Wednesday, October 20, 2010

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


Charles Gramlich said...

I was taught to be polite, and always tried to be, but I guess men don't get near the same kind of attention women get so we don't end up in those situations. It's unfortunate that politeness can be seen as weakness.

Spy Scribbler said...

Yes, exactly. Great post. And yes, it's always the woman's fault. No wonder we don't speak up half the time.

Angie said...

Charles -- that's exactly it, that guys hardly ever find themselves in positions where defending yourself even verbally, even in a polite-but-firm way, draws intense social censure, but doing the polite thing and going along and not defending yourself can lead to rape. Guys do get raped, but the circumstances are different; it's more likely to be a matter of outright violence, from what I've read. Guys are allowed to be firm in social interactions, to draw boundaries and defend them verbally, and physically if necessary, without drawing criticism. Defending your boundaries is the masculine thing to do.

It's the women who are expected to be polite and not ever hurt anyone else's feelings up until that very last second, and at that point they're criticized for waiting that long. :P It's the women who find themselves branded the wrong-doer whether they spoke up for themselves or whether they didn't. [sigh]

Natasha -- exactly, it's always the woman to blame, unless it's actually a case of a violent stranger in a dark alley, but that's only a scant few percent of rape cases. And heck, even then it's the woman's fault for being in a situation where the stranger had a shot at her. :P


Suzan Harden said...

Been there with you, girl. I was on the subway in D.C. on my way home from work one night. This dick was hitting on each woman in our car. None of the men did a thing. I was quite forceful in my "No," and everyone in the car gave me this look like I'd farted the alphabet. But the dick left the rest of the women alone.

In a way, I'm glad I don't have any daughters because I don't have to deal with the repercussions of society telling them the opposite of what I would tell them.

Angie said...

Suzan -- and of course you were the one in the wrong for being rude, rather than Mr. Dick for being an obnoxious jerk. [sigh]


Karalynn said...

Yes -- this article completely spoke to me. I can also attest that the East Asian culture I grew up in explicitly told me to be meek and quiet and obedient to people even only a year older than I was. I can only imagine how that gets taken advantage of.

I don't even know if there's an area between "willing" and "bitch" that most men can perceive. I am learning to wholeheartedly embrace the "bitch" label if that's what it takes to free myself from unwanted attention and potential danger.

Angie said...

Kara -- that's... yeah. I'd never thought before about that particular implication of how East Asian women are taught to behave. :/

Looking back, I think one of the most important messages that can be given to young women is that anyone who thinks you're a "bitch" for snapping at some guy who's harassing you is an idiot, and it doesn't matter what idiots think. When you're young it seems so important that people like you, that guys like you, it's hard to form the idea on your own that you wouldn't want a guy who'd act this way, or think badly of you for defending yourself. [sigh]


Anonymous said...

You are writing about gay romance......think about lesbian rocks....okay

Angie said...

Anon -- lesbian romance is cool; I've read a few that I've enjoyed. I don't go looking for them, though, because I'm not really wired to enjoy the sex. I'm pretty straight and like at least one guy involved in my sex scenes; two is even better. :)

You're right about some of the stories rocking, though. [nod]