Thoughts on Survival

5 Apr

*TRIGGER WARNING* Discussion of sexual assault following

I’ve spent the past few days (when not at musicals or playing role-playing games) reading this thread at Shakesville. Here’s my response.

As I’ve read through all of your stories, things have come back in bits and chunks, and made me certain I’m still forgetting many incidents. And I’m not sorry I can’t remember them.

The first I remembered was about a year ago. I was out of town on a school trip, and some friends (mostly women, 2-3 men, all of us in 20s or late teens) and I went out to eat at an Italian restaurant. The manager (at least triple our age) came by the table frequently, and as we left, he said something like “Such lovely ladies – each more beautiful than the last!” then pulled me aside and kissed me on the cheek.

Which leads to another memory – high school. I rode the bus until eleventh grade, when I got a car. A guy who liked me liked me sat beside me a lot, and commented on my eyes and how surprising it was that I had no boyfriend. I did what I could to discourage this (without, you know, saying anything about it. That would have been rude.), including not letting him sit by me a lot. At some point, I felt bad about not sitting next to him – he was nice enough, especially compared to other guys on the bus. So, we sat together again. He was thrilled, and also kissed me on the cheek. Another thing I need to say about this story – I know it doesn’t really make sense to rank these sorts of things – none of them should have happened at all, but this one doesn’t feel as bad to me as the one I related above, or the ones below. I think it’s because there wasn’t as much of a power dynamic between us as there could have been – there still was some, because as I’ve said, I didn’t feel comfortable asking him not to, but it wasn’t like he was being overtly manipulative (And ugh, that’s one fucked-up justification).

Speaking of buses, my parents were divorced and lived in separate neighborhoods in the same school zone. So some months I rode one bus (the bus mentioned above), and the other months I rode the bus I really hated. There weren’t any compromises of my physical boundaries on that bus, but plenty of trespassing on my mental space. A few times, guys tried to talk to me. One guy asked me if I knew the “Milkshake song.” I didn’t. I’ve since learned the lyrics, and suffice it to say “Ewwwww!” Other times, the talking wasn’t directed at me. One kid was telling another about this “chick” whose hairy ass he’d licked. “And if she’s hairy there, can you imagine all the other places she’s got hair?” The people he was talking to laughed, and I shrunk into my seat, completely mortified.

In junior high, shortly after the divorce I mentioned in the above paragraph, my dad lived in an apartment complex with a swimming pool. There were some kids my age in the complex (one of them stole my shoes and refused to give them back until I ran after him barefoot). One time, I was at the pool with a guy I sorta-kinda liked, and he commented loudly on a sunbather’s pubic hair poking out of her suit. “Isn’t that gross? Don’t you think that’s disgusting?” I agreed with him, hoping he would finally shut up if I agreed with him. (Ha! Can you tell I have issues with hair?)

This past May, I went on a school trip to London (I’m from TX). Three of us (at 19, A. and I were the oldest, and all of us were quite naive) were out on our own at night. A street-drawer approached us in Leicester Square (I believe his name was David – I have no interest in protecting his identity) and, after some haggling offered to draw S. for free (normally, he charged several pounds). He talked to us as he drew in a very flirty way, and somehow it came out that I spoke limited French. So, he started flirting with me in French – [Do you want your own drawing? Only five minutes.](I have a feeling the phrase “seulement cinq minutes” is forever going to upset me because of this encounter.) I refused, and then he suggested we meet him at a club/pub a few blocks away for beers and dancing. There was more flirting, primarily with S. and myself (You look Irish! Surely you’ll have a beer with me!) We were all getting pretty skeeved and nervous at that point (beyond the fact that none of us drank), so we got the fuck out of there and back to the hotel. 6 months later, we got together for a dinner and A. told us that while he was trying to ascertain our ages, he told her to “show him her tits and he’d tell her how old she was.” She thought S. and I had heard him, but didn’t do anything about it (I don’t think she blamed us – we were all pretty clueless about what to do about this guy).

I can’t help wondering – how much longer would my list be if my grandfather had lived longer? If I’d ever been accidentally left alone with him (my mother and her older sister were both molested/raped by him as teenagers)? If I hadn’t been afraid of people through high school? If I’d been (Maude forbid) popular? I’ve never dated, and now I’m scared to. Part of that’s mental stuff that’s unique to my situation (and I can’t find a way to phrase that which doesn’t come off as silencing my brain’s standard operation as unreasonable – urgh!), but a lot of that’s reasonable fear. Women go through so much shit in this culture that it’s impossible for me to visualize a world where women aren’t “pathologized, criminalized, ostracized, jailed, raped, and butchered.” (via). It’s impossible for me to go out at night without visualizing exactly what sort of assault I could be subjected to – oh, look at that bush. It could hide a man pretty easily. What’s that I hear – footsteps? Better speed up. Maybe I should have called security to walk me to my car. What sort of martial arts move should I use if x happens (at which point I visualize x in graphic detail)? Would a roundhouse kick be good? Neck chop? Lots of yelling and punching? Is there a chance in hell that’s going to be good enough?

That’s a pretty small snippet of the shit that goes through my mind on minimum 2 times a week – I have a night class on Mondays and Wednesdays. If I do anything special, like go somewhere that has me walking around at 11:00 at night, I figure out how I’m going to be safe (the tags on that entry are telling: fear, life) walking to my car. I prioritize this shit, because I know even though the only reason anybody is raped is the presence of a rapist, society will find a way to blame me for my own death if it gets a fucking chance to do so.

And my second story is disturbing me more and more as I think about it. That fear of rudeness upsets me, partly because I still have it, 5-6 years and a helluva lot of self-esteem later. I wish I had some smart insight on that, about how that’s probably some vestige from the days of chivalry, where women had no opinions of their own and never contradicted their menz!, but I have no insight. Just a head full of words, a heart full of sadness and a spleen full of hatred for this culture where rape’s been normalized.

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