Some Heartfelt Advice for Young Women

I like to keep my blog posts light but there are times when I just can’t stay silent. I know that I only have a few regular readers, which is okay because my promise when I started this blog was to write to please myself, but I think a lot of my more recent followers have been drawn in by my less controversial pieces. However, there are things I “consider” (the blog is called “Life Considered”, after all) on a daily basis in my life – while I’m watching the news, or spending (wasting?) hours reading interesting items on the Internet, or even driving in my car (I have so many “deep thoughts” while driving that I actually bought a little tape recorder to dictate my thoughts for those times when I’m not able to write them; now, if I could just find the time to transcribe the tapes . . . ) – and I have very few people with whom to discuss this stuff other than Facebook friends and my enlightened daughter. (Seriously – at 20, she’s already one of the most enlightened people I know: Her first political statement came in the year 2000 when, at the age of five, she defaced a portrait of the newly “elected” (or should I say “selected”?) president George W. Bush on the front cover of a Time for Kids magazine, because his face made her angry and cried out for a Van Dyke beard, evil pointy eyebrows and devil’s horns. I saved it for years and displayed it proudly.)

I’ve read quite a few articles lately about date rape – mostly on college campuses, but there was also an incident this summer involving a popular hockey player, Patrick Kane of the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, that was covered quite a bit in the hockey and general sports media – and I’ve been waiting for the right moment to post this blog.

Rape is an abomination in all circumstances. Rapists are predators, but in certain situations – I’m talking about date or acquaintance rape – women have a certain culpability. Women who have been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by someone they knew (or thought they knew) are always told, “It’s not your fault,” but ultimately she needs to take some responsibility. Why was she in that place with that person? Unless she was physically dragged there against her will (which is a whole different ball of wax), she likely went voluntarily. What were HER intentions in putting herself into what could turn out to be a dangerous situation? And then why was she so intimidated by her assailant? Was she too frightened to fight back, or scream, or escape? Short of death, I can’t imagine what could be worse than being forced into a sex act against my will.

The young lady in the Patrick Kane situation – what did she THINK would happen if she went back to his house in the wee hours after a night of partying? He’s a good-looking, rich professional athlete. Lots of girls offer themselves to him; why would he feel the need to force himself on a woman who didn’t want him and yet went willingly to his home? I don’t know the details and we may never know, because it appears that the whole ugly episode is just going to disappear into the ether.  While I don’t put it past Patrick Kane to be a pig, I also can’t shake the feeling that the woman was either having post-coital regrets after Kane inevitably treated her dismissively when he was “done” or, at worst, extorting money from a wealthy person who would pay to keep her quiet.

Then there was the discredited Rolling Stone piece on rampant date rape at the University of Virginia. The woman at the center of that story may very well have been sexually assaulted by multiple creeps, but the mess she made of her story disrespected the genuine help and attention she received from classmates, university personnel and the reporter doing the investigating and served to cast a pall over a subject that vitally needs to be discussed and taken seriously. I just don’t think the discussions are focused on the right things.

My aim is not to victim blame or exonerate assholes but to point out that it’s not always cut and dried, or even he-said/she-said. Date rape is almost always somewhere in the middle. Girls seeing themselves (and being seen) as victims, the damsel in distress who needs rescuing and protecting, is a problem for me. The bottom line, as I see it, is that women should not put themselves in compromising situations. Unfortunately, it falls to women to take control of the circumstances to prevent idiot boys from “misinterpreting” their words and actions.

Certainly, children – especially boys – should be taught persistently from a very early age that consent is always required for touching, and no always means no. It’s pretty simple, and parents should start early and say it often: “Don’t touch anyone without first asking if you can. And no means no.” [As an aside, I recently read a great story on the Internet (sadly, I didn’t note the source when I first read it and couldn’t find the article when I went back to search for it) about a kindergartener who tried to hug a classmate but his classmate clearly did not reciprocate his desires. So his dad explained to him that people don’t like to be touched, or hugged, or kissed without permission. The dad knew his lesson had made an impression when he saw the lad seeking consent to hug the cat – from the cat! Adorable story and smart parenting.]

High school and college boys are, let’s face it, pretty dumb, as a whole. Their brains are not fully developed, and they’re especially susceptible to peer pressure if they think it will make them look weak in the eyes of their friends. Girls need to take the reins, but flirting, playing “hard to get” and being a “cock-teaser” isn’t the way to do it. Each of those things can lead to trouble if the girl is not careful and self-aware.

True confessions: I was a sexually aggressive young person. I did not shy away from intimate encounters and in fact actively pursued them, usually in ways that forced the boy to be the one who approached me in order to keep up appearances. It was bad enough that I was a horny girl circa 1980; it would be ten times worse if I was seen as a desperate one. The boy had to come to ME.

Anyway, the punchline here is, even though it was widely known that I was sexually available to certain types of males (i.e., handsome young athletes), I too was sexually assaulted – “raped” would not be entirely inaccurate – in college, by two guys I knew pretty well and who were aware that I was ordinarily willing, but who I would have liked to believe also knew that I was not in the mood at that moment, especially as one of them had just poured numerous cups of beer over my head at a frat party, forcing me to walk out into the wintry night, wet and cold and humiliated. The beer chucker and a friend (both of whom were on the hockey team, and neither of whom I entirely trusted) chased me down, ostensibly to bring me my coat, which they then proceeded to tenderly button up around me, not bothering me to let me put my arms in the sleeves, and protectively walked me back to my dorm.

When I returned from a much-needed shower, despite my telling them thanks for the escort but they were free to go, they were waiting for me in my single room. They did what they wanted and I just lay there – not fighting back, not saying anything, feeling kind of dead inside. Bizarrely, when they were done, they literally tucked me into bed, took turns kissing me goodnight, and left.

Was I angry at them? Yes, but I was mostly angry at myself. I was mad that I hadn’t fought back (although there was no physical force involved), even just a little, and that I hadn’t told them more adamantly that I didn’t have the time or desire to do this right now. I may have even told them that, at any other time, I might have considered it fun, JUST NOT NOW. But they were stupid boys and didn’t listen, and I guess, somewhere deep inside, I felt like I deserved it.

The incident stayed with me for years (it’s STILL with me), but otherwise it didn’t affect my behavior in any way – at least not outwardly. I even had a voluntary encounter with one of the players a year or so later. The lesson I took from it, though, was that I should never have put myself in that position, and I should have been more forceful in my protestations, because I think they probably would have left, eventually, if they hadn’t convinced themselves that I was just playing hard-to-get. The dopey boys couldn’t figure out why I might want to have sex with SOME guys but just not THEM, and just not THEN. It didn’t teach me to avoid athletes as sex partners, or even to avoid sex in general, but it did make me more wary and suspicious. From that moment on, if I didn’t feel right about a situation, I got out early. I never had another unwanted sexual encounter.

So this is what high school and college girls (and twenty-somethings and, really, women of all ages) need to do: First and foremost, look out for each other. My daughter told me about an incident at her first WVU football game, where she was sitting in front of a bunch of inebriated girls. One was so drunk she clearly needed looking after, but none of her friends seemed up to the task. So it fell to Darian – a complete stranger – to protect the passed-out girl from other drunk people throwing things at her and showering her with verbal abuse. Darian didn’t know that girl at all, and yet she was more concerned about her welfare than her so-called friends. This is NOT the way to do it, ladies.

Don’t go anywhere you don’t have an “out”. Don’t drink anything you haven’t opened or poured yourself. Say what you mean – teasing is so dangerous. How difficult is it, really, to tell the guy as you’re walking to his room (having first checked for all available exits), “Listen, I like kissing you, and I may even want to cuddle, but if you try anything more than that tonight, I am leaving.” And then, of course, follow through with that or clearly let him know , in no uncertain terms, that you have changed your mind. And for goodness sake, stop slut-shaming each other, which is just another version of victim blaming. A female should feel entitled to have sex if and when she wants, and there’s no reason she should make excuses for it, or be ashamed, the morning after if the boy doesn’t like her as much as she maybe wanted him to. This denial of female sexuality is a big part of the problem but another blog post for another day.

Stop behaving like victims who need to be protected. Protect yourselves. Ideally, women should have the strength to tell a goon who forces himself on her, “I said ‘NO’, jerkwad,” and give him a shot to the chops so she can make her getaway. Report true abusers to the authorities and be clear in your accusations. Yes, people will try to discredit you (such is the nature of our legal system), but if your cause is righteous, you’ll know you did the right thing. Put a label on the rapist at least equal to the label that gets put on you.

Most importantly, listen to that little voice in your head, even if it might be unfortunately dulled by alcohol. When that voice tells you, “Don’t go there,” DON’T GO. Nothing good can come of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Male entitlement is assuredly a reality and must be defeated, even though it seems like a doomed proposition. So it is clearly the more realistic endeavor for women to collectively abandon their victimhood and take control of their own lives and bodies. In fact, I just saw today a short video from an initiative out of New Zealand called #MyBodyMyTerms. It couldn’t be much clearer.

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