Trigger warning: Profanity. This series may be triggering to some rape victims.
Rape is not like a car accident: "the brakes failed, and I was broadsided by another car."
This is part of what "they" mean when they talk about rape culture. We need to learn to talk about rape - a crime, and an action - as something that someone does to someone else, because rape is a choice.
What My Parents Didn't Teach Me
My parents taught me much more than many young girls learned about the mechanics of sex., especially for my (GenFab) era. From the time I was fairly young, I was allowed to look at my father's Playboy magazines (mostly to find the bunny on each cover), and told that the human body, female and male alike, was beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of. That sex felt good and that wanting to have sex was healthy and normal.
BUT, my mother died when I was ten, and my father thereafter handed me a series of books about sex, the human body, menstruation, and so forth, and emotionally stepped away. At twelve, he told me that he trusted my judgment (really?), and that I should feel free to do whatever I wanted to do, as long as I didn't get pregnant.
It will not take Einstein to deduce that at the age of 12 (two years before I began menstruating), I was not quite ready to be entirely free of parental supervision and guidance.
In high school sex ed, I could wow my teachers by not only being able to locate the Fallopian tubes on those purple mimeographed diagrams, but to spell Fallopian tubes, uterus, and a whole lot of other body parts many of my classmates had never even heard of. Yet my understanding of the workings of romantic relationships was rudimentary at best.
So, There Was This Boy...
If you're a (hetero) teen girl, there is always a boy or five that you "like." I liked boys, going back to elementary school, but had no clue as to where to draw the line regarding sexual activity - or even if there really was a line. Kissing felt good. Touching and rubbing felt good.
A couple of times, when I was very young, I went "all the way." But I was beginning to pick up the societal mores that sex was supposed to be dirty/naughty, I was afraid of getting pregnant because I thought sperm lived in a woman's body forever, and also, I joined a
When I was 17, I left the cult. I didn't know how to date - and mostly, the young people in my neighborhood didn't seem to date, anyway. We "hung out" together, in groups. So there was this boy, call him Boy A who seemed to really like me, and he was... okay, but neither his conversation nor his body really excited me. I did let Boy A kiss me a few times, but his kisses left me unmoved, and I made it clear that he and I weren't "going out," even if we were "hanging out."
Among his friends, however, there was another boy, let's call him Boy B, who I thought was very sexy. We all went bowling together, and Boy B and I flirted heavily. We seemed to have a special connection, and although Boy B didn't ask me out, well, nobody "dated" in our crowd.
One night at a party, I got really, really stoned. We were all in a place where we shouldn't be and had to scatter. Boy B took charge of me (oh, the alpha male!) and managed to get me into his room, alone.
After what seemed like hours of sitting in the dark beside each other on his bed, not even daring to breathe very loudly, lest we be caught, he began to kiss me.
Rape Is A Many Splendored Thing
Many soap opera storylines, movies, and books all taught me and other women of my generation that at least sometimes rape = uncontrollable passion/secret, unacknowledged love.
Take General Hospital, where Luke raped Laura, and later, she not only forgave him, but fell in love with him. That scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, where Katharine Ross is forced to undress by gunpoint and then is forcibly kissed, and at the very end, barely whispered, is a hint that this is a "rape is fun" game. (Which I entirely missed the first 2-3 times I watched the movie.)
|Kathleen Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Candy at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books took a crack at understanding the lure of the rapist hero:
What makes the rapist hero different is how the very fact that she makes him lose control, he, a man who has bedded women without count, makes him lose control even more. He desires her, and hates her for desiring her, and he punishes her accordingly. By the end of the book, though, he has submitted to the fact that he doesn’t just want her, he needs her, the way Ozzy Osborne needs Vicodin and red wine.
The more unkind critic would note that his dick has made judgment, and his dick apparently knows better than any other organ of his when he’s found his soulmate.
The less unkind critic would point out that many women secretly want to drive a handsome man crazy for love of their irresistible little selves, even though such behavior in real life would probably result in panicked calls to the police and restraining orders.
He Wasn't Even A Very Good Kisser
After all the sparks and flirting and excitement, this was a real letdown. I should enjoy being with Boy B, making out with Boy B, but mostly, the thought going through my muddled head was, "As soon as the coast is clear, I'm getting out of here."
At some point, he convinced me to lie down on his bed, and for what seemed like a very long time we lay there together, side by side with him occasionally stroking my cheek and nibbling my earlobe.
Without warning he climbed on top of me and tried to wrestle my underwear off, while I whispered "No!" as loud as I could without getting him into trouble, and yanked my pants back up. In a detached corner of my mind I thought how ridiculous this must look, him yanking my pants down, me pulling them back up.
I have since learned that in crisis mode, that's exactly what happens; the brain distances itself and you often fixate on some weird little detail.
In the end, he managed to get them down enough, get me pinned enough, to penetrate me. It hurt, a lot. I stopped fighting, trying to "lie back and enjoy it." But unlike in romance novels, it never felt good, or even okay, It simply continued to hurt.
Why didn't I call out for help?
Because geez, Boy B was my friend, I didn't want to get him into trouble. I also had some vague thought of not wanting to hurt Boy A's feelings, either. Besides, I had wanted to be with Boy B, right?
I got him to sneak me into the bathroom, when it was over, so I could clean up.
I was bleeding.
He became upset that I had bled onto his sheets, because it could get him into trouble. I actually apologized to my rapist because his raping me made me bleed.
I Thought Boy B Must Really Like Me, Like All The Romance Heroes
Then I got a message passed back to me through the group grapevine. Boy B isn't your boyfriend, he doesn't want to be your boyfriend. He already has a girlfriend; he just wanted to fuck you, dumbass.
The confused and shamed feelings I had were very similar to these, expressed in Ilie Ruby's The Salt God's Daughter:
But it was the shame and humiliation that lingered most of all as I watched him speed away on his bicycle, knowing I’d never see him again. And self-loathing that followed, the slow and painful slogging through grief as I knelt on his white blanket, stained with my blood, hands covering my face. I would begin walking the never-ending path to forgiveness, trying like hell to figure out how I could have let this happen....
...Charges were not pressed. I didn’t fight him. I hadn’t even screamed. In those days, in the early ‘80s, few girls pressed charges, especially when they’d gone with a guy willingly, as though lambs to the slaughter, like I had done. People called it consensual... ...What if you just lay there, doing nothing, motionless, lost from the shock or the alcohol? What if you didn’t struggle enough? What if you had wished only to kiss him?
Did you want it?...
... When it was over, when he was done with me, before he took off, he picked up one of the smashed roses and thanked me.
I’ll never forget it: I actually took the rose.
The latest tragedies of young women being raped and then slut shamed, who have felt so rejected by their communities and betrayed by their friends that more than one have committed suicide, breaks my heart. That could so easily have been me, but, back in the day, we didn't have FaceBook or Twitter or Tumblr to keep shame alive.
I want to say, much like the "It Gets Better" campaign, that it doesn't matter, it doesn't affect your worth as a human being whether you willingly engaged in consensual sex at halftime on the 50 yard line with the entire football team, or whether you were raped by some/all of them, you are not just a vagina (or other body part, in the case of male rape victims).
Estimates are that 1 in 4/5 American women will experience rape in her lifetime. Yet how many of us talk or write about it? Using our real names and real experiences?
Admittedly, being a rape survivor is not the first thing that does or should come up in conversation, except in therapy groups. "Hi, I'm Beverly, I've been raped a few times, and I write sexy women's fiction in my spare time," is kind of an awkward intro.
What's the appropriate reply, "Hi, nice to meet you, sorry about the rape thing, try the cheese dip"?
Yet what we do now - most women (and male victims), pretending they have never been raped, not allowing rape victims' names to be printed in news stories without the victims' permission - perpetuates the idea, for many rape victims, that they are all alone, and that rape is shameful.
Rape is shameful - for rapists. Rape should not be shameful for rape victims.
to be continued...