*Trigger Warning: rape, sexual assault, domestic violence.
Society and Media
In the movie Grease, Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson describe their summer romance to to friends on their return to school in the fall. Her friends want to know if Danny as a car, and if they fell in love. Danny’s friend asks, “Did she put up a fight?”
In The Heathers, Veronica goes with one of the Heathers on a double date with a couple of the school jocks. They end up cow-tipping, and while Veronica is being rescued by her boyfriend, you can see Heather being date-raped in the middle of the cow pasture.
These are two very different movies from different times, and The Heathers is far more self-aware than Grease (that’s sort of the point of the film.) The idea I’m putting forward, however, is the same. And it’s nothing new.
The #metoo movement, and others like it, have brought to the foreground of people’s minds abuses that they may not have even realized were abuse at the time. This open discussion about consent is teaching all who are willing to learn.
The Terrible Teens
I went to a party when I was around fifteen years old. We were all drinking and having a good time and this guy showed up, Chad (I changed his name,) who I had been on one date with the previous weekend. We went to the movies or something, and maybe dinner. He had been all over me at school since then- he was really handsy in the hallways, wanted to walk me to every class, wouldn’t let me go without a kiss. I didn’t really like it but I didn’t have much of a frame of reference. I was fifteen years old, what did I know? Maybe this is how it was with guys. Anyways, I didn’t invite him to this party. I don’t know how he found out I was there, but he somehow tracked me down, so I decided to play nice. I was already pretty drunk.
Somehow, within a couple minutes, we ended up in my friend’s bedroom. He forced me down on the bed and started making out with me. He shoveed his tongue down my throat and his hands were all over me and it was all a blur, but I asked him to stop; I kept saying ‘No, no.’ He said something like “I know this isn’t your first time,” and a switch was flipped in my brain. This is what he wanted the whole time. This is who he thinks I am. So I began to yell. There were people just outside, so he told me to be quiet. I told him that I’ll be quiet when he gets the fuck off of me. And he did. I’m sure it wasn’t because I said no, or he would have stopped already. It’s because he was afraid of being overheard, of getting caught, which means he knew he was doing something wrong. He didn’t stick around. I told my friend what had happened and she was shocked. Chad was in the ROTC (kind of like pre-military for high school kids,) clean cut, parent-approved. He took me on a real date. He wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The following Monday at school, he tried to be all over me again. He acted as though nothing had happened. I told him that I didn’t want to see him anymore (his hands felt like hot irons on my body; I couldn’t stand him touching me,) and he seemed shocked. He got mad and walked away. I have no idea what he told people because then I had his sister coming after me about treating him badly, about how he was such a ‘nice guy,’ and how dare I break his heart like that.
I didn’t have the vocabulary then that I do now. Even if I had told her what had happened, I’m sure she wouldn’t have believed me. But I wouldn’t have called it attempted rape then, although now I see very clearly that it was. I never told anyone else, I never tried to do anything about it. I hadn’t learned anything about consent; no one had given me the tools, the words.
When I was in my teens, I didn’t understand the concept of marital rape. I thought that if you were in a relationship with someone, and certainly married to them, that your body was something you owed them, as though it was part of some contract- if you love someone, they own you. So when I entered into a relationship with an older man (25 to my 16,) for that and many other reasons, I was pretty easy to manipulate.
Not everyone has heard the term gaslighting, so I’ll insert the definition here- gaslight: manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. It’s like brainwashing but without the spies and waterboarding or whatever else might come to mind when you think of brainwashing. There are no men in lab coats. For me, there was only one man, the one I loved, who made me feel like I was completely insane every time I stood up for myself. I stayed with him for almost 7 years and this, gaslighting, is the reason why. Aside from any ideas I may have had about consent, I simply wasn’t a whole person when I was with him. I didn’t have the luxury to make up my own mind. And if we didn’t have sex every other day, you’d think I’d have killed his mother for all the rage that seeped out from behind his eyes. It simply wasn’t possible to say no. I could give in, or have holes punched in walls beside my head, be shamed in front of all his friends, have things thrown at me, be unable to leave the house, have my phone taken away, you name it. I loved him and hated him and I was his captive, as well as my own.
What this means is that I can basically say that aside from a few times that I may have actually have wanted to have sex with him, I was raped nearly every other day that I was in that relationship, from around the time we moved in together, which was only a few months in. Some of the times I was blacked-out drunk. Other times I was compliant, acted, tried. Sometimes I thought I might actually die. Sometimes I wanted to die.
But all this time, while it was happening, I had no idea it was rape. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until fairly recently, when I was doing my fourth step in my 12 Step Program, that I realized what it was. That sent me into a tailspin I can’t begin to describe, and I’ve recently completed 16 weeks of some pretty intensive therapy, and am on the waiting list for more. I have PTSD and terrible anxiety and it continues to effect my life in very real ways.
We Even Question Ourselves
A friend of mine recently went to a concert and was sexually assaulted in a crowd of people, including her own friends. No one could really tell that he was hurting her and she, in shock, froze. Later she face timed me and sent me photos of the bruises. Other people she told didn’t believe her or didn’t understand- he was a nice looking guy, she had been holding his hand, they thought she was having fun. She was in pain, crying, and still was doubted, still questioned.
In the height of my addiction, after I’d left my ex, I was date-raped and likely drugged, but it was hard for me to tell if I was drugged or simply in black out from drinking. I woke up in my bedroom bleeding and bruised. I told a friend what had happened, and she told me it was time to quit drinking. She was right- but she didn’t say to me ‘let’s go to the hospital,’ or ask if I wanted to go to the police, and it never occurred to me either.
Were we all asking for it? Has every single one of us, from the beginning of time, been asking for it? Is what happened with Chad my fault because I didn’t break up with him at school, or because I went into the bedroom with him? Is what happened with my ex my fault because I should have listened to my friends and family and ended it sooner? Is the date rape my fault because I’m an alcoholic- just a drunk, stupid woman who put herself in harms way? Did my friend deserve her bruises, all the tears she cried, because he was supposed to be a nice guy, because she held his hand, because she didn’t scream?
Did we put up a fight?
If these stories seem extreme to you then you’re not talking to the women (and men) in your life. They are not unique. And the perpetrators of these crimes are not unique either. They are people who feel entitled to our bodies, our minds.
Please, learn about consent. Teach your friends, your families, your children. Teach them that anything less than a resounding yes is a no. And don’t worry so much about teaching your kids how to dress, just tell them not to rape.