Throughout this whole Kavanaugh-Ford shitshow, an old memory came to mind last week that’s been haunting me. When we were 15 or 16 years old, one of my oldest and dearest friends called to tell me she’d been raped. I really want to say we were 15.
This was her first time “going all the way,” and it was rape. It wasn’t even date rape. It was a guy she met after a show who took her to a secluded location and raped her. When she told me, I was stunned. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. I still remember exactly where I was, which was at a friend’s house. This was the 1980s, so my friend must’ve called my house, found out where I was and then called me there, because she needed, in that moment, to talk. She needed a friend. I also remember my reaction to her was pathetically reserved. My friend needed support and affirmation, and the best I could muster at the time was something along the lines of, “Holy shit, that sucks.” To be totally honest, at the time I wondered why she’d agreed to go off alone with him, though I didn’t say that to her at the time. (At least, I don’t think I did. My God, I hope I didn’t.) I actually blamed her as much as I blamed him. That’s the part that’s really been bothering me.
And then I don’t remember the two of us talking about it much, if ever, again.
I totally failed her. Totally.
I messaged her to tell her I’d been thinking about it, and how sorry I was that I didn’t respond appropriately. Her response, which was immediate, hit me like a brick:
“OMG, how the fuck would you know what to say? Please, don’t think another moment about it. Knowing what I know now, I had an inappropriate reaction to being raped. That’s why we have to end rape culture.”
That’s the kind of strength women are forced to forge for ourselves, often starting quite young. Growing up the 1980s, I think most of us understood there was a decent chance we’d be raped at some point in our lives, and we hoped that if and when it happened, it wouldn’t be too bad. At least, that’s how I always thought of it. Though I was never raped, I did experience plenty of harassment and groping, starting from the age of about eleven. Every experience hardened me, chipping away at my innocence. The first few experiences were nothing less than emotionally harrowing. Eventually, though, I began to think of it as simply the price you pay as a woman in the world, and I taught myself to not expect to be treated with a whole lot of respect from men, even men I thought I could trust, because the truth is, you just never really know. Sometimes, I let the incidents slide. Sometimes I called them out and let the offender know he was out of line. It all depended on how strong I felt that day and the dynamics of the particular situation, which can be incredibly nuanced and tricky: How dangerous could this guy become? Can I get out of this by standing up for myself, or will that escalate the situation into violence?
The notion of the “pity fuck,” having sex with a guy out of pity, is really a misnomer. Most of the time, women don’t have sex with a guy they don’t really want to have sex with out of pity; it’s because she’s afraid of what might happen if she refuses.
Of course, on the other side of that equation were some guys who were genuine creeps, but also some who were fundamentally okay, I think. It’s just that they were acting out in the way the culture was telling them to. If they weren’t meeting certain societal expectations of where they were supposed to be sex-wise, then they went ahead and took what they couldn’t get with consent.
That’s the insidious nature of rape culture. Everyone buys into it, often even the victim. Not only do we not help the victim, we actively shame her, degrade her and silence her, all while protecting perpetrators. Even women have been taught to silence each other. It’s a minefield women learn to navigate from an early age, and for many women, the minefield is devastating. The idea that my daughter, in the year 2018, will have to tiptoe through the same minefield is unacceptable.
My friend says it took her years to process what happened to her. Do we really want our daughters going through the same crap we did?
In the words of my dear friend: That’s why we have to end rape culture.