A female-bodied friend of mine related to me something that happened to her the other day. She’d been waiting outside at the bus stop and one of her neighbors had come by; he had a friend with him. Apparently out of the blue, this neighbor turned to her and asked her, “You know how when a girl is raped the cops can tell because the vagina tears?”
My friend, understandably taken off-guard, responded, “Uh… sometimes…”
He insisted, repeating the question again. She repeated her response. Then, while he kept looking back at his friend, he explained that a neighbor of theirs had said one of their mutual friends had molested her. My friend’s neighbor didn’t believe her; his friend did.
“I wanted to tell them that they should believe her, because I’ve been there,” she told me later. My friend (who has given me her permission to post about this) has been raped before—but it was a “nice” rape, a father of a friend’s. He claimed that she’d “seduced” him, and… well. His wife told her that if my friend ever came near their house again, she’d call the police and have them arrest her.
No one believed her because she didn’t “act right.” She was punk in the first place, so “maybe it was some adolescent rebellion thing.” Or maybe she was just “a slut, you know how some cliques are.” And anyway, if he really did it, “why didn’t she go to the police? Why didn’t she tell someone?” Followed immediately, of course, by a parade of women saying that if they’d been raped, they would have gone to the police because, well, you can’t let them get away with it, now can you?
The neighbor kid didn’t know because she’d never told him. She got tired of being triggered every time she told someone because then they’d ask her those questions. She got tired of feeling like no one was on her side in the world, so she made a deliberate choice to not bring up the issue that would make her know they weren’t on her side.
“I figured it was a bad idea to like, go up to ask ‘Hey, are you really my friend or not?’ Because I never like the answer.”
What was worse was that her neighbor was asking her because she was female-bodied: he was trying to see if she bought into rape culture, if he could use her as leverage against other women. He was using her to cover his dick.
She told me it made her feel like he was violating her again by using her as a tool to dismiss someone else’s violation. “Basically,” she said, “you know how Carol Adams talked about the experience of rape victims being just, made into meat? Like objects? That doesn’t stop. We’re all just meat if some guy wants to use us that way.”
And it was an excuse to say that she wasn’t really being made into meat—she was just “crazy.” It was a bad excuse, but the flimsiest of lies will be seen as true if they defend rape culture.
Both of us know that checking for vaginal damage is in fact very rare, and largely occurs on Law & Order SVU, not in real life, a lot like the rape victim balled up in the corner crying. It’s an insidious form of rape culture: a “real victim” stereotype. No True Rape Victim goes out at night, or doesn’t starve herself to death afterwards, or doesn’t try to scrub off her skin in the shower. You think that trauma is something that makes you stop dead and just cry endlessly in the shower.
Me? I kept going to school; I kept functioning; I barely knew I hurt at all. Because my trauma was emotional, not physical, because I didn’t have bruises and broken bones, no one ever said something was wrong so I just thought it was… normal. And it was normal, to me: I barely existed. I didn’t feel hurt and I didn’t feel anything else, except an occasional thin wisp of amusement. Your body and mind is not meant to deal with ongoing suffering.
My friend said the same thing. “I just stopped feeling anything at all. No one wanted to see those feelings, anyway. I felt like I was intruding into someplace I hadn’t been invited if I got sad or angry or upset.” She said she became more like a robot than a living thing.
I felt happy and free and joyous every single day I lived in a tent, using my wits to get food for myself and my friend (and the neighborhood cats we made friends with)… It was world-changing. Those of you who have never had that experience, especially those of you suffering from a mental illness, don’t understand what it’s like to be happy, in totality, to have the thoughts and the feelings and the dull hard numbness just gone.
But even then, a month after I was forced back into civilization—into shelter—the memory of that freedom faded into only the palest idea that it had once existed. I only remembered that I had felt something much different, but I couldn’t tell you its heft, its color, its flavor, its quality and substance.
This is what trauma is like for the vast majority of people—it’s this hazy, heavy absence of self punctuated by sharp, stabbing pain. Anxiety. Triggering. Sadness. Loneliness. Worthlessness. Self-hatred. Rage. After a while, you can’t feel anything else anymore—you can’t envision a way out. Maybe it’s a blessing; maybe the memory of sunlight and ripe fruit would sharpen the hellfire of the brand and make us go insane. Nature isn’t cruel; there’s no reason for it to be, and plenty of reason to minimize pain and to not trap you into it. That’s also the driving behavior of trauma—that it is pain you can’t get out of; you’re trapped. Eventually, like the hum of electronics in the background, you just become numb to it.
But the lie that rape culture tells us doesn’t mimic reality, and so makes sure that as few people as possible are “genuine” victims. True Rape Victims do this, or that, and they’re virgins, and they’re good adherents to the patriarchy, and they would never have done anything to deserve male violation. Survivors are never allowed to be people: as Other, they have to be monolithic, because the more monolithic a group is, the easier it is to dismiss it. “Mother Nature” is monolithic. “African-Americans” is monolithic. “Children” is monolithic. “Animals” is monolithic. You can insert these words into your arguments and never have to ever question the assumption that the people that make up these groups are individuals that require an abandonment of exploitation—prison, pens, pastures, classrooms—in order to do justice to them. As people.
It’s a measure of the privilege afforded to white straight men that “white straight men” feel the obligation and right to protest when someone says anything about “white straight guys.” They tell us that not all guys are like that—that not all men are rapists, not all porn-watching men are sexually predatory, that not all white men are racist. They are also afforded the privilege to not have to prove it with actions instead of words: white straight men are assumed to be people—and actually, personhood is primarily defined by these visible social indicators. You can’t say all white straight men are like that—indignation, outrage—but you can turn to a woman standing at a bus stop, minding her own business, and ask her quite casually if she thinks that stabbing a woman through the soul is acceptable, assuming the entire time that if she says yes, then she is All Women, Everywhere, Because A Woman Said It; if she says no, then she’s just strange.
Meat is an object to be bought, after all. You should always shop around to try to get an object that meets your standards and specifications and, you know, it’s quite easy to find those if you look—all acceptable meat follows the same pattern. As an object—as someone transfigured into a number of objects—you, the consumer, are always the one whose whims should be obeyed and indulged. You can certainly pretend the meat wanted to be there, but it doesn’t really matter, does it?
Since meat shouldn’t argue back.