TW: Discussion of rape culture, sexual assault, Steubenville
As anyone who follows me knows, I’ve been blogging a lot about Steubenville since the verdict came down. The verdict itself was a victory, some semblance of justice for the girl who was so horribly betrayed and abused. But along with that victory came another onslaught of injustices: CNN’s outpouring of sympathy for the rapists, the constant stream of reminders that the girl was drunk and thus somehow asking for it, the stark reminders that one or two years in a juvenile detention center won’t erase rape culture.
Watching all of this play out all I could think was, There but for the grace of guys go I.
When I got to college, a small liberal arts school near Philadelphia, I immediately fell in with a great group of friends. There was one other woman and six guys in our tight knit group (five of those men were straight, just to give detailed demographics). We were inseparable - we ate our meals together, we went out and partied together, we had our own bubble within the bubble.
I was pretty wild my first year and a half or so. I have a treasure trove of incredibly amusing stories of drunken antics with my little cabal. I would go out in tiny dresses and enormous heels, I would keep pace with my classmates, and we would occasionally go skinny dipping in the worst smelling creek I have ever been to. And despite what rape apologists and people who want to blame rape victims would define as “high risk behavior,” I was never raped or assaulted.
I was never raped because my guy friends always looked out for me, and made sure I got home safely. We all looked out for each other, because that’s what friends do. When I was getting aggressively hit on and obviously uncomfortable, one of my friends would swoop in and help me out. I dated two of my friends (I’m still dating one of them), and they never took advantage of me when I was drunk, or felt entitled to my body because of something I was wearing or how I was dancing. I would often end the night at one of our two frat houses, where one of the brothers and I would swap stories, “chug a beer for America,” and he would alternate between suggesting I rush the frat and dramatically proposing to me. But he too respected my space, never came onto me or made me feel uncomfortable, and made sure I left safely with one of my friends.
I didn’t get raped or assaulted not because I was somehow more chaste, or sensible, or possessed some mystical feminine intuition that allowed me to pick out friends who would treat me like a human being. I didn’t get raped or assaulted because of sheer luck. I was simply lucky enough to be surrounded by decent men who didn’t think twice about doing the right thing, who were respectful and loyal regardless of my gender.
And if I hadn’t been lucky enough to fall in with my life long friends on that first day of orientation? Things could have been a lot different. After the first party I ever went to, I went with the group down to the creek to swim around, and met a talkative and seemingly friendly guy who hit on me pretty relentlessly. Two weeks later, that guy was expelled for raping several of my classmates. If I hadn’t arrived and left with my group of friends, I could have easily been one of them. One of the men on my hall that first year was expelled for rape a few years later. My point is that it wasn’t my actions that ensured that I didn’t get raped at college, it was the actions of the men close to me.
Now I’ve been running this blog for three years. I’m well aware that this long, highly personal post is going to have tons of backlash about how I was asking for it, how I was an obnoxious drunken slut who put herself at risk. But I (obviously) reject that wholeheartedly. I’ve never heard that said about a man in college - when you’re a man in college, it’s okay to let loose, to enjoy yourself, to accumulate raucous stories of risky escapades. Why then, am I and every other woman who dares to live their lives and occasionally have fun doing so not afforded the same courtesy? And why is being the target of a violent crime something that women should accept as a possible consequence of drinking? Being assaulted isn’t the same as throwing up on your new shoes or feeling like your head is going to pound off your shoulders in the next morning’s sunlight. Being assaulted is the fault of the person who chooses to assault - always, without exception.
Men are in a position to stop rape, sexual assault, and harassment. In a patriarchal society men have that social capital, if they’re educated to do so. I think my guys were extraordinary, but they shouldn’t be. They should be the norm, because every person vulnerable to rape deserves a community support system actively working to respect and look out for them.
I look at Jane Doe in Steubenville, the Amherst rape victim, and the women I knew who were assaulted on our campus, and I think, there but for the grace of guys go I.