I need to preface this by stating that this post will offer no research, or evidence-based fact finding. This will not be a piece fraught with journalistic integrity, an unbiased sense of justice or even intelligent, rational thought.
Because, when it comes to this subject, I lack all of these things.
See, I can rationalize almost anything. I try to take a pragmatic approach to most subjects, even ones I can’t personally fathom. Hatred, violence, even murder—I tend to at least consider what led the perpetrator to do or become that we find unspeakable.
But, with rape, I can’t do it. I don’t understand. And no amount of research or even the deepest human empathy could ever make me.
While it’s been part of the culture forever, over the past year or so, rape seems to have become the new abortion. Everyone has an opinion, and the “wrong” opinions are loud, painful, cruel, spouted as fact. Certain rape is considered “legitimate.” Certain rape is considered “illegitimate.” Rape brought forth by high school football players is deserved when the girl is drunk. Rape is asked for when the girl is dressed a certain way. Rape is an excuse for nice girls who don’t want to admit they had sex. Rape is a lie unless it’s violent and from a stranger. Rape. I’ve heard so much about rape lately. Ever since Todd Akin opened his stupid mouth, rape is everywhere. And everytime someone offers an opinion on rape, as though it’s a haircut or an episode of “Girls,” something that requires review and subjectivity and not a universal understanding of being inherently wrong, it hurts. It hurts as a woman. It hurts as a mother. It hurts. It makes me sick. It makes me die inside, and I’m not exaggerating, I’m not being hyperbolic, it genuinely feels as though my heart is disintegrating, crumbling from inside out, slowing because I am so sad that this is happening, so hurt that there are people in the world who do this, and even more people who feel compelled, empowered, to speak of it as though they deserve to have opinions regarding its validity or level of wrongness.
When I was in college, I really liked this guy. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend, and, coming off of not only my first serious relationship but a deeply codependent one, I was pretty messed up. And I wanted this guy to like me, as though my entire self-worth rested in him thinking I was pretty. Worthy. One night, I was at his apartment, and I got drunk. Really drunk. I vaguely remember passing out on his bed. The next thing I recall is a half-hazy vision of him on top of me, telling me he was going to “go get the handcuffs.” Then nothing until morning, when I woke up next to him. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened, and, in a moment that makes the bile rise up in my throat, I nuzzled in next to him. Because, if he liked me, it would all be okay.
I was really fucked up after that. When my boyfriend, my now-husband, and I got back together, I remember sex being so strange. I was timid in a way I’d never been with him, a purely physical way. I had this reflexive inclination to pull away at his touch, but, in the moment, I wanted to keep our faces pressed together constantly, neither of us ever looking at each other, safe in blindness.
A few years back, Helen Mirren did an interview where she referred to being raped when she was younger, and referred to it as “gray area rape.” And that made people mad. But I understood. Because, when I look back at that night in college, I know it wasn’t right, but I also feel like it was my fault. Like I must have said or done something to indicate I wanted it. Like I did something wrong. Like it wasn’t a big deal at all, just normal collegiate drunken sex, and I’m being oversensitive and making a big deal out of nothing.
Like I was asking for it.
Every news story about this subject, ever attempted definition of “illegitimate rape,” is personally humiliating. Because I’m one of the illegitimates. I’m that dumb drunk college girl who threw herself at a guy, got what she wanted and then got sad about it. I feel guilty when I hear these stories, as though I’m bad and dirty, or that I’m comparing myself to people who were “really” raped.
And I think about that poor girl in Steubenville. Who not only had this unfathomably horrible thing happen to her, but had it documented and shared online for the sole purpose of laughing at her as it happened, then has had to see—because she must have seen it—thousands of internet commenters, tweeters and Facebookers calling her out for being a whore, being drunk, getting what she deserved. I cannot imagine what that must feel like. I am crying for her as I write this because it breaks my heart to think that this has fractured her spirit as it must have. And that reputable news outlets have dared to mourn the destruction of the young lives who brutalized her while she is vilified simply for being the body that they forced themselves upon.
And then I think about my own sweet girl down the hall. And I think about sixteen years from now, and what am I supposed to do? How do I protect her? Am I not supposed to tell her to watch her glass at parties, or not drink too much, or not wear revealing clothing? How am I supposed to make any attempt to rescue her from an evil over which I have no control, while never making her feel as though it would be her fault if it happened? And, if I have a son someday, how am I supposed to raise him to be a respectful man who treats people well when there’s a massive segment of the population who seems to believe that just by being male, he’s one short skirt away from becoming a complete monster and attacking any female he sees, and that should be an acceptable excuse for women to be the ones who need to follow the rules and protect themselves? That it is a woman’s responsibility to not get raped rather than a man’s responsibility not to rape.
How can I be expected to teach my child that? How am I supposed to make any sense of that for her, for myself?
I don’t know. I don’t understand.
I don’t understand.
Update: I want to thank each and every one of you who shared your stories, your compassion and your goodness. What I love most about Pajiba is, well, you. Our commenters are truly the most amazing, strangest, most wonderful people. Thank you.