Home > feminism > How I was socialised to get sexually assaulted

How I was socialised to get sexually assaulted

Trigger warning – sexual harassment/assault and mention of rape

This writing triggered a specific memory that I haven’t thought about for years and its really useful to my healing and development to have remembered it. I hitch hike quite a lot, especially when I was in my late teens / and twenties. Once when I was about 19 a (female) friend and I got a lift in France with two cute young guys in a fast car. They drove us to their village. On the way, despite the language barrier (my French was super minimal back then) I ended up snogging one of them as there was such a mutual attraction.

In the village my friend and I put up our tent on a patch of green (a football pitch!) and the guy I’d snogged got into the tent with me. He then proceeded all night to try (unsuccessfully) to have sex with me. Looking back on it what I find most horrific is that neither he *nor I* expected that merely me not wanting sex would be a reason to not have it. Instead after me saying non a few times I began lying that I had my period because he kept insisting and asking me “pourquoi?” and ignoring that about the only phrase I could say was “je ne voudrais pas” which I’m pretty sure he understood. It was only my stubbornness and constant vigilance and evasive manoeuvres, removing of hands from me, pulling my clothes back on etc that saved me.

Why did it not strike me as outrageously bad that me not wanting to have sex was enough of a reason to not have it? Why did I not shout or get my friend or leave the tent or punch him? Was it because I’d been already raped twice and therefore the link broken between my consent and sexual activity? Was it the years of popular culture that had taught both me and him that the way heterosexual sex happens is that the girl says no and the boy keeps insisting? The whole night and whenever I thought about it in the following few years I never blamed him, but always myself for having gotten myself into that situation. The thing is, many of you will be thinking the same. “Stupid young girl, kissing a boy and then allowing yourself to be alone with him. What did you expect? You’re lucky he didn’t just overpower you! In fact you’re lucky you ended up with a guy who didn’t just force you! You led him on. Pricktease. Why were you hitch hiking – its dangerous for girls to do that and to be alone without someone to protect you is naive and vulnerable and this is what you should expect and you came off lightly” Spooky how spot on I was about what you were thinking, huh? Well no – because its what *I* was thinking about myself for years too – until I learned about feminism.

John is in a bar chatting intensely with someone he’s just met. This person keeps touching John’s chest while he’s talking to emphasise a point; John finds this over familiar and intrusive and asks him not to. The stranger asks why? The stranger continues to touch him. Who now has it coming to them? Are any of us scrutinising John’s behaviour? Are we  thinking that John shouldn’t have started talking with him if he didn’t want to be touched? That now he doesn’t really have the right to assert his bodily autonomy? Is *John* thinking this? Or does John, and the rest of us, think John’s and only John’s wishes should decide when, how and who touches him. Are we blaming John or the stranger for the situation? Who’s behaviour are we looking at to understand what is going on? Who’s behaviour is *John* thinking about? And if the other guy keeps touching John even as John keeps saying no, what would happen next? Wouldn’t John make a fuss or even punch the guy? And who would blame him – the guy’s being an arsehole! Nobody has the right to touch someone else when they keep saying not to.

I know its clumsy, but I’m not just trying to preach to y’all about this – I need to keep processing this myself. There’s a constant stream of the opposite coming at me that I need to keep countering because otherwise I just believe that shit. Otherwise I don’t think that whether I want touched or not matters or impacts on what happens next. Otherwise I don’t get angry at the person who keeps touching me when I say I don’t want that. Otherwise I let myself get worn down and just let someone have sex with me because that’s how sex happens, right? Sex happens because a man wants it, whether I do or not as I’ve been taught by a million soap operas, magazines, court cases, pop songs, casual conversations and direct experiences. And if a man wants it but I don’t, and I kick up a fuss everyone will be looking at what *I* did for explanation. Everyone will conspire to make me feel stupid, naive, guilty and powerless. Because guys aren’t responsible for their own behaviour when it comes to heterosexual sex. I am. If I’m not constantly self regulating my behaviour, clothes and alcohol intake in a way no guy is expected to, then Bad Things will happen and its because I did wrong. It’s OK for a guy to go hitch hiking in France or kiss a stranger and he gets to still say no, but its not OK for me to do those things because if I do and something happens my friends, family, community and society will not get angry with me, but at me. And I’ll probably end up agreeing with that overwhelming judgement. And I’ll stay in the tent with the guy instead of getting righteously angry and maybe next time I won’t be so lucky.

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Categories: feminism
  1. red
    January 8, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    You weren’t spot onto my thoughts. So there!!
    Grr this makes me so angry.
    Been having a lot of thoughts about consent myself lately.
    :* xxx

    • January 8, 2014 at 6:19 pm

      I’d love to hear your thoughts. X

  2. red
    January 9, 2014 at 2:45 am

    Oh don’t worry, I’ll be ranting when you get back :P xx

  3. red
    January 9, 2014 at 2:45 am

    or do worry, because rantrantrantrantrant!! xx

  4. earwigmc
    February 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    i’ve thought about some of this over time… i think it was probably in my 30s that i figured out that stuff that i’d experienced in my teens/twenties was sexual assault – i’d just thought it was just what happened. i wouldn’t have thought/known how to talk to anyone about it. this is because as you say we live in a society which basically says that’s just how things are – men touch women, women put up with it, try to resist it politely. i was really surprised the time it happened when i was part a group of other women (we were approached by a couple of guys, i think i was possibly the closest/nearest/easiest to reach), and one/more of the other women checked in with me afterwards about how i felt, whether i wanted/needed to talk about it – anticipating an impact that i was shrugging off cos it was ‘normal’. helped me think about it i think.

    it’s good that hopefully this post and conversations about it help change peoples’ awareness, and potential actions and reactions… and help you resist internalising all the external stuff.

    when i lived as a woman, while i experienced some sexual assault by other women, the majority of sexual harassment/assault i experienced was perpetrated by men. living as a man, i’ve experienced some sexual harassment/bullying by other men. while the experiences i’ve had outside of the usual male perpetrator of sexual harassment/assault against women exist, and are what they are, in my personal expereince, and what i see in the world around me, it’s such a male-on-female thing and so caught up in much of the institutional and system sexism and heterosexism.

    • February 20, 2014 at 8:24 am

      Thanks for your really interesting perspective. X

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