Several months ago, a woman in my local Mom group on Facebook posted for advice on a situation. She was recently separated from her husband and had started dating again, and she’d gone out to a club with a guy she’d been seeing for a few weeks. They’d been having a great time, but at some point in the evening, he had drawn her into a dark corner and started to make advances she wasn’t comfortable with.
She timidly tried to tell him that she wasn’t ready to go that far with him, but he continued to touch and caress her in ways that made her unhappy. He held her against the wall, lifting her skirt, pulling down her underwear and pushing himself against her. She tried to move his hands and push him away, but she was paralyzed with fear and couldn’t bring herself to speak up.
When it was clear to her that he was not going to stop, she decided that she would stop struggling, let him do what he wanted and then get out of there as quickly as possible.
She was scared and upset, but it wasn’t until she was relating the story to her friend a few days later that the word “rape” came up. Until her friend suggested it, she had not thought of it in that way. In her words, “It’s not like I haven’t had sex before. I’m a mom of five!” Her friend was urging her to go to the police and report it, but she felt that since she’d not fought him hard enough, it couldn’t be thought of as actual rape.
She wanted to know the group’s thoughts.
When the discussion appeared on my feed, there were already 30+ comments. I assumed that she would have had a ton of support and sympathy from the women in the group, but to my surprise, not a single comment agreed that it was rape or even a violation of any sort.
Several women said that unless you physically fight and verbally repeat the word “no” loudly and clearly for the entire duration of the assault, it can not be rape. One even said, “if you weren’t clear about your boundaries, it’s not his fault. If you go to the police, you will ruin his life for no reason.” Another said, “he probably thought you were enjoying it since you didn’t explicitly say no.”
Other women asked her why she was wearing a short skirt that gave him easy access. One used the word “unladylike” repeatedly. The consensus was that she should have made sure to wear shorts or a longer dress and pantyhose, as they would have deterred him. The well-meaning women urged her to dress more appropriately in the future to prevent further unwanted advances from men.
A group of women told her flat out that rape doesn’t exist with someone you know and are already intimate with. If you have been dating someone, it is never rape. One woman even insisted that her husband constantly demands she has sex with him even when she doesn’t want to or is asleep. She said it’s just normal and part of being in a relationship. “After all, men have needs,” she reminded the group.
One very small voice suggested that she didn’t think it was rape, but even if it was, going to the police was overkill. She should just not see him again and not try and ruin his reputation.
A majority of the women agreed that it was the original poster’s fault, and that she should basically just see it as a learning experience.
Reading these comments I was floored. I could not believe the responses. I immediately added my thoughts to the post, saying that it was absolutely rape, and that she had every reason to be upset and go to the police if she felt like she wanted to press charges. Though I did not know her, I offered to go with her if she needed support, and I said that I would be happy to speak to her by phone or by text if she needed a sounding board. I told her that she was not in the wrong and that she needed to do what SHE felt was right. I also suggested that she may want to go to the doctor to be checked for pregnancy or STDs just to be safe.
I gotta tell you – you’d have thought I announced I was Satan’s half sister! The backlash against my comments was immediate and brutal. The other ladies in the group took great offense to what I said, and it was plain to see why. Each of them had been through similar experiences and had decided that it was NOT rape, but their own fault in some way. They had accepted and embraced their own internalized misogyny to such a degree that they were rabidly opposed to any woman who tried to turn their victimization into anything other than their own poor choices.
The woman whose husband repeatedly demanded sex was particularly defensive, insisting that even though he might continually violate her when she was not up for it, it was not rape because she had married him. That gave him all the permission he needed, and I was a sick person to try to undermine that. She also said that “giving in,” as the original poster had done, was a form of permission, and no man should be punished because a woman was “loose enough in morals” to let him do it.
My heart broke when I realized just how deeply entrenched these women were in this mindset. They just didn’t seem to even believe in the concept of rape in ANY situation. I was in real shock by this conversation, but before I could respond further, I was removed from the group and blocked.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen a huge surge of women sharing their own stories of sexual harassment, abuse and assault. Using the #MeToo hashtag, they are speaking out because pretty much EVERY woman has experienced it in some way.
But I’ve seen a large amount of women commenting in snarky tones about how these brave women are just attention-seeking at best and lying at worst. Whether they have been sexually harassed at points, themselves, they don’t see it as a bad thing. They shake it off and insist it is just a fundamental difference in men and women. Or they use their own harassment as “proof” of their attractiveness. They laugh at other women and insist they just can’t take a joke or they are too sensitive.
I’ve seen women comment on other women’s posts with inflammatory and derogatory remarks such as, “You’re too ugly for any man to want to harass.” I even saw someone tell another woman, “It’s not groping. Your ass is just so big that other people can’t help but run into it!”
Men comment, as well – not in support, but in the name of “clarification.”
“Define harassment,” they insist. “The women I’ve spoken to don’t have a problem with this kind of behavior,” they report. “I’m totally respectful of women. I just think this country has become far too PC.” They see each woman proclaiming their own experiences with harassment and assault, and instead of responding with empathy, they want to man-splain exactly why what we are describing is NOT, in fact, harassment.
It is the same reaction so many have when the subject of racism is brought up. “I’m not racist,” they insist. “I have loads of black friends. They don’t care if I use the ‘n-word.'” No one wants to admit their shortcomings. No one wants to admit that they may be doing something wrong.
At the end of the day, the #MeToo movement is starting conversations. It is not just for educating men, but it is allowing women to understand that they are not alone in their pain. The statistic often quoted is 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in their life. I think the number is much greater than that, but because so many of us have been assimilated into a mentality of acceptance of the status quo, we don’t necessarily see the problem.
I admire every woman who has stood up to say “Me, too,” and I thank them for their bravery and willingness to speak out. But my sincerest hope is that eventually the women who stayed quiet – whether they have experienced the same or not – will be able to stand up and say, “I’m with you.”