It looks like we need to have a conversation about Rape Culture.
The truth is that I shy away from calling Rape Culture by name, despite my usual candor, because I find that the term makes people irreversibly defensive and unwilling to hear–much less examine— any point that follows. I find myself sugar-coating my explanations and experiences of daily misogyny and objectification simply to be believed and heard. Frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m exhausted and I’m bored. And you know what? Rape Culture should make you recoil because it’s disgusting. Instead of protecting the people who are put off by the term we should take more action to dismantle the thing itself and protect those who are affected by its existence.
This weekend the White House announced that President Trump named April 2017 as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. My Facebook feed was suddenly filled with posts by outraged women and comments by oblivious men asking, “Isn’t this a good thing?”
Because so many people don’t seem to understand, let me give you a cursory overview: Donald Trump has repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted women, even to the point of alleged rape. He has openly bragged about some of these instances. He has unabashedly commented on and criticized women’s appearances and equated their value and skill to these physical evaluations. In the face of all this, he has insisted upon his superlative, unmatched respect of women. Tell me: would Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold be an appropriate person to announce a Gun Safety Awareness Day? Would Richard Spencer or Stephen Bannon or literally any KKK member be an appropriate spokesperson for Holocaust Remembrance Day or Black History month? Should we support people who feign to champion causes to which they are directly opposed?
When you refuse to acknowledge Donald Trump’s past actions and their direct conflict with this cause you are perpetuating rape culture. You are allowing a sexual predator to move on with no accountability, claiming he has done something good and right. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are common in Rape Culture and so is your unwillingness to see them.
A few months ago I was assaulted by a friend outside a bar just down the street from my job. I knew I was too drunk and I knew that I was in over my head. I managed to leave during the few minutes he was in the bathroom, but not before we kissed and he choked me so hard I thought I was going to pass out.
I spent the next few days emotional and unnerved. Other than a few close friends, I told no one. Despite knowing otherwise and my consistent advocacy to women in this situation, the truth is that I felt like I only had myself to blame. I was in this situation with someone who was much stronger than me and who made me fear for my safety; his choice to pin me down and wrap his hands around my throat until I couldn’t breathe was his own. Rape Culture tells me that I was Asking For It, and despite all my advocacy to reject this, I still find myself internalizing it.
I broke our month-long silence and told my ex boyfriend about this encounter. I sought our old familiarity in an effort to comfort myself after a harrowing experience with a new man. He suggested I go to the police and seemed impatient when I tried to explain the nuances of my hesitation and the complications that course of action could present to me. Finally he gave up saying, “I don’t know, Marie. You’re smart and have a good head on your shoulders. That’s why I always liked putting my balls on you.”
A couple weeks ago I told a new romantic interest about the night outside the bar in preparation for the possibility of the two of them meeting at a social outing. I looked for outrage in his face and found none. If there was concern in his voice I did not hear it. We didn’t talk about it further. I didn’t press it, suddenly anxious that I was overreacting.
These are symptoms of Rape Culture.
A month or so ago I was talking with a friend about various sexual experiences we’ve had in previous relationships. I mentioned that my most recent ex had a habit of “taking liberties” when it came to certain aspects of our sex life. I expressed this casually, as though it were acceptable for him to assume access to any part of a lover’s body at will. My friend stopped me: “Taking liberties? You mean partner rape?”
And he was right. He named the thing I had been silently mulling over but had been unable to admit. For months I thought back to the instances of anal sex I didn’t want and wasn’t prepared for and that caused me pain. I thought of the countless times he woke me up by mounting me or jabbing me with his erection in pursuit of a late-night fuck and how much sleep I lost because of it. Then there were the times I was made late for work because he insisted I perform oral sex, even just for a minute, before I left. I thought about how irritable he got when I resisted, sometimes inconsolably so. I thought about the times he posted pictures of me during these acts that showed my face, despite agreeing not to. I thought about the times he broadcasted us having sex without my knowledge. But mostly I found myself wondering, “Was that rape?”
Sexual abuse has been wholly accepted by our culture and the blame placed squarely on victims. I am not the only woman who, after months of being violated by the men we love, have tried to package it up tidily with a cute bow and a nice name: Taking Liberties. I don’t want that job anymore.
This is a symptom of Rape Culture.
So, with all that in mind, for National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month I’d like to say this: I am intimately aware of sexual assault and of Rape Culture. We all are, including those who benefit from it. We know well to be suspicious of both lovers and authority figures who attempt to tout their desire to protect us but act otherwise. So if you’d like to prevent it? Please stop assaulting us.