Trigger Warnings for rape culture.
Let’s talk about rape culture!
Now that we’ve weeded out everyone who won’t listen anyway, let’s get real.
Some people get defensive when you say “rape culture”. There are lots of reasons for that almost exclusively rooted in denial, but I have noticed that those people deliberately misunderstand the term. They think we’re only talking about rape. LOL. The rest of us understand we’re talking about a culture that results in rape. But “Conditioning Girl Children to Believe Their Bodies Don’t Belong to Them Culture” doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?
I’m going to start this by telling you a truth. I’ve never been raped.
Age 5. I decide to cut my morning routine short and skip wearing underwear under my polka dotted circle skirt. Someone in my family notices and next thing I know, I’m “playfully” hauled over my step-father’s shoulder while everyone in the house has a turn at pinching my bare bottom to make fun of me. My face is hot with shame and tears and I feel sick inside, while the adults around me probably feel like it’s a “fun” and “joking” way to teach me a lesson about how to dress. And to be fair, it worked. To this day, I feel sick if I don’t wear underwear under my clothing. Years later I was sleeping with a man who insisted I at least “try” to sleep naked because it was “so much better.” I woke every hour with panic attacks until I put clothes back on. He never really understood, but he never asked me to sleep naked again. I called it a win.
Preschool. My birthday is in November so I’m half a year ahead of everyone else and bigger. The hyperactive little boy with socialization problems jumps on my back while I’m crouched over on the playground. I stand abruptly, throwing him off, and he lands in the monkey bars, earning a few bruises and wailing like I beat him with a tire iron. I’m forced to stand with my nose in the corner for hurting him. My mother is coming to volunteer at the school that day and I stand rigid with fear that she’ll see I got into trouble. It crosses my mind that this is an injustice, but not that I should try to explain myself.
First Grade. Our classroom is divided into play stations and I am at the Doctor station with a group of children. They want me to be the patient. I say no, but they insist by holding me down while they “examine” me. There’s a scream locked inside my chest that I can’t quite get out. I feel paralyzed as I look past their looming little faces at my teacher, staring at me impassively while I squirm and cry. I never truly trust an adult with my physical safety after that.
Age 6 through 9. I want to spend time with my parents on their big bed on Saturday mornings while they drink coffee and read the newspaper. I’d just been made a big sister, we’re constantly moving and I’m a lonely kid. But the price is I have to submit to tickling that extends long past the point where I say, “Stop.” But I’m laughing, so I don’t really mean it, right? All in good fun. Nobody gets hurt. Except 30 years later when I tried to explain to my then-husband why I loathed being tickled and finally blurted out, “Because it’s like being raped only you’re forced to laugh!” He thought I was accusing him of rape. It’s unfair to rape victims and I hated using that analogy, but he literally could NOT understand why I’d hate to laugh. I don’t hate to laugh, but I hate being tickled. He never really made the connection, but his feelings were hurt so badly he never tried to tickle me again. I called it a win.
Third grade. Walking home from school and the cool boy who lives down the street follows me. I’ve wanted to be his friend for a long time, but he never notices me. He wants to tell me something. I slow down to let him catch up, he steps too close. I back away but he has to tell me a “secret”. We were alone on a suburban street, but I so desperately want him to like me. He leans in, grabs my face and plants a painful kiss on my mouth. I jerk away, run home and never tell anyone, strangely shamed. Just like I never told anyone when my best friend’s older brother jumped on top of me at a sleep over (where I screamed and promptly threw him off). I learned not to want the cool, older boys’ friendship anymore, though.
Fifth grade. Puberty hits me hard. I have the largest breasts in my class. I don’t wear the only bra, but I’m certainly the target of getting it snapped most. My parents are in the middle of a divorce. Grown men cat-call me regularly on my walk home from school. Everyone tells me I’m pretty, and at the same time makes fun of what I wear if it hugs my new curves too tightly. I’m wound tighter than an eight-day clock. At recess, the last boy plucks my bra strap. I swing around to confront him, but my subconscious has other ideas and a clenched fist I don’t realize is at the end of my arm connects with his ear. Funnily enough, toxic masculinity protected me that day as he didn’t want to admit to getting hit by a girl, and never told on me.
Middle school. Mom goes to night school. I’m getting ready for bed when my mother comes home, my nightshirt halfway over my body. She begins accusing me of fooling around with a boy. I’m confused. She says she saw a boy running from the direction of our apartment when she pulled up, and here I am half naked. Don’t lie, she says. I have to defend my innocence. That same year she threatens to throw me out “on my ass” if I ever come home pregnant. She’s scared. She cries and calls my father when I want to wear a fringed crop top to a party and asks him to explain rape to me. I’m 14.
Age 15. I decide sexuality is a weapon. I’m determined to never let it cut me again. I begin to cut others, instead. I’m called a “tease”, a “slut”, a “whore”. “That’s right,” I respond smugly. Because my body has never belonged to me until now, and I’ll do whatever the fuck I want with it. I let boys who never slept with me say they did and the men I did sleep with I never named. I get called “bitch” a lot.
At 17 I have an abortion. I’m proud of myself because the boy doesn’t want me and I don’t want to be pregnant. He wants me later, though. But when I decide I don’t want him, he accuses me of killing his baby. His baby in my body that he didn’t want. He wants to shame me. I dump him almost immediately.
I was never raped. But I was conditioned to live like rape is my birthright, a right of passage that I can only put off for so long because my body was never truly mine.
That is rape culture.
I’m 42. I’m long past my sell-by date for sexuality in my “culture”, the rape culture that wanted to take my body from me before I understood who I was. My sexuality is no longer a weapon for anyone. All around me, famous men are toppling from pedestals built on false ownership of women’s bodies. And my lumpy, sagging, birth-scarred, worn-out, tattooed, pierced and independent body laughs and laughs.