This Is How it Happens

Harriet Jacobs at Fugitivus made this pretty awesome post about how most women in our society are socialized, how we’re taught to behave and relate to others in social situations, and how that leads to a culture where way too many women end up getting raped and then blamed for it. I’m going to quote the core list, because it really needs to be spread around, but I encourage you to read her whole post. I had to stop myself from just going on and on and on with the copy hilighting, because it’s all true and it’s all important.

If women are raised being told by parents, teachers, media, peers, and all surrounding social strata that:

* it is not okay to set solid and distinct boundaries and reinforce them immediately and dramatically when crossed (“mean bitch”)
* it is not okay to appear distraught or emotional (“crazy bitch”)
* it is not okay to make personal decisions that the adults or other peers in your life do not agree with, and it is not okay to refuse to explain those decisions to others (“stuck-up bitch”)
* it is not okay to refuse to agree with somebody, over and over and over again (“angry bitch”)
* it is not okay to have (or express) conflicted, fluid, or experimental feelings about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your desires, and your needs (“bitch got daddy issues”)
* it is not okay to use your physical strength (if you have it) to set physical boundaries (“dyke bitch”)
* it is not okay to raise your voice (“shrill bitch”)
* it is not okay to completely and utterly shut down somebody who obviously likes you (“mean dyke/frigid bitch”)

If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.

And we should not be surprised when they behave these ways during attempted or completed rapes.

Most of that crap never took with me. I’ve always been loud and agressive and out there, even as a kid. Most of the times I got punished, it was for something I said rather than something I did. If I didn’t like someone, or what someone was saying or doing, I made it really clear. That made for a lot of awkward social situations. I’ve never been The Popular Girl, never had a lot of boyfriends, never really fit in perfectly with the people around me. But you know what? I’ve never been raped, I’ve never felt unsafe out in public with strangers, even late at night on lonely streets. I know where to draw lines, I know how to say no, I know how to make it clear from the start that I’m not interested in talking to someone. Polite women are the ones who get raped, and I never have been; I can’t regret that. :/

Ironically enough, the only time I’ve ever felt unsafe in that way was at a party at my mom’s house. I was in the kitchen doing dishes and a sort of second-tier family friend (Gusto? I think that was his name) was drunk and insisted on getting close and touching me. He was feeling “friendly” or whatever, and wanted to hug me and press against me. I gritted my teeth and let him have one hug, but he wanted to keep on hugging and after the first one I wasn’t having any. He was sort of a friend, though, and I didn’t want to make a fuss. (Don’t get loud. Don’t set boundaries. Don’t be mean to someone who’s just being friendly.) I was saying no and backing off, but I ended up cornered against the counter with a big wooden meat platter with spikes on it between me and him like a shield, spikes out. He was kind of confused for a minute or three, like he was trying to figure out how to get to me around it, but he finally got a fucking clue and wandered away.

You know, I knew nothing “serious” was going to happen. There were like a dozen people around and I knew I wasn’t actually going to get raped or anything. But it was frightening anyway, and I can’t even really explain why except that this guy I had no interest in whatsoever, even as a friend because he was frankly a creep from pretty much all angles, was trying to touch me and get way more in my space and way more intimate than I wanted to, and I didn’t know how to make him stop without making more of a fuss than would’ve been socially acceptable. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to be groped, but what do you do about it when it’s someone’s friend and you’re right there and there are people around and no one else seems to think anything is wrong? It’s exactly like the paragraph in the post above about the woman at the bus stop who’s being hit on by a guy. My brother Sean was right there and didn’t do anything, didn’t say anything to Gusto, even though he was his friend (I think he was; I know he was the friend of someone in the family, and it wasn’t Mom or me; maybe he started out as a friend of a friend, but he came to our house a few times over the years) and afterward, after Gusto staggered off, when I expressed that that’d been upsetting and kind of scary, Sean was very eyerolly and dismissive. He said that if anything had “really” happened he’d have stopped it, but nothing happened and there was nothing to be upset about. It was just a hug after all, nothing to make a fuss about. He sounded kind of angry, just a little, that I’d even vaguely imply that Gusto might’ve done anything wrong, even though Sean was there pretty much the whole time I was being stalked around the kitchen and trying to fend the guy off with no luck.

But that’s the problem — unless it’s some stranger jumping out from behind a bush to drag a woman into a dark alley and rape her, it doesn’t count. Nothing less than that is worth making a fuss about. And if a woman does make a fuss about something not worth making a fuss about, then you’re back to “Mean bitch,” and “Crazy bitch” and “Stuck-up bitch” etc., all that social pressure to be Nice and to be Polite and to be Ladylike and to not upset anyone, to just put up and deal and smile and pretend it’s all okay, because you’re the woman and that’s your job. I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that if Gusto had tried to stick a hand into my bra or down my pants, Sean would’ve been right there to haul him away and maybe smack him around a bit. But just wanting to hug me, to touch me in a way I didn’t want — that doesn’t count and I had to be pressured into agreeing that it was no big deal. So I’m supposed to be nice and polite and go along when some drunken creep wants to touch me against my will. Keep doing that and eventually you do get raped, and everyone around you is saying, “But you didn’t protest when he groped you!”

And this was ME. Loud, aggressive, social-bull-in-a-china-shop Angie, who (usually) takes no shit from anyone, and still I ended up in a situation where I felt pretty strongly the social pressure to go along, be polite, not cause a fuss in a crowd when some creep was trying to touch me. My fear of the social consequences with my friends and family if I’d shoved him away or cussed him out or raised my voice at him took away effective options, made me seriously afraid because I couldn’t think what to do, and reduced me to a passive defensive action behind a spiked cutting board until the guy trying to grope me gave up and went away. What kind of a chance do normal women have, the ones who’ve actually been successfully socialized in all the nice, polite, ladylike behavior, when some determined, smiling guy wants more than a drunken hug and grope? Not much.

This is why rape happens as often as it does, and this is why so many people jump in to deny that it was “really” rape, because the woman didn’t yell, didn’t punch or kick, didn’t tell him to leave her the fuck alone, didn’t even protest too much when he first groped her. This is how it happens, and this is how it’s dismissed.

Angie, who’s very glad all that quiet-polite-ladylike stuff never really took

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Angela Benedetti lives in Seattle with her husband and a few thousand books. She loves romance for the happy endings, for the affirmation that everyone who's willing to fight for love deserves to get it and be happy with someone. She's best known for her Sentinel series of novels, the most recent of which is Captive Magic.