That word sits heavy on my tongue.
The long heavy vowel connecting the biting consonants on either end.
Sometimes I chant it over and over in my head in the hopes of desensitizing myself.
It usually doesn’t work and I feel like I need to place a vacuum to my ear and suck out all mental manifestations of those four letters that connote unspeakable confusion.
Sometimes I convince myself it didn’t happen. Sometimes I convince myself that it wasn’t r***, that there’s a better term for what happened and that if I just think about it long enough, the right word will come to me.
But after months of searching I haven’t found the term. I dance around the word that I feel unworthy of accepting into my life. No, that word is for those who have suffered more than I have. No, it couldn’t have been that big of a deal. No, I’m partially to blame. I put myself in that situation.
I told a friend. I used the word. It cut the insides of my mouth, buried itself in my tongue and swelled all the way down to my throat. Get it out! Get it out! I am frozen in my bed and feel the memories heaving in my chest. Any sudden move and this knife of a word will slit me from the inside out and spill all my secrets.
Sometimes I have nightmares. The attacks always happen so slowly. I should be able to resist or scream. I should be able to escape. But instead my muscles are frozen and malleable to someone else’s force. I am stiff, staring into those eyes that are smiling in anticipation. I wait for the adrenaline to kick in and wake up my muscles, but it never happens.
I sit while others engage in debate about affirmative consent. It is an intellectual exercise for them about people they believe they’ve never met. I share an example from a case I read in class. Some listen to me. Others vehemently defend the perpetrator. “The judge was right. That isn’t rape.”
It wasn’t rape? It’s odd how I don’t want to use the word to describe my experience, and yet, when others claim a woman in an analogous situation wasn’t a victim, I am outraged by their ignorance. I am overcome with memories of sheets and legs, and of the way the muscles on my face scrunched in confusion as I looked him in the eyes and realized something bad was happening.
I share because it happens to so many of us. It happens to sexually inexperienced women who have trouble reading the signs of what is happening because they trust that their partner respects them when they already said no. It happens because some people are paralyzed in their fear and confusion too much to physically resist. So often it happens in silence, and it is that same silence by which our friends condemn us in their friendly political arguments over hot chocolate and cookies.
There are many arguments to be had against the doctrine of affirmative consent and which are worthy of consideration. But I didn’t write this blog post to present both sides of an argument. I am beyond arguing over it. For one, it is already difficult enough for a victim of rape to decide to come forward with an allegation, knowing that they will be cross-examined about their sex life, that the defense will attempt to make them seem at fault, and that all of the details from the trial will be made available as public record. Secondly, many people in committed relationships, as I was, are already less likely to report their abuse because they consider their situation as a private rather than a legal issue.
Sure, enacting laws that better protect women from rape (often considered the most violent crime, aside from homicide) is something I am supportive of, but I also recognize that laws alone are not the answer to sexual and domestic violence. It’s going to take a change in societal values. We need to decide that we want to live in a world where sex is characterized by the excitement of wanting and being wanted rather than the desire to overpower. We need to decide that sex not only stops when a woman resists, but that sex doesn’t start until both people enthusiastically say yes.
- To learn more about how campuses are educating students on the Affirmative Consent policy and student reactions, read a recent NYTimes article here.
- For a five-minute video on the ethics and erotics of affirmative consent by Professor Harry Brod, a scholar of masculinity and feminism, watch here.