Light Sentence for Rape Case
What Does a Lifetime of Leers Do to Us?
I cast my vote in the California primary today. Maybe filling out that ballot will lighten my heart. Maybe I'll feel just for a moment like I might be changing the fate of girls and women in this embattled country of ours where we still don't have an equal rights amendment and rape too often goes unreported or unpunished.
The three articles I've linked to above are all related. All the personal trauma riled up by them lies tangled together in my heart and gut while my head asks why in this day and age we have not yet put an end to rape culture.
In my small-town Catholic culture, it seemed that girls carried some intrinsic stain beyond the taint of Original Sin. Purity was a prize but our bodies were somehow construed as dirty and the prize always lay just beyond reach. I was ashamed when the meanest boy in my second grade class chased me across the playground and I ran so desperately that my shoes slipped off and my white socks ended up caked with mud. Why did you run from him, Sister asked. I could have said that he had already pinched and tickled me under the arm whenever I raised my hand, but even then, at age seven, I remained silent. I was the dirty one.
Later I learned that girls were prick teases or jail bait. Damned if we did. Damned if we didn't. Boys couldn't be trusted, but we were charged with maintaining our safety. Feet on floor. Skirts not too short. Eyeliner not too heavy. Watch yourself. It's your own damn fault because you know that you were asking for it. The term date rape was decades away from its first utterance.
Life in the big city was even worse. You didn't know who the wild boys were in a city of millions. Any car might carry a threat. It's one thing to make a stupid mistake in a place where everyone knows everyone else, but on a dark street full of strangers, a mistake might be a death sentence.
But it wasn't a stranger that pushed me down onto the seat of my car on a dead end street in the City of Angels and held his hands around my throat. I used to say that I escaped unscathed, but I know now that I didn't. That attack attached itself to the man who groped me on the parking garage stairway which mingled his sour breath with the crazy-eyed motorcyclist who grabbed onto my car door handle one midnight which settled into my bones with the propositioning boss, the pawing acting teacher, and with the nicely suited man who motioned for me to roll down my car window like he was lost that sunny afternoon and asked, do you want to fuck? I could go on, of course, but if you're a woman you don't need my stories. You have your own. You probably had a job where you traveled for business and a business associate insisted on one more drink and the next thing you know you were on top of your motel bedspread, him whispering in your ear, you know you want it. And maybe you actually had lunch with him the next day because he terrified you and you couldn't let him know it. Maybe you woke up one morning with dirt or pine needles in your hair, your underwear missing, blind from a headache, resolved to just go on, go forward, survive, and get tested for STDs and try not to blame yourself too much. Maybe your darling baby-faced husband throws a chair in your face and blackens your eye and chips a tooth and only then after years of hiding his abuse do you cry in the arms of a friend.
We tell our daughters that their periods are part of life, that it's a beautiful good thing to be a woman, that they're young women now, that they can get pregnant so let's get you on the pill if you fall for someone and want to do that, but don't do that right now. We tell them they are beautiful and that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and that they are perfect and loved, but how do we warn them, really, of the terror? How do we take away the shame of being objectified into breasts and cunts and thighs that might or might not have a gap? And how do we take away the dirty words they don't even know whispered or shouted or graffitied? How do we make them blind to the leers and the gestures and not blind to themselves? How do we explain less money for the same job when they are just as smart and just as qualified and just as good? How do we convince them that they can have careers and be mothers and have daughters and and say something, anything that their daughters can believe? How do we convince them to press charges, to be heard, to remain whole and wholly themselves when there are wolves that want to tear all of us to pieces.