Ravan kidnapped Sita because she crossed the Lakshman-Rekha. Eve ate the apple and cursed humanity. Pandora opened the box and released all the negativity into the world. A constant theme across cultures and time is victim-blaming. This shifts the narrative, so we focus on the victim. Rather, the narrative should focus on the perpetrator and their actions. Victim-blaming is a tool to try and discredit survivors of sexual assault. The attention is drawn away from the assaulter when the narrative shifts to the survivor’s actions.
We can track this habit of victim-blaming back to how we tell our most popular stories. In the Ramayana, Lakshman draws a line around the house and tells Sita not to cross it to remain safe. Soon after Lakshman leaves, Ravan shows up as a saint and tricks Sita into crossing the line. Ravan succeeds in his trickery and kidnaps Sita. When we’re told this story, we usually hear that Sita was kidnapped because she crossed the line. The problem of telling the story in this manner is that it places the blame of someone else’s choices on the victim, in this case, Sita. Retelling the story as follows can change how we perceive the characters and events.
Ravan used trickery and disguise to appeal to Sita’s kindness and manipulated her into a situation in which he could kidnap her.
This refocuses the narrative, and the blame, rightfully on the perpetrator. Society used these stories for years to justify stripping away women’s agency. Whether we notice it or not, the stories we hear growing up influence us. This biased storytelling highlights women as victims of their own decisions. This creates a culture of victim-blaming.
If you still have a hard time believing that these stories can translate into real-life experiences, let us take a look at the documentary, India’s Daughter. This documentary interviews the people involved in the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi. The infuriating responses of the lawyers and rapists place the blame on the victim for being outside after dark. The narrative was that she was a victim of her choice to be outside after dark and not the fault of the perpetrators for brutally murdering her. The question to ask here is, why are they questioning the choice of a woman to exercise her freedom by being outside? Why not question why these men chose to violate a woman’s life?
How we tell the story is just as important as the story itself. Pandora didn’t release all the negative things into the world by opening the box. Zeus cursed Pandora so her curiosity would overcome her. Eve didn’t eat the apple out of her own volition to curse humanity. Eve was manipulated into eating the apple. Let’s break the cycle of victim-blaming by retelling these stories.