Sometimes I feel like I’m a creature of two very separate and opposing worlds. My childhood influences were mostly conservative -vacations and road trips were taken to the sound of Rush Limbaugh on the radio. When I was old enough to question the difference between democrats and republicans, I nearly got whiplash from my dad’s venomous description of democrats as bureaurocrats who wanted big government to control everything and take all his money (and give it to lazy people). The term “Femi-nazi” was a part of my lexicon early on -even after I started to pull away from the limited political perspective that carried me into my early 20’s.
I’ve got a strong personality, and for most of my life I have believed that my freedom was just as absolute as everyone else’s. Whining about oppression has always been a pet-peeve of mine, as a child of the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality I’ve never believed there was anything I couldn’t do. I know that I am capable of many things, and up until now I’ve believed that as long as I kept on truckin’ I’d be able to do anything I set my mind to. Gender equality was, quite literally, a joke in my household growing up. Sexuality was completely taboo as a topic of discussion, and I was sent off to church Sunday mornings (while my parents went to breakfast) in order that I be programmed with a biblical sense of morality by people my parents would rather not socialize with.
Feminism especially has been veiled in mystery for me -on the one hand I am a woman and like most have experienced sexist treatment. I’ve been denied employment specifically because I was a woman (“the guys won’t get anything done if we put a girl back there”) and I’ve been under-estimated more times than I can count. I am often given more credit than the more lithe members of my gender… but still there are times when the lack of a penis has cast me in a less capable light than, say, the drunk guy next to me (who has a penis) or the teenager with zero work ethic (who also has a penis). I have earned less than the men around me all my life -but since pay rates are also not appropriate to discuss in most employment situations, that rarely has seemed an issue.
In my early 30’s I am finally beginning to admit to myself the limitations that so many of my counterparts bemoan are not just in their imaginations. I’ve been affected by discrimination, and I’ve seen women abused physically, sexually or both by men they trust. Life experience being what it is, some of my own past beliefs are called into question as I acknowledge the truths that were so clouded by my unwillingness to play the “victim card” in the past.
As for my own experiences -I’ve come to terms with the bad decisions I made in the past. Whether it was the decision to stay when I should walk away, to fight when I should run, or to hold still until he’s finished and I can sneak away home and scold myself because I hadn’t said “no” emphatically enough to be believed. I consented by not drawing blood in the struggle. I have weighed the social discomfort of a violent reaction against the physical discomfort of a sexual act I did not want to participate in, and I accept the consequences. It happens to women all over this country, every day. Some are luckier than others, and end up with only a wounded spirit.
Eventually, I lost myself in the confusion caused by my own insecurity -I should be grateful that he wants me badly enough to force me, right? It becomes a self-perpetuating nightmare for a girl with a self-image low enough. That’s why the lower your confidence sinks, the more likely a target you become. Somehow you begin to justify the act, perhaps it even becomes a psychological sticking point for future dysfunctions; you start to believe you want it that way.
My own unhappy encounters are written and filed away for good, no going back and no changing them. I’m happily married now, and grateful to have an understanding husband who has yet to run screaming from me when I’m at my emotional worst. All I can do now is look within and try to understand why I did or didn’t react the way I should have. For the sake of others in these situations, I’d really like to shed some light on an issue that gives pretty much every one the heebie jeebies. Most especially, I’d like to be a voice of reason for all the men out there who have been taught that life is about taking what you want -no matter the effect it has on others and women who are programmed as girls to be accessible and non-combative.
Pressuring a woman to have sex with you is not rape. If the conservative right gets it’s way in the future of legislation in this country, raping a woman won’t even be rape unless they somehow classify it as “violent”. I’m not sure what good it does for humanity to draw a line between violently entering someone’s body against their will and non-violently entering someone’s body against their will -but I’m sure they have a plan for that. My guess is that it involves a whole lot of not talking about it on everyone’s part. My response to that is this blog, a testament to my complete and total opposition to conservative gag-order on women’s issues.
Let’s just take for granted that men, in general, do not want to be rapists. Part of the reason so many men resent feminism and discussions about the history of global oppression of women is because as individuals they do not seek to oppress us. Their knee-jerk reaction is to get angry and defensive, because they can’t really relate to the oppressors in the scenario. Men aren’t the enemy, and most of the guys in our lives would be upset if they knew just how many of the women they care about have been forced or pressured into doing things we didn’t want to do. Your mother, sister, or daughter may already have been a victim of discrimination, harassment or sexual assault -but most of them aren’t going to tell you that, because you’d get very upset. It is both a trained behavior and a survival instinct in us to avoid truly unseating a man’s comfort level that way. Unfortunately, there’s an elephant in the room and it’s not going anywhere just because we ignore it.
So let’s just be open and honest about what we want, what we don’t want, and how best to avoid finding out ten years down the road that you are the nightmare in someone else’s sexual development. Please take “no” for an answer, and never assume that it’s easier to go along with something you really don’t want. It only gets worse as you constantly go over what you could have done differently -for both sides of the issue.