The danger of silence
*warning: this article may serve as a trigger to victims of sexual assault
Recently I asked a woman about her perception of rape culture, and her response simultaneously disgusted and baffled me. She asked me what rape culture was. I explained that it entails the language people use to talk about rape, how often people speak about it, and the ideas and stigmas attached. What she said next made me want to cry. “Oh [my community] doesn’t talk about that! I mean why would we talk about it–it doesn’t happen.” It saddens me to burst the beautiful bubble this woman lives in, but the truth is that it does happen. It happens in countries across the globe, in dark alleys of big cities, and in small towns–those places you think you’re surely safe. And I know this because one night it happened to me.
One night in mid-February I visited some friends in St. Joe. We went to a bar and were having a great time until a boy, a very large boy, shoved me into one of those corners where the light did not quite reach. Now I am not weak, nor am I small, nor am I quiet. But he was so big that when I pushed and punched, he didn’t move. And the music was so loud that when I screamed and yelled, no one could hear. You get the idea.
Rape is uncomfortable for anyone to talk about. It is violating and dehumanizing in the most basic ways. But we cannot use such excuses as reasons to stay silent. So how do we start to change the narrative about easy girls who boys can “just tell” want to get it in? Luckily, I have two practical, daily challenges.
1. Stop thinking that silence is sexy. Really, men, what’s more attractive? A woman who finally says “okay” and quietly lets you to do what you want to her body, or a woman who enthusiastically and passionately yells “Yes!” and cries out your name? And women. The idea of passive compliance in sexual interaction has plagued our gender for centuries. We are stronger and smarter than that, so stop being afraid to say exactly what you want. Once our generation debunks the myth that silence means yes, we redistribute power, giving “no” the weight it deserves.
2. Stop being ashamed. I am guilty of this one–I could not acknowledge what happened to me for over a month after, but I’ve come to understand that I should never be ashamed. He should be ashamed. Ashamed that he is the scum of the earth, that he lacked the character and control to be above such savage, primal instincts. So women, call men out for comments and actions that they should be ashamed of. But don’t just stop at men. As a previously self-identified anti-feminist, I was guilty of perpetuating female-bashing narratives, but now I know I must hold those around me accountable. Similarly men, call each other out and call out women who are not respecting themselves.
Now, the last thing I want is for this article to become an attack on men, because it’s not. I think that a lot of men are wonderful and respectful and mature enough to understand their role in this struggle. I also do not want to create the idea that only men can be rapists, because women can too. Additionally, it is not only a heterosexual problem–rape occurs across all combinations of gender, sex, and sexuality. Instead, I’m trying to call attention to the power that we all have simply through the words that we utter.
Just by saying the word rape, you can detract from the power that silence affords rapists. Think about it. I was raped in a bar, not ten feet away from a group of students. Also, when we talk about rape, we become more aware of its presence in our world. With awareness comes the increased potential to notice and be able to stop a situation like mine.
I am a woman who was raped by a boy in your town. And no matter how uncomfortable it makes you it is real, I will never stop talking about it, and neither should you.