[thor] don't be afraid of the dark

Thoughts on Rape Culture

When I was around ten or eleven, I was sexually harassed. I lived in an apartment complex at the time, and I was watching a younger girl as we wandered around the complex. They had a duck lake with a gazebo beside it, so the kids would love to play over by it, and that's where everyone usually was.

The guy who harassed me was talking about how his friend, another guy several years my senior, thought I was "hot" and how he'd "love to do nasty stuff to me." Like putting his penis in several places, including my nose, and having it come out my ear. (I don't know, either, dudes.)

At the time, I was just like, "um okay?" And then I took the younger girl's hand and hauled her off, because I didn't want her listening to his vile remarks. She was only five years old, and was clearly listening. I didn't think about myself at all right at first. I do remember, however, that when I went home that afternoon, I kept looking over my shoulder, worried I would see him and his friend following me home. To do the stuff he had talked about.

It took me until late that evening to gather the courage to tell my Mom about it. I was scared I had done something wrong, something to make him say those things to me. I was scared she'd yell at me. I cried when I told her. There was a deep, strong feeling of something being very not right; I was uncomfortable, and worse, I was terrified they would actually try to have sex with me. I didn't quite equate it to rape back then; after all, that only happened to other girls, didn't it? In my mind, they just wanted sex. The word rape didn't enter my mind, in regards to me, at all.

My Mom was, well, pissed off, to put it lightly. She held me while I cried and said it wasn't my fault, that it would never be my fault if, God forbid, this sort of thing happened again. When we happened to see him walking across the parking lot one day, I pointed him out and my Mom went over and basically said, "If you ever come near my daughter again, you will beg for the police to take you away before I'm done with you." Being the chickenshit that he was, the moment my Mom turned her back, he spit at her. She ignored him, and that was the last time he bothered me.

I know people, when they hear this, might brush it off as being "not as bad" as rape, that maybe they were just joking around, that I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, he was only saying, not doing; nothing came out of it, right? So why am I making such a fuss out of it?

But here's the thing. For weeks afterward, I slept facing my bedroom window. We lived in an upstairs apartment, and the front door was right next to my only bedroom window, which looked out on the stairs. I was afraid that, one night, while my Mom was asleep and I had the window open to look up at the stars, that guy and his friend would come up the stairs and hurt me. Hurt me for telling on them, hurt me to teach me a lesson, or just hurt me in general.

I wasn't able to go outside and play by myself for a while because I was afraid of those men. I've always had problems feeling safe in places, thanks to my paranoia and, back then, my undiagnosed anxiety disorders. But this just made it worse; I no longer felt safe even in my own house, in my own bed. Somehow, with just a few words, that one man took away my sense of security.

We moved out into a rent house about a year later, and I slowly forgot about the man. I gained back my sense of security in my home, but not out in public. It was only until I read survivor stories--survivors of sexual assault or harassment--that I remembered what had happened to me, and how, all of a sudden, I had become a part of an unfortunately large group of women and girls who have had the same thing happen to them. Who have had men objectify them, terrify them with threats and talk of performing sexual acts on them, even when they're clearly uncomfortable with it. I had become a victim of rape culture.

Rape culture taught that guy that it was okay to objectify me, to see me as a sexual object even though I was barely even twelve, and that it was okay for him to talk to me in such a manner, even though I was obviously uncomfortable. It taught him it was okay to think about raping me, because that's what it would have come down to: If something had happened that day, I would have said no, and he and his friend would have done it anyway. To teach me a lesson, about obeying him, about him having all the power, about never saying no to a man.

Rape culture made me feel ashamed to tell my own mother about the incident. It made me afraid that I was to blame; that I had done something, somewhere, to give that guy the idea to talk to me in the way that he did. After all, it's always the woman's fault, isn't it? She dressed in too revealing a manner, she was too drunk, she walked alone in the dark through a shady part of town, she should have known better, she should have done this, she should have done that, she should have followed the rules but she didn't so now it's all her fault. It's her fault she got raped/groped/harassed. It's always her fault.

I still feel uncomfortable when a guy looks at me for too long. I don't like being stared at anyway, but by men it scares me. In the back of my mind, I'm always wondering what he's thinking about me, if I just look really pretty, or if I look like an easy target.

I've heard it said that this is considered a normal part of growing up as a girl; you're going to get picked on by boys who will sometimes say sexually charged things. You're going to be groped and harassed in middle school and high school, maybe even elementary school or kindergarten. You're going to get whistles and stares if you dress in too provocative a way, never mind if it's what you're most comfortable wearing. And you should just put up with it, because it's normal. You should put up with it because rape culture says so.

If that is considered a normal childhood, or a normal, if annoying, part of life, then I fear for any daughters I'll have in the future. It doesn't matter if it isn't as "serious" as real rape or molestation or whatever. It still hurt me, and it still scared me, just as it hurts and scares a thousand other girls every day. I got off lucky, I realize; that's the only incident I've had, though a cynical, depressed part of me realizes it likely won't be the last. I am, after all, a woman living in a country that's steeped in rape culture. Until we tear that culture down bit by bit, we're told to shut up and put up with it. Just do as the nice man says; after all, he knows best, doesn't he? As a woman, my opinions, thoughts and feelings don't enter the picture. I don't know what's best for me or my body; only a man who's maybe slept with me, or maybe barely knows me, or doesn't know me at all, knows what's best for me. Only a man can tell me how something really made me feel, and if I feel differently, then I'm just hysterical or being a bitch.

And I am so very tired of men telling me how to feel and what to do, or what I'm allowed to do, with my own body. And I'm tired of men thinking it's okay to take away my sense of security, just as that one guy did. After all, I'm just a woman. I don't really matter in the grand scheme of things.
[thor] don't be afraid of the dark

Just curious...

Has anyone else noticed a growing trend in YA books that feature female lead characters where, in the summary, it tends to go something like this:

"Main Girl Character has always been a little different from others, but hides it well, until Main Boy Character shows up. MBC is gorgeous, mysterious and dark, and seems to know far more about MGC than she knows about herself. Can they figure out what's going on in their little town before something horrible happens?"

(Okay, so that was really crappy writing, but you get the point. I apologize.)

I'm not quite sure why this bugs me so much, but I'll try to pin it down as best I can.

I think it irks me because so many YA books with female leads tend to include an "irresistible, gorgeous, mysterious, dark" main guy lead who will help the lead girl figure out her powers, strengthen them, and help her save the day, all while falling in love, of course. And there's nothing wrong with that, exactly; God knows I love a well written romance, within reason.

My problem with it, I think, is that there are hardly any books where a lead girl figures things out on her own. Or where a lead girl finds help with another girl; it doesn't have to be romantic, but a best friend/sister type relationship, you know? It's always about a guy. I'm not trying to say there's anything wrong with that, if it's your cup of tea; more power to you. But for me, it's getting a bit tiring to read book summary after book summary that basically follows the formula I wrote above.

Maybe I'm just a bitter old hag, but I'd rather read summaries that tell me a book has a strong female lead who can figure things out on her own, whose life isn't thrown into a whirlwind by a boy being the catalyst. I didn't realize how many book summaries tend to include the boy leads until I started reading Tamora Pierce's books, and I realized very few of her summaries even mention a romantic subplot, never mind a dark and mysterious boy who helps lead the plot along. It's all about girls finding their own way, succeeding by their own strength, and being determined to become what they want to be without relying too much on others. The same can be said for Frewin Jones' "Warrior Princess" series; the summaries focus solely on Branwen and her journey, and not a mention is made of any romantic subplot or love interest.

I think that is the kind of thing I want to see more in YA books. I want to see girls finding out more about their powers on their own, without their catalyst for such a thing being a new guy in their life who knows about her powers or some such. I want to see girls who aren't partially defined by the guys in their life, because that's what it boils down to for me in the end, with those types of summaries: It wouldn't be interesting or bestselling to see a girl figuring things out on her own. She needs a dark, mysterious guy to make the story interesting.

Am I just being a hag about this? Or are there others who somewhat or fully agree with me on this?

ETA: I should say I'm excluding certain books where the romance rightfully plays a big part of the story, like The Hunger Games. The romance there is used as a survival tactic, and for good reason, because it's smart. Just thought I'd add this.