“[…] And these notions of masculinity that you have a right to a woman’s body…that women are of less value and that you have a privilege, that’s almost a birthright.”
I heard these words on the radio, and couldn’t help but nod. Ah, yes… Spoken straight from the horses’s mouth. Today’s episode of CBC’s Out in the Open was about different aspects and forms of consent. At least this guy knew enough to put words to the behaviour that so many do, but can’t necessarily identify why.
After I left the lion, I lived with my friend, Kei, for 2.5 months. She is now the standard to which I measure the quality (and depth) of friendships. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to her for everything she has done and continues to do for me.
She asked me one day, “Did he ever rape you?”
I looked at her from the adjoining room, somewhat surprised by the question. “Uhh, I don’t know” was all I could say.
“If it’s not a clear ‘no’, then it’s a ‘yes’.” She always has the best answers.
I’d been sexually assaulted more than once, by guys I called friends. I’d never done anything about it though, for multiple reasons: cultural norms and expectations, victim blaming, lack of self-confidence, embarrassment, not wanting to cause any ‘disruption’. I usually pretended nothing happened and moved on with life.
After being with the lion though, I couldn’t just move on. As what happened sunk in, I lost interest in and felt disgusted by anything sexual – jokes, TV/movie scenes, even being touched by any male creature (and this included pet dogs for a while). I was afraid of all men, until finally, I was able to be okay around men who were very obviously in love and devoted their parters. After that, my ‘safe’ male group started to include men who I’d known for a very long time. Their behaviour had established a reputation I deemed as safe. And finally, guys who were very obviously not interested in me for any reason became okay too. It went in this order, and it took time.
Even now, men who are interested in me, and men who try to touch me are automatically labelled as dangerous. Don’t touch me, don’t step into my bubble, don’t stand behind me. I constantly test them (even if they don’t know it). I watch their movements. I listen to their words. I watch their reactions. How do I know they’re not suddenly going to put their arm around my shoulder? Try to hug me? Try to grab any part of my body? I don’t know, that’s the thing. And that’s why I don’t trust them, that’s why I keep my distance, that’s why I cover up, that’s why I don’t want any curves. If only my body was just a rectangle with a head, arms and legs…
Kei and I talked after I gave her that answer. I told her what had happened on that one occasion that stood out the most. I actually looked up the definition of rape too, and that’s when I realized, “Oh, okay, yeah. I am a rape survivor… hm”. It’s a label I don’t like, and I still struggle with it. Just because you’re in a relationship, or just because you’re living with your partner doesn’t automatically mean it’s always an active, enthusiastic ‘yes’.
I’ve had to read about rape, sexual assault and harassment, to help myself understand, and to make up for the lack of open discussion I’ve had with anyone, really. One main reason it happens is power and control, but there’s no harm in learning more.
The guy being interviewed on the radio owned up to what he did. I wonder how often that happens. I want to call him ‘brave’, but what he did should be normal.
Jian Ghomeshi. Brock Turner. These are just two cases that were on the news as I was grappling with my own situation. It made me sick. It made me shake. It made me rage. I had no words to describe the fire in me that burned with disgust and hate, not only for the assault itself, but for the people who tried to protect them and lessen the severity of their behaviour, their ideology… Our society.
“[…] I don’t know where to start. When I saw your name in my inbox, my spine went cold […]”, he said through the radio. I’ll be reading their book, South of Forgiveness, soon enough.
Please, take some time to check out the links. It could help you protect a loved one. It could help you protect someone, anyone, perhaps even yourself.