Rape – in shades of gray
Rape is the only crime in which the victim becomes the accused.
The first time happened when I was four. I was dressed in a pretty, fluffy dress and I remember how tiny my body was, how soft and tender my flesh. I remember the shape of my pale legs, interrupted by baby pink socks with lace at the ankles and pretty shoes.
He was the kindly neighborhood grandfather and I loved to go visit him and his wife. He was stocky and wrinkled with thick fingers and a love of overalls. His hands were coarse with calluses and his smile was sweet. His wife was a loving pigeon of a woman who would sit and crochet, listening carefully to my tiny-child natterings as if they were of world-moving importance.
I was on his lap, which was not unusual. Little kids inhabit laps. Most of them were safe. Suddenly I felt his hand sliding under the skirt of my dress, lifting the elastic of my underwear, pushing easily if roughly between my soft little thighs, parting me where no invasion belonged. He moved that finger around slightly and I heard him mutter “Not ready yet,” before I slid myself off his lap and was out the door quicker than a flash, escaping from something that felt devouring and engulfing, but having no way to describe it, even to myself.
His wife was sitting on the couch across from us the whole time, totally unaware.
He didn’t try anything again for years, and the episode sank from memory’s view.
The next time he tried, I was nine. I came to visit; he was alone. The house was dark. He reached for me and wrapped powerful arms around me, slamming his face down on mine and thrusting his tongue into my mouth, filling it with slimy alienness, shoving it down my throat.
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” I cried as I reared back and then dropped straight down. (Where did that presence of mind come from that I escaped immediately, instinctively?) I was out the door almost instantly, not bothering to close it, running home, breathless, nauseated, horrified, scrubbing my mouth and spitting.
But he did know what he was doing. He knew perfectly well. He was no more senile than I was.
I was fifteen and he was my twentyish boyfriend, AWOL from the Army at the height of the Vietnam War. My anguish had already pushed me to sad decisions with men, but despite all that, I was still in most ways innocent and one can hardly call that experience. Kissing got more passionate and he was shaking. He unzipped, he grabbed my head. I could not escape…
I was sixteen, full of the exquisitely bitter blend of self-loathing and the despair of a breakup I had so desperately not wanted. I wandered into the back patio of a fraternity… It took another 10 years and a friend’s listening to my anguished and raging outpourings before I called it what it was. Rape.
In some ways, my experiences were unique in that none of them involved violence. Force, coersion, manipulation, surprise – yes. I was not swept off the streets. Neither blows nor
weapons were involved. While I knew from the start that what happened to me as a child was wrong, it took longer to understand that what had happened when I was a teenager was just as evil. There were gray areas. I was initially a willing participant with the boyfriend – and there was no…opportunity…to protest. My attempts at escape were so useless as to be unnoticeable. I started out with consent at the fraternity, making a decision I knew was self-destructive, but the consent dissolved as all control over the situation was taken from me until I was afraid for my ultimate fate when it was all over.
Rape it was, but it was shaded gray enough that I questioned how culpable I was in the situation. How much was my fault? How much of this shame did I bear versus them? I certainly bore the shame of my own stupidity. Why the hell hadn’t I known better? On top of it, my adolescent flailings provided clear evidence that I could no longer be considered “virtuous” in a time and culture where a girl like me was defined in terms and tones of deepest contempt—and now I’d gotten myself raped, which proved that those patriarchal bastards were right. So – where the hell did this leave me?
Angry, for one. Furious that I felt this shame, even at that age realizing the profound injustice of it all but not having the words to express it. Traumatized but feeling that I did not deserve to be. Untrusting of men, their intentions, and their patriarchal system by which they valued – or devalued –women.
It took years, but over that time, I realized that my rage came from knowing that this was not my shame. I am shamed only by those things I choose to do. If I am cruel, if I am unethical, if I cause harm – these are my shames and I have earned them. But I bear none of the shame from these molestations and rapes. The shame is entirely on the perpetrators. As for me, I am as clean as the day I was born, at least in this regard.
It also helped, as I read of far more brutal ravagements than had visited me, ravagements that damaged, that maimed, that killed, to realize that, at least for me, it was only fucking. I had not been impregnated. I had not been beaten. I was not scarred or crippled. I was alive. I was alive and it was over. The shame was not mine, I was alive and fully functional, and I had been blessed to be strong enough physically and mentally to be able to move on.
All this was several lifetimes ago. I do not generally dwell on it. Most days I don’t even think about it. I am free, and have been for a very long time, which is the best revenge I can think of. I can’t honestly say I don’t have some scars. I am still absolutely furious and cynical about the patriarchy and its hierarchy of women’s relative value based on having an unbreached vagina. But my assailants have no true power over me – I have long since taken it back. I walk without shame. I known my own worth. I am at peace, at least with this.
It should be noted, however, that I have a red belt in mixed martial arts, and that I was known for my ferocity and intensity, particularly in self-defense…