You guys, sorry to go all serious and unfunny on you, but I am incredibly creeped out at the news reports of what happened to the CBS News reporter* and her crew in Egypt, especially the ones that need to mention that she was an “attractive blonde” so that you can really, really picture it. Gross. Unfortunately, as you an see from our handy visual aid, the “Swarthy Foreigners Are Defiling Our Women” meme is nothing new.
This incident, plus the semesterly reading of Freshman creative writing where I have to explain that “Hey, the part of your story where your female character said she didn’t want to have sex and then the male character got her really, really drunk and had sex with her anyway? Yeah, I think that your character just raped that lady,” told me that it was a time for a little bit of schooling around this extremely awkward topic.
Here’s what happens when you get raped:
1. A person or people carry out a serious invasion of your personal space.
2. You risk a whole bunch of shitty complications afterwards, including but not limited to: STDs, pregnancy (which you might be forced to carry to term thanks to religious zealots), physical pain and emotional trauma, bad dreams, flashbacks, plus every asshat in the world second-guessing everything you’ve ever done in your life in an effort to explain what you did that led to you getting attacked, possibly for the rest of your life.
Here’s how you got raped:
1. You went about your life and used your liberty to pursue happiness.
2. You encountered a rapist who decided to rape you.
I realize that as humans we are wired to problem-solve. So faced with something horrible and wrong (like rape), we want to solve the problem, ie, figure out what led to the rape and what we can do to prevent it from happening again (or happening to us). So our inner prosecutor comes out…if we can make up a story where the
victim sorry, “accuser,” could have controlled her fate by not wearing that short skirt and stuff, we can pretend that we have some control over who gets raped. Sometimes this argument comes out as “common sense”, like, “If you’d just used basic common sense about (walking home late/drinking/dating people/wearing makeup/having a sexual history/smiling at people/living in a better neighborhood/not dating that guy, etc.), this never would have happened.” How fucking insulting is that? My friend Captain Science works for the City of New York as a forensic scientist**, and one of his more awesome duties is occasionally swabbing DNA out the adult diapers of nursing home patients who have been raped. “If only you’d used your common sense to not get so old and helpless, you could have avoided this whole thing, Grandma!”
The idea that you could have somehow prevented your rape or made it less rapey through some action of your own is a giant lie, but it’s a widely accepted lie, and it leads to insane shit like newly-elected Republicans (and a few Democrats) trying to create jobs and bring down the deficit by changing the laws about what is “really” rape, or something. “Just fight back enough to convince us it was real, and you’ll be okay!”
So we ask victims “Why?” even though the answer is “Who the fuck knows why? It wasn’t on me to know why, because it happened because another person who was not me made a decision,” because it’s too scary to admit that we don’t know why A common question that second-guessers (even ones with the best of intentions, like, say, for instance, my mom) ask is “Why didn’t you fight back?” Let me rely on Harriet J’s truthbombs around this topic. If you tell someone that you don’t want them to touch you, and they completely ignore you and keep touching you, they’ve shown you that they have no respect for the social contract and are capable of anything, including much more violent behavior. As Harriet writes:
When somebody you knew, somebody you trusted, does something so frighteningly outside the boundaries of normal and expected behavior, that person becomes a stranger who is capable of anything. And, more importantly, a stranger who has already proven that they are willing to do anything….
This is why a rapist does not have to be physically violent, or state in clear terms that he intends physical violence, for forceful rape to occur….Before I thought very much about this, and before it happened to me, I thought rape victims had two very clear options:
- “Allow” themselves to be raped
- Fight their rapist off and possibly get away
But the options are actually:
- “Allow” yourself to be raped
- Fight your rapist off and possibly get away
- Attempt to fight your rapist off and escalate a somewhat or relatively physically painless event that will probably be over in ten minutes into something that may take much longer and cause you to bleed a lot, or maybe even die
… A victim doesn’t know their rapist is capable of rape until a rape begins; and once a victim knows that, they have no idea what else their rapist is capable of. A rapist does not have to threaten further violence. The rape is threat enough.
If you fought back and survived, that was the right decision. If you didn’t fight back and you survived, that was also the right decision. If you fought back or didn’t fight back and you didn’t survive, I assume you’re not reading this blog, but in case you are, that was also the right decision because the entire thing was out of your fucking hands.
Let me end with a story. My guest-post at Sexy Typewriter is sadly not the tale of my worst date ever (sorry to hold out on you, Sofi!). So now I give you “Why ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is the Date-Rapiest of Songs.“***
Years ago I went to a friend’s party in the suburbs, which was full of her boring coworkers talking about their investment portfolios (which is why my friend wanted interesting people to truck all the way out there). I met a slightly less boring coworker of hers, newly arrived from the U.K., who was geeky and nice and very, very tall so he had to stoop to talk to me in an endearing way. He asked my friend for my number and we ended up going on out for Moroccan food on a Monday or Tuesday night. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, except that it was a pretty good time, and that I offered to pay (I never go on a date if I can’t or won’t pay my own way, and when I offer it’s always sincere), but he insisted on paying.
It was a freezing night and a long walk back to my place, and he had a long drive back to the part of the Illinois map that I know only as “Here there be dragons” (past Ikea) so I ended up inviting him in for a cup of hot tea. I knew my roommate was home and wasn’t planning to get up to any funny business, but wait a second, why am I even including that detail to justify it to you? I invited a nice person who I knew through a friend back into my living room after a nice date.
I made the tea and we sat on the couch and drank it. He took his array of expensive geeky electronics out of his pockets and put them on the coffee table when he sat down, and showed them off to me – “Oooh, a Palm Pilot!” We made some more small talk, and then my roommate came out of her room with her coat and said she was going to meet friends at a dance club and left. Shit.
As soon as she was out the door, my date said “Alone at last!” and launched his face at my face. What followed was about 5 minutes of the worst kissing in recorded history, as his giant slimy tongue worked its way down my throat, and then, when I recoiled, retreated slightly and began to systematically probe and “clean” my gumline. And then THE HANDS OF TERROR began their awful, awkward groping.
“Aaah, eek, that was unexpected,” I said when he surfaced for air.
“But nice!” He dove in for another round.
“Um, it’s getting late, and I have work tomorrow. Sorry to kick you out….”
“Who’s getting kicked out?”
British Dorkboy (6’6″ to my 5’4″) then grabbed my wrists and flipped me onto my back and held me down, where he began enthusiastically and passionately licking my neck and my ear and thrusting his groin against me. Thanks to the height difference, this landed nowhere near my pelvis, which oddly made it MORE disturbing, like, why are you trying to fuck my knees?
I moved my wrists to try to break free (and test his hold), which he thought was hilarious, and gave him the idea that he should hold my wrists with one hand and tickle me with the other. See? Hilarious!
“That’s not funny, please stop it.”
“If I let you up, can we go in the other room?”
“Why did you invite me in if you didn’t want something to happen?”
What was I supposed to say to that? “I thought my roommate would be home, and also, I didn’t know that you kiss like a head-sucking alien?” I squeaked out something in response, which made him say “You’re not really going to send me back out in the cold, are you?”
It was a long time ago, and I can’t remember everything I was thinking, but I remember both being very afraid of him but also matching his jokey, bantering tone and not actually FIGHTING fighting back, because as long as it was a joke maybe I had a chance of getting out of it without him hurting me. I pushed against his lock on my wrists again and tried to get out, and he (hilariously!) tickled me more, and I said “Please stop that, I don’t like it and am not enjoying myself” and he looked shocked and I was able to rock both of us and flip him onto the floor.
Before he could get up, I picked up his fancy electronics from the coffee table, and his coat and his shoes and his bag and his glasses (which he’d taken off, the better to suck my face with) and I threw them out my back door into a snowbank and when he went after them I shut and locked the door behind him and leaned my weight against the door while he banged on it and called me a “mad bitch” and demanded to be let in.
My point is, I was lucky. My point is, it can turn on a dime. One second it’s fun and playful and the next second the other person feels entitled to something because sex is a goal that has nothing to do with you as a person anymore, it’s something separate from you, and the other person doesn’t care if you’re having fun, and it’s like the mask slipped and you got a glimpse of the snarling, angry thing beneath. My point is, he could have hurt me really bad. My point is, I didn’t know what he would do until he did it. My point is that by throwing his crap out into the snow, I risked making him really violently angry instead of just sort of pushy, and maybe another woman (because I’m far from alone in having a story like this one) would have just gone along with it and fucked him, why not, just get it over with and get him out of here, rather than risk “real” violence. My point is, this is why Yes Means Yes and the idea of Enthusiastic Consent is so important, and it kills me that something so basic as “Both people need to be enjoying themselves all the time and it’s your job to check in and make sure that’s happening” needs to be explained. My point is that if you hear that someone has been raped, the question is “How are you, how do you want to handle things from here, and what can I do to help?” and not “Why you didn’t make better life choices?”
*I’m not using her name, because I want her to be able to Google herself someday and have one less website that completely defines her according to the worst day of her life.
**Which he describes as “Just like CSI, except with ACTUAL SCIENCE, and also, it sucks.”
***Especially the Dean Martin version, where the knowing flirtatious sexy in-joke between a couple is replaced by a soulless chorus of women who seem to genuinely want to get away from his drunk ass.