The insidiousness of rape culture – Or, why porcupines don’t have cell phones
I am writing this to kill time while I wait for the cops to arrive. Calm down, I’m fine.
It shames me to admit (and shames me more that I feel shamed!) that I have been the victim of persistent sexual harassment for upwards of 3 years. The shame comes not from my state of victimhood. That just makes me resentful. No, the shame comes from never having taken decisive action to free myself from it until now, because I’m a feminist and should damn well know better.
So, many years ago I met a man who seemed nice and knew all manner of cool things about stuff like the wilderness and spelunking and the profusion of edible plants that grow wild in urban settings. He brought me a huge quartz crystal cluster he had knocked off the wall of a cave himself, and asked me out on a date.
I was not especially attracted to him but welcomed the rare chance to have a nice dinner bought for me and spend an evening talking with a person with such an impressive array of knowledge. It all went well until he tried to kiss me and I tried to gently explain that I wasn’t into it. Let’s just say he wasn’t a gentleman about it and after quite a blistering verbal outburst we parted ways and I didn’t see him for several years. Like a decade.
We wound up meeting again and he apologized for his behaviour that night. We were both involved in some of the same projects and exchanged numbers. I helped him write and publish an article on food sovereignty and created promo materials for a workshop he was giving. We became Facebook and coffee shop friends.
I had done an art nude photo shoot that I was pretty proud of and ill-advisedly gave him the link to some of the pictures. And then the 3 am messages started happening.
I should be clear that this guy becomes a completely different person when he drinks. At first the messages were fairly… vanilla? And I thought, “He’s drunk again. Meh.” The most disturbing part was that the messages woke me up when my phone beeped. As a person who has sleep issues I didn’t appreciate this, and I let him know it. But nonetheless, every few weeks he’d do it again. But I did not feel violated, I felt annoyed.
The messages became increasingly graphic and sexual and there began to be an insulting element to them, describing certain nasty things he’d like to do to my body while also taking shots at my weight. And all the time I made allowances for him, because I liked him as a person, in person and sober. So I just kept calmly asking him not to message me in the middle of the night.
He was eventually ostracised from a group we were working with and he was angry about it. The threatening way that he spoke of the people responsible started to freak me out. I heard a violence and malevolence in his voice that suddenly connected the man I knew in person to the scary 3 am pervert.
Around this time he lost all filters. The messages started to come every night. He would tell me how he was touching himself while looking at my pictures. On my phone, in my inbox, on my wall. And I finally lost it and told him straight out to stop contacting me, period. And he turned that vicious, scary language on me. I stood my ground, blocked him on Facebook but drew the line at changing my phone number to escape it. This was last November and for awhile things were quiet. And lately it’s happening again.
Around the same time I found out that I wasn’t the only one. I now know of at least 3 other women he has done this to. But only with me has he persisted. Sometimes a few months will pass, sometimes only a week, but it doesn’t stop. Hence the cops are coming to take my statement.
So why in fuck’s name did I not call them before now? I told myself it was because I didn’t want the hassle just over some annoying text messages. If I were more honest I would say it’s because I’m fairly convinced that the cops won’t stop him, and that involving them will provoke him. So life should get pretty interesting after tonight.
But that right there is the fucked up thing! That right there is why I am talking about this in the context of rape culture despite the man never having laid a hand on me. Because I, an empowered feminist with martial arts training sufficient to handle that motherfucker, have instead protected a man who assaults me whenever he likes in the one way I can’t defend myself against. When I see his name on my phone my heart begins to pound. If I forget to turn off my ringer I get a whole night without sleep as I lie in bed and rage at the presumption, the entitlement, the sheer twisted arrogance of a man who thinks a woman’s no does not apply to him.
And this is a huge problem in our culture. Not only that we have men so poorly raised and educated that they think this behaviour is somehow acceptable, but also that we have women who do know better minimizing the impact it has on us, pretending we aren’t scared, offended, shamed, just to keep the peace. Because I didn’t want to bug the police with my little problem. Because I was scared that doing so would only make him worse.
Now take that minimization of the issue, take that fear of reprisals, and multiply it by a very large number and we see why so many victims of sexual assault never come forward. Because there are those who would say I was asking for it when I sent him those pictures, even when I let him buy me dinner when I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to sleep with him. And to those people I say, get bent.
But not every woman has the confidence to stand in the face of such accusation and say, “Yes but I still said no.” If I wear a short skirt, if I flirt, if I am a nude model and don’t mind who sees, if I let you buy me dinner or have a few too many at a party I’m fair game?
I don’t care if you jerk off to my picture. I just don’t want to hear about it.
I’d be interested in the breakdown of cost to see just what services I owe a man. If I let you buy me one drink do I owe you oral? No? How about three? Does dinner buy you penetration? Does dessert buy you anal? Do sexy clothes that I wear for me automatically mean I want you?
And if you treat me as an object to be bought or simply taken and there are no consequences, why would you ever stop? If I let you rape my mind at will, deprive me of sleep and peace, force me to look at your disgusting thoughts every time I pick up my phone because now I have to archive every message as evidence, am I asking for it then?
No. And consequences are coming.
I may be accused of victim blaming, in my acknowledgement that I have not taken action to end this before now. It is not intended to imply that any victim of any form of assault is at fault for having been assaulted, but only to show how crucial it is that we do come forward when it happens. That responsibility lies with us. It is sometimes the only power we have in the situation and I wish I had used it sooner.
I’ve been a very bad porcupine. I have not posed a great enough danger that the predator backed off. That changes now. I invoke the protection I’m entitled to, to show him what he is not entitled to, from me or any woman. And I won’t lie, I’m kind of scared.
But when have I ever let that stop me, once I’m also good and mad?