I rarely ever write this personally. But okay.
When I was four, a kid in my neighbourhood took me into his room and pulled down my pants (twice) when I went over to play. I went home, told my mom, and she walked right over to that neighbour’s house, where she and that kid’s mom raised all kinds of hell, and that boy apologized and received a yelling mixed with a grounding mixed with a “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU” unlike none he had ever known. (Yet in high school he still went around telling everyone about it — which, frankly, is really fucked up.)
When I was five, a boy named Daniel ran up to me and kissed me in line at school, and I hit him. Later that year, a kid named Dennis reached across the floor and grabbed me when we were working on art. Again, I told my parents, and they, together with my teacher, continued the hell raising of a year before. No “boys will be boys,” just pure, “DENNIS, WHAT THE FUCK. NO.” The only thing *I* was told that if someone ever did that again, to tell somebody right away — and more hell-raising would ensue.
I was in grade eight when I went to confession and asked a visiting priest — who I’ve not seen since — what constituted as sex and what did not, and he responded with “Now Anne, I had a boner when you asked those questions, so you need to be careful what you say to boys because your words can make them uncomfortable." Gross. But also hilarious, if only for the use of the word "boner."
In grade 12, I worked at a radio station where a DJ asked me repeatedly why girls my age liked giving blow jobs, but not having sex. Where he would come up from behind and start touching my shoulders, and where he’d poke my stomach and say “it’s great that girls your size aren’t ashamed of showing their bodies.” He was going to make me his “assistant” until another DJ (who I will always be grateful to) warned me against it: he had a history of making his “assistants” look up porn, and yes, the station manager knew, but didn’t care. So she told me to quit and to be “the little co-op that could.” So I did, and I helped get him fired, and my co-op teacher probably had never felt so bad for putting anyone in a position like that, ever. (Even though he had no idea.)
Throughout high school, I can’t count how many guys told me not to be a tease, or to dress sexier, and that if I did, good, and also, if we hooked up not to say anything because other girls they were hooking up with would find out, or they were embarrassed. I can’t count the number of times I was inappropriately touched or groped or told it was a compliment to be cat-called. And at the time, I believed that it was, because if men didn’t want me like that, who would want me for anything?
At 17, a guy I worked with told me he liked my nail polish because it made me “look slutty.” The same age, I had 30-year-old guys commenting on my sex life (or lack thereof), and I won’t tell you what they said about the other girls and the nicknames they had for any them.
I also won’t tell you about friends who were assaulted, or friends who were nearly assaulted, or friends who were shamed into doing stuff they weren’t comfortable with, or friends who’ve been drugged. Even now, I have conversations with friends who worry about what “guys expect” even though I am 100% sure never once did we sign contracts that made us indentured anythings. From what I understand, we’re all human beings, and human beings are equals. Except, thanks to rape culture, we’re not.
The fact that my first incidence of being sexualized was when I was four tells us something about our society. In my case, I’ve been lucky to be raised by staunch feminists, but even with my dad and mom’s messages of “YOU DO YOU, GIRL,” I was still smothered by the rape culture that dictates our social values. It took me until I was 25 to really embrace that I didn’t “deserve” anything, and it took me until much more recently to believe it.
Rape culture pits us against each other. But the thing is, some of the most outspoken and disgusted people about the Steubenville trial have been men I look up to and men I am friends with. The women? Well, we’re tough broads — we have to be. The fact that we live under constant threat of sexual harassment/assault/attack gives you a thick skin. Strength and banding together is necessary — we get it, because we don’t have a choice.
Still, men aren’t the enemy — not even close. Even as I write about the years of feeling like shit at the hands of some guys, I know there are so many more who are decent, amazing, wonderful, my future husband (shout-out to Benedict Cumberbatch, if you’re reading this). Our friends, our family, our boyfriends/husbands.
No, the enemy is rape culture. Which makes fuckers seem like the majority, and works to excuse those fuckers because “men have no control over themselves.” That’s unfair, and it’s not true, and it gloriously fucked up. But if it keeps being ingrained into the minds of everyone via the media (here’s looking at you, CNN!), women will be stuck explaining how we were not asking for it, and men will be painted as tortured, fallen heroes just following their instincts.
We’re more than playthings and animals. We have brains, and we have hearts, and we are human beings. Like you, the Steubenville case broke mine, but it also enraged me. And the only way we’ll break free from rape culture is if we finally demand it be torn down. Like someone once said to me, “help through your gifts.” So help through your gifts. And refuse to bow down to it. And refuse to laugh at it. And refuse to excuse it. And refuse to stay silent when it’s happening around you.
We have a chance to not only demand change, but to see it happen. We are seeing it right now. But we are also seeing the fuckers rise up to blame the victim and mourn lost football careers. So even though change is a-brewing, we have a long way to go. But we’re tough broads (this includes you, guys who crave change). We can handle it.
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