I originally wrote this a little more than four years ago and published it on another blog. The response was overwhelming. I am re-publishing it here today, with some edits, to accompany Monday’s Practical Feminist podcast episode about rape culture and to reassure whomever is reading this and relating to it that they are not alone.
The first thing you have to know about this post is that it will be very difficult for some of you to read. Please tread carefully. Read the tags I’ve put on it and then tread carefully.
There’s been a lot going on in the world of social media and in my life that’s compelled me to write this. It’s deeply personal and, before I even start writing it, I know it’s going to be deeply painful.
I have to write it, though, I have to write it for myself, and I have to write it for you. So that I know I’m not alone. So that you know you’re not alone.
Men (and some women) wonder why women don’t just immediately trust or are outright afraid of men. I don’t know that it’s a fear we always recognize. Something has to happen, something has to be said, for it to creep in. Men (and some women) wonder why, when men make comments about our bodies or touch us, we take it so personally.
When I was a kid, I was short and awkward and geeky. Hell, who am I kidding? I’m still short and awkward and geeky. This has never stopped my male counterparts from catcalling, whistling, honking, grabbing, groping, assaulting and even raping me.
Let me tell you my stories:
When I was in grade school, I was the smart girl. Always had my nose in a book. Always. I also played sports and would more often be found playing games at recess with a mixed group of boys and girls than standing by the wall with other girls chatting about whatever dolls, fashion, etc. were popular at the time.
The honking and catcalling and other inappropriate comments started earlier, but it was in Grade 5, on the school yard, that I was assaulted for the first time.
We were playing Red Rover. You know that game where two groups of kids link arms in a line and call for someone to run over? Then, the person who’s called runs over and tries to break through the line. If they make it through, they go back to their side. If they don’t, they link arms with someone on the new side.
Well, my side called the biggest boy in the class over. And, he was a boy that others had teased me about, because he, apparently, had a crush on me. I was too busy burying my nose in books to be concerned about boys at this time.
He ran straight for me. I didn’t think anything of it. It made sense. I was the smallest in the chain on my side. He ran right for me and he knocked me down. In front of all of the other kids, I was pinned under him. I wrestled to get out from under him. And, then…he put his hand up my shirt.
And I yelled. And the other kids laughed. And then I cried. He let me up and I ran into the school. He denied it. Eventually, he was made to apologize, but only because a couple of the other kids admitted that they saw him do it. Re-read that: the principal didn’t believe me that it happened; the default was to believe him until others corroborated my story.
And this is how/when it all began. This is when I knew that I was little more than a piece of meat to men.
Over the course of the next several years, I heard a lot of comments about my appearance. It wasn’t really about my appearance, of course. The comments, the whistling, the honking, the grabbing, none of that was actually about my appearance. It’s about power. It’s about instilling fear. The men who do it, do it because they can. Because they think it’s fun. Because, really, they hate women and they want them to know their place in this world; want them to know they are nothing more than objects to admire and use.
When I was 16, I was raped.
I won’t get into all of the details. I’m not sure I can. I was living on my own, in an apartment in an old house. I had had several friends over for a party. It doesn’t matter if there was, but there was no alcohol, good girl that I was/am. We played the music loud, talked, played games, drank pop and ate junk food. Slowly, people started to leave. Soon, there was just me and a guy I’d been out with a few times.
He asked to use the washroom before he left and, while he was in there, I went into my bedroom for a sweater. Next thing I knew, I was on the floor. He was kissing me, grabbing me, lying on top of me. I squirmed and said, “no.” I squirmed harder and yelled, “no.” He grabbed my wrists and pinned them at my sides while he smashed his mouth against mine. It hurt. He told me I wanted it. I objected. I fought. I cried. I begged him not to do it. I eventually stopped fighting and I stopped speaking. He raped me and left.
I was in pain. I didn’t know what to do. I crawled across the hall and got into the shower. I sat there under the water until it went cold. Then, I cried myself to sleep.
My friends didn’t believe me. He would never do that. He was such a nice guy.
I didn’t report him. The police would say it was my fault. They would say I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation. It would be my word against his. There was no one to vouch for me this time.
He got away with it. I may never get away from it.
When I was 18, I was casually seeing a guy who was ten years older than me. This went on for months. We were sleeping together, he was seeing other women. I was spending months talking on the phone with the man who would, eventually, become my husband.
When I met J and decided that I wanted to date only him, I told P. He invited me for a coffee so we could talk. I agreed. No big deal, I thought.
Over coffee, he told me that he had just realized that he wanted more from our relationship; that he wanted a relationship. He wanted to stop seeing other women and focus all his energy on a relationship with me. I told him I had decided to start dating J exclusively. That I really liked J and wanted to pursue it. After an hour of trying to convince me to give him a “real” chance, he finally gave up. We got in his car so he could drive me home. On the way, he stopped at a park so we could talk some more. And then, there in the car, he assaulted me.
He kissed me, pulled at my clothes, put his hand down my pants, told me he knew what I liked. I fought him. I yelled for him to stop. I threatened that I’d report him and he’d lose his job (he worked in security). Finally, he stopped.
He drove me the rest of the way home, while I cried. He apologized as I got out of the car.
I didn’t report him either. The police would say it was my fault. They would say I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation. It would be my word against his.
He also got away with it. I may never get away from it.
We live in a rape culture. We live in a culture that says women have to protect themselves from men, rather than one that tells men they have to not hurt women. We live in a culture that says if a woman is raped, she must have done something to deserve it; she must have done something that made it impossible for him to control himself. We live in a culture that attacks women for lying to damage someone’s reputation or suggests she is out for personal gain or for the spotlight when she accuses someone of assaulting her. We live in a culture that conflates ‘innocent until proven guilty’ with ‘she is lying until he’s convicted.’
If I am meeting friends for a drink and I get there first, I can’t leave my drink until someone else gets there. It’s my responsibility to make sure I don’t leave my drink unattended, rather than men’s responsibility to just not put anything in my drink.
Several years ago, on a bright sunny Sunday afternoon, I pulled into an empty parking lot and went to use the bank machine. When I turned from the bank machine to go back out to my car, I saw that another car had pulled up right beside mine.
Both the front and back doors on the driver’s side were open, and they had parked so that their driver’s side was next to mine. There were four of them standing outside the car. Four of them between their open car and where I had to get to.
I walked slowly, trying to look casual, toward my car. For a second, I did consider running, but – if they were a threat – wouldn’t that just make them chase me? I couldn’t outrun four of them. So, I walked toward my car and thought about how I was going to get into my car quickly and safely without turning my back on them.
I managed to do it. None of them said or did anything to me. I was lucky. But I had been scared.
I tried to explain it to a male friend and he told me I was overreacting, that I should stop being so paranoid. Then, I told the story to another male friend and he summed up the difference between men and women in that situation.
A man walks toward that situation and wonders if he’s going to get mugged or beaten up. Things that suck, obviously, but that are relatively easy to recover from. A woman walks toward that situation and wonders if she’s going to get mugged or beaten up or sexually assaulted/raped. Not as easy to recover from.
So, some of you wonder why women don’t trust or are afraid of men? Some of you wonder why your comments on our appearance are offensive or “unappreciated”? Some of you wonder why we’re not flattered by whistling, catcalling or honking as we walk down the street?
My stories illustrate why.
And I wish they were only my stories, but they’re not. They’re the stories of women everywhere. The stories of women of all ages, shapes and sizes.
When you say or do something to offend us, we take it personally. We take it very personally. Because, for some of us, it brings back horrible memories. Because, for some of us, it makes us wonder what you’ll do next.
It is never harmless.
It is never funny.
It has to stop.