At that moment I stood in the bathroom washing my face and hands. Not a single tear in my eyes. But there was no light in them either. I remember having the most mundane thought that we really needed to put a space heater in the bathroom because it was always so damn cold. I could feel it working its way through my feet, up my legs, around my heart. Somehow, as much as I hate feeling chilled, I embraced it at that moment.
At that moment he stood there. He stood there next to me, watching my shaky hands wipe away the mess and the shame, mocking me for being upset. "You can't possibly think that I'm going to believe that you didn't want it." "Baby, you know I love you." "You've always liked it when I did that before." "I know you could've fought harder to get away if you really didn't want it."
At that moment I felt nothing. And then there was another moment when I thought I would actually try to fight back. There was a moment when I thought I should try to win this battle of him always being right, of me always being too dramatic, of us always being "bigger than this." But, at that moment, I dried my hands and lost the war.
I wish I could say that I reported this crime to the police. I wish I could say that I left him after that night. I wish I could say that this was the only time I have had my dignity stripped away with my clothing. Unfortunately, I am not the only one that has been sexually assaulted by someone near and dear to me. Not all rapes are performed by a man in shadow in a dark alley. Actually, 38 percent of rapists are friends or acquaintances of the victim and 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. In fact, in the 30 minutes it's taken me to find the words and the courage to write this far, 15 women in the United States have been sexually assaulted. Chances are, if you are a man or a woman reading this who is blessed to be untouched, then you know someone who has been touched at some point in a way in which they did not want. Whether you know it or not. Sometimes not even the victims fully know it because they pass it off as no big deal. I still remember how shocked I was when I realized that throughout the 11 months of our relationship (11 months at the end of our seven year on-again, off-again relationship), I had been repeatedly raped by my boyfriend. But, I was 22 and had just lost my virginity, how was I to know that when I told him to stop because it hurt and he didn't - over and over and over again - that it was wrong? We were in love! And besides, he and I both knew that I'm dramatic and make too big of a deal out of things and I should stop putting our relationship through the ringer by "picking fights." Our relationship was worth more than my physical pain. After all, maybe there was just something wrong with me.
Yes, there was something wrong with me. The image I had of myself as not being worth only the utmost respect and love was what was wrong with me. And yet, even as I'm typing this I realize that I still have to remind myself that, Oh yes, I am a Lady of Worth. Because this is the truly heartrending statistic: too many women have been gaslighted their whole lives into thinking that the problem lies within them. That, to paraphrase my dear friend, if you don't want to get raped then it's up to you to not make bad decisions. And her blog post is really at the heart of why I am writing this. Because I want to be in the Get Shit Done room not the Get Over It room.
And perhaps the reason why supposed strong, confident women stay in the wrong Room is because we've been told our whole lives that the problem inherently lies within us. If I wasn't such a flirt, if I didn't wear that outfit, if I wasn't such a good dancer, if I didn't take that particular way home, if I had only worn a robe over my nightgown around my grandfather like my grandmother had warned me. We've been told by society, by boyfriends, and sometimes by parents that if you act a certain way you get certain results. It's the same justification that passes over "lady of the night" murders; the "well, she was a prostitute, what do you expect" mentality that simply continues to perpetrate the lie that it is somehow our fault.
However, I do want to say this and say it very clearly: there is something to be said for modesty and the fact that there are certain lifestyles that leave women more susceptible to abuse. Does that make it our fault? No. Do we need to be even more cautious? Yes.
The summer of my 21st year, I went out a lot. A lot. To say my conservative Christian parents were nervous was an understatement. Yet, during all the repeated conversations I had with them, they always reiterated the fact that it wasn't that they didn't trust me, they didn't trust the other people out on the roads driving drunk at that hour; they didn't trust the creepy guys that congregate in bars and club looking for only one thing. My parents have been around the block quite a few times and are not naive. They are not conservative because they have always been so, but because they have lived on the opposite side and been burned too many times.
I have been burned as well. But, I am not going to hide away from fear because of it. I am a woman and I have a voice. Right now it might be a small, scared voice, but, like the Who's kept alive so precariously on the speck on Horton's thistle, I AM HERE! And I will not go quietly into the night. So, thank you, Muska, for your post. It has reminded me, yet again, of why I am constantly inspired by your bravery and ability to use words to display it so effectively. More importantly, I am reminded that my purpose and vision for life has always been to effect positive change, to know that in my own way I am saving a small corner of the world. And that saving doesn't have to be overnight or to millions of people. It starts with one.
It starts with each one of us telling the men in our lives what is and isn't acceptable. It starts with us claiming that we are Ladies of Worth. It starts by getting in The Room.