(gentle reader: this post could potentially serve as a trigger if you are a victim of rape or abuse)
When you are small, you see a pulp detective magazine in a five and dime. On its cover is a woman whose dress is being wrenched off of her by the dark shadow of a stranger. Emblazoned across the image is the word RAPE, just like that, RAPE, in giant intrusive yellow letters. The letters threaten. Something about the word feels dirty and you don’t ask your mother what it means because you just don’t. It’s that knowing you carry deep in your sternum.
That day you come to believe that the word rape is a verb meaning, ‘to tear a woman’s clothes off.’ That’s the literal meaning, anyway. The implied one is that rape is used to elicit fear in a woman. You inherently know it, this little factoid that rape is an androcentric act of aggression.
You are four. Your aunt moves far away and you go visit. One day she takes you to the park and there, twisting and turning and fascinating, is the fanciest slide you’ve ever seen to date, with chutes and tubes jutting off in all directions. It is a work of art! She settles on a bench, you go to play, excited and awed. You slide only twice and then a boy older than you stops you atop the wide platform, “Hey. Why don’t you lay down and let me lay down on top of you while we go down the slide.”
You shake your head, soundless.
“I just want to touch you.” You pick a slide and disappear down it without warning. Stiffly, holding your skirt tight to your legs, you walk the fifty yards to where your aunt is perched and tell her calmly that you want to go home. You are four, you are four.
A girl in first grade is Constance. She probably turned out to be trouble, Constance. She tells you a secret. “My sister’s boyfriend raped her.” Your brows cinch together. “He tore her clothes off?” There are a roil of emotions here but before you can sort them, Constance laughs at you. “That’s not rape.
“Rape is where a boy gets on a swing and a girl gets on top of him facing him and then you swing together and kiss.”
Later that year you are accosted, groped behind some bushes. This happens repeatedly until you tell your cousin what is going on. He is in another grade, with recess in another yard. He cannot get to you. He cannot help you. You are dear to one another and he cannot help you without breaking that silence you swore him to, begging and crying oh don’t tell please don’t tell.
We are never too young for humiliation to sit on us, to stiffen our bodies and shut up our voices inside them.
He answers the call by doing something far beyond his years. He and a boy (whose shy mouth would, some years later, kiss you and ask you if you’d hold his hand in public) you have known since you had a memory tell you they want to teach you to fight. They want you to murder this boy with your hurt and they pound on you in the back yard for two weeks until they think you are ready to Show Them All.
It only took showing one of them, because the rest ran when you lit into the Alpha. Your mother, horrified, sees your injuries that afternoon and screams for your uncle and he quickly rushes to calm her, to assure her that the scratches covering one side of your face and the missing hank of hair do not mean you are the victim. Not this time.
Danny and Jaco had told you for the duration of those two readying weeks that you must not fight like a girl. You must make a fist and use your whole self to launch into those disgusting boys who leered and grabbed your hairless crotch and put their alien hands on your smooth, flat chest.
You sent that boy to the hospital. Your mother says later, “You were so proud. You bloodied his nose, blacked both his eyes. You were so proud to tell me that.” She never informed you of the sick a mother must feel at knowing this happened to her six-year-old. You would be (have been) tortured if a child you loved told you that for weeks on end they were violated. It’s never occurred to you to ask because you don’t want your mother to have to think about it.
You don’t remember much of the lashing out. You don’t remember the exact triumph-words to your mother. You DO remember the feel of power. You remember feeling uncaged.
The small space between the brick and the hedgerow birthed in you an adovcate’s heart. You proved with fists and their ready insulting of skin and bones that you could fight for whoever needed it. You go on to step into the in-between time and time again, your jaw ready and your rage flaming out beautiful in front of you.
You have been assaulted by more than one man, grabbed, fondled, menaced despite your set jaw and your purposeful lack of a vulnerable show. You walked around like a girl to be reckoned with and it didn’t matter. You have been brutalized at the hands of three men, all of them men you knew and willed yourself to trust. You walked around like a woman to be reckoned with and it didn’t matter.
It takes you many years hence to realize something about that pulp magazine and the word rape and the menacing figure. You realize that –even though you know the technicals– that you equate the look in that woman’s eyes with the word rape. Rape, the intimation of it as well as the perpetration of it, is terror.
That fuckface Akin has no empathy. Had he had any, it would have never once occurred to him to trivialize rape and its implications for women in societies all over the world. He would know that sometimes (not all the time, but sometimes is very enough) the mere act of walking out of your house when you sport breasts and a vagina makes you a target, or makes you feel like one.
When he tells us he has empathy, that is a motherfucking lie. Empathy means that statement about ‘legitimate rape’ could never have even formulated itself in his brain, much less passed his foul, ignorant lips. If Todd Akin is allowed to keep his job then this country is farther gone than even I thought, and I have long been a bated-breath (hopeful, so hopeful) skeptic of us as it is.
Holy God, I am hanging on to the hope that the men of my generation are all as enlightened about women’s rights as the ones I call friends and loved ones. We have got to fix the blatant hatred of women that is going on unchecked and without shame in this country that is supposed to house us all free and brave; we have to fix it now because I cannot ever in my life –even in the face of my assault and abuse– remember feeling as vulnerable in general as I have in the last two years.
Be loud, women. Be loud, men. We must express the power of a defiant, unified collective of advocating hearts.
If you are a victim or survivor of assault, rape, or domestic violence, please know that there is a list of resources and a loving community of support over at Violence Unsilenced. You are not alone, and you do not have to be quiet.