Rape Culture, or The Choice of Men
Was it attempted rape? I’ll never know. The last night I was with him was confusing. We were lying in his bed naked in his fancy house in Marina del Rey. I had gone hiking that day and was sore, but had a fun night with him anyway. He had even said, “I love you” to me two hours earlier, an unexpected admission. Now it was 2 a.m., and he was anxious to have sex with me again.
“No,” I said. We already had sex multiple times that night. “I can’t again. I need to sleep.”
And he kept trying to move my body. I kept saying no. And his hands got stronger. I kept saying no louder. Finally, I got fierce, gathered my strength and threw him off of me, my voice tense.
“I swear to G-d if you don’t stop forcing me, I will leave this house right now,” I said angrily.
His body paused and he relented, cuddling me and allowing me to rest. I left the next morning, never to see him again. This was a very different scenario than two years before. At that time I was with a different guy and during the act, I told him to stop what he was doing because it was getting painful, saying no as he held me down and kept going. I tried to force him off but I couldn’t. I bled for two days afterwards.
This is sometimes our reality as women. The fact that I don’t consider myself a rape victim, even though both of these scenarios could potentially be categorized that way, is part of the problem.
Since the Isla Vista shootings, rape and sexual assault have become hot topics. And as we as women have gotten louder, others have become more ignorant, which is usually louder than any truth we can throw because idiocy is easier to digest.
Rape has been a part of women’s lives for centuries. It has been documented time and again in stories of war and takeover. It’s even in the fabric of religion: Judaism runs through the mother not because of a woman’s spiritual plane, but because of necessity. During biblical times Jewish women got raped so frequently that the only way to tell if the child was Jewish was by who the child was born to. Even in times where women weren’t as sexually liberated as we are now, rape has been a part of our stories.
As we became vocal about the attacks with the rise of feminism, so did the defense of it, looking to find something else to blame. The clothes. The college system. The drinking. Our sexual liberation. The “boys will be boys” motto. Anything except for the truth: Rape can’t happen without at least one person taking advantage of another. And despite gray areas, it is very, very real.
It’s anonymous yet at the same time everywhere. As a journalist, I was trained in college never to mention a rape or sexual assault victim by name, yet I was in The Vagina Monologues with a girl who was assaulted on campus and told her story during the show. I can name at least three friends off the top of my head that have been subject to rape, whether by an intimate partner or a casual acquaintance, and I suspect that’s only because they were fearless enough to tell me; not everyone is so brave. And until I wrote the above paragraphs, only my mother knew that I could have possibly been raped. And I only told her two weeks ago.
When I told her my story, she told me one of hers, before she had met my father. She went out with a guy and he wanted to show her the architecture at his apartment. Since she was interested, she said sure. Only to find that this seemed to signal to him sex when she didn’t want to, and she had to also force him off of her.
She probably doesn’t know about the hundreds of stories I had, ranging from that boy in junior high groping my newly-developing breasts by the lockers in the hall to that night at Sinai Temple where a boy said he wanted to talk to me about finding work when he instead cornered me by my car, not allowing me to leave and trying to kiss me. When I kept saying no, he kept saying, “I know you want me.” And then I realized the truth: If I was traumatized by every inappropriate sexual thing a guy did to me, ranging from obnoxious online dating messages all the way down, I wouldn’t be able to stand up and move. I was forced to adapt and get used to it when I shouldn’t have to. And I don’t think my case is singular.
I know the call: “Well, not ALL men do that!” It’s true, not all men do that. And that guy I was dating was not “all men;” he was someone I liked. He took me out and paid my way. Our conversations sparked with chemistry and he told me that I was beautiful. The sex was good and the intimacy was better, and I felt comfortable enough to spend the night multiple times before the incident. He wasn’t even a stereotypical bad guy.
But he was a human being, and like all human beings he was capable of making horrible decisions. And those decisions include how you choose to approach people, particularly women. The difference between an attempted rape and a peaceful night was in the decision not to listen and therefore respect boundaries. It was in his choice.
So, now I pose this to ALL men: You have a choice to hear women. Really hear us and respond in kind without denial, but rather with acknowledgement of our words and giving us respect in return. Or you can keep up the ignorance. Choose wisely.