The first thought in my mind, every time that I read about or hear about a rape case, is this: I could
have been be that girl. We all could have been that girl.
The Steubenville case I have sort of followed since Anonymous brought light to it, but in particular since the trial was breaking news in CNN and the horrible, horrible way they covered it and then Fox News and MSNBC aired the name of the victim and then Twitter people decided to send death threats to the victim of rape and then not a single news source but Yahoo! Sports had a decent coverage of the crime and then people on YouTube (why do I read their comments? one of them alluded to me getting myself raped – me, A PERSON ON THE INTERNET – for saying that the victim could drink all she wanted and she still deserved to be respected) were being dickwads too. Then I saw a news article on Facebook about an 11-year-old gang rape victim in Texas, two years ago, who was basically blamed for her rape because she had age-inappropriate clothes. I had to do something with so much powerlessness and anger and sadness and just UGHHHH and so I did what I had to do: I put on some Amanda Palmer piano-ey goodness and cried uncontrollably for a good 10 minutes.
That is not what I wanted to talk about, though, my crying. I am having a grilled-cheese sandwich and a beer right now as I am deconstructing my feelings and thoughts about this case and rape culture and sexism and calming the hell down. I like giving myself time to be angry and sad and outraged, but it is not constructive after a while. Anyhoo.
My personal letter refers to what I said first, that my first thought was that it could have been me, it could have been pretty much anyone in my family or group of friends. Any one of my classmates, or teachers, or neighbors, or blog followers. It could have been Amanda Palmer. It could and can be and might be any one that any one reading this knows or cares or knows about. It could be our future potential daughters or sons on trial, either as victims or perpetrators.
And I don’t mean this in that abstract, trivial way we talk about any crime, “phew! it could have been me”. I mean this in a more concrete way. I mean that it could
have been be my school classmates blaming me for being too drunk, it could have been be my parents doubting me for flirting with guys, it could have been be my “friends” laughing as I lay naked “like a dead body”. It could have been be me having my word questioned on the basis of my sexual choices, on the basis of my drinking habits, on the basis on the clothes I wear, on the basis of the people I hang out with. It could have been be me receiving death threats on the Internet by people I know AND by people that don’t know me but feel so strongly about me being to blame for my own rape that they go on and tweet about it. It could have been be me having my name aired on national television as the girl who was victim of “rape, essentially”. It could have been be me roofied and then called #Alcoholic #Whore. It could have been be me with my life, future sexual, romantic and otherwise relationships, sense of self worth forever ruined or at the very least severely damaged. It could have been be me having to endure the entire Internet being about me, about whether or not I deserved it, whether or not I am a slut, whether or not my rapists deserve a sentence that is not even remotely just. It could have been be me watching as a major news source as CNN sympathizes with my rapists and even hints that I should feel guilty for coming forward and ruining those star football players’ lives. It could be me.
You know how I know it could be me? It is not because my friends are horrible human beings or because my family sucks or because all the men are know are sick in the head or anything.
One basic reason it could be me is covered in this rape mythbusting summary.
The other reason it could be me is that everything I have heard on the news, that I saw on the filming of the trials, that I have read in news articles from CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post even, every tweet I read and every YouTube comment I painfully went through resonates with things I was taught when I was younger. It resonates with comments I have heard before, cautionary tales I have heard before, how-to-not-get-raped bullshit I have heard before.
It could be me because I was always taught all that most girls – and in Latin America, pfffttt even worse – were taught, to the bone. I was told that I should never wear a short skirt so that men do not get “the wrong idea” about me, so that I do not get into “difficult situations”. Meaning that I should not wear short skirts so that men do not assume I am a whore because whores are not raped, they are “convinced”. I was told that I should watch my drinking carefully because drunk girls are seen as easy and “taken advantage of” – another rape-apologist word for rape. I was told to never go out alone because I would give men a reason to harass me – I was literally told that more than once, not joking here or making a vague generalization.
I was even taught specifically to never stay alone in a room with a man, because that evidently led to him thinking I wanted sex. Which is to say, unless there is a concrete wall between you, the answer is “yes”; in other words, he will only stop himself if he is physically separated from you. I was also taught that I should always say no to every man – even the ones I could actually like – because saying yes to more than one guy (meaning, sex before marriage – oh lordy, the blasphemy!) meant I was a slut, and meant my answer was yes to any guy. I was taught not to accept drinks from any men because they might contain drugs. Not once did I hear my father say as much as a – hey, son, when in doubt, DO NOT RAPE. But I did hear a whole lotta “restrain every part of your individuality, femininity, sexuality and sense of worth and ownership of your own body so you don’t get raped”.
It could be me because my family or schooling is not special or unique in what it taught me. Because most people I know – although many have grown and read and learnt and know better – were taught the same things. Because the girls from my high school called (and still call) each other sluts for as little as going from one boyfriend to another in “too little time” (which varied of course depending on how much they liked the girl), or “wearing the wrong kind of clothes”, or “flirting the wrong kind of way”.
Because the men in my community roll their eyes when a woman is drunk and say things like “does she see the kind of message she’s sending?” meaning her drinking is an invitation to her body, usually.
Because consent is not taught well enough, and people I know still go out of their way to distinguish between rape when there is alcohol involved and rape when it is the person’s partner and rape when it is a stranger on a dark alley (the most common stereotype of a rapist, the least common situation of rape) and rape when a woman is flirting but does not want sex, as if they were different degrees of rape. Because most men and women in the community I was raised in still immediately assume that a woman claiming rape in national television must be lying – when it is only 4 to 6% of rape reports that are false.
Because, still today, my biggest fear surrounding vaginismus is that if I tell a guy to stop mid-process because it hurts, he wont: I still hold, somewhere inside my head, the idea that men’s basic mode is ‘rapist’. Because so many women I know still apologize when they need or want to stop, or when they have been flirting but then say no to sex, or when they do not feel in the mood for it and refuse their partners.
Because women still feel the need to resort to refusals such as “I have a boyfriend” in a bar because the threat or the imagined presence of another man is the only thing that will (or might) stop a man from harassing a woman, because a woman’s lack of consent is not enough.
Because Trent Mays apologized for sending pictures of it around, not for the rape. He did not feel the need to even apologize for the crime he committed, because he thinks the “only” (not to minimize it) crime he committed was child pornography. He raped someone and he regrets sending the pictures, because that is what got him caught.
Because a (pardon my language, really, I am trying to be cool) fucking dead-looking pass-out-drunk body of a teenager, captured in pictures, detailed accounts in texts from many young men and women including one which read (I am paraphrasing) that the song of the night was Rape Me by Nirvana – which means the teen sending that text was aware that it was rape what they were doing -, and the testimony of a girl are made accountable by only one and two years respectively, for only two of the approximately 50 high school students that were accomplices of the crime.
It could be me, or you, or any woman or man I know. It could be any one of us because we all (or most of us did, before you get all upset) have drunk while underage, many of us have been drunk, all of us have flirted, all of us have worn something that someone has considered “slutty” (we are all too prude or too slutty to someone, it is called girl-on-girl hate, and slut-shaming and both things suck: stop doing it), all of us have been partying “too hard” according to someone, somewhere. We all have been someplace our parents, or someone, told us not to be, all of us have trusted someone we shouldn’t have at some point in our life. We all have been that girl in Steubenville. Except that not all of our binge drinking and partying and being-a-freaking-normal-teenager-ing has resulted in some assholes raping us and playing with our body as if it was a toy and posting it online and CNN and other news sources being insensitive idiots to us and the whole Internet looking and judging us and our lives being ruined forever.
And if it had been me, or you, or any woman or man, it would not be my or yours or anyone else’s fault either, except the RAPISTS.
Murder–> murderer. Terrorism –> terrorist. Rape–> rapist. Get it?
Grammar makes things so simple for me sometimes.
Let’s create a world in which we never have to be the family of the perpetrators, but not because that would be such a tragedy on their promising careers, but because we taught them better than to treat women like objects to be handled at will.
[When I read about rape cases now, I think, it could be my nephews on the stand. I don’t want them to be those guys, and I will fight like hell so that they are never those guys, so that your nieces wont be those victims. Not the other way around.]
It all starts with us, speaking out, spreading awareness, teaching consent, practicing consent. It starts with us communicating and not being afraid of our sexuality, of our bodies, of ourselves.
Inspired by Tim, my message to you 🙂