I guess the title for this one is a little bit inadequate, because there’s a lot to be said on the subject of “saying no”.
First of all, for accuracy’s sake, I probably should talk about the societal reasons why it is so hard to “say no”, on why “no means no” is an unfair standard to place on a section of the population* that has had the near-inability to say no drilled into them from infancy.
I am not going to talk about this, because I don’t want to, and I want to feel okay choosing not to. However, since it’s really important, I’ll direct you once again to Fugitivus (google it, it’s a blog) because she explains it probably a lot better than I can.
No. I am going to talk about, for me, why I did not say no for all practical reasons.
Previous to the rape that prompted me to start this blog, I was raped once before. This is not uncommon. In my high school, almost every girl I knew had, at one point or another, been put in a sexually compromising position. Usually it involved alcohol, sometimes not.
I was fourteen the first time, and a virgin, yet somehow it seems to have had less blatant effects on me than the last time. Maybe this is because it’s been such a long time, or maybe it’s because I didn’t really tell anyone at the time – after all, in my experience, peoples’ reactions are just as bad as the event itself. In some cases, worse. Plus, I didn’t know the person well at all (it was, perhaps, the third time I had interacted with him, outside of Myspace of all things), so my sense of self and trust was a little less shaken. And, most of all, I didn’t know any different. Due to a combination of bare-minimum sex-ed in school, a sexist and misogynistic family, and what I had gleaned from the media, I figured that’s just how sex was, so it took a couple years for the oh shit that wasn’t okay at all to hit me.
But I think another part of why I was less affected that first time – and this is a personal thing, and I’m sure this would not manifest this way for everyone else, I’m not trying to generalize – was that I was in a situation such that I was able to say no.
That didn’t stop the rape from happening, of course. But I think it made a lot of difference. Let me explain.
The first time a much older boy, who I knew had some feelings for me, invited me over to his house. I skipped school, so my parents wouldn’t find out, and let him pick me up. We went back to his apartment – his roommate was asleep on the living room floor – he showed me his room and initiated some physical stuff. I was okay with the kissing, etc., but nervous. He, on the other hand was very into it. After a while, he started pressuring me to have sex with him, and I agreed, unsure of what I was getting myself into. Almost immediately, I realized this was not something I wanted to do. It hurt, and I said so.
To his credit, he did stop that first time. However, there was barely a pause before he was demanding that I let him keep going. This time, he did not listen when I said no. He did not listen when I cried, he pushed my legs back open when I reflexively tried to close them, he grabbed my shoulders and held me down when I scooted away. He finished what he wanted to finish and then lit up a cigarette and griped at me for not “acting like I enjoyed it more”.
Lesson to be learned here, guys. If the girl is not wet, if she is pulling away, if she’s tearing up or pushing back or says it hurts too much, then she is not having any kind of fun and you do NOT get to decide to keep going anyway.
Yet, despite all that, I believe myself to be healed from that experience. Did it give me a fucked-up idea of how sex worked for a long time? Yep. Did it make me feel like an object? Yep. Did it lead me to settle for far, far less than I deserved in relationships for a couple years? Yep.
But I came out of it knowing that I had said no, and that mattered to me. That made it clearer to me, later, when I came to accept it as sexual harm done to me. I said no, he continued. No room for interpretation, there, my friends. That is rape, and that will always be rape, and no one can make me think that it is anything else.
See, people like to draw this fun little distinction between, as a friend of mine so crassly put it a few days ago, “rape” and rape-rape. I can sort of maybe almost in some conceivable universe understand how someone who had never had any experience with a situation of this nature might draw a line somewhere in there.
Long story short, apparently, according to society, you weren’t really rape-raped unless he had a knife. Unless he had a gun. Unless he was strangling you. Unless you screamed and cried and begged and pleaded and thrashed and struggled. Unless you got your fucking arm ripped off. Unless it was the second Tuesday of the month with a thirty-five percent chance of precipitation and a high of sixty degrees. I don’t fucking know.
Let me explain something to people who think this way**.
I am not a person who does math quickly. Even as an economics major, I have to spend a good, hearty long time with my face buried in a Calculus book before I can replicate complex equations and processes.
However, apparently there is a very complicated set of formulas that I, and probably everyone else who has experienced such a situation, has memorized by heart.
If x > 12, and his room is in the basement, what are the chances that someone would hear me if I screamed?
If 3y squared is still less than x, can I get to the door before he could reach the pocketknife on his desk?
If x + y = z, how likely will it be that someone will hear me calling for help and assume I’m drunk or joking?
If the limit as f(z) approaches zero does not exist, how likely am I to come out of this alive if I tell him “no”?
If I keep telling him no?
If I scream?
If I fight?
We are told that we are not truly raped unless we ignore these calculations, unless we fight back mindlessly, unless we treat and view our sexual purity as somehow more important than the very real possibility of being seriously hurt or killed by the person sexually assaulting us. To assume such an outcome is not an overreaction. If someone is forcing you into a sexual situation – no matter how they managed to gain your compliance*** – you are very aware of one thing about the situation: this person has already clearly demonstrated that they do not give a flying fuck about your consent. Thus, whether or not you actively say “no” is a moot point. You have not agreed to do this, and they know that you mean no, and they will do whatever they possibly can to make that “no” into a yes in their own minds.
Imagine the mindset of someone so desperate to feel power over another human being that they actually are willing to coerce – through one manner or another – another person into sexual acts. For most people (I hope), this is probably hard to imagine. Why? Because it takes a very fucking sick person to think that way, let alone to act on it. And you do not know what a person like that is going to do. Obviously, they are going to rape you, because if you are debating whether or not to say no (or say it louder, or scream it, or cry it) then that’s probably already what they are doing. What you don’t know is what else they will do if you provoke them or try to make them stop. You have no frame of reference for how far they might take this, because the normal rules of interaction don’t apply and you can take nothing for granted. There is no such thing as oh, but he wouldn’t do that. You do not know, and you do not want to gamble, because there is no learning curve for this. All you can do is go into survival mode and do whatever you need to do to come out of this as unscathed as possible. You are not worrying about legal definitions of rape, or how you will explain this to friends who decide that this “isn’t rape enough” unless fill-in-the-blank, or how much he has to hurt you before the police will take it seriously. You are worrying about how to get this to stop as soon as possible and whether this is going to be the last thing you remember or not.
Almost a year ago now, those calculations gave me one clear answer, and it was not to fight back. I’m still paying for this, in ways, but I am alive. And maybe I’m the only one who can see what a narrow victory that was. I did not say “no”, because he had a belt around my neck. I did not say “no”, because he was nearly twice my weight and had been a wrestler in high school. I did not say “no”, because there was a couch in front of his door, because anyone who could have heard me was a hallway and two flights of stairs away, because he was severely mentally ill. I did not say “no” for many, many reasons, and all of them were the right one. Fuck what you tell me about “rape” and rape-rape. There is only one kind of rape, and it is the kind that nobody deserves.
*I am talking about male-on-female rape, and I am talking about it because that is what has happened to me and that is what I know. I’m not trying to invalidate other varieties of rape, by any means, but I’m also not going to pretend that I have the personal experience to say anything about them.
**Once again, I’d like to direct any and all readers to Fugitivus, as she has a wonderful post on this subject that I can only make flail-y attempts to imitate and add on to.
***Compliance =/= consent.