Rape Culture Is the Reason I was Raped.
Men like Donald Trump, if continually excused and promoted, will cause the rapes and assaults of millions of more women, even if not directly with their own hands or penises.
Okay, that was a loaded statement. Let’s break this down in the context of my own experience as a survivor of rape, two other sexual assaults and innumerable instances of sexual harassment in my adult life. I’ll focus on the former. In 2010, at the age of 18, I was asleep in my dorm room after a night out. At about 3 am, I woke up to an acquaintance on top of me, kissing me, and penetrating me. At first, being woken suddenly, I was confused and my first defensive action was to justify to myself that I had somehow initiated this moment. Had I invited him here? We already had sex last semester, does that mean we are supposed have sex again tonight? Do I like him and want this? It wasn’t until he forcefully flipped me over that I finally muttered the word “no,” because this act was entirely foreign to me and I knew with certainty that it wasn’t right. This moment of “no” enabled me to regain my awareness and my empowerment. I said, “no, no, why are you here?” He looked at me strangely, quickly dressed, and left my room. About 5 minutes later, I was lying in my bed, still naked and confused, staring blankly into space, when I received a text from this young man that said, “I am so sorry, please don’t tell anyone.” That was the moment I realized that I had been raped. That was the moment a man woke me from my sleep, in my own room, and had sex with me without my consent. In that moment, I became a victim of rape. In that moment, that young man became a rapist. Neither were roles that we ever expected for ourselves.
I am going to fast forward to the end of that semester (about 3 months later), when I had already made the spiritual decision to forgive him for the act as well as to truly understand the real reason it happened, because in my heart I knew this particular person was not inherently evil or flawed. He was not the rapist I might see on an episode of SVU; he was not a rapist with inherent psychological flaws or violence. And he proved to me, through his honesty, humbleness and regret that he wasn’t. Ultimately, on the last day of the semester, that young man sat next to me in the dean’s office and reported himself for the assault. Even though this was the moment that I (and he) became a statistic, this moment was perhaps the most empowering moment in my life–it is the moment that I became a survivor, rather than a victim. I survived because I saw the greater cultural context of that night, because I sought to understand why he raped me, and because I chose to love rather than hate him. To clarify, I never have and never will excuse his actions, (nor did he, I will add) but I can also understand and forgive the cultural framework in which they arose.
There is a reason I am bringing this story up in the context of this moment in history, a moment in which we are seeing a misogynistic man run for president, a man who wants to represent our nation and our people to the world. I am broaching the issue because we cannot keep reducing the issue of sexual assault to actions or non-actions, as that authoritarian man referenced in the second presidential debate. In reality, sexual assault will continue to happen if we continue to excuse the language and action that promotes it. Moreover, those who excuse or condone that language as something that men “simply do” are equally at fault for the millions of women who will subsequently be assaulted after those words leave their lips.
When an 18-year-old man entered my room and had sex with me without my consent, he was acting within a cultural context. He was acting within a society that enables men to become entitled to women’s bodies…to not do so would somehow emasculate him. To go to bed without “getting some” would be a blow to his very position in his male society. We all know this culture well, whether or not we are able to categorize it. But I am writing now to define it as clearly as I possibly can as the culture of rape. One of the most important things to understand about rape culture is that women are not its only victims. Men are harmed by it too. And both genders deserve more.
I am not yet a mother, but I know that as much as I would not want my daughter to be a victim of rape, I also would not want my son to be a rapist. And I will see to it to protect both my daughter and my son from the language and thought that promotes the behavior. Every day, I notice small signs of rape culture, or more broadly the culture of entitlement. I see women denigrated for how much they have sex and I see men disparaged for how little they have sex. I see young boys told to “be a man” and to not “be a pussy,” or have their sexuality questioned when they don’t participate in the dominant male culture. I see young girls taught that it’s not polite to assert themselves, or told that they should feel good when a stranger comments on their beauty or physical appearance. These are just small examples. But all of these things matter. And the media and popular culture are responsible, in part, for their perpetuation.
As an extreme example of rape culture in the media, this year Chris Brown released a song that I have had to turn off my radio at least a hundred times since its release. In this song, he tells a woman that when he gets home she does not get to say no, or talk, and that he will wake her up in the middle of the night just to “fuck [her] back to sleep.” Clearly, this describes the night I was raped. Chris, I would like you to know that I did not fall back asleep afterwards… In fact, I didn’t sleep for days.
This past Sunday, Donald Trump told America that his Access Hollywood “hot mic” moment was simply “locker room talk”… that what he said was “just words.” Yet the following day, one of his supporters held a sign at an RNC protest that read, “better to grab a pussy than to be one.” Put plainly, Donald Trump empowered this man to assault a woman in the future, because that’s “just what men do.”
Words matter. Words spoken by the men and women who show up on our screens and in our communities matter. And it does not take long for those words to be actualized by the society to which they are directed. We must, as a society, hold ourselves to a higher standard. We must not excuse words and actions that promote and glorify violence towards women. We cannot play songs romanticizing rape on the radio. And we certainly cannot allow a man to lead our nation, who suggests that bragging about sexual assault behind closed doors is a masculine thing to do.
The young women and men of this country and world deserve much more. We deserve more than to become victims of rape and rapists.