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“We don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention,” is one of those phrases that tends to annoy me, that pushes my buttons.  It’s often used in a sexual context against women, as if women are somehow responsible for the kind of attention we might attract, as if we have complete control over the behavior of others with our super magical powers of persona and projection.

“Those kind of women” attract the wrong kind of attention, as if “the right kind of woman” is going to now attract the right kind of attention. I suppose there are some elements of truth there, we do have some influence over what kind of people and circumstances we draw towards ourselves, but our power and control is slight, our influence is tiny.

It also clearly places all of the responsibility on women, as if the sharks aren’t really the problem, the shark bait is. Sharks you know, they just go into a mindless feeding frenzy and can’t help themselves. That may sound a bit funny, but I first heard that phrase as a kid referencing  actual sharks, “you don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.” We would body surf and bang ourselves up on the sand, and if you were bleeding, you had to stop going in the water. Sharks are drawn to blood.

So for safety’s sake you don’t swim at night and you don’t go into the water bleeding, least sharks mistake you for prey and you become dinner. They actually don’t really like to eat people, or so say the shark psychologists, but the amount of damage they can do to you before they spit you out is problematic. So you try not to go into the water at night looking like a wounded seal.

Again, the idea of “not attracting the wrong kind of attention,” was used in bear and cougar territory when I was a kid. How not to rile up the wildlife. Make a lot of noise, don’t sneak up on them, don’t be walking through the woods carrying a bunch of meat. You don’t want the carnivores to perceive you as either a threat to their territory or dinner. I had a couple of close encounters with bears and cougars as a kid. I threw a sandwich at a cougar and ran once. Technically you should never run like mad, especially around a giant cat that likes to play with its food, but I’m still here, so all’s well that ends well.

These things make perfect sense in relation to wildlife. Things get murky when we are speaking of people, however. People are not animals. People are not driven by instinct. People are not designed to be ruled by instincts, we have a choice about what we do and how we behave. So speaking of attracting the “wrong kind of attention” in relation to people, really is victim blaming, it does place all of the responsibility on a victim. It denies the obvious, that of “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”  It takes responsibility off a perpetrator and it fails to differentiate between humans and animals.

It also serves to shame and confuse women. Men don’t really bear the burden of having “attracted the wrong kind of attention.” I’ve never heard someone say, well of course bad things happen to him, look at how he dresses and acts, look at the way he manipulates everyone around him with his super magical powers of persuasion.

So having weighed and measured and thoroughly explored this phrase, “we don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention,” it’s just plain old victim blaming, and rather shaming of women. A far better question would be,  why are you the wrong kind of attention?