Girls and the Worst Thing
Dec 7 2012
Can you hold two conflicting ideas in your head at the same time, even when it is hard and gives you hurty feelies, or confirms your sense of the world as an ultimately chaotic semi-nightmare? That’s called “cognitive dissonance,” and you need it to understand sexual assault and rape, and you need to understand sexual assault and rape, soooooo… See, sexual assault (I usually just say “rape” but let’s be more precise about it?) is basically the worst thing that can happen to a person, and is a very common experience among women. It is a mundane horror. Weird, right? And the ultimate in cog-dissy.
THE WORST THING
In his non-wisdom about why women aren’t funny, Christopher Hitchens (who was also, of course, great: cog-dissy!) wrote that it is in part because the most terrible things that can happen mostly happen to women. (This is maybe backwards? Like, surely in 15 years the best comedy will come from Chiquita Bananas who are that much more ready to talk about the very worst things?) (Also I read or saw something recently to the effect of “A man’s worst fear is being laughed at; a woman’s worst fear is being killed” and it was very much what the internet used to call “ZOMG”, like, right?) (And, OK, my Google fingers found out that Gavin de Becker said “Most men feargetting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while mostwomen fear rape and death” so there you go.)
So yeah, this is generally agreed upon as the Worst Thing but beyond that it is so shadowy and secret and anxietied about that you’re barely supposed to say any shits about it lest you stumble into the prickly, triggery grasses that run right alongside the acceptabilities of talking about “rape culture.” It’s very nice that we are collectively thinking about other people’s experiences and histories and triggers—I mean radical empathy is so much more challenging and crucial than just being a dick, being “honest”—and it’s nice that we’re thinking about what-is-a-joke versus what-is-diffuse-sexual-rage-packaged-as-witticisms versus who-is-just-dumbish, so let’s just say SUPER DUPER ALL-TIME TRIGGER WARNING FOR REAL? It’s cool, though. I mean, I can’t watch a movie where a dog dies; I had to take out about half of the stuff I originally wrote here to even be able to breathe; I get it I get it I get it.
Not into it. I get it, though: the misconception that what you were wearing when you were sexually assaulted is why you were sexually assaulted (a.k.a. it is your fault, a.k.a. you’re a slut, a.k.a. women be sluttin’) is so eternally and perpetually gross that I am just not interested. I understand rape to be about both power and sex, variously and together, and I know why a sign that says “This is what I was wearing when I was raped” carried by a woman in her coziest PJs is important. Buuuut I’m not going on something called a “Slutwalk” because I don’t identify with any kind of winking irony, ever—like, no—especially when it comes to something that everyone is a scaredy mouse to actually get into like adults, like it’s science, like it’s social, like it’s regular. When I was 11 I understood that “lipstick lesbian” was a way for certain men to understand things and “Slutwalk” seems to be kind of flexing the same principle?
THE REMEMBERING / THE FORGETTING
The remembering is always. The remembering (or, the anticipating? By which I mean when a girl spends her whole life on high-alert, even unconsciously) will play itself out in any number of diverted, damaging ways, and if they weren’t already, your life/boy/sex expectations and choices might (might! I don’t know you!) get filtered through a prism of Girl Fear, and yet, your life/boy/sex expectations and choices are maybe also filtered through another, concurrent prism of Boy Experience, like 90 percent of every book and movie and song I thought was cool from birth until whenever/now. That’s twisted, right? Forgetting, though, is when you get very Zzzzzz about this and other tragedies because at some point it is just too boring to talk about anymore even when your therapist is pushy and instead you want to focus on being the happiest girl on the block and doing funs and accomplishing something amazing. This is part of “feminist boredom” and it’s great.
EINMAL IST KEINMAL
Means “Once is never,” which is from a book I make my boyfriends read but that I never finished (FACED!). Means that girls have this inclination to want to “move forward,” (this is not an actual thing despite its ubiquity on reality television and the less-good seazies of Gossip Girl and among people who don’t accept personal responsibility and for whom “Let’s move on” means “Remove me from this headachey schema of you having feelings”) like “move forward” past their own trauma, and institute The Forgetting too early because when the particular badness of sex assault happens it is mos def a lot easier for some girls to consider it this isolated, half-lived, hazy-maybe thing than a part of something bigger (which it is, SAWWRY!).
I don’t have a bossiness agenda around what a person “should” do after being assaulted, sex-wise-or-other, but I do know that “moving on” or whatever without due emo process is to engineer the most combustible feelings situation. OK, also? Is it in that movie Bully when someone (Bijou?) squeals “…I’m just a little kid!”? I am objective-correlative-ing that movie scene to the max, but basically whenever I feel like I am supposed to have a specific, moral, prescriptive opinion on something like this I say that line to myself, and probably have a sad little lie-down or similar. What the fuck do I know! I’m just a little kid! Delete delete delete. I get it I get it I get it. I don’t want to have to knooooow anything for anybody else, it is exhausting.
I don’t care if you think she hates you; remember when she wrote “Sex crimes are always male, never female, because such crimes are conceptualizing assaults on the unreachable omnipotence of women and nature” in Sexual Personae? I want be her pal so bad!
Here is why sexual assault stays this misty, mythic thing in the collective understanding—even considering the subsequent, grayed out memories or really severe PTSD or the other deep-and-dark consequences of being assaulted—who assaults is juuuust as diverse and unexpected and secret as who got assaulted. Like, who does it? Not everybody, but every kind of “everybody.” That rape is usually not a masked-gunman-parking-garage thing (but, sometimes it is)makes it about a trillion percent harder to reconcile it as a criminal act (because otherwise nice and normal Nice Nice Nice Guys do this! Are your cognitives dissonanting?), and a trillion percent harder to talk to dudes about what it is and what it isn’t, and a trillion percent harder for a guy to think he did it, and a trillion percent harder for a guy to say to his friend that maybe he did it, and a trillion percent harder for girls to ever, ever, ever understand what it was or talk about it or report it or whatever. No idea what to do about any of this, other than seriously encouraging every dude to talk to their co-dudes often and always about consent and what it means (do you do this, though, in private? I feel like even my best men are embarrassed to do this? I feel like so, so many men are good, and want good things, and are or could be SUCH ally-buddies if we were all less weird about everything and could say more stuff out loud. I think.)
It’s also weird to get conditioned and reconciled to, like this: I am Legit Scared when I am supposed to be, like when I am walking to my car down an alley at night in a shitty neighborhood, and I have in school and at work been subject to various self-defense-pose sessions and how-to-hold-your-keys lessons like everyone else (unless that is just a Canadian mandatoryism?) but that is never when anything bad has ever happened to me. Ever! I mean, bad within this particular geometry. Bad things have happened at parties, on dates, in cars, on vacation, at school, and in my apartment. You too, probs?
This is the problem, though! Like, what is consent right now? There is the idea that women should offer their vigorous, enthusiastic consent; there is the idea that the whole thing of how straights get together is impossible to align with such vigorous consent; that “playing hard to get” is floating into Danger Bay more generally; there is the Dworkin-y extremism of written permission; there is the insufficient if common reliance on that dude you know/like being probably cool. Anyway, I don’t know. It’s true that girls want guys to pursue them and it’s equally true that a guy who is not responding to your genuine disinterest is terrifying and I don’t know what we do with any of that except decide that we are in an epoch of sex and rights and feminism that is trying really hard at this, and the only solution so far has been to talk about it constantly because seriously I have no fucking idea what to do with this otherwise.
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