Monday, July 13, 2009

Pervasiveness of rape culture and acceptance of "not-rape"

Trigger Warning
I've said before, we're soaking in a rape culture. At every turn we see examples of how women's bodies are viewed as available, constantly sexual.

I just read this post by SugarLeigh, which was a guest post for Shakesville. I read every word. And every word has been swimming around in my head all day as it made me think of the men I've been with, and even those I never had sex with. There's rape, and then there's not-rape. I'm glad to have read SugarLeigh's post, since it's finally spurred me to write something personal to share (regular readers will notice how not many of my posts are personal).

Many parts of SugharLeigh's post were so familiar to me:

That place in between, where it feels good... but it doesn't. When I'm excited and I want it... but I'm intimidated and unsure too. Should I say no? Do I want to? Surely it's too late now, at any rate. Or what about "duty sex?" Going through the motions, smile here, moan there, pulling lines from a script and spitting them out so he thinks I'm into it but I'm miles away. Doesn't feel good anymore, maybe it hurts even, but sex isn't always good, and sometimes you gotta take one for the team, right? You don't just stop when you're in the middle of things. Once your clothes are off and his hands are on your breasts, it's kind of a foregone conclusion. Once he's in, you might as well stick it out.
I never used to question why I was suddenly uncomfortable--was it the place? Was it the guilt? Yes, guilt. I've heard the nice things, and when that didn't work, when I still was unsure, I heard "Well, I hope I don't have to cheat on you." What sort of intimacy could I have with that weighing on my mind? It wasn't until I met my fiance that I realized that sex wasn't just about the man's experience, that we can both engage in it emotionally and physically. I didn't understand that I was being coerced. I didn't know about not-rape.

~ We're newly dating; we're making out. It's good. I like the way he bites me on the neck, except he does it too hard sometimes, and when I say "Easy!" he laughs, and does it again. Now he's just kissing, gently, and I'm on fire, it feels so nice. His lips brush my collarbone. For some reason I cry out. I still don't know why. A gasped "No," almost a whisper. He chuckles into my throat, "So that's how you like it."
What's more fresh in my mind in this not-rape line of thought is something that happened about three years ago while I was still in college, when a once-trusted professor crossed a line when I made a visit to his office. I had gone there many times to discuss the class, or what I was writing at the time. I looked up to him. I trusted him. Which is probably why I didn't notice how the lights were off one day when I went with him to his office--it was still light out, after all; or how I didn't think anything of the door being closed, or how he chose to sit in the chair next to me instead of professionally keeping his desk between us.

And then I remember that sudden wave of fear envelop me when he stroked my shoulder, and his face turned to something...else. He said something--complimented my writing or something, I don't remember. I didn't know what happened, how the situation had turned to this. I panicked, grabbed my backpack and made some pitiful excuse as I grappled for the door. He made no move to stop me.

I don't know what he could have been thinking. I wondered that as I rushed out of the building. I went to work early, went into the library and sat at the desk. I remember that this was a Friday because I was anticipating going home--I had told him that. I wanted to go there then, and tell my mom, but then I didn't want to tell my mom. I didn't want to tell anyone, because I was so ashamed.

While I anxiously yearned for time to pass where my shift would be over and I could be speeding home, desiring physical distance, I played around on the computer, checked my email. Not ten minutes had passed, and there was an email sitting in my inbox from that professor. Dread washed over me in fresh waves. I don't know why I clicked on it. Curiosity, I guess.

It was an apology.

I cried when I told my parents and brother. I cried when I told my boyfriend (now fiance) on the phone. I expected everyone to blame me--why should I think any different? I was so ashamed--ashamed, like it was my fault. And what really stung was that I would miss out on my favorite class of the semester because I knew that I couldn't face him ever again.

When I went back to school, I skipped his class. Shortly after the class supposedly ended, I received another email. This time he was urging me to return to class, apologizing again and stating that he hoped that his actions would interfere with my education. Yeah, thanks.

My family and fiance were supportive. I went to another professor, and with his aid we went to the VP of student affairs. I was grateful, because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to report it. The VP was...less than understanding. He upset me more because it was like I wasn't worth his time. He asked questions that were of no consequence--why I had gone to the office, was that the first time I had gone to his office, how was I doing in the class? What did any of that have to do with anything? I was taken advantage of. What if I hadn't fled when I had the chance? What if he had tried to stop me from getting to the door?

I could have gotten the professor fired, but I didn't. The only thing that happened was that the incident went on his record. I didn't want anyone to know. It was a small campus--people talk.

I just wanted to forget it ever happened.

What has happened to me was not rape. But it was a culmination of attitudes and words and actions, and it was nurtured by family, friends, peers, teachers, media, a society at large in which I was not given an atmosphere that supported me standing up for myself. Why should I? Anyone else standing up for me was few and far between (I have some good friends too, but they can't make up for EVERYONE ELSE IN THE WORLD I'VE BEEN IN CONTACT WITH). And it's not like you can point the lack of support out to them, because they will just respond that I should stand up for myself; what am I, a weakling? And then when I did stand up, I was a whiner, complaining, overreacting, overemotional, and the slut who asked for it. So if I'm always wrong anyway, why bother? And I stopped bothering. And I was ripe for the picking. And it's a color that so many men know how to see, and for which so few can resist reaching once they see it.
While my family and fiance were supportive, I didn't think other people would be if I made a fuss. The VP of fucking student affairs wasn't, why should my peers? I didn't want other people thinking I led him on, or I asked for it, or whatever else people assume when they engage in victim-blaming and slut-shaming. And it's a real fear that women face daily when they're victimized, even if it doesn't involve actual rape. It's inevitable, because of the pervasiveness of our rape culture.


macon d said...

Wow, this was powerful. And yes, more evidence that "rape" is not used widely enough.

I was struck by this too: I heard "Well, I hope I don't have to cheat on you." What sort of intimacy could I have with that weighing on my mind?

That made me wonder, "What sort of relationship could you have with that kind of jerk weighing on your back?"

But then I remembered other relationships. We can do things in them that we'd never do outside of them.

FilthyGrandeur said...

a bad relationship--that was not the only example of verbal abuse. i was messed up after that ended, and it was difficult dating other men--i trusted no one. but i think, if nothing else, it taught me that that was unacceptable, and i certainly appreciate the relationship i have with my fiance.


Jadelyn said...

SugarLeigh's post resonated with a lot of people, I think. Who supports the survivors of not-rape? Almost no one. Because that's how our culture is designed.

And the emails from that You'd think he'd have gotten the message that maybe, just maybe, you didn't want to talk to him or see him again. >.<

RachelB said...

I'm so sorry, FG.

I've been thinking about SugarLeigh's post, too. I've never been raped, but ... there have been two occasions (not with my current partner) when I've said, "Ow, that hurt" to someone I was fooling around with and the other person's response was either to ignore me or to laugh.