Rape isn’t the only way that women are violated – they experience violation every day
Violation isn’t always forced, non-consensual sexual penetration by a stranger.
Sometimes, it’s being exposed to porn at a young age, learning that sex equals dominance and discomfort. Learning to have no voice but to make theatrical grunts and moans. Learning to see everything from the ideal male perspective. Learning that violence is normal.
Learning to tolerate pain.
Sometimes, it looks like me finally working up the confidence to have a conversation with my doctor about sexual activity and birth control, only to find out that my parents had been breaking my trust and listening through the office door. I remember wondering if that was a HIPAA violation. I remember wondering if I could sue my grandmother each time she told me I dressed like a whore or forbade me from interacting with the opposite sex.
Sometimes, it’s the gynecologist who, for the sake of a proper medical evaluation, asked me how many sexual partners I’ve had. I answered honestly, for the sake of a proper medical evaluation, and she follows not with questions like, “Do you use protection every time?” or, “Have you been tested recently?” but instead says, “You know, you’re a pretty girl. You should save yourself for someone special.”
She might as well have said, “No one will want to marry a loose girl,” while she put her speculum into my vagina.
Sometimes, violation is when my first boyfriend shared pictures of me partially nude with his friends. Pictures that I took for his eyes only. Knowing that so-and-so has seen my naked body when I never wanted so-and-so to see my naked body and peers telling me, “Well, you should have seen this coming.” It was experiences like this that gave me trust issues, that made me retreat inward, that helped me understand my mother and her detachment a bit better.
And sometimes, it is a man saying, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel like it,” or, “You take too long,” when it’s my turn to orgasm. It’s the fact that I was okay with that answer because I’d been taught my whole life that my pleasure is secondary; it reaches no end and serves no purpose.
It’s not fully understanding my own anatomy and the oppressive nature of pleasure until I was 21 and had already given the best parts of me to so many who didn’t appreciate me. It is the man who says he would like to please me but whines out accusations of my bossiness when I tell him there are better techniques.
Your tongue hurts? I’m sorry, but my tongue hurts too, from the literal and metaphorical incisions that have rendered my sisters voiceless in the face of oppression and injustice for countless generations.
Rape doesn’t always look like a stranger in an alley, a home invasion.
It can look like people I thought were my friends.
Friends who took advantage of my drunkenness. It can look like the time I woke up to three men, ‘friends,’ redressing me. It’s the not knowing. It looks like a female friend peeling my sluggish, inebriated body off the floor and asking, “What have you done?”
Because it was my fault, of course; how did I get so drunk? Why did I get so drunk? Where was my self-control? What did I expect would happen?
It can look like my mom’s motto, “My first husband ruined me for sex, and my second ruined me for love.”
After all, spousal rape was not universally adopted as a crime until 1993. Hearing my mother say this meant I could never think of my father the same way again. I wondered if they tell me these things with the intention of ripping me apart on the inside, wanting to lay claim to the half that they believe belongs to them, and forgetting about the rest. If only it could be that easy.
It can look like a guy I connected with in college because we lived in the same area when we weren’t at school. I was far too drunk to participate in anything sexual with him, but he didn’t care. I woke up naked to an empty bed, not remembering what he had or had not done to me, with or without my permission. I filed a report months later, realizing that something was wrong, hoping that I might find justice or just closure.
He tried to characterize me as promiscuous by pointing out a tattoo that sits on my pelvic bone, just below where my underwear hits my hips. I don’t remember taking my underwear off but his argument almost convinces me that I must have done it willingly.
I lost, I panicked, but he transferred anyway.
He began working at the winery across from my job and I would have panic attacks about the panic attacks that I thought I would have if he ever came in for dinner while I was working.
Luckily, he never did.
Sometimes, it’s a guy who slips off his condom while he’s having sex with me from behind. He didn’t ask, and I don’t find out until he ejaculates on my leg like a dog. How dare you? How dare you take my health into your hands, how dare you treat me so deceitfully, how dare you take my voice and my choice for granted?
It is also the moment when I started to question myself.
When I drunkenly had sex with a man who didn’t matter, who didn’t mean anything to me. He was drunker than me. I was in control. I talked to him throughout the night and even the next morning. He was okay. But was he truly okay, or was he just taught to be okay with experiences like this? Have I done something truly fucked up?
I shame myself into a state of utter disbelief and regret, thinking that I had become my abuser.
Violation is hardly ever just as simple as forced penetration by a man in an alley with a gun to your head.
Though it can look like that, too.