This is the second part of a two part instalment following the ‘unilad’ pro-rape post earlier this week. Content could be considered triggering.
I am a healthy, happy, relatively straightforward twenty something woman living in London. I have an awesome job and awesome friends. I make filthy jokes and talk about my tits and cook steak and get laid and have a respectable fear of my Visa bill and run everywhere because I’m always running late. I’m a proud, porn watching, sometimes smoking, usually drinking, constantly swearing, good-frock-push-up-bra-and-matching-french-knicker-wearing highlighted lipsticked feminist.
You’re probably a lot like me. Or I’m probably a lot like your sister or your daughter or a mate or someone you went to uni with. Chances are I have something in common with someone in your life.
I hope it’s not this. I got raped by my boyfriend when I was 17.
It’s not something I tell many people – it only comes out at the drunkest, darkest, intimate and emo moments. And I get teary and feel bad that I’m teary because I wasn’t attacked by a stranger who jumped out of a bush. I never formally reported anything to anyone. And I stayed with that boyfriend until I was 21.
For the sake of clarity, here’s how it happened. We were staying with his grandparents, two sweet, kind, generous conservative people who I am genuinely sad to have lost touch with. We’d been there for a few days (I think it was the Easter holidays) and he was complaining nearly constantly about having blue balls, how desperate he was to fuck me et cetera. When you’re both adolescents this is to be expected – you learn to filter it out like white noise. I was against the idea – even though he was a two minute man, any periods of quiet or creaking furniture would have the grandparents rushing in to see what was going on. Also, they had given us separate rooms and sexing in their house would be bad manners.
We were playing Scrabble. I had suggested, by way of a compromise, Sexy Scrabble. “We can spell things out and then…do them next time we’re in an empty house!” I said enthusiastically. Sexy Scrabble was dually frustrating. The boyfriend was suggesting that his penis might burst forth from his pants like a fleshy sea monster, and I was struggling to make normal words out of K, Q, W, R, R, T and L – never mind erotic ones.
Here’s what I remember next. Him, behind me, pulling my jeans down, me saying “I really don’t think this is a good idea.” Then “I don’t want to do this.” Then “Stop it.” Then silence.
Because if I screamed or struggled his grandparents would rush in, and that might be awkward. They might tell his parents and that would be really bloody awkward.
I remember feeling sad, not angry, and hoping he’d come soon and stop. And then feeling sticky and cold and uncomfortable, and pretending to his grandparents that I was quiet and uncommunicative because I had an upset stomach. And they were adorable, fussing over me and offering herbal tea and Gaviscon and ginger biscuits as their grandson glowered in the corner because of the quiet conversation we’d had earlier.
“You just…well, I told you to stop and you didn’t stop and there’s a word for that.” I blinked very hard.
“Why are YOU crying? You’ve just called me a rapist.”
I’m not sure why I didn’t break up with him then. I wish I had. I think I was scared of admitting what had happened to anyone – especially myself. I couldn’t reconfigure my thinking to see myself as some victim of abuse. I just didn’t fit the profile.
A couple of days ago, I watched with slack jawed astonishment as links to a misogynist website appeared all over Twitter. (The people posting the links were as horrified as I was, no-one was suggesting it was the work of a reasonable human being.) The website made a joke about 85 per cent of rape cases going unreported, suggesting readers might as well have sex with someone without their consent because it would probably be fine. It then removed this joke, making an anaemic, mealy mouthed apology about it. The writers shut the site down (temporarily) last night.
The rape joke was bad. But I can read something like that and deal with it. It’s not as if I’m getting traumatised by horrible flashbacks whenever it’s referenced. It’s pretty grim, and I’m not proud of it, but me and my similarly left leaning feminist friend collective often refer to pricey things as “pocket rape”, bad kissers as “mouth rapists” and have announced that we’d happily “rape that cake” when outside the Patisserie Valerie window. Yeah, I know. We’re working on it, and digging each other sharply in the ribs when we catch ourselves doing it. One shouldn’t use abuse to abuse language.
But the weirdly polarised response freaked me out. Nearly everyone I follow felt it was utterly disgusting and reprehensible and said as much. The supporters and readers of the site started asking critics about their sexuality, implying that they needed a cock up their arse where the stick was, urging complainants to “look the other way” and “everyone who doesn’t agree that rape is pure banter is a frigid fun sponge!” (I may be paraphrasing the last one.) It was as if Blackadder’s Prince Regent was inhabited by Chuck Traynor and had a Broadband connection.
Like everyone else, I grabbed my digital pitchfork and ran with the angry mob, far, far away from the point. 85 per cent of rape cases go unreported! Hold on, is this not what we should be talking about?
And hearbreakingly I surmised that if I have good friends who don’t know I’m in the 85 per cent, then it must have happened to some of my friends too. And because they also weren’t attacked by a stranger from the depths of a bush, they filed their experience away under “I’m not quite sure what to do with that” and left it there. And not to go all Andrea Dworkin, but if we all know someone who has experienced rape (even if we don’t know about it), then we might well know a rapist too.
Rape is undeniably horrific, and serious. But maybe if we were a little less serious about it, we’d talk about it more. We could start to figure out who the 85 per cent are – and what is motivating the criminals who are driving those stats. It would be a pretty dark game of Word Association Football where ‘rape’ came up, but if it did the word that would probably follow it is ‘victim’. Even ‘survivor’ sounds a bit grim – “yes, I got raped and now I dress like I’ve been in a nuclear apocalypse and my eyes have a hint of zombie about them – but I SURVIVED!”
I wish I could eradicate all rape forever, but I think that the best way to start doing that is to normalise it as an experience. Of course we must be sad and upset and angry – but as well as wailing and gnashing our teeth and fetishising it in a Catherine Cookson way, we need to address it as something that happens to smart, funny women like us and everyone we know. Rape doesn’t just happen as a result of poverty or neglect or vulnerability or all the other human tragedies that we may or may not be able to relate to. And if a lot of ignorant, naive boys want to make a joke out of it, if we’re in a position to do so we must use our smart skills to show that the joke’s on them.