Here is a link to a piece was written by a good friend of mine, Chris DiNardo. My essay was inspired by his, and so is best read after his. His take on misogyny in our society is certainly worth the read, and my response comes from my own experiences.
My first real relationship lasted for two and a half years. I fell in love with a guy who respected me beyond all else and cared significantly more about my happiness and well-being than his own. As much as I hate to attribute any of who I am to another person, much less a significant other, I know that much of who I am today comes from him. He taught me how to put another person’s needs first without sacrificing your own. He taught me that love takes commitment, effort, and constant, daily striving to empathize with each other’s desire, fears, backgrounds, quirks and mistakes, with understanding rather than judgment. He also taught me how a relationship between two adults should end: with a mature conversation and a bilateral decision, not due to wrongdoing by either party, but as a result of the monumental and inescapable changes that occur when two people start new lives away from each other and everything they had known.
And yet, as grown-up and civilized as that sounds on paper, when it happened in real life I was devastated and shaken to my core. My best friend, my first love, the person to whom I gave years of my life and all of myself, was telling me that while he would always love me, he no longer wanted to be with me. It monumentally changed how I saw myself and the world. Although it had been a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship, in the words of Stevie Nicks, I had built my life around him. I was not prepared for that foundation to crumble. And when it did, I discovered that I could not stand on my own. I cried all the time, drank to the point of my roommates holding an intervention for me, and stayed in my bed far too much. When I went home for break, I burned bridges with our mutual friends, and avoided talking about him with my family.
One person that I felt I could talk to, besides my closest girlfriends, was a guy that I had known most of my life. We had spent nearly a decade swimming on the same team and spending countless afternoons messing around or playing cards at the pool. As we got older, his life became more complicated and we grew apart, but I still counted him as someone I could trust implicitly. I talked to him openly about my breakup and the emotional turmoil that I didn’t know how to face.
However, he was of the opinion that the way for me to start moving forward was to sleep with someone else, a position for which he nobly volunteered himself. I told him that I wasn’t interested and that I wasn’t in the right place to take that step, particularly not casually with a friend, and even more so, who had a girlfriend. That should have been the end of the conversation, but he continued to impress upon me his desire to “help” me, both sober and when he had been drinking. I continued to tell him no, and I thought the question had been resolved.
One night, he came over to my house. We were hanging out in my parents’ basement with my younger sister, drinking and watching television. When my sister went to bed, he and I continued to drink. As had been my habit of late, I had far too much, went upstairs to bed and threw up. I sent him a text telling him that I was sick and going to sleep. He responded that I would not have invited him over if I didn’t want to “make a beautiful mistake,” and not to disappoint him. I don’t know what my thought process was, because I have only a few seconds of memory of the entire night, but for some reason, I went back downstairs. I remember him pushing my head down to perform oral sex on him, and I remember putting my shorts back on and going upstairs after he was done with me. I don’t know for sure whether he used a condom. I don’t know if we kissed. All I know is that it was the last thing I wanted, but because he wanted it, it happened.
When telling my friends about it, I received extremely mixed reactions. Everyone agreed that he was a douche for sleeping around on his girlfriend. Most felt sympathetic for me, because I was clearly upset about it. Many told me to learn from my mistake and not to do it again. Interestingly, the first person to use the r-word was my ex, who I impulsively told when we had lunch to catch up for the first time since the breakup. He asked me if I had gone to the hospital to have a rape kit done, and I was floored. Until that moment, I was wracked by guilt for sleeping with a guy with a girlfriend. The thought never crossed my mind that it could be anyone’s fault but my own. I still have trouble calling it rape, even though Pennsylvania state law does not allow consent to be given by someone who is intoxicated. I am afraid to tell my own mother, because I don’t know whether she will be angry at him or at me. I would like to say that if the situation had involved anyone else I would have had a reaction more similar to my ex’s than to my friends’. But in all honesty, I don’t know if that’s true.
The statistics are staggering. One in five women is raped in college. In Chris’s essay, he states that all men share complicity in the perpetuation of rape culture. And to a point, I agree. The overwhelming majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are male, and the current ideals of masculinity do nothing to change that fact or to support the victim. However, my own experience has been that it has been the men who care about me who have reacted the most strongly in my defense. Whether or not it stemmed from a paternalistic protective instinct, the people who were most angry at the person who took advantage of me were my ex and my male friends. With a few exceptions, the judgmental ones were the women. When I needed them the most, my best friends looked at my pain and saw an embarrassed and embarrassing drunk slut rather than a rape victim.
Now obviously, my situation has some gray areas. If I had been dragged into a back alley and raped by a scary guy on the street I’m sure that my friends’ reactions would have differed greatly. While it is impossible to compare such a horrific and violent event to my experience, I was no less violated than someone in that situation. And while the knowledge that my body was used against my will for someone else’s pleasure shakes my trust in men, the knowledge that my closest and most trusted friends felt that a crime committed against me was my “mistake” has been significantly more damaging. I still love these girls desperately and would do anything for them, and none of them are bad or mean people. The true issue is the way that women in our culture see each other’s actions through a lens of judgment rather than compassion.
We are each other’s greatest advocates, and the cycle of blaming the victim can only be stopped by women. We need to stand up for each other. We need to see sexual violence through the eyes of the victim rather than through the eyes of society. We need to love one another, because only love can start to heal that deep, secret place that is so decimated by abuse.
If your sister or daughter or mother or friend comes to you in pain, be present. Let her cry. Let her yell. Hug if her if she wants to be hugged; don’t touch her if she doesn’t. Believe that what she tells you is true, and tell her that she didn’t deserve to be treated the way she was treated. Most importantly, listen. Accept her feelings as valid, and be her support when she doesn’t think her own legs will hold her. Don’t let violence take away her sense of self. Remind her that love conquers all.