Mild Trigger Warnings
This blog piece is about rape culture, and I am giving trigger warnings as I am detailing personal experiences which may bring forth memories in others. I’ve been lucky. That’s all it is, luck.
FIRST: It was a lovely evening, a fun night out with a man who I had been interested in for a while. I met him through friends, we’d spent evenings chatting and laughing, I’d known him for some time. He had a good reputation and I felt comfortable with him. I had built up a level of trust and we seemed to have a lot in common. So when he asked me out on a date, I said yes.
We had a laugh and a drink, but neither of us was drunk. I lived in a shared housing facility at the time, and he had visited my flat before as a friend, so I felt safe bringing him home. We had a chat, a bit more of a flirt, things started getting… interesting. He tickled me, which I absolutely hate with a passion and causes reflex actions, kicking and hitting out. I told him to stop, telling him I hated it. He didn’t at first, presumably thinking I was joking, although it became clear I wasn’t.
He said, presumably to put the tickling in perspective, “you know, I could rape you right now and you couldn’t do anything about it”. He said that with a smile on his face, like it was a joke. Those were his exact words. They are seared on my brain. I will never forget them.
I had felt safe. I trusted him. He was close with people I knew very well and felt had good judgement. We seemed to have a lot in common. Yet he felt it was not only appropriate but also funny to make that comment.
I no longer felt safe. I threw him out, and it took a while for me to persuade him to leave, but he did leave. He didn’t, and probably still doesn’t, understand why I did that, or what he did wrong. I was left questioning my judgement, my beliefs, my confidence, and myself.
He perpetuates rape culture. The people I told were shocked, but made excuses for his behaviour, like “he’d been drinking” (well, so had I), “he didn’t mean it” (that doesn’t make the words any less threatening or less likely to instil panic and fear), “it was a joke” (it was not at all funny, I wasn’t laughing, I was scared, rape jokes are not jokes), “he’s just being a lad” (I know many men who do not think that in order to be witty or laddish they need to make jokes about rape to a woman with whom they are on a date and who is alone with them), “he wouldn’t have done it” (how the hell am I supposed to know that? There is no way that they could have known that. Most rapes are committed by people known to the victim).
I did not find it funny. It was not and is not funny. I was alone with a man who was physically dominating me. I was scared. I was threatened. This is rape culture. This is what it does, to all of us.
SECOND: Further back in time. At university, working in the Student Union bar, I was wearing utilitarian clothes and picking up the dirty plastic cups to be washed so that the hordes of young drunken students, or “my peers” as they were otherwise known, could have refills. I was up by the pool table, which at the time was located up a short flight of stairs.
The bar was packed. It was a Friday or Saturday, always popular with the student population eager to let off steam from a heavy week’s study (we did study, whatever the reputation of our lives may have been). I had a large pile of plastic glasses towering above me in my arms. There were some drunken boys playing pool; I’m not even sure they were from the University. They had a quick joke with me. I joked back.
I carried on collecting cups, wending my way through the laughing crowd. The boys at the table continued joking, and one blocked my way. I said “excuse me, please”. He grabbed my nipple and twisted.
I was utterly shocked. I immediately went back behind the bar, to the kitchen where I wouldn’t be seen by anyone. My manager came over, and I told him what had happened. I told my friend who was also working that night. I was near to tears and could not believe what had just occurred. I was in my work place. It was a crowded bar. I was supposed to be safe and protected.
My manager asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want him to throw the boy out? Did I want him to go and talk to him? Did I want the boy to come and apologise to me? What did I want to happen? I was embarrassed, shocked and deeply uncomfortable, I wanted to forget it had happened. I couldn’t decide, but was worried about repercussions. I didn’t want to antagonise, I didn’t want to provoke, I didn’t want to be there or be making decisions, I wanted to not be afraid in my workplace. I said this. It was decided the manager would ‘have a word’. No other action was taken, and the boys remained in the bar.
This was the wrong thing to do. I should not have had to decide what would happen. The boy should have been thrown out immediately. I should not have had the responsibility for the decision put on me. It was a serious action, however jokingly meant. I don’t believe that it was funny, it was an assault and should have been treated as such. However, rape culture is such that the behaviour was excused as a drunken action and the responsibility for the aftermath was put on me. I did not feel safe, and I did not feel supported or protected. I felt guilty for the situation even though I knew then and know now it was not my fault.
THIRD: I was walking down the street, simply minding my own business on the way to the supermarket to get my weekly grocery shop. A car drove past me and a man in the passenger seat hurled abuse, remarking about my size and how ugly I was. He then drove off. I was left feeling completely enraged and utterly devastated at the cruelty. I had little self-esteem, I believed already that I was ugly (this was many years ago, my esteem has risen since then and I am better able to shrug such comments off although such feelings never completely disappear). This was a brutal, nasty verbal attack from complete strangers who felt it was acceptable to abuse a woman on her own. This is what objectifying entitlement does.
These are just three incidents in my life, all of which happened between 9 and 20 years ago. Rape culture is permeating our society to a greater extent now. Objectification of women and the sense of entitlement to sex are both increasing in commonality in our culture. Men are expected to want and have sex, women are still judged if they express their sexuality yet are also expected to be available and acquiescent.
Rape culture is the questioning any victim will face, even from those who believe and support them. What were they wearing? Where were they? Did they flirt? Had they given out mixed or the wrong signals? Did they struggle? Did they fight? Why don’t they have any injuries? Did they change their mind? Did they scream/say no/make it obvious they were not consenting?
Rape culture is the responsibility being put on the victim to prevent rape and sexual assault.
Rape culture is the genderised sexual double standard. Rape culture is the young girls threatened with sexual assault or rape as a matter of course, if they refuse to join gangs. Rape culture is young girls joining in these threats, either out of fear or loyalty to their gangs.
Rape culture is the fetishisation of any person who is not white, heterosexual, cisgender and able-bodied.
Rape culture is walking down the street and knowing that every man one passes has the potential to be a rapist; not that every man is a rapist, but the fear that one might be because that is what the media tells us is the “typical rapist”.
Rape culture is not knowing one is safe. Rape culture is the pressure to be attractive and to please one’s partner above oneself.
Rape culture is the politicising of the female body and the removal of autonomy. It is the empowerment of systemised decision-making and the disempowerment of the individual woman.
Rape culture is the belief that sex is an entitlement, the pressure on men to have sex and women to let them, however they may feel about it.
Rape culture is the permeation of entitlement to voyeuristic pleasure over women’s bodies. It is the sexualisation of the female form, or in the case of homophobic society, the projection of feminisation and eroticising of gay sexuality so both women and gay men become objectified. It is the deriding of fears, it is sex in every part of society.
Rape culture is the lack of freely and mutually given constantly updated informed consent.
So, if you ever wonder what rape culture is, I hope you have a better idea now. Rape culture is what we live in.
EDIT: for a truly harrowing account which is very, very common, and which has inspired many women to stand up to and denounce their attackers and the patriarchal idiocy and oppression that perpetuates rape culture, go here: http://unwinona.tumblr.com/post/30861660109/i-debated-whether-or-not-to-share-this-story