Variation on a Theme of Rape Culture
By A Girl You Know
Art by Autumn Rain
If my wellbeing was appreciated as much as a man’s, I would be writing to tell you that I had been violated one September Wednesday when I was twenty-two. But it’s not, so instead I’m writing to tell you that one night I had a total black out and made a mistake.
If my recall was respected as like a man’s, you would believe me when I tell you that I have never been so drunk that I forget every detail of a sexual experience, recounting not one measly moment. But my memory can’t be trusted, so I’ll have to confide in you that, yes, there are times I have been a little promiscuous when the liquor is flowing, so it’s possible that I was just too drunk. Total black outs happen. It’s possible it happened to me. This once.
If my consent were as important as a man’s, I would be assured that I had been wronged. But, instead, I script the narrative myself: you wanted to anyway, you liked him, you thought about it when you were sober, so it’s actually a bummer that you don’t remember it, maybe you were weird and that’s he was so aloof afterward.
Then the doubt starts to bubble up. Why did I wake up in my guest room? Wouldn’t I have taken him to my bed? Maybe I jumped him? I was on my period. No matter how drunk, I don’t think I would have had our first time be during my period. Why didn’t I take out my tampon first? After a decade of cycles and years of being active, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered to take my tampon out first… right?
I had to text to ask him why his boxers were on my floor. Contextually, I pieced it together. “That sucks because I actually kind of like you,” I texted, like a beaten puppy. “No worries :)” he said.
If my integrity were valued as highly as a man’s, I would tell my story with conviction. But it’s not. So I give him a one-armed hug when I see him in public, and omit my name when I write about the time he violated me six years ago.
The word “rape” is hard to swallow. In its violent connotations, it fails to account for the breadth of mild episodes like mine. I was not injured (though I did visit the gyno to deal with the tampon). I did not seek therapy (except from the tattoo artist I saw the very next day). I don’t have trouble trusting others as a result. My life is not measurably altered. I am relatively lucky.
And I am not alone. My story is shared by womxn in your life: womxn you love, womxn you pass in the grocery store, grandmothers, teenage girls, womxn in high places, and low.
Sometimes I feel like my reluctance to own the word “rape” nullifies what was done to me. There may not be an adequate word to describe stories like mine. I was used, felt, explored, had by another without my knowledge. The trouble is, most of this can be “reduced” to a feeling: I feel violated.
At the risk of sounding essentialist here, I will say that womxn (truly all people) are not objective creatures. We know the world based on our experiences, our feelings, our relationships. We understand the world subjectively, so we are often hesitant to use an objective term (especially one with such severe personal and social consequences, like “rape”) to describe our most intimate moments.
That subjectivity and the invalidation of our feelings makes action difficult and self-blame easy. I need to make better decisions, I would say to myself. And, sure, that’s partly true, but the compelling desire to internalize blame is a symptom of rape culture.
Here is another, unintended symptom of rape culture: Womxn, with their remarkable resilience, often bear such unjust experiences silently, holding them deep down with such strength that if they well up in conversations with trusted friends (or anonymous blog posts) we choke on the words. Holding these phenomenological experiences and all the charged feelings that swirl around them deep inside of ourselves means that we have traversed and charted those most interior of spaces. We have been ravaged, soiled, stifled, invalidated, and still find fertile ground to grow. That is powerful. It is at once personal and political, and if we could harness, collect, and voice that power then changing the culture might be possible.