Five Years Ago

Feminist_Suffrage_Parade_in_New_York_City,_1912

[trigger warning: rape] I turn 26 years old on Tuesday. While this still counts as my mid-20s, I’m now on the downward slope toward 30, which is weird and frightening and exciting all at the same time.

Five years ago, I greeted my 21st birthday in a pub just off of Broad Street in Oxford, England, with a half-pint of Guinness as my first ever alcoholic drink. That time seems so long ago, and yet, in the grand scheme, it was merely a blip. But for me, five years has meant a lot of change.

Five years ago, I recall, I wasn’t sure whether or not I could believe in evolution and still call myself a Christian. I didn’t think that humanity was impacting the earth enough to cause global warming. I thought homosexuality was undeniably a sin, and that gay men and women were “gross.” I thought swearing was something indicative of spiritual health (and beat myself up for saying “fuck” when I was quoting a song).

And I genuinely thought a way to prevent rape was to just not go out, or not go out alone, that men somehow could not control themselves so I had to take whatever responsibility I could.

Five years ago, I would have been nodding my head along with this article from The Good Men Project (note that the title in the link and the title that now sits on the article are two different things – the original title is clearer about the intent of the article).

Back then, I would have agreed with their definition of “feminists” as basically shrieking harpies who are too stupid to know when they’ve lost. I would have agreed that a drunken woman is responsible for her own rape.

Thank God for those five years.

Thank God that I met people with more experience than I.

Thank God they were willing to share their stories.

Thank God they were more calm and patient with me than they had any reason to be and explained to me why what happened to them was rape and not just “regret sex.”

Thank God for women who were willing to open up to me despite having no obligation to do so.

After this week, I don’t really have the energy to collect all the articles and good thoughts floating around in the feminist blogosphere. After this week, part of me just wants to chug a bottle of wine and give up for a few days. After this week – a week of ridiculous actions on the part of people who are supposed to be our allies and of people we elected to represent us – I just don’t know if I have the words anymore.

And now I remember that I don’t have to – telling the stories is enough.

I knew a girl in college who had been raped by an ex-boyfriend. He had come over to collect some stuff, and refused to leave, and talked her into having sex with him. She gave in because she knew that if she didn’t, it would be impossible to get rid of him. She said “yes,” but only because he wouldn’t accept a no. She did not have "regret sex;" she was raped.

In the last five years, more and more women in my life have come forward with their stories of violation, of assault, of pain and hurt.

There’s the friend who was raped at thirteen years old by an older man whom she barely knew.

There’s the friend who was sleeping peacefully in her bed, only to wake up with a man on top of her, inside of her.

There’s the friend who was drunk at a party, nearly passed out on a bed, who got fondled by a man and was too scared to say anything and let him know that she was actually awake.

There’s the friend who was assaulted by her brother’s friend when she was nine years old, and was told by her mother than she was now “damaged goods” and never saw her attacker even the least bit reprimanded for his crime.

I commented the other day that it seems, with each passing day, that the number of “1 in 6 women assaulted in their lifetime” seems inverted. More and more women in my life are coming forward, speaking up, telling their stories, and it seems, more and more, that 1 in 6 are NOT assaulted, and that I am that one.

And in five years – five years of listening to victims, of listening to the stories – I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that the definition of rape cannot just be violently forced sex. My friend who didn’t say no, but didn’t exactly say yes wasn’t forcibly held down and raped by a stranger, but was still raped. My friend who was drunk at a party didn’t have the wherewithal to consent was still violated against her will. All of those stories – the wealth of human experiences – count and are worth telling. Because change will happen. It may not happen where we most need it – such as in those editors at the Good Men Project, who have made it clear that they’re not interested in listening – change does happen. I’m an example.

So, what we take away from this debacle – and this horrific week in terms of women’s rights – is not pain, depression, and anger (though all of those are perfectly legitimate reactions!), but instead steely resolve: resolve to keep telling our stories, knowing at, at some point, they'll break through. Resolve to shift the narrative, to put real faces on crimes that are spoken about in the abstract.

Resolve to be human, even though the whole world is saying we're not.

Women (and I mean all who identify as women) are worth fighting for.