Too often do we do find ourselves in the gray zone, the area between right and wrong, defined and undefined. Our generation is plagued with a fear of committing to a title. Sure, the obvious example that comes to mind is the ever present “not boyfriend” or “not girlfriend”. A not boyfriend is someone you sleep with regularly, spend time with sober, and possibly even go on dates with, yet neither of you are willing to define the relationship, keeping it casual. You remain in a constant state of unattached and attached. I wish that I could say boyfriends and girlfriends were the only thing that this “not” title applies to. Unfortunately I can’t. It applies to rape as well. I am a survivor of “not rape.”
Most feminists will automatically say if you think it’s rape then it’s rape, and as someone who defines herself as a feminist I would agree. If you think it’s rape then it probably is. However, what happens when you don’t know what to think? What happens when you feel taken advantage of, betrayed, helpless, and used but don’t want to take away from the “true” victims, the victims who don’t fall in the gray zone, by using the word rape?
Today’s world is incredibly focused on rape, which I think is a fantastic thing. The only way to change it is to have a conversation about it; however that also means people are also saying that women are blowing rape culture out of proportion and then attack those who come forward with rape, claiming that they lie or over-exaggerate what happened to them. I personally think there is nothing worse than a woman who lies about rape; these lies take away the validity of every survivor’s story. This belief is what has confused my emotions, it has caused me to refuse to identify as a survivor because at the end of the day what happened to me, in my mind, “wasn’t consensual… but it wasn’t rape.”
Before feminists or men’s rights group alike freak out at me for this statement, let me explain what happened. I am currently studying abroad in a relatively conservative culture. Most young people drink but public intoxication is still illegal and children live with their parents until they’re married. I went on a date with a local who is quite a few years older than I am–I’m 20 and thought he was 28 although in reality he is 32. We went to bars, drank, salsa danced, laughed. All in all it was one of the best dates I’ve been on in a long time. We ended up making out in the bar, something that is not normal in the country I’m studying in, and then decided to go to a club.
Once in the car he said that he wanted me, so I invited him back to my apartment–mistake number 1. Even with this invite, I had no intention of sleeping with this man. I typically do not sleep with men after the first date and I was on my period. We get back to my apartment and start making out in the living room and he attempts to have sex with me. At this point I’m incredibly intoxicated, I barely remember this part of the night and really only remember what occurred after because it was traumatizing. He tried to have sex with me. I said no. I said “no” or “no, not tonight” close to ten times in a period of 15 minutes. He then finds out I’m on my period and says that that’s great because it means that I “can’t get pregnant.” Not only is this “you can’t get pregnant on your period” thing not true, but it also doesn’t matter. I said no and I continued to say no even after he made this argument. However, the argument of consensual vs. unconsensual continues because even as I am saying no we’re still kissing. I’m not performing any acts of foreplay, but we continue kissing.
Reminder, I am incredibly drunk, drunk enough that I can’t fight anyone off and am more or less falling asleep as we kiss. He then takes off my clothes, which I protest against, but can’t stop, and proceeds to have sex with me. Afterwards we fall asleep.
At this point people reading this are more than likely having mixed reactions. A majority of people are probably thinking this falls more on the “rape” side of the spectrum than the consensual side. I agree. When I tell this story to my friends I always say that the first time we had sex that night it wasn’t consensual. Exactly, the first time.
Now is when things get iffy, the rest of the night is what has put my emotions on a roller coaster. We had sex a total of three times. The first time was not consensual. I said no close to ten times and meant it. I was ignored. The second time I was so drunk I don’t remember, also more than likely falls on the rape side. The third time we had sex he was incredibly pushy about it. He asked me countless times “why not?” and “it already happened, come on.” So, I had sex with him. I was upset about the night and felt dirty, but he was right, why not? It had already happened. So, I went down on him and we had sex. This all happened before 6 am. He left at 7 a.m. and I immediately texted one of my best friends abroad saying “I hate myself” before I passed out. I woke up at noon and had no recollection of sending that text, that’s how drunk I still was even at 7 am the next morning.
So here I am, writing down my feelings not sure how I feel about it. No jury would ever convict this man of rape, not in the country I’m studying in, nor in the United States. I don’t want him to get in trouble, I blame most of his actions on a cultural misunderstanding and the perception abroad that American women are always willing to have sex. I fall in this gray zone of “not rape.” Now, being a feminist, if one my friends were to come to me and tell me this story I would be looking at her like “you were raped.” However, I would let her come to her own conclusions. If she felt she was raped then I would support her with whatever actions she chose to take; however, if she asked my opinion I would tell her it is unlikely for a jury to convict but if you truly feel this way then I will support you through the entire process. If my friend said she didn’t feel raped I would support her and ask her if she wanted to talk about it.
Interestingly enough, when I tell this story to my close friends it’s usually the men who say “that was sleazy, you were taken advantage of” or even “yes, that was rape” while the most extreme reaction from fellow women is “you were taken advantage of,” while a few even shrugged it off. I do not mean to belittle my female friends. They have all been incredibly supportive, and I’m sure many are under-reacting because they can tell that they don’t know how I feel yet, and do not want to force my emotions in either direction. Women are also likely to under-react because we are the first-hand victims of slut shaming, and fear that this would take away from the validity of the women who were “really” raped–the women who were slipped date rape drugs, passed out and assaulted, or raped by force. No women wants to risk taking away from the validity of these survivors by pressing a rape case that isn’t “really” rape. I fall into this category of women, which is why I describe what happened to me as “not rape.” However, I am still a survivor. I still cried about it. I still felt dirty after. I still hooked up with someone else solely to try to prove to myself that I wasn’t “upset by what happened,” which is all the more proof that what happened to me really got to me.
As a generation we really need to get over this fear of committing to a title; but we also need to accept that the titles that currently exist may not encompass everyone. We need to stop victim blaming. I am not saying I want to go to the police. I do not want to ruin this man’s life for what happened to me. However, I do want to be able to seek out support from other women who feel similarly to me. I don’t know if I fall into the one out of every four college women who have been sexually assaulted during their time at university. I feel taken advantage of, I feel dirty, I would even go so far as to say I feel depressed. I do not feel assaulted. I am afraid that if I try to identify with women who were truly raped I will be mocked, but I also don’t feel like I can identify with women who have only had consensual sex. At this point I know what it feels like to not be in control. I don’t know what the answer is to this feeling but I do believe that some form of conversation needs to occur because of it. There is no way I am the only survivor of “not rape,” there is no way I am the only person who feels ostracized by all sides.
The hardest part about the entire situation is how alone I feel. I feel like I have no one to talk to. My male friends get incredibly overprotective — I am proud to say that only one of my male friends said I am overreacting once they heard the full story; my female friends–for the most part–under-reacted to my story, at most they said it was sleazy. I am afraid of this conversation with feminists. Many of my fellow feminists could try to force me to either side, with some saying I am distracting from the stories of women who truly suffered, while others saying I am not living up to my duty of reporting rape. Men’s rights activists could mock me and blame me for being a slut who got too drunk.
I yearn for someone to talk to. For a title to fit into, but I don’t feel like either of the options accurately describe what I am going through. Conversation and education are the ways to create change. I hope that a conversation about “not rape” can evolve, that education will be provided. This education should not teach women what to feel about their unique situations, but allow them to know that it is okay to feel confused. I don’t know what happened to me. I was not raped. Yet, I did not consent. Both of those statements are at odds with one another, if you did not consent then society says you were raped; if you were not raped then you must have consented. I fall into the gray zone, a zone that I am sure many other young women fit into. It is horrible. I try to ignore it, I try to have a good time. Yet, it’s always there. When we talk about sex it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Here’s to hoping for a change and surviving until it happens.