The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of Project Open Voices, a coalition of students providing a platform for open dialogue on campus. Today’s submission was written in anticipation of Take Back The Night ’14, taking place next week from September 28th to October 4th.
Trigger warning — This personal narrative discusses issues of sexual misconduct.
Overheard in Peirce Pub last week —
Male Student #1 — “Wait, so is he still under investigation?”
Male Student #2 — “By his university, not by [inaudible].”
Male Student #3, without looking up from his computer screen — “You have sex with a girl, that doesn’t make it rape. I mean, I’m inclined to think, if you wait, like, a year to press charges, after he becomes famous…”
Nods of agreement. I couldn’t hear the segue, but I know they quickly moved on to a conversation about football scores.
After a few minutes, I packed up my things, slipped out of the Pub (taking pains not to make eye contact with Students #1-3), took a long, sweaty, angry bike ride, got home, took a shower, ate a Hot Pocket and moved on.
Or at least, I thought I did.
Every time I think about that seemingly minor exchange, or recount the story to a friend, something stirs in my chest — some feeling I didn’t recognize at first. Not quite blinding, fuck-shit-up anger, not quite profound sadness, not even the anger/sadness blend I’ve come to expect when I read about Columbia University’s treatment of rape survivor Emma Sulkowicz, or the NFL’s leniency toward perpetrators of domestic abuse, or Washington Post columnist George Will’s appalling, victim-blaming stance on campus sexual assault. After a while, I realized what that feeling was, and it wasn’t anything I’m particularly proud of; it was jealousy. Pure and simple.
I wish I had the luxury of talking about what constitutes rape, without even taking my eyes off my computer. I wish I could engage in a conversation about the painful reality of sexual assault, and then immediately launch into a spirited debate about the Lions’ chances this season.
(Just to clarify — yes, I’m aware that the conversation I overheard was out of context. But unless these students were running lines for a play entitled “How Not To Talk About Sexual Assault,” I can’t really come up with any exonerating context.)
Sometimes I feel like the majority of my day revolves around sexual misconduct. Much of this is by choice — I’m a proud SMA. I’ve interned and volunteered for women’s rights organizations in the past. My Facebook newsfeed is constantly brimming with “Today in rape culture…” articles, because I click the links. I read the articles. I want to know. But I don’t want to want to know — I involve myself because to do otherwise feels like a failure, a capitulation.
While I’m proud to fight against sexual misconduct, I don’t do so for purely altruistic reasons. Even if I tried to avoid the issue completely from an activist standpoint, I’d still have to watch loved one after loved one putting the pieces back together in the aftermath of rape. I’d still have to hold my breath and walk fast and wield my keys as weapons when I went out alone, or late at night, or — heaven forbid — alone, late at night. I’d still have to confront the sickening reality of One in Four — meaning that even if I’m lucky enough to escape sexual assault, statistically speaking, it would be a miracle if my three closest female friends could say the same by graduation day.
I wish I could think of rape as something that ruined my favorite athlete’s career, rather than something I watch people I love deal with every single day.
I wish I could look at a photo of students holding a dorm mattress aloft without knowing instantly what it meant.
I wish I could blithely profess skepticism about why a rape survivor would “wait, like, a year to press charges,” without understanding the lack of protection offered by the justice system, police, schools and federal government, the rampant media mistreatment, the institutionalized culture of victim-blaming that might disincline a survivor to speak up about what they’ve endured until long after the fact, if at all.
I wish I could speculate about the difference between “sex” and “rape” without confronting the fact that virtually all of my female friends, as well as a good number of my male friends, have already experienced at least one moment, event or encounter in their lives that could be classified as sexual misconduct.
I’m jealous of you, Students #1-3.
And I’m tired. I’m so, so tired. Tired of knowing that conversations like yours still take place at Kenyon.
Tired of feeling like no amount of dialogue-starting, poster-hanging or event-organizing will change that reality.
Tired of wishing I could just chill out, let it go, change the channel.