My headline is nothing that seems out of the ordinary for anyone female-identified. We know what that means, we know what kind of man is “rape-y.” We cringe at the thought of the conversations we’ve had to endure with this man — the overbearing body language, the ignorance of personal space, the smarmy jokes and leers. We know that men like him don’t care what women want, they are only out to satisfy themselves — whether it be “taking someone hostage” in a conversation, or taking someone’s agency by paralyzing us with a look, a word, a grope. We know to steer clear, avoid, let other women know.
Everyone is talking about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill O’Reilly, and countless others. We’re remembering all of the women who were called crazy for stepping up and saying that Bill Cosby assaulted and raped them. We’re thinking of all the times someone or two or three women have spoken about this man or that man, only to have the scrutiny come upon them; to have their actions criticized or critiqued, instead of running the actions of the perpetrator through a truth mill.
The #metoo hashtag runs wild on social media. While there are various ideas about how helpful or useful that hashtag is, it puts a visual representation of all of the women (yes, all of them) who have dealt with varying amounts of sexual harassment in their lives (some starting from a VERY young age). It has let women feel safe in sharing their stories, too.
I was thinking about all of this, and how society only actively sees certain things as a problem. When I was growing up, rape was the concept wherein you got knocked down in an alley or someone kidnapped you or you were the victim of a home invasion. It was done by a stranger, with no forewarning or understanding. It was one of the scariest things we could imagine.
But eventually, we were made aware that most rapes and sexual assaults didn’t occur that way. They were perpetrated by men we knew — often, men we allowed in our bedrooms/dorms. People we might have had a crush on. People we felt good around — but weren’t ready to “go all the way.” We were introduced to the *idea* of “date rape.” (Protip: it doesn’t matter what adjective you use to describe it — it’s still rape.)
As people started to understand the concept, more women thought back to experiences they had, and what they already knew in their bones came to the surface — they had been raped. They said no, they tried to get out of the situation, they were potentially way too drunk to be able to consent in the first place.
However, this only served to bring the respectability police out more — if she *hadn’t* gotten drunk. If she hadn’t been alone with him. If she hadn’t been wearing that sexy outfit. Anything and everything to excuse what had happened — the woman was raped/sexually assaulted. Anything to make it NOT be his fault. Anything to make sure that besides the shame and sadness and fear of the actual act — a woman had to blame herself. She had to keep it a secret, for fear that people would think badly of her. Or worse yet, that the man would start a campaign to show what a lying slut she was.
Eventually, we realized that if you are sleeping or passed out or too drunk, and someone has had sex with you — it’s rape. You have to be able to willingly participate in something for it to be consensual. It can’t be, “Well, I think that …”
Some of us, myself included, had stories that had left us angry and ashamed, but didn’t compare to the stories that were being told right now. Stories that sent chills down my back, and my blood run cold. Stories that made me so angry and so sad.
But we continued to share our experiences — being catcalled on the street. Being told to smile by strangers. Having people comment on our wardrobe, our bodies. Making sexist jokes with the express goal of making us uncomfortable. Being forced to pretend it all wasn’t happening — so we could remain employed — to pay our bills and make the rent.
The thing is, as I contemplate my relationship with men who see women as objects, I realize this. Even if you “only” have been catcalled or commented on (with or without a violent follow-up remark), these actions belie the bigger picture — which is, we are running around this planet, trying not to be raped.
It shouldn’t be that way — men should be running around, thinking “Is this statement/phrasing/action out of pocket?” “Could this make female-identified people uncomfortable?” “Am I trying to get something?” “Am I getting resistance?” “Have I done unseemly things in the past?” “Is there something I could do to lessen a woman’s anxiety?” “How would my actions feel if someone I was afraid of were doing them?” “How can I look out for women when my friends, relatives, and co-workers do something aggressive?” “Will I believe someone if they tell me someone *else* is doing these things?”
Now, truthfully — that can seem like tall order. In general, all people are pretty self-centered and aren’t aware of how their actions affect those around them. We often think we are doing the “right thing,” only to find out it wasn’t right for the situation or the people involved.
But, I *do* know this — it’s not so hard to know that unless invited, you keep your hands to yourself. That saying demeaning things is unwelcome and inappropriate (that’s grade school shit, people). When someone tells you to stop doing something — you do. When someone tells you about a situation that happened to them, you believe them and don’t *automatically* label them an unreliable narrator.
Because that’s the deal. Even when not directly threatened (just walking home from the train station at night, hanging out in a bar, enjoying someone else’s company (and even, daresay, flirting) — things can go sideways, for no reason, quickly. All of our experiences have shown that time and time again, we have been in situations that turn hostile, aggressive, and angry in a matter of seconds, and we need always be on guard. We’ve been attacked (verbally, physically) by strangers, but also by people we don’t know. We know that at the end of the day, we must tread lightly.
Now before I hear a chorus of “Not all of us — not all men are that way,” if you aren’t in this class, you need not worry — you probably don’t feel anxious or weird or uncomfortable at hearing this news. You understand the way it is, and try and be proactive about being supportive of women in any way you can.
However, if this riles you up, remember this — even the “good” guys, the “nice” guys in our lives have let us down. Sometimes, the silence and disbelief of our stories is worse than the incident itself. Sometimes, the agony of the crimes against us is increased when confidents ask/imply — “What could you have done to prevent this?”
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