|Picture ©Michael Courier, with thanks!|
I've sat down and stared at my blank monitor, trying to drag up the right words to start the conversation. And that pretty much sums up the whole problem I want to discuss.
|SlutWalk Chicago, 6/4/2011|
Obviously, I'm not doing a very good job. And for this I tend to blame my mother.
Don't get me wrong, I adore my mother. I think that not only did she do a fantastic job raising me, but that she was a wonderful role model, an incredible human being, and a person whose mastery of calm when faced with chaos is something that I continue to aspire towards. I don't often blame either of my parents for my own personal failings. Another sign that I think they did a good job.
However, she did not prepare me for this.
She never really talked to me about sexual assault. Not until it was, I'm sorry to say, too late. And even then, we only ever skirted it. Even after I wrote this post, we didn't really talk about it. We just sort of skirted around. I didn't talk to my father about it either. It's a hard conversation to have.
So, like most of the people on this earth, I never learned to talk about sexual assault in a serious and open manner. I never learned not to be uncomfortable simply talking about a specific something that is genuinely important. To all of us.
|Teaching the right lessons|
There is a nearly universal problem that women face. One that, once you break it down into a simple statement is so ludicrously obvious and painful that it shocks me to think that it's true. And that problem is this...
We teach our girls how not to get raped. That's where our focus is. Universities hand out guides to college life telling female students not accept strange beverages from strangers, to travel in packs, to avoid binge drinking, to dress conservatively. We teach them that the weight of not getting raped is on them.
We don't put that sort of energy into teaching anybody not to rape people.
We just assume that it's a lesson learned a priori. We assume that only bad people must commit sexual assault. That nobody we know is going to do something that horrific and evil. That people we know are good people, who would never, "press their advantage," as Victorian writers might have said.
I think that it's a very poor assumption.
The boy who assaulted me in high school? We share Facebook friends. And I still feel shame and fear and repulsion even thinking about pointing this out to those old high school acquaintances who invite me to his concerts.
I think about the girl who was kicked off her cheerleading squad for refusing to cheer for the boy who raped her, and I feel for that girl. Her school has basically told her to get over it and move on, because that's what everyone else did. That's not how you treat a victim, that's how you treat a screw-up. But she didn't screw up. She was assaulted, and she stood her ground and demanded a modicum of justice. While her fellow students cheer for the boy who performed a violent act of selfish blindness, who's cheering for her?
|"Not an invitation."|
But it's worse than simply misappropriating the burden of education and awareness. There is a pervasive attitude that, because it is a woman's job not to GET raped in the first place, that if she IS raped she must have somehow been, "asking for it." Particularly since the sexual revolution freed women to dress essentially however they pleased. If you dress in such a way as to get male attention, you deserve any variety of male attention that you get.
In fact, that's what police officers scattered across North America keep saying. In Toronto, a police spokesman said, "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Here in Chicago, a prostitute was raped by two police officers and the attitude has largely been to shrug off the assault, because the woman was a prostitute.
And I'm sorry, but regardless of how many people you've had sex with or why, no matter how you dress or where you are, the only thing that makes sex anything BUT rape is mutual consent. And if there isn't mutual consent, it is rape. Pretty black and white.
We need to stop making excuses for people who force themselves sexually on other people.
That's why this weekend, I took part in the Chicago SlutWalk. I threw my toddler daughters in my overheating minivan and trundled them off downtown, and in the 95º heat, 70% humidity, and blazing sun I marched around pushing that stroller surrounded by women, men, and children baring signs and slogans to end the victim blaming. To start the conversation.
I hadn't expected it to effect me so strongly, but it really did. The whole day made me realize how much energy I put, daily, "...in order not to be victimized." How much of typical female life is a tightrope we walk between trying to live up to expectations of beauty and sexuality, while still not attracting too much attention. Looking appropriately beautiful, but not slutty.
At the park, I felt myself getting tense about cleaning up the strawberries smooshed into my chest. And the fact that at least once I found myself holding a GIANT banana in my mouth while I wrangled my children. Pretty provocative stuff. I was making a spectacle.
Once we reached the protest. I cried. I cried as I marched, as I read people's signs, and as chants erupted around me. Every few minutes, a fellow SlutWalker would stop to take a picture of my motley crew (one of my friends was carrying a "Knitters for the Flying Spaghetti Monster" sign), or tell me what a Good Thing I had done by bringing my kids, and I desperately wanted to tell them exactly what had happened to me and how grateful I was to be there. And that I had never really talked to my mom about it. And that I want to talk about it with my children. I kept reciting a poem I wrote last year in my head, over and over, wanting to shout it out loud. To stop walking and perform it in the street.
Instead I just cried.
I cried because I finally had a way to start the conversation. It was already started. I was there. If my children had been more verbal, we could have talked about why we were there, and that it is not their job not to get raped. And that means that it's not their fault if they are.
|Becoming SuperMommy and Friends at the Chicago SlutWalk|
If it's not your job to avoid being assaulted, it's not your fault if it happens.
Do you have daughters? Sisters? A wife? Female friends? Ever asked them, point blank, if they've been the one in three? Terrifying prospect, isn't it?
So with that many women being assaulted, of course it becomes our job to defend ourselves. But who's out there raping all of those women? I promise you, it isn't one dude with a jet pack and an inexhaustible libido. There are over 680,000 sexual assaults in the United States each year. I think it's probably safe to assume there are half as many rapists. And that's basically a full percent of the US population.
I do not believe that all men, or even that only men, commit these acts. But I do think that a great many men, and some women, do not understand that what they're doing IS rape. That because a girl said, "yes," once, she agreed to any future encounter. Or that she was hinting that she was interested, or that by saying nothing at all she had given her consent. Or that she won't care or remember anyway.
I can also promise you this, both of the men who assaulted me genuinely don't believe they did anything wrong. The fact that they wanted to have sex with me was just more important to them than any opinion I might have had in the matter.
|© Flickr User Gozamos|
So let's have this extremely uncomfortable, painful conversation with our children and with each other. Let's talk about sex as something wonderful that only ever gets to happen if both parties are explicit in their intentions to say YES. Let's stop putting all the pressure to stop rape on the victims.
And I for one am going to make the title of this post my personal healing mantra, because despite the fact that it was thirteen years ago and I was a fourteen year old playing at being older and cooler, it was not my job to make sure I didn't get raped.
And if it was not my job to avoid being raped, it wasn't my fault that I was.