On Rape Culture and Entitlement Society
WARNING: trigger topics of rape and sexual assault
I remember when I was about 20, I moved out of my parents’ house and in with a couple guy friends of mine in Lowell. Until then, I’d always lived in the smaller city of Nashua and was really excited to be out on my own, in a large city, living the grown up life. (Ah, if only I could go back and smack myself for growing up too fast…) When I sat down to tell my parents, detailing out my paycheck vs amount of bills and how I knew I would be okay, my mother asked me a question that I had not expected.
It wasn’t, “What if you get laid off and can’t afford the apartment anymore?”
Nor was it, “What happens if you get hurt or sick and you’re all alone and I can’t get to you?”
No. Instead, her first response was this:
“What if something bad happens? Say your friends are having a party and some guy sneaks into your room and tries to rape you but no one hears because the music is loud?”
I wasn’t prepared for a question like that, so I think I brushed it off with something like, “My friends wouldn’t do that,” but the fact remains that to this day, the memory of her asking me that particular question has stuck with me.
Girls are raised to live in fear. Its a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless. While boys are encouraged to strike out on their own, take risks, and be independent, girls are warned that being along can be dangerous, to avoid making oneself a target, and that ultimately, we can’t trust anyone. It’s awful but it’s true; every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in this country, and more than half of the assailants are people the victim knows. With these numbers, of course girls are going to live in fear!
And then we grow up and think, “Oh, it can’t be that bad,” but the reality is sometimes it can be scary to be a girl and be alone in the world. I don’t have a car and rely on public transportation, and there have been a few times I’ve walked to the bus only to be heckled from a passing car. Just last night, in fact, walking home from the bar, two guys in a large truck yelled out the windows as they passed – and I was walking with my husband. These are just drive-bys, thankfully, but there are scarier scenarios that happen every day – like this post from Caitlin over at Fit and Feminist about a creepy guy on a motorcycle that slowly tailed her for 2 miles out of a public park.
Caitlin acknowledges in the post that it could very well have been her imagination making her think things were worse/creepier than they actually were – but then some friends agreed with her that, yeah, that was scary. And I agree with her. It’s scary when you know someone is following you but you don’t know why. Especially when you happen to be a girl. True intentions be damned; every second that guy was following her, somewhere in the back of her mind, she was worried she was about to be raped. Every second for five agonizing minutes. Regardless of whether the guy was harmless, regardless of whether he was just appreciating her ass or thinking he was complimenting her. My favorite line from her piece is where she plainly states, “Because at that point, it’s no longer about admiring someone you find attractive and it becomes almost entirely about making sure the person you find attractive is aware of and affected by your existence.”
A lot of men, and some women, give us crap when women and feminists speak out about situations like this. “Oh, it’s harmless flattery.” “You’re overreacting.” But are we? A friend confided in me a few years ago that when she was a little girl, back in a time when kids could walk the streets and parents didn’t worry, she was riding her bike and an older guy knocked her off and dragged her into a nearby graveyard. She assumed the worst – and rightfully so – until another neighborhood boy heard her screaming and ran to help. Nothing happened to her, thankfully, but that story has always stuck with me. Before that, she had always seemed like a strong, independent woman who would never take crap from anyone – someone this situation would never happen to. Like we all think, “It’s terrible that happens, but it would never happen to me.” I don’t think less of her, but it scares me that it happened to her. It can happen to any one of us.
It’s terrifying to think I may have a baby girl one day. How do I raise her to be strong and aware and ambitious while tempering her with warnings of “Don’t get raped”? Because that’s what we teach our children. Girls hear, “Don’t get raped.” We don’t tell our boys to not rape. There’s an awful culture of victim-blaming in this country, but its hard to break out of on an individual level when you just want your little girl to be safe. It’s hard to come up with solutions that we can do every day that affect the grander scale.
That’s why I’m so glad that organizations like RAINN exist. The Rape, Abuse, & Incent National Network is CONSTANTLY working to make sure people have accurate information and ways to get help and report abuse. It’s a step in the right direction in an age where our politicians are lacking a basic understanding of science.
Thinking about last night, and every other time I’ve been yelled at while walking down the street, my first instinct is always to yell back. Say something rude, swear at the guy, throw up my middle finger. But that’s not really helpful, is it? Using anger and violence to fight a culture of anger and violence is just perpetuating the situation. We need to think more creatively about ways to handle a culture of rape, violence, and intrusion. Teaching our kids the right messages is a start, but I believe (and will always believe) that education is the right way to go. I know it’s not feasible to walk down the street with a sign that says , “Think about WHY you catcall!” to flash every time take the bus, but part of me wants to. So here’s a challenge: next time you see someone contributing to a culture of sexual violence, stop the situation by asking the perpetrator “WHY are you doing/say/acting like that?” And don’t let them weasel out of a response. Start a conversation. Think of some root causes. Educate people to be more aware of their actions. It’s only a step, but its a necessary one.
Have you ever been heckled or stalked while out in public? How did you handle the situation?
- Rape Culture and the Ignorance of Society (lifeasayorkulion.wordpress.com)
- Study finds 98% of India rape victims knew their attacker. (indianhomemaker.wordpress.com)
- Game, Set, Fail Serena Williams. (totalbullshitblog.wordpress.com)