indigozeal (indigozeal) wrote in 50bookchallenge,

#16: Does this comm have an "f-you" tag?

(I feel obliged to add a content note here: this review discusses sexual assault.)

I don't use the word "evil" lightly, but I found myself in its presence early in The Gift of Fear. Security consultant Gavin de Becker is interrogating a woman who narrowly survived a recent three-hour rape. He wants to know if her attacker gave off any signs that, in de Becker's mind, should have notified the victim of the upcoming attack. "I've learned some lessons about safety through years of asking people asking people who've suffered violence, 'Could you have seen this coming?' Most often they say, 'No, it just came out of nowhere,' but if I am quiet, if I wait a moment..." At first, the woman says "no," but de Becker knows that really means "yes"; eventually, his frightened, traumatized victim relents, obliging his need for her to self-incriminate.

In other words: de Becker seeks out scared and vulnerable women in the lowest point of their lives to convince them that they were responsible for their own rapes.

I first encountered The Gift of Fear via a popular blogger who talked up the book in the same way Scientologists talk about Dianetics. I hit up the Amazon entry for information, but I instead encountered torrents of disturbing misogyny from reviews and comments by the book's devotees - enthusiastic claims of how, say, Nicole Brown deserved to be murdered for not leaving O.J. (overlooking that fact that she *had* left him at the time of her death; once a filthy whore who needs to die, always such, I guess). I was repulsed and puzzled; what about this book held that blogger in utter thrall - how did it lead so many strangers to cheer a woman's death?

The book has exactly two good points:

a) Don't let someone steamroll you with niceness into doing something you don't want, particularly if they're a stranger. Assert yourself and leave the area if need be. Don't let fear of being judged "rude" overwhelm your better judgment.

b) If you're being stalked, it's imperative to cut off completely all contact with the stalker. This includes contact meant to tell the other party that you don't want any more contact. The alternative, in a twisted way, gives the stalker what s/he wants - a relationship with you, even if it's an adversarial one.

The problem is, though, that de Becker regards these tips not as possibly helpful advice but as absolute fail-safes. In de Becker's world, rapes are always break-ins committed by strangers and always always signposted beforehand by observable tells that allow a would-be victim time for evasive action; therefore, if anyone does get raped, well, that's only their just desserts because they didn't follow the rules. But what if you're assaulted by a supposed friend or family member? What if you're date-raped or slipped a roofie? What if you're just overpowered? Hey, only a *slut* would ask those questions. This worldview leads to unfortunate episodes like de Backer blaming a stalking victim for an office shooting committed by her attacker that killed seven people - she shouldn't have made him mad by filing a restraining order.

I checked out at the point where de Becker began demanding a Medal of Honor for espousing the old saw that battered women are _volunteers,_ not _victims_; I figured I'd served my time. I skimmed the rest. While it has the couple aforementioned useful tips, the victim-blaming and unrealistic ideas behind the book more than negate any positive impact it would have in preventing sexual violence. If you must peruse the useful bits of de Becker's advice, limit yourself to chapter 4, the part on assertiveness. Just remember to wash afterward.
Tags: awful!, book review, nyt bestseller, oprah's book club, self help, sexual violence, unimpressed
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