I am so fucking tired of my friends and I being collateral damage in the adventures of men who see us as nothing more than bundles of body parts.
When a man does something that negates consent – gets a woman drunk, or better yet, puts something extra in her drink, ignores the fact that she’s already too drunk, ignores her hesitation, ignores her I don’t think so, makes her feel like she can’t leave when she says she wants to, this is by no means a comprehensive list – it can literally become a fun party story for him, an acceptable thing to tell his friends about and forget by next weekend. She will try to get over it, try to forget it, try to work through it, but it will be something that has happened to her – an event in her life, one of the marbles in her pocket.
It happens every day. It has happened to almost every woman in one form or another. If she is one of the rare women to whom it hasn’t happened, she is reminded almost every day that it is a possibility by the men who feel authorized to comment on her body, her outfit, her smile, her desirability when she is in public, when she is at work or school or on the street. If she is a woman and she leaves the house, somebody will find some way to remind her that her body is not her own, a vessel in which to spend her earthly existence, but rather a communal good, an object that can be openly critiqued and taken and used at other people’s leisure.
This is one of the things that everyone goes through in life but that no one prepares you for. High schools have gotten better at teaching their students about budgeting and resumes and current events. Modern parenting has evolved so that dialogue about drinking and relationships is encouraged. But there are things that almost everyone will experience in life that – unless you are very fortunate or very unfortunate – are completely omitted from the preparation provided for life, formal or informal. The first time someone you know dies too young and you have to incorporate the reality of mortality into your worldview. When you love someone who becomes addicted to something – or meet an addict with whom you fall in love – and you watch them hurt themselves, or try to stay by them as they hurt you, or have to walk away from them. Did your parents tell you that this was going to be as inevitable as learning to pay your credit card bill on time or plunging a toilet or finally understanding the importance of ironing? Mine didn’t, and they were above average parents in a lot of ways.
Luckily, I had books. I had good books and good movies, and when the bad shit in my life started coming, fast and hard – things like addiction and loss – I had been warned that it would do so by my own independent education, and in some fashion been told how to handle or how not to handle it. (Although I had perhaps thought that the tragic things that happened in books happened only to artists and that I was therefore exempt from them – yes, I see the logical fallacy.)
It’s also a fallacy to say that my literary education was independent. While I took it upon myself to read good books and watch good movies, I was given an idea of what constituted a good work by my parents, my teachers, and society at large. I was provided with a canon. And this canon was, for the most part, populated by white men, many of whom had expired by the time of my reading. Where my high school life skills class trailed off, teaching me to make a budget in Excel but failing to mention the true feeling of absolute poverty, Knut Hamsun took over. When the police officer who came to visit our class told us about the plethora of ways in which drugs and drinking could kill you and ruin your life, I had Hunter S. Thompson and Big Sur to both counter and confirm. When they separated the boys and the girls and told us about condoms and STDs and pregnancy and (how progressive!) in the same breath taught us simple self-defence, I had no one to turn to. I had no one to tell me what rape felt like. I had no one to tell me that it was not a stranger in the bushes, not a bolt from the blue, not something you read about in the news, but something that could and was going to happen – subtly, insidiously, and silently – to anybody with a pussy whom I chose to love.
If you are a man and you find it hard to believe that rape is this prevalent, it is because the women in your life choose to speak about it with each other rather than involving you. They tell each other their stories. They cry with each other. They take each other to the hospital and help each other change the sheets they haven’t been able to touch yet. They do all this without you ever knowing about it – maybe because they have no interest in bringing you into it, but maybe also because they think that you wouldn’t be interested in being part of it. Maybe because they think that you wouldn’t believe them. Definitely because those assumptions are completely fair given the statistics, given the Ghomeshi trial, given the objectification of women’s bodies in popular media, given the absence of a single book about a woman’s experience of rape in the cultural canon.
You cannot necessarily ask the women in your life about their experiences outright. There is such a good chance, though, that you know a woman who would like to confide in you, given the opportunity. Here is what you can do: you can use actions that demonstrate that you are a person who will not offer rejection or disbelief when a woman tells you she has experienced rape. The physical strength that allows some men to rape or intimidate women is the same biological advantage that allows other men to stand up to these men in a way that women cannot without endangering themselves. If you see a woman being harassed – and by the way, unwanted attention is harassment – you can help her. You can do this not by stepping in, cutting her off, and taking her voice from her, but by politely asking her if she is being bothered, then if she would like to stop being bothered, and, finally, if she would like you to stand next to her while she tells the man in question to stop bothering her, or if she would feel more comfortable if you told him yourself. If things seem to be getting dangerous or violent, communicate that you are going to involve the authorities who have the power to deal with that and then do so. When the situation has been taken care of, you can then leave that woman alone. You haven’t helped end the harassment in order to take it up yourself. You aren’t owed anything for having done this. You are simply working in one tiny way to create balance in a world that is so hazardously skewed that women are raped every day, with absolutely no consequence to their rapists. Where women’s bodies are a social good and their minds and hearts are collateral damage.