Since I was a little girl I would consider myself a feminist. It didn’t take me reading Betty Friedan to know something was up. Even in what most people would consider a balanced relationship, it didn’t take long to notice something I didn’t agree with in my parents’ relationship. It would just take my Dad being mad for me to notice. He could yell and threaten, sometimes silently, and my Mom would shut down.
I reveled in my feminism, in my being part of a solution to what I saw as the greatest injustice in society. After all, women are every race, size, IQ and sexual orientation.
That was all until I was raped.
It took days for me to even label what happened to me was rape. I was hesitant to own the label — I had to be sure. I had to be sure that what I had wasn’t just bad sex before I put the burden of a million women’s experience on my shoulders.
I was a women’s studies minor — if there was one thing I knew about, it was the injustice of rape.
But in class rape wasn’t what happened to you on your own couch after watching a movie with someone. Rape was a war tool, a form of intimate terrorism. Rape left women dead, ostracized from society, abandoned, diseased or pregnant.
I found myself telling myself I was lucky. Sure, I had been left beaten, crying, screaming and bleeding on my own living room floor, but I wasn’t pregnant and the test from Health Services came back negative. If there was one thing my textbooks had taught me it was that if there was a rape severity scale, it could have been much worse.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t want it. I didn’t want it before, during or after.
I asked him to slow down, I asked him to stop, I screamed in pain and he was “kind” enough to give me a five minute breather before raping me once more and then making me drive him home. My eyes darted around frantically in those five minutes, but my body was in shock. He told me to play with myself. And I did, hoping I could help my body out and make it less painful.
In the days after my rape, I sweated nervously in my Feminist Philosophy class. I glanced around in Women and Politics, waiting for someone to be able to identify that I had been raped. I could have told my professors what had happened, that I was missing class for therapy and because I was too scared to leave my apartment. But I didn’t. I didn’t want people who studied the effects of rape to see a victim in front of them and I didn’t want to see the weight of understanding in their eyes.
When people asked me “Why didn’t you report it?” “Were you drinking?” “Weren’t you talking to him?” All I could tell myself was “just classic rape culture.” But knowing what they were saying was wrong didn’t change how I felt. No level of technical understanding could calm my nerves and every feminist philosophy couldn’t help absolve the guilt or responsibility I felt.
I felt like I had been living in a feminist lala land of sorts to believe men could be respectful of me or would listen to me when I said “no.”
I wasn’t mad at my attacker. I was mad that feminism had lulled me into the false sense of security and autonomy, forcing me to ignore the real world all around me. I had been tricked to believe I was equal. I never considered what would happen if a highly socialized member of the rape culture stepped in and yanked my autonomy out from under me, even if just for the briefest moment.
No clinical term can make it better when the man you love more then anything goes to touch you and you can’t feel it because your body is shaking in fear. No non-profit can make up for the time you had to be comforted because you were having a panic attack because someone undid your jeans. Nothing can give you back all the positive sexual experiences you could have had if you weren’t too scared to be alone with a man.
Where feminism had always given me a sense of empowerment, my rape left me feeling more belittled then ever. Every article I had read for class gave me a greater understanding of exactly what had been taken away from me. Things I didn’t even know — things I may not have even considered.
I almost let my rape take everything from me, including my own life. Feminism made sure I knew what was being taken from me, but because of it I also know just how much power I have to take back. Power equal to that of any man. And with that power I will take anything and everything that was taken from me and I will rebuild it into something better.