I Could Rape You Right Now
And no one would hear you scream
“You know I could rape you right now and no one would hear you scream,” he told me on our first date. He was smiling. He had pinned me down in the driver’s seat of his car, my arms above me and bent back behind the headrest. It hurt my shoulders. He accused me of lying about that. He said I was making it up just to make him let me go.
I was a 90-lb teenager. Strangers used to ask me if I was anorexic but I didn’t exactly know what that meant. He was older. I was so excited to go on my first date. I felt so grown up. We drove downtown and I realized I’d never crossed the bridge over the river without my parents, let alone at night. The city lights seemed bright but really we were just passing an IHOP and an always empty steakhouse that is unbelievably still in business. But the limned sheen of going downtown on a date with an older guy made my small town feel damn near glamorous. I felt glamorous. The world had never known a more glamorous girl with braces and rolled-up jean shorts. (Dressing up probably consisted of not attaching my top row of braces to the bottom with those tiny brightly colored rubber bands I was supposed to.) After all, I was on a date with a guy old enough to drive! It was a laughably archetypal “crossing the threshold” but I hadn’t learned much about mythology in school yet.
That was the summer Creep came out. Radiohead was everywhere. I don’t remember if it was on every radio station or if he was playing it on repeat. That was also the summer everyone was switching to CDs. Maybe he had it on cassette. He drove a white Corsica.
By the time he had me pinned down in the car, he had already hit me. I hadn’t seen it coming. All of a sudden there were just fists. My face never caught a blow, just my head.
What happens to women and girls is not for angry men to debate and arbitrate.
I don’t tell you this for any other reason than that I have a niece now. She is intrinsically happy. And the number of angry white men leaving angry white male comments on my articles is growing.
I can’t teach them what they don’t want to learn. I can’t convince them of anything they don’t want to believe. But I’m not trying for them. I’m trying for my niece, and all the girls I’ll never know. I’m sharing things I’d prefer to forget in the hope that each generation will grow up with less violence.
The main reason I would rather not remember the things he (or the ones after him) said and did to me is that after someone violates our autonomy the only agency we have left is how we react — how we process what happened, whether or not we choose to tell anyone, whom we choose to tell and how much detail we choose to share. We desperately want to maintain (or regain) our dignity. I find my dignity in privacy so it’s counterintuitive to post salacious details from my intimate life. I don’t like the idea that I might be defined, even in part, by someone else’s violence because I want to control my own story, my own identity. Besides, so many others, men and women, children, have been through So. Much. Worse.
But progress is incremental. So if telling my stories makes one woman feel less alone or makes one man feel more compassionate then maybe it’s worth feeling repulsed by my own vulnerability. And maybe by the time my niece is dating, she will live in a world with less violence and more justice.
She is always smiling. She will grow up to go on dates too. And I know that this world, gray matter that it is, will dim that ready smile of hers. I know that the reflexiveness she smiles with every time she sees another human or an animal, stuffed or real, will get challenged by this world. For now, her default setting is happy. And it is a joy to behold.
I want her to date without having to strategize around potential violence. Everyone deserves to date without fear.
But if we can’t convince society there’s a problem, even after trotting out our own humiliating details, how are we supposed to find solutions for the next generation?
I suspect the men who are the most certain that women are exaggerating and even lying are the ones who are most afraid to self-reflect and reconsider their assumptions because new knowledge just might compel them to change their world view and, more importantly, their own behavior.
I’m not saying the defensive men who ball strangers out on the internet have also abused women or that they even think harassment is ok. But it’s not a good look. Especially in the absence of equally vehement condemnation of harassment and abuse. If you only use your vehemence to defend men you don’t even know you’re suspect.
“Call me old-fashioned, but I want a man who will protect me like I’m the reputation of a guy he’s never met.” — Kate Willett
By the time my niece is a teenager and excited to go on her first date, I don’t want her to have to deal with the arrogant assumptions of boys who feel entitled to her time, her attention or her body. If my niece grows up to date men I hope they won’t assume that their perspective is universal and their opinions are scientific facts while simultaneously assuming that women’s lived experiences are exaggerated, entirely fabricated, or manufactured specifically to ruin innocent men’s lives with false accusations.
I don’t want to air my dirty laundry on the internet to prove that what happens to women and girls is not for angry men online to arbitrate. But I am. We shouldn’t have to convince anyone that we’re telling the fucking truth. But I’m trying. We don’t owe anyone the gory details of what men have done to our bodies. But that’s not the world I live in. So I’ll add my stories to the choir of voices trying to course-correct our society so my niece will live in a better one.
I’m skeptical because the men least receptive to hearing these stories with an open heart are the ones who most need to hear them. But each new generation renews my hope. The future looks bright.