Okay, so I have been drinking
This blog was recently featured on the Carnival of Sexual Violence; specifically, this entry, about losing a friend due to talking about rape. Since then, some other folk have linked me, and my blog is now exploding on another entry about a similar topic. As a result (also, there is bourbon involved) I’ve spent the day thinking more and more about the topic of friends in the aftermath of rape.
Some of my friends were just straight up assholes. But, honestly, I knew that. I knew that before the rape. The rape just gave me this very clear gauge, a complete and inviolate (and involuntary) boundary of “I Cannot Take This Shit From You.” It pushed me to make those realizations I’d been avoiding, that there were some people in my life that were not good for me and never would be. That, even further, there were some people in my life who just weren’t good people. Friendship I needed like I needed a hole in the head (Ventilation! Speed hole! I can fill it with treats! It’s a good hole!)
But there were other friends who, I think, just could not handle this shit. Who believed me, but hung out with my rapist because belief does not equate action. Especially when action would put them in the same boat I was riding in, where they get called liars, attention whores, weak, needy, liars, vengeful, liars. I think these friends were going through a lesser version of what every rape victim goes through, the denial and disbelief, the anger and the blame, and the constant befuddled wonder at every tiny corner this vicious event permeates. I don’t know if friends of rape victims have a good way to process and understand this. I mean, we give them do’s and don’t's about what to say to a victim. But we don’t give them anything to help them understand themselves. Nobody is telling them, it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be confused. It’s okay to want to blame somebody else. Those are normal feelings. That’s part of this process. And it’s not your fault. You didn’t do this.
But I think, more than that, just as I was unprepared for how many friends I was going to lose by being a vocal rape victim, I don’t know if a rape victim’s friends’ are prepared either. They’ve never had to think what it means to experience a thing that makes them an outcast, and to keep their pride, and keep their voices forceful, and make the decision every morning to keep talking about it anyway.
The word that came to my mind was ally. There is a world of difference between, “I believe you” and “I will tell others I believe you, I will defend you, I am willing to sacrifice because I believe you.” I thought of all the articles I’ve read over time, about what white people can do to ally themselves with anti-racism, and how big the difference is between “I’m not racist” and calling out your best friend, or your coworker, or your boss on a racist opinion when this may cause a rift.
I had been wondering if there were any resources out there for friends of rape victims, to help them understand what they might be going through, the ways their lives are now going to change. But I decided instead to try and make some, cribbing from those articles.
Here’s my first attempt, taken from “Distancing Behaviors,” an article about the ways white people distance themselves from the relevance of racism and their responsibility to combat it.
Please, feel free to contribute/tweak/comment!
On a note about comments: I have not yet had any trolls. I expect that won’t always be. I don’t have a “comment policy” because this a personal blog and I think it’s stupid to have one, because I am lord and tyrant here. If I think your comment is some serious bullshit, you don’t get to comment here. It’s as arbitrary as that.
Behaviors That Friends and Family Take To Distance Themselves From The Daily Realities of Rape
“What About False Accusations” Game: This game demands that we cannot discuss rape without first focusing upon, admitting to, and solving the problem of false accusations (whether or not said discussion of rape is about the legal aspect). Underlying the demand is a prevailing myth that the number of false rape accusations far outweighs the amount of committed rapes, and that false rape accusations constitute a damage, violence, and social problem as or more extreme as rape. In contrast, victims of robberies, or those who knew a victim of murder, may discuss their personal experiences and trauma without their audience demanding these victims of crime are obligated to be concerned with the falsely accused, the prison-industrial complex, or the war on drugs.
There is a deeper undercurrent here about our expectation that any concern with an issue that primarily victimizes women must concern itself equally with the victimization of men, and that those who work toward lessening the victimization of women must come running when any tangentially related topic affects men. This is, of course, not to say that false accusations are a fantasy non-issue, or that men are not raped, or that the social pressures which justify and encourage the victimization of women do not also victimize men by damaging their ability to form basic human relationships with women. The analogy here is a person with their foot on a woman’s neck, saying to the person on the floor, “What shall we do about drowning victims? They, too, cannot breathe.”
Sexual Assault Isn’t the Only Problem Game: This popular game starts with someone saying that there are many other inter-related problems besides sexual assault – problems like false accusations, miscommunications, poor decision-making, binge drinking, media convictions, very short skirts. While these things exist, while all of them are or can be considered social problems, and while we may certainly have a nicer world if we solved all those social issues, we cannot use them to deflect our discomfort in dealing with the reality of sexual assault. It is analogous to a balcony without a railing which causes several deaths a day, as we busily discuss how to solve the problem of vertigo, and poor shoes that cause bad balance.
Instant Solution Game: This is played by insisting that the answer is longer skirts, less drinking by women, more monogamous relationships and/or marriage, elimination of a “hook-up culture,” or whatever, and wants to jump into campaign mode to solve the problem. Yes, these are all important aspects of the web of sexism, and yes, they require our discussion, but jumping on one issue prematurely serves to short circuit an important process. It deflects the conversation prematurely to an exclusively external focus so we can avoid deepening our understanding of our relationship to the web and seeing that internal shifts are also required.
The Geography/Demographics Game: This game involves pointing to another region as the one with the
problem. “They stone victims in Saudi Arabia,” if you’re in the West; “It’s the cities,” if you’re in a rural area, “It’s young people and their loss of values,” if you’re older, “It’s old people and their outdated misogyny,” if you’re younger, etc.
First of all this problem ignores the fact that sexism/misogyny/a lack of respect for the basic dignity of men and women, or whatever you wish to call it, is systemic and affects everyone. This also serves to ignore the fact that sexism/misogyny/a lack of respect for the basic dignity of men and women serves to benefit some while oppressing others, and that this system of benefits operates whether or not a rapist or a rape victim is currently present.
Secondly, it neatly absolves us of focusing on our own lives and participation in systemic sexism/misogyny/lack of respect for the dignity of men and women. All women learn to fear the possibility of sexual assault and be hyperaware of the ways they or other women may “cause” it, while all men learn that sex is a necessity to define themselves as men, and that sex is something to be procured rather than shared. Men and women learn to expect these roles from each other, and support the many ways they are confirmed and maintained in daily life (for men: “Did you fuck her? Well, why not?” vs. for women: “Did you fuck him? Oh my god, you’re so gross”), up to and including sexual assault.
I Respect (Respectable) Women: On the surface this can sound like a noble sentiment, but often this “respect” necessitates certain behaviors or the appearance of behaviors by women; it is a respect that must be earned, rather than a respect that is given. By sweeping women who are not worthy of our respect under the rug (i.e. a woman who had been drinking, a woman who has multiple partners, a woman who was looking for sex that night) we keep ourselves comfortable with no need to engage with other people’s experience of the world as valid (and undeserving of punishment).
It Happened in the Past Game: This game is an attempt to excuse our society of even worse oppression and victimization of women in the past. For example, talking about the fifties, or frontier days, or virtually any period prior to what we consider the onset of feminism in the 70s. We can say, “It’s terrible that so many women were raped and had little to no recourse, but it can’t be undone and we have to accept that the past is the past.” This game avoids the problem that we continue to enjoy reaping the fruits of a society that has exploited the ability of women to move freely or have sex on their own terms without acknowledging it. It ignores the fact that women are still unable to walk in public without having their bodies be subjects of constant verbal appraisal, at best, and physical molestation or assault, at worst, and that women who turn down offers of sexual contact (whether they be from a stranger on the street, a friend, a coworker, or an acquaintance) must do so with a consideration for their physical safety, something that men do not and never have experienced, and something that creates a very different definition of “consent” between the sexes.
“I’m Learning About Women” Game: This game is closely related to other games including…
“Men and Women Aren’t Different At All” Game
“All My Friends Are Women” Game
“I Knew A Girl Who Was Raped And I Believed Her (and am therefore enlightened and no longer sexist)” Game
The identification of this game does not suggest it’s bad for men and women to be friends with each other, nor that women and men have inherent physical differences (rather than different experiences of the world around them). It does not even suggest the impossibility of men and women having transformative experiences by listening to a survivor’s story. But it is a dangerous game when used to say that because a person has gained some knowledge of the experience of sexual assault, she/he no longer participates in sexist systems. It is a dangerous game when people use it to identify so closely with women and female victims, on an emotional level, that they no longer see the necessity of doing the hard work of confronting their own sexism and the sexist acts and policies of their governments.
“Other People are Sexist; I’m the Exception” Game: This game is tempting especially for those people who have put energy into undoing their own sexism and who may even have put themselves at risk to do so. In overcoming the temptation of this game, it is important for people to…
- recognize the typically invisible privileges that they have come to rely on every day of their lives and remember that victims have not been able to rely on them (such as the privilege to discuss rape in a “theoretical” way, to trust those around them to not be rapists, or to trust that those around them will support them in their lives and difficulties without question)
- remember that in a sexist system, men and women (including those who work against their own sexism) always have the choice of putting themselves in a safe-feeling environment to “rest” from undoing sexism work for days/weeks/months on end, while victims of sexual assault have no choice but to experience the effects of their rape every day. Somebody who has not experienced a sexual assault has the ability to not confront a friend/family member/coworker/stranger about their victim-blaming ideas; a sexual assault victim has to consider whether this person will assault her as well.
You’ve Come a Long Way Baby Game: Like all effective games, this has an element of truth, but it becomes dangerous when it is used as an excuse to not investigate further to see how the system has nuanced itself to keep benefits intact even though legal discrimination has, in many ways, been outlawed (though not entirely… ERA, anybody?). The fact that there are rape shield laws, that marital rape is now illegal, or that there are rape hotlines has not eliminated the enormous preponderance of rape, and has not made an impact on the women who do not feel comfortable reporting their rapes to police, a hotline, or you, their friend.
- Expert On Sexism Game
- Find the Rapist Game
- If I Knew Where That Guy Lived Game
- Definition Game
- Statistics Game
- Maintain Niceness/Politness Game
- Rape Is Theoretical Game