I’m floored (and not about the Oscars)

I’ve been in figurative tears for weeks because I’m so proud of … I want to say … my generation of women … but it’s not just my generation, its many, and its cumulative, so then I want to say … I’m so proud of the work of women … but then, it’s not just women, its men and transgendered persons, straight, queer, gay, so I’ll just say … It makes me really proud and happy and supported to read a book like Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape (Jaclyn Friedman & Jessica Valenti, eds)

Even today, even as I write this, I’m well aware that most people don’t want to approach the word r-a-p-e with a ten foot pole. I know the seeming double-bind: If you don’t take it seriously enough, you’re an asshole; if you take it too seriously you risk treating everyone who is a survivor like a bag of damaged goods and the word gets whispered like a curse—never sure when its “okay” to talk about. Rape is so difficult to discuss—let alone with lightness and humor—that even when a survivor WANTS to talk about their own rape they feel like they’re being “silly” or “over-dramatic.” We can’t just laugh about it—even when we want to. We can’t just shout about it.

So what have I been doing? I’ve been writing about it for over ten years, in ten thousand different ways, with a multitude of perspectives, drama, lack thereof, and not realizing, all this time, that all these women and men have been doing the same. Unpacking, imagining, feeling the same things I’ve been feeling. I knew it—somehow—without really knowing it. And now I read a book that is more validating and hopeful than I’ve ever read on the topic.

I’m floored. Thank you …..

I’m proud that we’re talking about something called “rape culture.” Rape culture is not a big scary thing staring down at us—it is the basic cultural structure of how we—of all genders—grow up and negotiate our sexualities and genders (through rules, taboos, traditions, trends, everyday social practices and common speech). We term it rape culture to describe the parts that make it possible for it to be common that women and men grow up feeling like they’ve been violated (in overt and not so overt ways) or perpetuated some form of violation.

“The truth is that rape culture is a mindset that affects each and every one of us, shaping how we view and respond to the world, and creating double binds for both women and men. I call this phenomenon predator/prey mindset, and within it, men can only ever be viewed as sexual aggressors and women as sexual objects … this ensures that men cannot be viewed as legitimate sexual objects, nor can women be viewed as legitimate sexual aggressors. This has the effect of rendering invisible instances of man-on-man and woman-on-woman rape.” (Julia Serrano)

I’m proud of the women and men who talk about all the different types of rape. It’s fairly common knowledge, I think, that rape is mostly NOT about strangers pulling young women into the woods and raping them; rape is mostly perpetrated by people that you know and/or love and/or are in relationships with. >>You mean he raped you AND you loved him? You still have sex with him and he sometimes rapes you? Well, did you actually say “yes” at some point? Well did you say “no” and physically throw him off? Did you get wet?
it’s not easy to TALK about all those subtly different, situation-specific types of rape that are simply more complicated than vague categories (though helpful in their own right) like “date rape” “nonconsensual sex” “grey rape” or my personal favorite–“not exactly rape.”
“Rape was something we could identify, an act with a strict definition and two distinct scenarios. Not-rape was something else entirely” writes Latoya Peterson.
Thank you, fellow writers, who aren’t too ashamed to put into words the situations and feelings that I can completely identify with: “Physical force was never necessary to get me to engage in sex or intimacy I didn’t want. My will vanished in the presence of great passion and authority, so it’s impossible for me to claim I did anything against them.” (from “Sex Worth Fighting For”)

“Not-rape came in many forms. No one escaped—all my friends had some kind of experience with it during their teen years,” writes Latoya Peterson, “My friends and I confided in one another, swapping stores, sharing our pain, while keeping it hidden from the adults in our lives. After all, who could we tell? This wasn’t rape—it didn’t fit the definitions. This was not-rape … I lacked the words to speak my experience into reality. Without those words, I was rendered silent and impotent, burdened with the knowledge of what did not happen, and unable to free myself by talking about what did happen.”
I’m proud of women and men who admit that “uprooting and confronting a history of abuse is a lifelong process” (Cristina Tzintzun) and through that process are also able to pursue true pleasure … who are aware of the long journey they continue to be on. People who are rethinking ways to teach sex!

“I am in no way proposing that feminist pornography or feminist toy-stores are the vanguard of the revolution or are more important work than rape crisis work. I am arguing, however, that in order to fully eradicate rape culture, we need to start talking about sex. We need to start insisting that people don’t proceed with sexual play until their partner expresses yes. We need to give people the language to do that … What is radical is the creation of an environment where people can access information, normalize their experience, and being to break the silence and embarrassment about pleasure.” (Lee Jacobs Riggs)

Its thanks to everyone whose done work around this issue—as writers, as rape-crisis counselors, as teachers, as feminist sex-toy owners, to feminist pornographers—that we can describe in detail and with a feeling of lightness and informality (if we choose to), as though we should (and we should) be able to shout it out without any shame—the details of our rape or how we felt coerced or violated or not-rape THING THAT HAPPENED THAT WE HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN. The people who have given and continue to give us the language … I have to really thank feminist men and women and transgendered persons the queer community and all the people who just continue to see rape as an issue that’s important. It’s not just about some women who are raped, but it’s about our entire society, and that it affects all of us, even those who aren’t raped or haven’t raped, but simply who grew up male or female and were in one way or another beginning to be sexual, how they learned to be sexual and what kind of things they learned or unlearned in the process or had to fight against.

I’m proud of—grateful, full of praise for—those courageous and articulate persons envisioning and enacting a new world.

From “An Immodest Proposal” by Heather Corrina:

“We need to stretch our beginner’s minds. Let’s just say—just because we can—that we, all women, in every sexual scenario imaginable, are already past the no and the yes. Let’s say that nothing even starts without that yes, and that when it is issued, it is firmed, stronger, and more exuberant than we presently imagine it could be. Let’s write a new idea sexual-initiation script.”

“What if her foundation looked like this: Her family recognized that serious or casual, long-term or short, all wanted sexual relationship have value, and that whatever risks of negatives we take with sex are offset by the possibility of great positive? Academic contests, college applications, and sports tryouts aren’t seen as things to avoid simply because they may have unsatisfactory outcomes: We recognize that risking hurt or disappointment for things that may be beneficial is often worthwhile. What if her family felt the same way about their daughter’s experiences with sex? What if rather than nurturing an environment of sexual passivity or silence, her parents provided her with a safe space for sex, active help and encouragement with birth control and sexual health, and direct discussion about sexuality, including her own sexual desires—not just her desires for emotional closeness or security, but masturbation, anatomy, and body image, and the ways in which sex is often unrealistically presented by peers and media? What if her parents spoke to her about their own early sexual experiences realistically, both their joys and their bummers, and what they’ve figured out about sex since then?
What if she felt comfortable in a partnership that lasted only a month, or was with someone of the same sex, and everyone around her was just as supportive of her sexual choices and the import she feels they have? What if she chose first-time sex as an opportunity to say goodbye to a partner, rather than to cement a relationship, and no one had a problem with that or suggested that without continued partnership she wouldn’t be okay?”

“Let’s take it as a given that because she will often be taking initiative in sex, she knows already that she may have to deal with sexual rejection in a way that men have previously experienced more than women (even if all have not coped with it well, or if the way they have coped was influenced by the way masculinity is defined). In fact, if she chooses male partners, she knows they may say no as often as they say yes, now that some masculinity roles of the past are done away with, and her ideas about what male sexual desire looks like are radically different from what any of us previously envisioned.
What I’m envisioning isn’t the stuff of speculative fiction or utopian fantasy. It’s not out of our reach.”

“What we individually and collectively visualize has power and influence over what we manifest. We cannot somehow erase or alter all of the barriers we have right now when it comes to real sexual agency for all women. But there are no barriers beyond the limits of our own imagination when it comes to rewriting the scripts of our sexual ideals, our individual sexual lives, and what we present to ourselves, our sisters, our daughters.”

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