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Rape: Awkward.

Racist AND Sexist. Gross.

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.

If you’ve got a strong stomach and a nice padded place for when you give up on humanity and start banging your head against the walls, Manboobz has the scoop here and here.

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.

Period.

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:

  1. “Allow” themselves to be raped
  2. Fight their rapist off and possibly get away

But the options are actually:

  1. “Allow” yourself to be raped
  2. Fight your rapist off and possibly get away
  3. 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?”

Alien Facehugger

Unsexy.

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?”

“That’s unlikely.”

“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.

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29 comments
  1. Deanna said:

    Yup. I have a story a whole lot like that one.

    • JenniferP said:

      Ugh, I’m sorry. If it makes you feel better, I’d probably put my money on you in a fight.

  2. geekgirl99 said:

    This is a brave and awesome post. Thanks for writing it.

    • JenniferP said:

      It drives me crazy when people suddenly become management consultants after something violent happens, and we become our own management consultants, as if by analyzing what went wrong we could prevent it, and no one steps in (unless you are lucky and have a nice therapist, like I do) to say “HEY IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT SO STOP TRYING TO WORK OUT HOW IT WAS YOUR FAULT.”

  3. Marie said:

    Hi,
    I’m dreamer_marie. I just wanted to say that I’m very glad to know that my rec on random_lounge was effective. You deserve to get tons of traffic.
    Sorry to hear about your story. I hope you never had to see the guy again.

    • JenniferP said:

      Epilogue: I never, ever had to see him again!

      I’m totally fine and not scarred by the experience, it was 10 years ago(ish), I’m just PISSED OFF when I remember it.

  4. man. wikkid flashback i just had. i recall a similarly awkward sitchyation….

    • JenniferP said:

      “Hahaha, let me pretend that this is all just a hilarious joke and maybe you’ll go away!”

      I have a feeling we’re far from alone, sister.

      • it was a story i had never thought to tell theLeon…if i don’t raise better men than these jokers, i’m going to be pissed.

        • JenniferP said:

          I’m not worried. Plus a ton of my friends have been having babies recently, and weirdly almost all of them are boys, so I know that the next generation will have an army of boys raised by thoughtful people who reject traditional gender bullshit. It’s nice.

  5. Ash said:

    Here from random_lounge. =) I just wanted to say that I LOVE this blog, and you are simply one of the most awesome bloggers out there.

    • JenniferP said:

      YOU ARE NICE!

  6. nadyezhda said:

    I was just having a similar discussion on a listserve I’m on relating to a specific country, except the concept is “foreign women=prostitutes except where foreign women=american, in which case, don’t pay because they’re happy to have sex for free.” Helpfully, a native of that country assured us all that the equation is actually “all women are fair game if they’re not catering to the cultural ‘norm’ of dress and behavior.”

    icky icky.

    • JenniferP said:

      Like you, I’ve worked a fair bunch overseas, and the personal safety rule I follow in more patriarchal societies (as defined by me on a case by case arbitrary basis according to my own instincts and feelings) is this:

      Single male coworker invites me for coffee or a drink, I decline, but I will go out if there is a group. This may change if I get to know the person really well, I often became pretty friendly with my translators, for instance, but until then “no” is safer. Also, I should say, if the man is sexy and I want to flirt with him, I might accept the invitation, but I know what I’m getting into and am not surprised to be propositioned.

      Married male coworker invites me (alone) for coffee or a drink – see above. Living in Eastern Europe this can get especially bad, and I used to have a joke that all Czech men above a certain age think they are Tomas from the Unbearable Lightness of Being and assume they have a shot.

      Male coworker says “My wife/sister/mother would like to invite you to dinner at our home.” PARTY! This is a huge compliment, I will be fed like gangbusters and meet tons of people, it will be a great time.

      I think this code of “I would like to invite you for coffee” vs. “My wife invites you…” is especially true in the Middle East – the guy is actually communicating with the second “It’s all above board, you are safe!” but I only have my own experience to go on – You’ve traveled more widely than me and lived overseas more – does that bear up?

      • nadyezhda said:

        so very true about my middle eastern friends. If wife or mom says “invite her!” aww man, you’re on family time and the guy is being honorable. It’s interesting because as a guest you’re not expected to do any of the work or eat later so you get to find out how good the men have it in that culture (as a result of the women working, but never mind).

        Once you’ve established a “patron” or otherwise formed a link within the culture (i.e., the angry pseudo-family that will protect you once you drop the name into conversation) you’re a little better off, if it’s a small place. Otherwise, make sure you leave full details on where you’re going with someone who cares, and never ever ever talk to the guy who keeps sending over the turkish coffee or cognac in the bar or restaurant–just nod your thanks and walk away, quickly.

    • JenniferP said:

      I hate having to put shields up so far and assume bad intentions from people, but yeah – “drinks from strangers in a foreign cafe” = HEAD DOWN, JENNIFER OUT.

      • Nadyezhda said:

        or…drinky and then run out :) but the assumption that “i sent you a drink, therefore you owe me!” is chilling.

  7. RahKiy said:

    Thank you for being brave and brilliant enough to say all of this.

    I’m so glad you’re calling out your Freshman Creative Writing students on consent issues in their work. It’s such a huge problem, and everyone who speaks up about it makes a difference.

    I found my way here from random_lounge, and I’ll definitely be reading from here on out. You are such an awesome person.

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks for the nice words!

      What I get sometimes are stories written by really young men who are totally well-intentioned and think women are people and were raised by 2nd and 3rd-Wave feminists, but they don’t have a lot of experience having their desires about women fulfilled – young, pretty women are still alien and confusing and have a lot of power to accept or reject – so in their stories they imitate things they’ve seen – like serial killers, stalkers, voyeurism, rape, and other scenarios that are visually exciting (Sex + Death = Instantly compelling and commercial!) but without thinking it through.

      I try to strike a balance between nurturing their talents and asking them to own up to the stuff they are putting in the world and consider how an audience who is not them perceives, I don’t know, 16 student films in a row where a woman is raped, cut open, stalked, never talks, doesn’t have a job, or does something other than spin and grin like someone in a tampon commercial (those are the flashbacks before the violence).

  8. karak said:

    I had a realization like this. I was dating a sweet, friendly man who was over a hundred pounds heavier than me and considerably stronger. And I was laying on the couch, and he was sitting next to me, and he leaned over to kiss me in this way that pinned me to the couch with his entire weight crushing me. And I just froze. Because I realized there was no way in hell I could get him off or stop him from kissing me.

    But he was a sweet guy, and he instantly felt me tense, backed off and asked me if I was okay. And I told him I just realized how big he was compared to me, and he apologized.

    That moment is one of the greatest in my personal relationship history. It gave me this tiny sliver of awareness into coerion and rape–and also taught me how a real partner responds. With concern.

  9. YetAnotherVictim said:

    I can tell you what it’s like when you make the decision that “it’s only 10 minutes, vs. possible death”: it really is only 10 minutes, or 30 minutes, and there might be some physical damage but at least you’re alive. Emotionally quite battered, but physically alive. The problem is, the next time it happens, you have no reason to make a different “choice” than you did the last time. And so it goes. When I was younger I was not beautiful but had big boobs. Apparently that’s enough. I don’t even remember how many times I’ve been overpowered and scared but put up with it to protect my life. It’s no way to live.

    And worse, I’m aware that I’m part of the problem. By letting the men get away with it, they learned it was worth trying the same tactic on other women. How many women have been raped because I didn’t fight?

    • JenniferP said:

      I think that you’ve got enough on your plate having survived some terrible things that other people did to you that weren’t your fault, so maybe you can be gentle with yourself and put down some of that guilt, ok?

      Whatever choice you made that helped you survive was the right choice.

      • Canary said:

        Oh you poor girl, it isn’t your fault what he did to you let alone to other women. There is no shame in surrendering to superior force. If you had fought do you really think you would have won? Because if you are absolutely sure you would have I can see the guilt but I don’t see you you can be sure you wouldn’t have just have gotten hurt even worse.

        That logic leads to madness(believe me I know). Do you feel guilty for not killing him later or having someone else do it? I hope not because you shouldn’t. I get in this horrible thing in my head where I feel responsible for all future victims of every rapist that I know about that I don’t deal with. You can see that that is totally insane right? You are doing the same thing to yourself.

  10. “Alone at last!”

    okay, pretty sure those weren’t my ex’s exact words, but i’m sure he said something similar to that numerous times.

    basically my first kiss consisted of us cuddling in his dorm room after our second date and then him suddenly deciding he wanted to kiss me. theoretically i was fine with this, but i suddenly got very nervous and didn’t want to, but felt awkward about not wanting to. so i kept staring away from him because whenever i tried to so much as glance at him or turn my face towards his face he would dart a kiss in the general direction of my mouth and i would very quickly look away again. so this went on for about half an hour. eventually we decided to horizontal cuddle because there was a very large height difference between us and trying to snuggle while upright was causing some problems. by ‘we decided,’ i mean he suggested and i agreed nervously, only half listening, hoping maybe this slightly-more-intimate-cuddling position would make him happy for a bit. as soon as i lay down he leaned over me, announced, ‘got you!’ in a happy voice, lay his entire body down on top of me as i tried to unsuccessfully tried to squirm away and started full on with tongue making out with me

    um. yeah. this should have started ringing some alarm bells in my head but it didn’t (basically every new sexual experience i had with him began with me saying, “no, no, no, no, no…really though, no….” and being ignored and eventually giving up with saying no because he wasn’t listening anyway and thought the whole thing was a big joke and i didn’t want to make things awkward by getting outwardly upset and physically pushing him off). i dated this guy for two and a half years and it was only after we broke up that i sort of realized hey, um, maybe that isn’t normal or healthy. which was difficult because people only knew us as That Really Cute Couple and so i had all kinds of people being like BUT WHY DID YOU BREAK UP ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE NOT GETTING TOGETHER BLAR while i was meanwhile processing the “um, i think i was kinda maybe sorta raped” dealio.

    *sigh* sorry for text walling all over your comment space. :<

    • JenniferP said:

      You’re not taking up our time, lady. I’m really sorry you had to deal with that.

    • Megan said:

      THIS. Oh lordy, this. My first boyfriend was a family friend, when I was fourteen and he was eighteen and I was VERY Catholic and had VERY specific ideas about what was okay and what was not but NO IDEA WHATSOEVER about how to say no to a person that I trusted and damn-near hero-worshipped who was pushing things on me that I DID. NOT. WANT.

      Several months after he and I broke up, after I had started dating a new guy, I realized I was having flashbacks. The guilt of what happened was overwhelming. It took a long time to realize that I had said “no,” he had not cared, and it wasn’t my fault.

  11. Carly said:

    This: … 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.

    This is what I tried to explain to the cops, the prosecutor, my mother, my (now ex) boyfriend, and anyone else who would listen to me after I was assaulted last year. It’s what I tried to explain to people when I was raped three years ago. I didn’t fight back because someone with whom I had clear and negotiated terms and conditions of what should be happening breached that understanding and did something terrifyingly outside of anything they should be doing, or agreed not to do.

    How was I to know that I would get raped by inviting an acquaintance over for tea? I was in sweats, without makeup, and my hair up in a messy bun. I didn’t look like I was “asking for it”. I wanted to introduce him (and anyone else who would let me) to my new hedgehog, and have someone to hang out with at 3am because neither of us could sleep. I told him in no uncertain terms that I had a boyfriend and would not be sleeping with him if he decided to come over. In what world does that say, “I totally want to do you!”?

    How could I have known that a photographer, with whom I had a contract, negotiations of terms (such as no touching, no penetration, nothing other than implied things and pinups) would violate me? I couldn’t have known that he was a serial predator and I was the third girl he’d assaulted in 6 months, since I didn’t have his full name. I did everything I was supposed to; brought a friend with me, spelled out my limits and terms in writing and over the phone, and let people know where I was going. It didn’t matter that I was there for a nude photo shoot. It didn’t matter that there was to be bondage and/or fetish themes to this photo shoot. I’d done these types of shoots before. Every photographer I’d worked with for shoots like this had been incredibly respectful and professional. Why on earth should this have been different?

    I didn’t fight back because I didn’t know how these “men” would respond. I didn’t know if I’d be hurt or killed or anything else that may harm me. No one can predict when or if they’ll be sexually assaulted, or how bad (all of it is bad, I only mean in terms of the legal degree and potential violence) it will be. People often don’t take us seriously, and victim-blame until they’re blue in the face. I heard everything from, “Oh, she must have been a drug addicted prostitute only looking for money to get her next fix,” to, “She shouldn’t be allowed out of her house without a babysitter if she’s dumb enough to let this happen!” No one has the right to touch me, and if I don’t fight back as a means of self-preservation, that doesn’t make me wrong.

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