Thursday, July 14, 2016

Between the sheets

* He's had a crush on her for years. She needs a place to crash after a big night. He just assumes she's fine with it.

* Eventually, after much begging and pleading, she reluctantly agrees to let him kiss her.

* Sharing a bed, she asks that there be no kissing or sex. But he gets a bit carried away.

* He knows she's slept with other guys, so why not him? They're dating, after all.

When the open letter from the victim of the Stanford rapist came into our consciousness, almost every woman I know was reminded of a story of her own, buried away in the depths of her memory, or perhaps from not so long ago, where consent was not enthusiastically given, or boundaries were crossed, or trust was abused. In many cases, shame or a wish to "just move on" prevented any further action being taken. 

Reading the story of what this particular woman went through, both immediately following the rape and then in the re-living of it during the court case, has led me to reflect deeply on the meaning of consent, and the prevalence of slut shaming and victim blaming in our society still to this day. So often we women doubt ourselves and each other because society wants to couch us as "promiscuous" or "drinking too much" and men as "nice guys" with "a promising career ahead" who "made a bit of an error in judgement".

Brock Turner's lawyer and his father made outrageous attempts to minimise the impact of the incident on the victim and highlight the impact on the perpetrator. This behaviour shows just how warped our society has become when considering matters of consent, gender based violence and sexual abuse. 

Possibly the only positive coming out of this horrific incident is that people are starting to talk, to share stories, to realise that they're not alone. Because of this one woman's courage, and the actions of those who found her and called the police, more people around the world might feel just a little more confident about holding others to account for their actions and demanding respect. 

When I shared the woman's open letter on facebook a few weeks ago, a male friend contacted me quite distraught. After reading it, he had conducted a brief survey of his female friends, and discovered that a high proportion had experienced some kind of related incident at one time or another. He was horrified. With a very young daughter of his own, he could not believe what his sex was doing to hers. He wanted to know what he could do about it.

So I think I talked about shifting the burden of responsibility from women to men. I might have said how we need to educate men about consent, and about respecting boundaries, and how to extricate themselves from the rape culture that makes these so-called "minor indiscretions" permissible and justifiable. We can teach women about saying no, or the skills of self defense or assertiveness, but ultimately it's men who need to make the biggest changes.

But actually, I just felt kindof numb. I was glad to have an ally, and grateful for the numerous male friends who have "got it" over the years, or who have at least been willing to listen and try to understand. But when women choose to speak out about these matters, they are putting themselves in a place of great vulnerability. I wonder how we can make this journey easier, so that difficult experiences are genuinely listened to and everyone involved can reach a place of greater understanding?

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