Let's talk about rape. I do that a lot; it's one of the occupational hazards of being A Feminist and all.
So, someone recently posted this on Facebook, and I loved it. I haven't read the article to which is refers, but the sentiment within the post is something about which I feel strongly because of personal experience. I absolutely agree with No Means No, but also feel strongly about the need for Yes Means Yes as a paradigm shift, and about the need to acknowledge survival tactics for what they are. Enthusiastic consent should be the minimum for sexual relations, period.
Storytime! I have told this story before on my old blog, but I think a different retelling to address definitions of rape is in order. No, I'm not horribly traumatized by this story, and, on the off chance that someone comments, I don't need apologies for it having happened. It's just, the rape culture and all.
When I was seventeen-year-old junior in high school, I was dating a senior. He was very good-looking. He was also dumb as a rock. I realized that I didn't want to date him the second he pulled me aside in weight training class to ask for my phone number, but I was fresh out of a relationship in which "no" had meant literally nothing to my ex-boyfriend, and so I had no idea how to say it anymore. Thinking that I was being ridiculous, that this guy was good-looking, and that I didn't want to hurt his feelings, I gave him my phone number. We went on a date to the dollar theater, and the first thing he did when the lights dimmed was stick his hand up my shirt. While I'm sure that was sexy for him and all (especially considering that he was a virgin), to say that I was unenthused would be to overstate my interest in him. However, I obligingly let him feel me up, and, two dates later, obligingly slept with him, because that was what I did. I was a nice girl, I'd already slept with two people and, as a conservative Christian, though, in for a penny, in for a pound (the petals were already off the rose!), and thought it would be rude to refuse him. (Not that the thought process was that complicated. It was more like, "Well, I'm already a slut, so it's not like it matters." And not like in a, "Why not have fun," kind of way. More like a, "Well, I already let one guy, so what's the difference?" Sex has not been fun for the majority of the time that I've been having it, although it's been fixed.)
That wasn't rape, though. It was a couple of dumb teenagers acting like dumb teenagers, and my exhibiting behaviour you would expect from an indoctrinated kid who had been abused. He had little- to no sexual experience, and most of my sexual experience was indifferent at best and abusive at worst, and condemned by my religious upbringing to boot. I thought I was worthless.
One night, when we had been casually seeing each other for perhaps four months or so, with an increasing level of disgust on my part, I was settling in to have a nice night alone with just a glass of tea and the CD of my band's spring concert. I didn't want to go out, and had let him know repeatedly before that I appreciate a phone call before he dropped by. Perhaps that makes me a crazy hypercontrolling nazi bitch in the eyes of some, but I'm an introvert, and I would far rather have been allowed my space from someone who wasn't even my boyfriend. I don't care who you are. I need warning if I am going to interact with you IRL, and I was even less social in high school.
I was settling in to listen to the march from Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis. I don't know why this is what sticks so hard in my head, but it is. I just wanted to listen to the goddamn march and be left alone. I didn't want anyone to come by expecting anything of me. I mean, listen to that march! Shit! I don't care who you are; you want to play the horn listening to that. My evening was booked.
There was a knock on the door. Irritated, I looked through the eyehole and found myself rolling my eyes. Fucking, this guy. Since I was a nice girl, I opened the door instead of just pretending not to be home, and he wanted to go out, which translated to he wanted to have sex.
I did not want to, for a variety of reasons, and I told him, "Guy, I will go out with you, but I do not want to have sex. There will be no sex. I AM NOT HAVING SEX WITH YOU THIS EVENING, GUY. So, um, DO NOT EXPECT SEX." He probably nodded or gave some other sign of acknowledgment, but this dude was dumb enough that it didn't really matter.
We went to a movie. It might have been Hannibal. Whatever. The movie ended, and he went through the usual routine of starting to make out in the back of his van in the parking lot. I put a halt to those activities so say, "HEY, GUY! REMEMBER THE PART WHERE I SAID NO SEX! THERE WILL BE NO SEX!" Now, understand how averse I was to it, considering that I'm pretty sure that this was the first time I had said no in a situation that didn't make me feel physically threatened.
Well, when one isn't planning on having sex, one doesn't buy condoms, but he figured, in his wisdom, that perhaps he should stop by a gas station and buy them anyway because, hey, it might happen! My asking to go home (since we were not having sex) was just a "maybe."
We went to our usual dark spot and he started to take his clothes off. I said, "HEY, GUY, I WANT TO GO HOME, AND WE ARE NOT HAVING SEX, OKAY GUY REALLY." So, if we're counting, that's, like, a spillion "nos", approximately. Well, just in case, of course, he kept disrobing, and then he started to undress me.
Honestly, I do not even remember exactly how we got to the "having sex" point. I remember that I said no the entire time, but he couldn't have taken all of my clothes off. This is why I'm talking about survival tactics. I'd actually been forcefully raped before, with full physical threat, and I knew what that felt like. I didn't want to go through it again. I kept on saying no to him, but I went through the physical gestures that would spare me being held down and forced to have sex.
I don't know when I stopped protesting. I'm pretty sure it was well into the act. That would have been the point where I started crying, silently, not responding at all to his ridiculous flailing, because why bother? I was no more than an appendage for his pleasure. It wasn't even that he gleefully disregarded my "no." I wasn't even sufficiently human to warrant notice when I said it. I lied there and wept silently, did not move, did not respond, and stopped saying no, because I didn't want to fight back against this guy. I mean, he was nice, right? Even if he ignored me saying no? It's not like he forced me. He just knew that I wouldn't back up the word with my fists, with my feet, with my teeth.
Afterwards, we got out of the van, which was good, because I wanted to scream. I didn't know that the word "rape" applied to what had happened there. All I knew was that I hated him more than I had ever hated anyone, abusive ex included, because at least my abusive ex had thought I was human enough to abuse. This guy literally did not see me as a factor in our sexual relations. He asked me to sit by him, and put his arm around me, which was odd, because he was rarely affectionate, and I didn't want it from him, either. Maybe he knew I was upset. I don't know.
We drove to McDonalds to get some chicken nuggets. A song came on the radio. "I don't care about anyone else but me." He took me home. He kissed me good night. It was all very civil.
Now, what the hell is wrong with our society that, while I was willing and able to call what happened to me a violation, I thought of it as grey, maybe rape-ish, but not, you know, rape-rape, like what happened to me in my prior relationship? I mean, I DID stop saying no after a while. I DID take off my clothes, even if I had told him before that I didn't want to. I DIDN'T fight him. I didn't think of what I was doing as the survival tactic that it was. I thought of it as automatic. There was no conscious thought.
Then, one day while I was in Missoula, I was driving and listening to the radio, and the song that I mentioned earlier came on the radio again. I hadn't heard it since the day that I had been out with Guy. I had to pull over, gasping, and nearly vomited. Oh, God, I thought, that shit was rape. It was worse, in its own way, than what had happened to me before him, because I had never even given myself the right to claim it as such, and because most people wouldn't think of it that way.
Shouldn't have been fucking when I was a teenager. Shouldn't have been fucking someone I didn't like. Shouldn't have gone out with him when I didn't want to. Shouldn't have taken my clothes off. Shouldn't, shouldn't, shouldn't.
And there wouldn't have really been anyone I had known at the time who would have said that he shouldn't have disregarded my request that he call before he stop by. That he shouldn't have ignored me when I told him that we would not be having sex. That he shouldn't have stopped at the gas station to get condoms when I told him we were not having sex. That he shouldn't have taken me to the dark spot when I asked him to take me home. That he shouldn't have ignored me while I said no the whole time. That he shouldn't have taken his partner's silence as assent, and that, for that matter, no person, male or female, should consider an unresponsive partner a consenting one. (This wasn't the last time we had sex in which I was unresponsive; a similar occasion was when I had spent all day in summer band and a good deal of the evening working, and he stopped by unannounced to pick me up from work. I didn't want him to and I told him because I was completely exhausted, I smelled like ass and chicken, and I hated his guts, but he didn't listen that time, either. I fell asleep for a few minutes during and he didn't even notice. This is a problem, you guys; it's funny in a let's-make-fun-of-his-dumb-ass kind of way, but it's also immensely fucked up.) He shouldn't have done any of that shit. I was raped because he couldn't even be considerate enough to call before he came over, much less consider that maybe the cessation of my protest wasn't consent.
My point isn't to ask for sympathy, so please don't give it. I don't care what you, dear reader, think about what happened to me, so much as I care about this story's part in the larger narrative.
We need a narrative in which enthusiastic consent is the baseline for consent. Ceasing to say no is not consent. I deserve better than to have felt responsible for this asshole's coldly waiting out my protest. My daughter deserves better than to ever feel that way, and so does every other female.
I apologize for the general trailing-off feel of this, but I don't have much else to say. That's my story. Most of the women I know have a story like it. I'm sick of that. If it was just me that would be great, but, for fuck's sake, it's women I know, and it's women who have been unfortunate enough to be attacked by powerful men. We need to remove the option of, "Well, she didn't scream," or, "Well, she stopped saying no," from the equation. We need a better narrative.