Rape, Consent and Apology
I recently came across this harrowing story by Amber Amour, a 27 year old anti rape activist (emphasis is mine):
“It was only a few minutes ago but sometimes these things happen so fast it’s hard to remember all the details…. I’ve been sick for the past 2 days and today was my first day out. I went back to my old hostel to leave a note for a friend, Nick. There was another guy there, Shakir, who was desperately trying to get with me. I kissed him once but he seemed drunk so I told him it was bad timing, I had already met someone. Before heading out, I went upstairs to say hi to one more friend, Clyde from the states. Shakir followed me upstairs and said he was going to take a shower. He invited me to join. I said yes because the water at my current hostel is pretty cold and after 2 days of being sick, I just really wanted a hot shower. As soon as I got in the bathroom, he forced me to my knees. I said “stop!” but he just got more violent. He lifted me up and put his penis in my vagina. I asked him to stop, again, as I began to cry. When he shoved it in my ass, that’s when I passed out. I woke up a few minutes later and saw him trying to creep out the door. When he saw that I was awake, he came back to finish me off in the shower. I have all those fucked up feelings that we get after rape…shame, disgust, suffering. I’m here, alone, and any DNA has been wiped away in the shower. The South African police will just roll their eyes when I walk in. Feeling sicker than ever now. Needless today, I’m going to disappear for a bit. Just need to enjoy the freaking sun and call my friends and family in the states. Love you guys. Thank you for always being there for me. All the more reason to continue @stoprapeeducate but not today. Today, I need rest. #StopRapeEducate”
It was horrifying to read. I hated this man as soon as I was done, and after seeing accounts of how other people reacted, I hated the fact that we live in a world where the female (woman, child, transgender) can be violated ruthlessly and she is still blamed. I hate the fact that I live in a world that glamorizes rape, makes it some kind of ‘passionate’ ‘sexy’ thing that so easily excuses the faults of perpetrators, usually men. I hate the fact that I live in a world where you say someone was raped and the first question is ‘well what did she do to deserve it?’ I hate the fact that the victim (both male and female) is the one shamed. I hate the fact that the world goes out of its way to excuse male while blaming female. I sympathized with her story because I can empathize with the pain and shame, what normal human shouldn’t be able to?
And yet one of my first thoughts was ‘that was a dangerous situation to be in, you don’t get naked in a shower with a man you don’t know/trust’. I hated that I thought that. It’s not something I can rationalize and explain. This man is a filthy animal. He violated her body willingly and with purpose, he was in full control and knew exactly what he was doing. I blame him completely. Yet…a part of me felt like knowing the reality of the world we live in, it was a risk to be avoided, NOT because she ‘deserved’ it or any of that other apologist bullshit, but because of the world we live in. It may seem like an over reach but men are implicitly untrustworthy, and even as I hated him and others like him a part of me asked sadly ‘why did she enter the shower?’ Not because I blame her, I do not. I support her completely. Prostitutes can be raped. Girlfriends can be raped by their boyfriends. Wives can be raped by husbands. There is no situation in which sex without consent, no matter the circumstances, is not rape. But because men are dangerous, most of them unknowingly, which makes them deadly because if he does not even see the danger he poses or the pain he causes, what is to stop him for doing it again and again?.
Let me explain. Men are socialized to take, acquire, conquer, win. They are taught that if they want something they should take it. They are taught that a woman must cook, keep the home, clean, entertain guests, provide good sex consistently, and cater to their whims. Men are taught from an early age that women/females (because children are raped too) exist for their desires and pleasure. A lot of this is largely subconscious, most men do not actually recognize these thoughts. These are subconscious beliefs that affect everyday interactions. They translate into the normal conventions that men observe, the conversations they have among each other, the jokes they make. ‘The babe too dey form’, ‘Abeg show her what real men do’. To be a man is to use control to get what you want. Men are raised to be unapologetically, cruelly, self-centered. In sexual/romantic situations they do not consider the pleasure of the woman, the goal is to bust as quick as possible, but women still bear the responsibility for providing good sex, while their own pleasure is seen as something incidental. In fact the male orgasm is the conventional standard of the end of sex; he cums, it’s a wrap. If she came, well that’s nice, but unnecessary.
I am not blaming any men but this is the world we live in. Men are encouraged to take without permission or question, they are encouraged to see females as bodies and objects, to rank them, to subdue them, to control them. Men are encouraged to ‘teach her a lesson’, to ‘make her keep quiet’. They are taught that women are irrational and ‘crazy’ and that they need ‘control’ they need ‘discipline’, they are taught that being the man of the household means ‘not taking any shit’ from her, the wife ‘submitting’ without question. Men are taught from a young age to disregard women. Not by consciously being rude, in fact many men are polite to women. They open doors, offer car rides, pay for things. When I say disregard I mean from a young age men are taught to consistently put their needs and desires ahead of what a woman wants or needs. They are taught to be selfish almost to the point of caricature. It’s why a man will follow a woman who refuses to let him give her a ride down the street calling from the car when she has already refused a ride. It is why a guy will keep talking to a woman at a bar even after she has made it clear she doesn’t feel like it. It is why men preface requests to women not as a question, but as a demand: ‘I want to see you’ ‘When are you coming through’ ‘What are you doing right now’. Men are raised to believe women are secondary to them, they are raised to believe women are their right. They are raised to disrespect women and see women as not necessarily weak, but ‘lesser’ somehow. So many men talk about how much they love they mothers, songs are written about it tirelessly. Men raise their mothers to the height of deities, avatars of true woman hood, the standard for every woman to meet. Yet how many men truly respect and value their mother’s intelligence? How many view her feelings and thoughts as equal? How many regard her the same respect they would a father? How many think about her needs as a person, as a woman, not as a mother, outside what has to do with them?
Women on the other hand are socialized to give. From a young age we told that being married and making a home is the highest thing to aspire for. Marriage is the validation of womanhood, and men are the prize to be won. We are raised to believe that men cannot control themselves, that our lives mean something only when a man deigns to give us his approval by marriage or sex. We are raised to subdue ourselves and put men above us. We are raised to believe that sexual desirability is something to be achieved, to obsess over our weight, our hair, our skin, and our looks. We are taught that looking beautiful is to please men, not ourselves. ‘Wear that dress, don’t do that hair, boys don’t like girls with short hair, they don’t like girls who wear red lipstick’. This entitlement, that beauty is conferred by men is pervasive in our society, its why men seemingly cannot stop mentioning what they ‘like’ in a woman and whether or not you meet it, even if it is supposedly in a compliment; ‘Your hair is nice, I usually like girls with braids’ ‘You look good, I like it when a woman takes care of herself’. As if I asked what you like. As if what you like should gratify me. Men are taught to state their opinions to women as fact and act as if women’s time is something they own, which has led to the fact that men quite LITERALLY cannot tell when they are making a woman uncomfortable, angry, or bored. I do not even mean this as an insult, in real life when men interact with women they cannot tell that a woman is annoyed. I’ve had arguments with men and 5 minutes later they tell me ‘I’m not mad at you, you know.’ The self-centeredness of men is flabbergasting, I actually felt weak. It never occurred to them that, no shit, I’m the one who’s angry.
But back to the beginning: men always, ALWAYS, put what they want before the needs of a woman, in fact men do not think about what a woman wants at all. Not that they think it and then ignore it, it literally never crosses their minds what a woman might think or want, because they are socialized to think that women exist to fulfill their needs. They are conditioned that the only thing a woman wants is what a man gives or is willing to give. They are conditioned to take what they want from women at any price, and that the woman will be grateful for it. Which is why it never occurred to this man that Amber’s body is hers that it was not his to violate. Which is why men on the road, at work, managers, partners, laborers, CEOs boldly look at your breasts when you walk, then look at your face to make sure you know they were looking. Which is why a man you met a week ago expects an answer to every text or call, why they get offended when you rebuff their advances, why they continue to talk to you at a party after you say you are uncomfortable. Why they call you ugly or a whore if you refuse to have sex. Why they don’t ask what you like in bed, why they don’t ask how they can make you orgasm during sex. It’s why they believe we are ‘asking for it’ when we wear shorts, or abayas, or hijabs. Because at its core rape is not about sex. It is about control. It is about power. It is about the belief that a woman is always secondary to a man. It is about the idea that men are to subjugate women and women exist to serve men’s needs and pleasures. It is about control.
I am sad for what happened to Amber. I am sad that she will probably be blamed. I am sad that a woman needs to be a ‘good’ victim, she needs to be fully dressed, not drunk, not in a place with men, but also not alone with a man, not refusing sex to her boyfriend/husband, but also not being too sexual during the act of sex itself because no one likes a slutty girl who is too eager, (how many times have you done this before?), not being difficult, not being too friendly but also not rejecting a man when he invades your space and hits on you, not walking alone, not being alone, but also not being around too many people (it’s not good for a woman to be too popular, apparently being popular is in some strange unclear way ‘asking’ for ‘it’); all for a violation of her body and mind to be acknowledged as wrong. I am sad that ‘he is not a bad man, he just lost control, she made him lose control’ is an excuse made by women for a man’s crimes, as if a man is an untrained dog vomiting, shitting itself and then eating that shit because it has no control. I am sad that even when sex is consensual the woman still loses, because her pleasure is not the goal and is often disregarded. I am sad that women are told to ‘just take it’ ‘bear it’ ‘manage it’. I am sad that few men are capable of the self-reflection it would take to change. I am sad that women are the loudest shamers and the harshest critics. I am sad that women view male approval as the almighty crown jewel of their existence. I am sad that most women cannot, will not, refuse to change. And above all I am sad that I will have to teach my daughter that even though it’s not her fault what men do, even though she is the sole controller of her life and destiny, even though she should be confident and strong minded, she shouldn’t go to a man’s house alone late. She should always have a distrust at the back of her mind, not because all men are out to get her, but because in the world where we live anything a woman does is her fault, and anything a man does, well, that’s somehow her fault too.