In a blog about my interactions with men, I feel like addressing rape culture today isn’t out of line. I’ve referred to scary situations a little bit. But something came up last night that made me want to address rape culture more directly.

First, some history. I was date-raped six years ago, in my first week of college. I won’t go into detail, but I will never forget how terrifying it was to have a man completely ignore my “no” that first time. After that horrible experience, I made it through the rest of the year, thanks to an incredibly sweet boyfriend who took great care of me and meant that I never had to sleep alone at night. That summer I had a complete breakdown, and I spent three or four extremely long years recovering from the trauma and the anxiety and depression that it triggered.

Over those years, I’ve told a fair amount of people about what happened to me. One therapist told me it didn’t sound like rape to her (luckily, I had lots of others who didn’t try to invalidate my experience). A surprising number of men – good, left-leaning, smart men – were skeptical. But every woman I’ve ever gotten close enough to to discuss sexual assault with has had it happen to her. Literally every woman. In my experience, it’s not one in four. It’s everyone.

Now onto last night. I ran into a friend of mine at the bar. We had never had any sort of flirtation, and we had even talked frankly about my desire for a relationship (and disinterest in casual sex) and also his long-distance girlfriend in Seattle. We were both about to leave the bar, and he suggested we just get a bottle of wine and hang out some more without having to spend much more money. I thought about it for a minute.

“Ok,” I said, “but I want to be clear. I’m not going to make out with you.”

He agreed. We went out and bought a bottle of wine, and he came over. We had a great time for a while. He asked me to cuddle at some point. It was fine, we’re friends, and we were both drunk – I understand the desire. But I said no. I told him I don’t really like being touched by people I don’t know well, and I didn’t want to end up in a situation that became something I didn’t want. He said he understood and was very nice about it.

We kept hanging out. At some point, he wound up lying next to me in my bed. That was fine until he started trying to touch me. I told him to stop. I reinforced that I didn’t want that, and that I wasn’t looking to sleep with him. He stopped.

It was late at this point, so he asked to sleep over. I thought about it for a minute, then agreed. I figured, if I’m upfront with someone who considers me a friend about what I’m not looking for, I should be safe.

Maybe that was a bad idea on my part. I’ve been open about times when I’ve made bad choices in the past. I’ve blogged about times when I let first dates come over to my apartment or I’ve gone to theirs. I’m probably lucky that more bad things haven’t happened to me. But I don’t want to treat life like a minefield. I want to be able to live my life and do what I want to do sometimes without being afraid all the time.

Anyway, he tried for a third time to take my clothes off. I let him get me naked, reverting to the familiar feeling of terror that comes up when men ignore my saying no. And then I got myself together enough to tell him he had to leave.

“Why don’t I just finish what I started?” he said, suggesting that we didn’t have to have sex, but he could just touch me a little bit.

I said no.

And here is where rape culture comes in. How many times do I have to say “I don’t want to do that” before a man stops trying? An invitation to come to my apartment shouldn’t be equivalent to consent to taking off my clothes. Especially when I explicitly say that I don’t want that to happen.

Last night was pretty obvious, but I’ve had similar experiences after lots of dates. Men ask to come over. I say ok, but I explicitly tell them that I only want to kiss a little bit. Even with that explicit statement, though, so many of those men start touching me, or want me to touch them, and I have to say “no” several times before they give up and leave or I finally kick them out.

I think, if I were a less strong person, I would give in to those pressures, and then feel shitty about it later. It’s easy to see how so many women get violated in these situations because men just ignore what we want. I don’t understand how “I only want to kiss a little bit” or, in last night’s case, “I don’t want to make out with you” can possibly be interpreted as anything other than what it means. But, somehow, far too many men seem to think that it’s ok to push that explicit boundary. It’s discouraging and frustrating and sad. And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being ignored when I say “no.” I know I’m probably preaching to the choir on here. But it’s so, so unacceptable – how can I say nothing?

Advertisements