There has been much talk, much debate, and much bitching back and forth about rape, rape culture, “rape” rape, etc. Are you tired of hearing about it yet? Because I am REALLY tired of having to talk about it. Clearly, it’s a good conversation to have, considering recent events – but, why, why, why has social conditioning put us in this position? Why do women feel that they have to take on the responsibility of not being raped? Why are we still not in a place where all men simply understand that rape is unconscionable? We have to teach men (young, old, in-between) that rape is wrong. Please read that sentence again… We are still having to teach some men out there that it isn’t okay to RAPE A WOMAN. Boys will be boys, right? At a young age, we are curious about each other’s bodies. Early in grade school, we are around a large number of other kids who don’t have the same parts that we have. I remember boys climbing under my desk to look up my dress. Not just one time – lots of times. Every time was embarrassing and every time, the teacher scolded the young man without saying a word to me. That’s just the kind of stuff boys do, yes? Why doesn’t a conversation happen there? Because they are too young to understand? Bullshit: they are old enough to understand what it means to look at a little girl’s panties. But, I guess “boys will be boys.”
Once I got older – about 5th grade – I was old enough to require a bra. This was endless entertainment for 5th grade boys. Boobs and bras were exactly the kind of things they were interested in. I must have had the back of my bra popped about 20 times a day. Again, it was humiliating for me. But, really not a big deal, right? It’s just hormones - nothing to overreact about. Certainly no reason for discussion about women’s bodies, respect, personal space, or why a boy should keep himself in check.
By the time junior high school rolled around, shit was serious. Boys threatened: “I’m going to find out where you live and watch you shower through the window.” “I’m going to break into your house and touch you while you sleep.” They’d moved from snapping my bra strap to grabbing my ass and my breasts. By now, I’d learned to use my knees and elbows as weapons, but to never say a word. What good would it do? Boys will be boys.
In high school, I had the routine down pat: stay covered up, keep your head down. Luckily, it was the era of grunge, so a flannel shirt and a sulky attitude fit right in. Still, you would not believe the number of teenage boys who have no problem reaching out and grabbing a young girl’s breasts. Or how many will cat call you, call you a whore, or question your sexuality when you don't respond to their verbal assaults. Every time something like this happened I felt vulnerable; I felt shame, embarrassment and fear. It was always understood that it was my responsibility to protect myself from such actions because what these young men – and make no mistake, they were young men – were doing was considered “normal” within the setting. At no point had “boys will be boys” become “gentlemen will act as gentlemen.”
I never said anything about this to my parents because I assumed that this is just what it’s like to be a girl. And, you know what? It probably is. And that’s fucked up.
Luckily, during my school years, I was never raped as was the 16-year-old girl from Steubenville, Ohio. I hope that will continue to be the case. I was never explicitly blamed for what happened to me or shamed or threatened. But, I learned to stop speaking up about how I was treated. Dehumanization of women begins at a young age and eventually we become conditioned to accept it, or find a way to protect ourselves against it. We have somehow managed not to find a way or a need to stop it.
As a child and as a teenager, I did my best to always say “no” when I didn’t like what was happening to me. But, if I didn’t say “no” or “stop” or “fuck you,” it didn’t mean “Yes, it is okay for you to treat me that way.” I find it incredibly bizarre that we have to talk about the absence of “no” being the presence of “yes.” Seriously, the NO MEANS NO campaign really needs to be revised to YES MEANS YES.
All of those male behaviors I mentioned (some of them seemingly innocent) still, if left unchecked, represent the growing seeds of “rape culture.” When those things were happening to me, no young boy (or even grown man, teacher, or principal) stepped in to say that those behaviors were wrong and that people weren’t to be treated that way. No one ever told their friends to stop, went to a teacher, refused to laugh at the jokes. I never said a word because I was certain that I’d be told I was being dramatic, that I should just ignore them and that those were just horny guys.
Again, I was never raped, and I hope I never will be. But, I really hope that at some point it will stop being MY responsibility to prevent my own rape. One out of five women will be raped in their lifetime. I’m sure that some of you will call me melodramatic and say that I’m overreacting. But, if it is true that for a certain period of time “boys will be boys” then WHEN do we start teaching boys/men not to rape? There really does have to be some line at which it becomes not okay to treat a girl or woman with anything less than respect.
(In the meantime, here are some great rape prevention tips for men. )