Thursday, April 08, 2010

“You know how guys force you to do stuff and you can’t do anything about it?”

I’d really just met her, a friend of a friend, a fourteen year-old girl in eighth grade, and she was describing how afraid she was for her best friend, when guys came on to her. And she said it with such resignation that I wanted to puke and scoop her up in my arms at the same time. Because it had obviously happened to her.

There are not enough “very”s in the English language to describe how protective I feel toward teenage girls.

At the time, my first response was to say, “Oh yes you can; a swift upward thrust with the base of your palm” I illustrated how this was done “breaking his nose and pushing it into his brain.”

But I knew exactly what she meant. I’ve been there. Anything you do has consequences. Most of them ugly, unpleasant or dangerous, and requiring more bravery and self-esteem than your average fourteen year-old has in her pocket.

Obviously the best offense is a good defense: don’t be alone with a guy, don’t be dependent on a guy for getting home, don’t get into more than you think you can handle, don’t make yourself vulnerable by getting high or drunk or being the only girl in a group of guys.

Which means what? You act like your guy friends are all potential rapists? That sucks! It’s insulting. And they feel it; when I was fifteen I suddenly felt uncomfortable hanging out with three guys I knew, one of them a good friend, it was ten o’clock at night and we were at a 7-11, and I just said I had to get home and took off, walking the mile home.

Shortly after I got home I got a phone call from one of the guys—“What was that all about? Why did you leave? Did you think we were going to rape you or something?”

And maybe I did. I’d read Susan Brownmiller’s Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape. I was a feminist. I was bisexual. I knew that most gang rapes were perpetrated by thirteen to fifteen year-old boys and that the most likely “women” (they are counted as women in rape statistics) to be raped are thirteen to fifteen year-old girls.

Mainly by men or boys they know.

So when the girl said, “You know how guys force you to do stuff and you can’t do anything about it?” this is what I saw in my head:

I’m sixteen, with my boyfriend of a few months (the same guy who phoned that night when I was fifteen and took off from the 7-11), in his basement bedroom. It was probably after school—he usually showed up right as I waited for the bus home, and talked me into “coming over” for awhile. He wanted to have sex. He always wanted to have sex. He was sixteen and had access; he wanted to take advantage of that fact whenever he wasn’t practicing with his band, playing D & D or getting stoned.

I didn’t want to that day. Maybe I was hurting from some recent less-than-gentle time. Maybe I just didn’t feel like it. And I was afraid of what might happen if I said no. But I tried. I said “No” as he herded me toward his bed, I said I didn’t want to while he was taking off my clothes—maybe he kept saying “please,” I don’t remember, I do know that when he took off my clothes he was remarkably efficient and had been known to throw them out of my reach so I couldn’t leave without humiliating myself or having to go naked.

I do know he continued to try to kiss me and touch me and I kept saying I didn’t want to. He was my height, but way stronger than me, with enormous hands. He didn’t care that I was crying by then, mad but scared and then I pulled my body away from him as much as I could and said, “I said No. If you do it, it will be…”

He cut me off, “Rape,” and he said it with such disdain, and sat up, moving to the edge of the bed. “You’ll say I raped you.” He got up, slammed around the room, shoving things, throwing things, and I dressed as quickly as I could and left.

I think he might have called to apologize at some point; he was from the south, and capable of sweet talk. And the only one in my life who said he loved me. And I was already conditioned to consider myself junk.

It was after that I think when the shoving began, the hands around my neck, the straight-edged razor held to my throat, the sex that happened when I was high or drunk and cried because I wished he’d just stop but didn’t. I didn’t challenge him again; I endured when I didn’t want to and pretended everything was hunky dory the times when I did.

And worked toward going to college a year early and getting the heck out of Dodge before he killed me. I didn’t think he’d do it on purpose even, but I thought he was a deadly accident waiting to happen.

It did. To the next girl. When they were first going out she thanked me for making him “The most feminist guy I know.” They were together over a decade when she died.

So back to the fourteen year-old girl and “You know how guys force you to do stuff and you can’t do anything about it?”

Her choices are:

Fight and maybe get away because he’ll get the point and hopefully she has a safe way home. Later, he may get revenge with slander or an assault. If she’s really, really lucky he’ll have seen the light and become one of the good guys. Miracles happen.

Fight and not get away, getting hurt in the process and forced to do stuff anyway, maybe more violently because now he’s mad; he may even threaten to kill her, or do so. It happens.

Submit and hate it, hope she can avoid it in the future, and face being called a ho-bag.

And then there is the question of telling. Will she be believed? Will she be blamed? Will she be punished by parents who think she broke their rules by being there and “letting” it happen?

And if she is believed—what then? The likelihood that it will go to court, unless there are witnesses and it’s a particularly heinous assault and you’re an important person or he is, are minuscule. The likelihood that if it does go to court and you win that he will get anything more than a slap on the wrist? Equally minuscule.

So I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what she said, and how I wish I had something to say that would make it not true. An answer that didn’t involve hiding in her room or living in a single-sex environment. I wish I could say something other than prevention is the best defense, because that puts the blame on her if the “prevention” fails.

I wish that when she said “You know how guys force you to do stuff and you can’t do anything about it?” I could have said no.


Anonymous said...

As one of the lucky few who can say this hasn't happened to me, I must say, this made me cry! Cry for you and every other woman who has suffered such a fate.

Sass Mouth said...

I've experienced the scenario and have tried to empower my own kids early. If a girl or boy says no, that's what it means. When I grew up, I didn't know I could.