This blog is a direct response to Rep. Todd Akin’s now famous and memed remarks of 8/19/12 regarding rape and pregnancy:
“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s (pregnancy) really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The ire and attention his comments raised has been called by Republicans: a “reflect and redirect” strategy by Democrats; “instead of focusing on the REAL ISSUES of the election.”
I disagree. I think these ARE (some of) the real issues of this election. Concerns regarding women’s rights and experiences are bubbling to the surface for good reason; they are legitimate and important. For me, personally, “legitimate rape” has been an issue I’ve been exploring for the last decade.
Ten years ago, if you had asked me if I had ever been a victim of rape I would have told you, “No way!” But I know better now.
Perhaps it was the forced sexual encounter I experienced when I was seven years old that colored my later sexual experiences in such a way so as not to understand, to not see that sex should be completely and 100% consensual. Perhaps also, maybe, the ‘date rape education” of the 80s came to me too late. My brain was already filled with images of masked intruders and women screaming “RAPE” at the top of their lungs to understand that there was a gray area of rape. That you could be raped by people you knew. Even people you were attracted to.
How, I wondered, was it rape when I was too embarrassed and humiliated to scream, or to stop him or to interrupt him, or to even utter a word? Back then, in my pre-30 year old brain, it wasn’t rape. It wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t rape. It was just the way things were.
I feel differently now. I feel sex against your will is rape. No matter the circumstances. Do I bear a responsibility in what happened? Yes. Is that man still a rapist? Yes. Was what happened rape? Yes. Absolutely.
I’ve often thought about writing this blog to educate young men on some really simple ways to know if you are raping someone or not. I don’t mean that as snarky as it sounds, for truly I believe, some basic rules of sex might make things clearer to young men, and take the pressure off the scared, confused and insecure girl who wishes she could stand up for herself, rather than just submit, pray it is over soon and go home.
I lost my virginity to a rape. A boy I met at the beach, who I liked a lot, took me into a stranger’s house on the morning of the 2nd day of our acquaintance, and laid me down on a bare mattress. There was some heavy petting that progressed at amazing speed and within what seemed like seconds, he was inside of me. I think asking first is nice. Lesson #1.
The next time was that same destructive summer. On a whim, I allowed myself to be driven by a couple of boys, who I thought I knew well but didn’t, to a town several hours away from my home. When I got to their hometown, the boy I knew better disappeared with his car and his promise to drive me home. His friend invited me to tag along with him to a party. I was hopeless in my despair…how could I have gotten myself in this situation? so I drank quite a bit at the party. I was raped that night by at least 2 different guys. I woke up from my black-out several times in locations inside and outside of the house with some asshole pumping away above me. Lesson #2 – don’t fuck unconscious girls.
The next sexual phase of my life was a good one, with a loving, long-time boyfriend. However, one afternoon while we were expecting his parents to return back to the house, he grew impatient and badgered me for sex. I said no several times but he forced me to have sex with him anyway. This is the only experience of rape I ever accepted as such although it was with my sexual partner. Later that day, he and I talked about it and he took full responsibility for it and apologized. He apologized again when we met up some 20 years later. In fact it was the first thing he said to me. Lesson #3 is a chestnut but still true: No means no.
During my college years at Penn State, there were some loose sexual assaults on campus but nothing that would qualify as rape. The rape during my college years happened during a holiday visit home. I was playing cards with some longtime friends at a stranger’s parents’ house. This stranger who I will call Mike (his real name) and I seemed to be hitting it off while we played poker at a card table in the garage. He was really cute and all that jazz. After everyone left I stayed behind and we finished our beers and then he kissed me while I sat on the washing machine. Before I knew it, my bare back hit cold concrete. I can still vividly remember how my head conked on the stone-hard floor. He used his full weight to keep me pinned and took my jeans and underwear off. I told him no. I told him not yet. I thought about yelling but knew my friends were long gone. I begged him to wait. To slow down. To stop. It stopped soon enough. And he rolled off me, and said thanks, and laughed.
As I raced out of there, I chastised myself for what had happened. For putting myself in that position. For sending the wrong signals. I think now, in my heart, that voice was the abused seven year-old talking who didn’t know any better but to blame herself.
Now I think, I KNOW, I did nothing wrong. I believe with all conviction, that there is not a girl in the world who really wants her first sexual encounter with a man she likes to be on the oily floor of his parents’ garage. Her bare ass frostbite cold on the concrete of an empty house in winter. Lesson #4. No woman wants that.
I did not blame Mike at the time, in fact, I didn’t hardly remember the occurrence, until many years later while swapping stories with a girlfriend. Recounting one story led to another story and another and I realized I had many experiences with rape. All legitimate.
I think we all have something to learn from these experiences. I think it is damn important we do so. By sharing our stories, our fuck-ups, our misjudgments, we can help young men and women sort some of this stuff out, see the gray areas, find their voices, act with respect and patience, and do a lot less hurting of each other and a lot less damage in our culture. And calling a rape a rape is a step in that direction.