By now, you might have read the testimony of a courageous, beautiful woman from California, whose rapist was given merely six months in jail because the judge thought any more time would have “a severe impact” on him. She was raped while unconscious behind a dumpster at Stanford University, and her rapist got away with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist. The rapist’s father, in response to the uproar over the sentencing, spoke about how he doesn’t understand why he would get more punishment than what he was given over “20 minutes of action.”
So many stories like this. So many examples of the way we excuse and cover up and defend rape.
When I was in college, I invited a male friend to come visit me for Homecoming. I proceeded to get drunk out of my mind, thanks to the Long Island Iced Teas they serve at the dive on campus. I spent the car ride back to my apartment babbling incoherently, my head on my male friend’s shoulder as he laughed at my inability to make correct words.
He walked me up to my apartment.
If you stopped reading here because you assumed this is where I tell you the hidden trauma that I was raped in college in order to connect to this young woman out of Stanford, well, no.
That’s not this story.
My male friend hugged me, told me to get some sleep, and left. I don’t remember much about that night, but I remember falling asleep by myself with my clothes still on. I woke up and went to work the next day, hungover, but unraped.
Men: do you see how simple it is, to look at a drunk girl and wonder how you can help, as opposed to how you can hurt?
This is my story. I wish every girl who’s gotten drunk had someone, anyone, take her home and put her into her bed, tell her to take a multivitamin and drink a glass of water, and then get the hell out of there knowing he did the right thing.
We teach men to take. And usually that translates to dominating anything. Or winning as the only thing. Or raping a girl while she’s slumped against a dumpster.
We teach women to take it. Emotional abuse. Physical abuse. Genitalia. Fingers. Etcetera.
The girl from Stanford didn’t deserve it. She didn’t “want it.” And it certainly wasn’t “20 minutes of action.” She was a girl. A girl who decided to have a great time, got drunk, and got raped. As 1 in 5 girls and women are.
If I might address the rapist directly here – you raped her because in the moments she fluttered between asleep and awake she was yours to take. Who needs yes, when you have a body. Who needs stop, when a body is pliant, forced. Unconscious. Who needs a conscience when you can just…take.
I’m not even going to address you by name. You lost that right when you pushed your body parts into a woman you didn’t even know. To me, you shouldn’t exist. But here you are. And we are supposed to feel bad for YOU because you might have a damaged future all because you raped a girl next to a dumpster, like she was less than an animal. Like she was trash.
I wish I could say I’m one of the lucky souls who has never been touched or grabbed inappropriately. But I’m a woman. My body is up for literal grabs and I’m supposed to just take it. I’m supposed to be flattered by it. To want more.
When I was fifteen I was admiring some paintings on a wall at a high school dance when a man came up behind me and palmed my rear end like he was weighing fruit at the grocery store. It lasted for two seconds. Maybe less. I didn’t go to another dance that entire year. I missed out on first thrills that might have been innocently delicious, because I was terrified I would be asking for it by simply standing still and looking at a painting.
Two weeks ago, I went for a walk in the beautiful late spring that only Connecticut provides and a twelve year old on a bike pinched my ass, shouted “MAMA” and rode off after his friends. I was wearing headphones. I beat myself up for two hours afterward, thinking it could have been avoided if my ears were clear and I could hear anybody near me. The other day, I went for another walk, and felt my entire body tense up when I heard a biker behind me. Is this how it’s going to be forever, because of some child with a mouth and dirty hands?
I talked about it with male friends who told me they couldn’t believe how some men and boys can act. You can’t believe it? I can. Be a woman for five minutes and experience the almost banality of that daily fear.
I am statistically lucky that I’ve never been raped. Three of my girlfriends have been. I’ve only found out years after the fact and their stories of utter numbness, of the body’s urge to freeze in order to save itself from death, make me want to punch a wall.
I am statistically lucky that a few years ago, my boyfriend was drunk enough to put his hands on me but not drunk enough to keep going when I told him to stop. He was bigger than me, and stronger than me, and he had made lascivious jokes in the past that if he really wanted to pin me down, he could. At the time, those jokes were consensual and I kind of liked them. I’m a type A personality most of the time, so being slightly submissive interests me as a game.
It all stopped being funny, suddenly. As he thrust himself onto me I thought about those jokes, and I knew his strength, knew the breadth and size of him. My brain quickly flashed upon the fear “oh my god, if he doesn’t want to stop, he could just…have me.” For a split second, long enough to make the fear hit me in the gut, I had to imagine if I was moments away from getting raped by someone I loved because he was drunk and strong and I was sober and smaller and I couldn’t stop him even if I tried, if he had it in his mind to conquer me.
That thought made something stir in me that I think is reserved for when wild animals protect their young. I pressed my hands to the sides of his face, shook it, hissed into his mouth that tasted of hoppy beer, “STOP RIGHT NOW.”
I am lucky he stopped. So many men don’t stop.
A few weeks ago I was invited to a Rape Prevention seminar at my local police department. I thought it was a wonderful idea, until I found out the seminar was women-only. With respect – we aren’t the ones who need to discuss how to prevent rape. I’ve been told everything in the book about what not to wear in public or what not to drink or to watch my glass. I’ve been groped while wearing sweatpants and unshaven legs. It doesn’t matter what we do, sometimes.
I think of bringing children into this type of world and it makes my throat ache with nausea. I think of giving my body to another man and I burn with fear that one night I will trust too much, that someone will push me and I will be forced to take it to protect myself.
Thankfully, there are so many more ways we can protest this kind of behavior. The reactions to the girl’s letter have been heartening. I hope it’s taught in classes as an example of rape testimony. I hope girls hear it and feel for her. But I mainly want men to hear it. To hear what it feels like to have the only emotion in your head be fear. To feel completely powerless by someone who just wants to take.
We are tired of it. We are not going away. We are fighting back.
You will just have to take it.