as a “kind-hearted, generous boy.”
I don’t know what actually happened. Neither do you. And there is so much to write about here — the common assault of Greek women by British tourists which has made Fanouraki a hometown hero, the government response that this is somehow a lesson about alcohol, and more.
But I do know what most people seem to believe happened. Most people seem to believe that Feltham harassed and assaulted Fanouraki, and that Fanouraki responded by pouring her drink on him, and lighting him on fire. I do know that most people believe that this is what has happened, and that Fanouraki is the only one who has been charged with a crime. (Note: Fanouraki’s lawyers apparently intend to take legal action against Feltham. But unless the court system is vastly different from the American one, I would assume that those would be civil rather than criminal charges.) I do know that most people believe that this is what happened, and are placing the blame entirely on one person. And it’s not the person who is alleged to have committed a sexual assault.
Time and time again, women who act in self-defense are charged with crimes while the man they were defending themselves against walks free and is treated as the victim. And the woman who defended herself is scolded and dismissed as overreacting, going to far, and being a crazy, vengeful bitch. The man, oh, he was wrong of course. But the woman — why the woman, she should have responded better! Why didn’t she more carefully analyze all of her options for protecting herself and choose the one that was the least forceful, regardless of expected effectiveness? Couldn’t she have just politely and quietly asked him to stop?
Even feminist Jessica Wakeman thinks that Fanouraki went too far, writing these remarkable sentences:
Wow, there were really less bats**t ways she could have handled that situation. Poor guy (even if he was allegedly sexually assaulting her).
I don’t even know how to begin, how to even fucking begin, responding to the words “poor guy (even if he was allegedly sexually assaulting her).” Yes, poor guy indeed. All he was doing was sexually assaulting a woman! How does that justify her assaulting him back as a defense?
I’m tired, so very, very tired of worrying about the poor rapists, the poor men who don’t respect women’s boundaries, the poor misogynists, those poor, poor guys. I’m so fucking sick of being more worried about the genitals they decided to use as weapons than the mental health and physical safety of the women they assaulted. No one is saying that setting a man on fire is an ideal response. But being sexually assaulted isn’t an ideal situation.
We live in a world where women who are raped are constantly chastised, blamed and emotionally (or even physically) spit on because they didn’t defend themselves well enough. We live in a world where one of the first questions a woman is asked upon disclosing a sexual assault is “did you fight back?” We live in a world where “why didn’t you fight back harder?” rolls right off the tongue. A world where people can still get away with arguing that it’s impossible to force a woman into sex, that a woman who really doesn’t want it can stop her attacker. We live in a world where it’s still frequently thought that a woman is better off dead than raped, and where fighting back without regard to your very life is seen as a prerequisite to basic respect.
And we also live in a world where a woman who does fight back is called “batshit,” a liar, a violent, man-hating menace. We live in a world where even a woman who is believed in her claims of assault is still told “but isn’t what you did a bit too much?” Where I can find feminists arguing that what she did was acceptable if they had been in a secluded area, or if what he had done was worse (you know, really serious), or that punching or kicking him should have been enough. (Personally, if I’m being repeatedly assaulted in a crowded public area where the people around me were doing nothing to help me, I’d be terrified to hit the guy, not only because I have a really shitty punch, but because I’d expect to be hit back.) Where if you don’t make the choice to use just the right amount of force in your split second fearful decision, it’s open season.
Fight back ladies, fight back like your life depends on it, don’t take it lying down, because otherwise you have it coming! Be nice to the poor lads, ladies — how could you try to bite off a man’s penis just because it was forcibly shoved in your mouth? How could you send him to the hospital when left to his own devices he just might have sent you there? Be reasonable, be rational, stop being so violent and unhinged.
Fight back with all your might, but make sure you don’t hurt anyone. No matter how a woman responds to an assault, to a man acting as though her body is public property, to violating her and causing her emotional trauma, it is wrong. It’s not good enough. It proves that she’s really the one to judge and blame. Either she wanted it, or she’s the perpetrator. It seems that the only way to win is to be beaten within an inch of your life as proof that dammit, you fought, but you still got it worse. (And even then …)
I don’t know what happened. But I do know what people believe. And the way they’re responding to that belief is misogynistic, victim-blaming, and feeding into a culture where a woman who is sexually assaulted is always the villain.