Warning: The following contains rape, slavery, and squicky violence. It also contains my personal account of some of the above. If you’re deeply troubled by any of that, you’re free not to read on.
The nameless Delhi Gang Rape Victim died in a Singapore hospital yesterday. This was after having multiple operations in India to remove almost all of her intestines after she was horrifically beaten, tortured, and raped in a moving bus by six men. In spite of her surgeries, the infection spread and with it protests in the streets. Even if she’d survived, she would have needed multiple organ transplants to survive.
Let’s reflect for a moment on the trauma necessary to kill a person like this. Sip a cup of coffee or something and really dwell on the pain and what kind of mindset a person would have to be in to inflict that on another person.
Is there any wonder so many Indians are upset? Men are shouting, “I am not a rapist!” Women are carrying signs saying, “Don’t tell me what to wear or who I can be with.” And everywhere eyes are turning to a complacent police force all too at ease with turning a blind eye to rapes of women of traditionally lower status. Some comments on Indian news sites suggest rapes like this happen all the time to lower class women, and that the only reason this case is getting so much attention is because the victim was “blameless,” a hard-working young student from a middle class family out to see a movie with her male friend.
The rapists said they would “teach her a lesson” for being out late with a man.
And now she is dead.
India is not a bad country. India’s people are not bad people. In the same way, Americans are not bad people, even though we have our share of horrific rapes, most of which you haven’t heard about because the victims are “lower class”–poor, non-white, whatever doesn’t make viewers tear up like a school full of dead white children. Here I cast a stone at the media as well as its consumers, both of which are decidedly not colorblind when it comes to sympathizing with victims.
The problem stems from a deeply ingrained sense of entitlement to “lower women’s” bodies, something that probably flourished under the (now legally abolished but still locally observed) caste system. Similar systems have existed in the west, most notably the class system of England, which at one point in time condoned the right of a nobleman to sleep with the wives of his peasants on their wedding nights (see also “The Marriage of Figaro”). And in America we had slavery, where it was common practice for slave owners to rape their slaves. Even our president Thomas Jefferson sired an entire black family.
This is thousands of years of institutionalized rape culture condoned by religion, nobility, and neighbors. You think it just disappears in a few decades of feminism? Do you think it will ever disappear? I honestly don’t know anymore. I’ve tried to imagine a world where no one ever is raped. But I just can’t see it. Surely if we could instill this sort of respect for others’ bodies in an entire culture, slavery and rape would have been unheard of in at least one Great Civilization.
It all leads me to think that the good things I have now are actually just a high point made possible by abundant resources, and that as soon as they dry up, I’ll be herded back into some cave to be raped until I’m made pregnant. (There are some people out there who still think this is an acceptable existence for another human being.)
Even if we had a 0% occurrence of rape in this country, women still would not be safe traveling abroad. I would love to travel the world, but I cannot for fear of what should happen to me if I fell into a bad scrape. I cannot visit the same places my male colleagues could. Essentially, I and all other women on this planet live in a walled garden limited by our age, rank, and language. Step out of line and… there are wolves in the walls.
What can I do?
What can I do?
There are millions of good, respectful men in the world, and they did not do this. But all it took was six bad men to terrify and enrage us all.
What can I do?
It will only happen again. News reports of follow-on rapes and enslavement are cropping up all over as the awareness moves outward. Every 18 hours a woman is raped in Delhi. Every 5 minutes, 9 women are raped in America.
What can I do?
I really only know how to do one thing well: tell stories. So all I can do right now is tell my story. Another has come forward about her experiences, and I feel this is the best time to do it. And I will do it now, not in an attempt to earn your sympathy–indeed, I need none. These events shaped my life into the pinnacle of comfort that it is today. But I share this with you to show you that rape really is everywhere. If you yourself have not been raped, then you know someone who has been. They just haven’t told you their story. They’re afraid to. We all have our reasons to be afraid.
But this is the only thing I can do.
Try to imagine the most socially awkward geek you’ve ever met, the kind that lives in their parent’s basement till they turn 23. Now put them into a very attractive woman’s body and send them out into the world to find a real life and career. Then take away any family or lifeline this person could have, surround them with strangers, and give them a very tenuous, paltry freelance income. That was me around five years ago.
I was raped twice by two different men in the span of six months. I had just moved out on my own after twelve years spent in rural isolation. I’d been home-schooled, so I didn’t have much street sense, and I didn’t know how to set personal boundaries. I knew how to say, “I do not want this,” but I had no idea when to say it or how to back it up. What’s more, I had no idea that my protests could be so staunchly ignored.
We tend to think of rape as an act of violence or control, an act that leaves a woman with marks or sends her to a hospital. But so often it happens when a woman is put in a place she cannot get out of, and when she most needs another human being to exhibit self-control, compassion, empathy, these things we pride ourselves on as a species, she cannot find them in the person who, in her state of helplessness, where all she can do is but ask them to “please stop,” proceeds to inflict their will upon her and force her submission.
“Pushy old men.” “Men who don’t take no for an answer.” It’s amazing to me that another human can want something so much that they can totally push aside another human’s will. That they can say, “Eh, this person doesn’t like what I’m doing. But to hell with it, I’ll do it anyway!” Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. We do it to each other all the time, stealing, tricking, steam-rolling our way to what we want, to hell with other people. Should we not get our way, it’s because everyone else is to blame, and we throw a tantrum like a child denied candy. Should sex be any different?
The second time I was raped, it was by an ex-boyfriend. He was jilted. I didn’t know how to say, “This is not friendly behavior. We can’t be friends if you’re going to act like this.” And boom, before you know it, he was prying me off the door frame to my bedroom I was barring him from entering. I was so scared. He was very big and had a lot of sway in the tiny social circle I had finally worked my way into–largely because of him. I really felt like at any moment he would come back to finish what he’d started.
At first everyone in the circle was supportive of me. But he’d been their friend longer than I had, and I was the Weird New Girl. He was quickly re-embraced and the whole thing was swept aside… as was I. How can you go to a party, to a café, to a meetup, to hang out with your friends, knowing you will have to sit across the table from the man who “wouldn’t take no for an answer?” I couldn’t, and my human contact shrank for it.
What should have been a time of learning and new experiences in a beautiful city was marred by things I could not tell people about freely. When I awkwardly tried to discuss these events with friends, I was often met with, “Some guys think that’s teasing,” and, “Well, that could have been leading him on…” and, “He was a really nice guy and did so much for you.” If it were not for my Best and Closest Friend on the other end of the phone in California reminding me, “No means no, Rachel. You told him to stop, and he didn’t. That is rape,” I think I would have gone crazy with guilt and shame, thinking I was the one who had brought this terrible thing upon myself.
I didn’t go to the police in either case. For one, I was having trouble processing what was happening. “Was that rape? But he didn’t hurt me. And it felt good, even though I didn’t want it and told him to stop.” For another, it would be he-said-she-said, and nothing would change. What had happened wouldn’t un-happen. It wouldn’t stop him from doing it again to another person. I think the social group would have had a better chance of stopping that from happening than any litigation, but we reabsorb our friends so quickly, no matter the offense.
Thankfully, at this point my story changed for the better. I switched industries, started dating someone new (the Second Nicest Man in Comics and my future husband), and moved to Raleigh to be with him. I don’t keep in touch with any of those people. I have turned down projects that could trace their way back to that group. If any of them read this, they’d know who I’m talking about. The idea is squicky for me.
We call this crap “date rape,” but that’s not what it is. I wasn’t on a “date” with either or those guys. It was “casual rape.” It didn’t leave a mark on my skin, I didn’t scream or call the police. It was like the guy went out for milk and had some rape on the way. That is what this is. It’s not violent, it’s not always tragic, it’s just the quiet forced submission of a woman to another’s will.
And it has happened to someone you know, probably to someone close to you. Someone you love has probably gone through this. But they aren’t telling.
I’m sharing this because I think one of the few things left that I can do, as a woman, to stop these horrors from happening is to reveal to everyone that rape victims are not always dead bodies in the news or “those slutty teens who had it coming.” Rape victims are normal, hard-working, good women–one in four of them in this country. Women who didn’t want what they got.
I will leave you with one more story.
When I was about 20 I went to my first and last Dragon Con. There were tubular glass elevators in my hotel. I got into one of them with another young lady in ridiculously tiny skirt. I was in a corset and tights myself, but her skimpy costume raised even my eyebrows. I was a very harsh critic of other women’s fashion at the time. When we arrived at the lobby, she was distressed to find out that a group of men at the base of the elevator had been taking pictures of her thong under her skirt as the elevator came down. I shrugged at her and said, “Wearing that, you got what you deserved.”
Looking back, I’m not proud of what I said or felt. Try replacing “deserved” with any other word or phrase to make the statement mean the same thing.
“Wearing that, people should be allowed to take pictures of your underwear.”
“Wearing that, you shouldn’t care what people do with your body.”
“Wearing that, you give people liberty to do such things.”
Do you see how ugly and wrong all of those are? “Deserve” is one of the worst words I have ever used. Truly I did not “deserve” to have a man put his penis inside me because I shared a drink with him anymore than this young woman “deserved” to have her underwear photographed without her consent. Who cares why she dressed that way or why I had a drink. It’s not anyone’s business. But the victim-blaming reaction to both stresses the core problem with so much that I loathe about people:
Deep and abiding disrespect for one another.
I disrespected her without even knowing her. I had no right to pass judgment on another human being, especially not for something as superficial as her choice of clothes. People in this country disrespect each other’s views so much they won’t even listen to someone who doesn’t agree with them. We all put our faces in a corner and refuse to talk to anyone who doesn’t see things our way. We think we know everyone, that we understand their hearts, and yet we know nothing and assume everything. We barely understand ourselves.
We are all ignorant fucks who play lame judgement games with each other to bolster our own opinions and social rankings. And we should all be ashamed.
Every day I try hard to understand other people. Not just to decode the words coming out of their mouths, but to really understand where they’re coming from, the thoughts and emotions that guide their thinking and decision-making. I want a deeper empathy and understanding of my fellow-man. I try to understand people who aren’t like me the most because I think they have the most to teach me.
By sharing this story, I hope I’m helping someone who isn’t like me understand what it’s like to have been me. I hope that other rape victims will come forward, fearless, and explain what has happened to them, not because we want pity, but because we want a greater awareness and understanding. This is everywhere. And not all rape victims define themselves as Rape Victims. A lot of us define ourselves as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, aunts, authors, and even coders.
Thank you for listening to my stories.
Note: Comments are disabled because at best I’d get sympathy, at worst I’d get trolled. Avoiding judgemental freaks is my priority. If you want to discuss it with others, which I encourage you to do, you’re free to link to this post and discuss it using whatever social stream you love most.