Last summer, I wrote a very passionate plea to those who have not experienced rape, asking them to respect those of us who have. It was a very personal post, inspired directly by the disrespect, assaults, gaslighting, and threats I’d received in the weeks leading up to it. I don’t retract any of my words in that post, but I would like to revisit the issue, and bring about some new points that I was too upset to reflect upon the first time around.
First, let me make this very clear: This post is a feminist critique of rape culture, which means that I will focus on the rape of women, at the hands of men. This is not only because this is how I was raped, it’s not just that this is the most common manifestation of rape, but also because that frequency is the direct result of rape culture, a social consciousness that actively harms all women.
As I’ve said before, I am a survivor of rape. I have never openly discussed the details of my rape, and I doubt I ever will. Conjecture over those details is derailing, belittling, and misogynistic. If you wish to dismiss my experiences because you believe my rape wasn’t violent enough, wasn’t traumatizing enough, or that I simply wasn’t raped enough, congratulations: You are a complete scumbag. It is not your place to demand that a victim share such details; a rape victim deserves respect as a victim, full stop, whether she was assaulted after several drinks by her boyfriend, or whether she was drug into a dark ally by multiple assailants on her walk home from school. Rape is rape. You do not get to pass judgment on a victim based on how she was victimized, or how she responded to that violation. And yes, this extends to fellow rape victims; all power to you if you weren’t traumatized by your attack, but you do not have the right to expect or demand others to respond as you did.
All of that said, there are some details I feel free to discuss. One such detail is that it took me years to speak out about this, because I actively repressed it for most of my adult life. It was too much for me to handle, at a time when I was already emotionally overwhelmed, and so my brain decided to just not think about it, ever. This only changed because finally, my life reached a state of calm that let me feel safe enough to open that hidden door. But, safe as I felt to make that first step, waking that sleeping dragon was devastating. It was like I’d just been raped that day. All those emotions were fresh, my nerves were raw, and my body shivered and crawled with a physical sensation of violation. I completely shut down, I took off from work, I pulled away from everything and withdrew to privately struggle with this revelation.
During the months following that acknowledgement, I was very easily triggered. I was struggling with overwhelming fear, mistrust, and the resulting delicacy of mind and emotion. I shared this in my last entry explaining how I struggled through recovery, through triggers, through the seemingly innocuous events in life that chipped away at my sense of safety. Because of this, I’ve had critics accuse me of being “too sensitive,” of being “ridiculous” and “crazy” and “way too fucked up.” So, I’d like to address these comments, and other criticisms held against me, and discuss how deeply troubling such objections are:
1. “No one should be this fucked up by their rape. You’re just crazy and need therapy.”
Well, first, I already receive therapy. Initially I sought help through a center devoted to victims of domestic and sexual violence, though I’ve now transitioned to a general practitioner. I’ve made great strides in recovery, and am now much more capable of handling triggers, emotionally taxing encounters, and just daily life. So if you’re truly concerned for my mental health, rest easy: I’m pluggin’ along.
Yet, I know these sorts of criticism aren’t about whether or not I’m in therapy, whether or not I’m a steady, sane, happy person. These people aren’t hoping I’ll get help, they’re gaslighting me, and delegitimizing my experiences with bigotry. Using “crazy” as an insult–particularly when tied with such gaslighting–is ableist to its very core. “Crazy” is a relative term, and if it wasn’t so stigmatized, there would be a lot of people calmly admitting, “Yeah, I’m crazy.” I don’t wish to support that stigma, so I don’t flinch at the possibility of clinical diagnosis, but just at the bigotry inherent in the way that word is used. Just like I fully admit to being queer, I wouldn’t want someone writing off my experiences with homophobia because I’m “just a dyke” and so I must be blowing things out of proportion. This is not an acceptable way to approach discussions of minority oppression.
Secondly, I’d like to look at the horrifying notion that anyone would deem themselves worthy of declaring anyone “too fucked up” by their trauma. Sadly, this happens all the time. Parents who lose a child are given a couple months for grieving, then are told to “move on,” and stop letting their lives be destroyed by their tragedy. People struck with sudden disability are given a modicum of sympathy before people burst out with demands that they “not let their disability define them.” People seem to think there is an arbitrary time limit for how long you’re allowed to be affected by tragedy, and a measurable cap on how badly it’s allowed to affect you. But real people don’t work that way, and even if you have lived through a similar experience, you do not have the right to demand that anyone else process, accept, and cope with their tragedy as you did yours.
2. “You’re just a misandrist. Why don’t you talk about male victims? It’s not right to ignore them.”
No, I don’t talk about male victims, and if you don’t understand why, then you shouldn’t be here. I have never said that men are not victims of rape. I have never said that women cannot be rapists. Yet people read what I do say, somehow infer those falsehoods anyway, and hold them aloft as conclusive proof that I don’t care about men. Do you write to Cat Fancy to call them cynophobes, and demand they devote half of their pages to pooches? Or do you understand that magazines, like blogs, often have a specific topic, and write to a specific audience? I wonder if I could publish a crochet blog without being accosted by angry knitters.
Also, as you may have noticed, I write from personal experience. This is a social justice blog rooted in my individual experiences as an oppressed person. Male rape is not something that has impacted my life, and so I have no personal experience or anecdotes to build from. Perhaps someday I’ll write a teardown of the misogyny that dismisses male rape (as that misogyny affects me, too), but that day is not today, and if you’re on pins and needles waiting for it, I highly suggest switching to a more comfortable seat.
3. “I’ve been raped, and I’m not as upset as you are. Get over it.”
I’m truly happy that you weren’t as traumatized by your rape. I say that with absolute sincerity, because I don’t wish torment upon victims. But your own status as victim or survivor does not give you any authority to pass judgment upon others who have suffered similar experiences. There is no room for Oppression Olympics when we’re talking about individuals, about the delicacies of trauma recovery. There are women who have handled rape with far greater ease than I have, and there are women whose struggles dwarf my own. All responses are legitimate, regardless of where they fall on the coping spectrum. All aspects of life are approached in different ways by different people; there is no reason why trauma recovery should be any different. You never have the right to tell a victim to “get over” their victimization.
4. “If you’re that easily triggered, you just shouldn’t interact with people at all.”
First, you seem to be having some trouble with the SJ basics, so let me help you with that. You’re welcome.
Second, this argument is ignorant at best. I should confine myself to my basement without an internet connection because I have the unmitigated gall to be recovering from trauma? Do you say that to women who have suffered stillbirths? Widows and widowers? Victims of gun violence? Any survivor of severe trauma has some kind of trigger, and it is ridiculous to demand that they isolate themselves, when the compassionate answer would be that we as a society stop being such giant fucking assholes. I try extremely hard to not say or do bigoted, oppressive things. Sometimes I fail. But I keep trying, because I don’t think it is the responsibility of those I am privileged over to take my crass bullshit in stride. It is my responsibility to try and be a better person. Join me?
So much of this boils down to the very simple issue of respect. Show some sympathy, some empathy, and when in doubt, tread lightly. It’s not that hard to stop telling rape jokes, honest. And people won’t find you less funny for it, as you’ll now free up time for fresher material. Hell, it’s an election year–if you can’t come up with a good Obama/Romney joke, you’re just not that funny to start.
Continue that respect linguistically, and expand your vocabulary beyond the R-word. By using “rape” out-of-context, you minimize the reality of the word. You’re taking a word loaded with horror to try and shock your audience, to convey that what you’re speaking of is full of so much absolute destruction that it bears direct comparison to rape. But your very motivation here should tell you how inappropriate this is. If you use the word “rape” to demonstrate how something is unequivocally horrifying, why can’t you understand that rape itself is devastating enough that victims shouldn’t have to hear about it all the time?
Simply put: Rape is not a metaphor. You cannot rape an inanimate object, and nothing is raping you with its high prices or stringent standards. “Rape” is not a synonym for “dominate” or “destroy,” though rape victims do suffer those indignities. Rape is not a funny threat to make against someone who antagonizes you.
Rape is a hate crime. It’s a manifestion of misogyny, violence, and hatred that far too many women are forced to suffer. It’s a crime granted social acceptance through a culture that blames the victim, and rarely punishes her attacker.
With this in mind, I demand sensitivity from people when they discuss rape. And this goes beyond “please don’t make rape jokes,” though I do believe such things are tasteless. What I’m asking for is sensitivity toward victims, sensitivity that allows them to feel safe in voicing their opinions. In all discussions of oppression, it’s the privileged person’s responsibility to let the oppressed minority have their voice. This means, in discussion of rape culture–a construct that is built utterly and completely with the bricks of misogyny–men do not speak over women. It means in discussion of rape, non-victims do not speak over victims. I may disagree with a woman’s opinions on rape, I may think her experience shouldn’t be held as an example for how all victims should respond to their attacks, but I will never demand that her own opinion about her own rape should be silenced. Every victim deserves a voice, though that voice should never demand conformity or silence from other victims. It’s not really that complicated: Victims should have a voice. Period.
Non-victims simply don’t have the perspective on this that we survivors do. They’ve not had to struggle through the violation of safety, trust, and bodily autonomy. They’ve not lost sleep from flashbacks, lived through the paranoid hyper-vigilance, or struggled through the repetitive nightmares. They’ve not had to rebuild their sexuality after having it used as a weapon against them. They’ve not had to suffer through rape kits, disbelieving police officers, skeptical friends, and public condemnation.
And no, a victim does not have to suffer through each these steps to deserve respect, to deserve a say on the subject of rape. Not every victim is the same, not every victimization is the same. There is no right or wrong way to be victimized. But there is right and wrong in the debate about rape, and that moral judgment relies entirely upon respect. It is right to allow all victims a voice, even if you disagree with them. It is wrong to dismiss, silence, gaslight, or ridicule a victim because you handled things differently, or because you think they’ve been too weak.
There is no victim/survivor dichotomy. There is no one reaction that makes you a cowardly victim, and no other specific reaction that makes you a brave survivor. You are who you are, and only you can decide where you fall on that spectrum of being. Reacting with strength does not make you better than the woman who crumbles under the horror of her violation. Being swallowed by your pain does not make you less than a woman who picks herself up and moves on. Exactly one person is wrong in this scenario, and that is the rapist.