[Trigger Warning: rape]
People say that there is no right way to break, there is no right way suffer, no right way to get over things as traumatic as this. Yet growing up I got the distinct feeling that there were certain expectations. That there was a certain degree to which “Yes, this is normal”. But if you crossed that unspoken line, then you were either in denial or maybe it just wasn’t such a huge deal after all. If you reacted in the wrong way, people might think that maybe you yourself were ill.
Women aren’t supposed to feel the rage that men do: that would be wrong [insert sarcastic tone here]. That was the subliminal message I got as a child and a young woman. Hence, if I didn’t break down the way I was “supposed to”, I would force it. I was always scared that people wouldn’t take my pain seriously if I didn’t. I knew they wouldn’t because they hadn’t in the past. The irony of this, of course, is that in following the unspoken script put out for us girls I never really dealt with anything. Things don’t go away if you have to force yourself to cry, they don’t get resolved if you have a faux nervous breakdown. If you don’t embrace your own unique way of letting things go they will stay with you endlessly.
While for life’s smaller injuries and incidents the rules have become more relaxed, society still hasn’t fully accepted that there are more reactions women can have when it comes to things like rape than denial or teary breakdown. There is a standard narrative put out for us rape victims. Even today we are often times expected to behave a certain way, and feel certain things. Thing is, not all of us fit this narrative. In fact many of us don’t.
After I was raped, I expected the reaction to happen like they said it should. I’ve spent the last 4 years feeling like damaged goods because it never did. I was supposed to cry, I was supposed to have the perfect breakdown like all the women I’ve seen on TV. I was supposed to go through steps A, B and C. I couldn’t fake a reaction to this, though; funerals sure, breakups no problem.
How I feel now is how I really feel. It has little in common with what you see on TV or in the movies. It’s no Girl Interrupted scene. It’s not a magazine article. I don’t feel like anything was stolen from me. Rather, I feel like I’ve had something thrust upon me which I can’t get rid of. Like a victim in a car fire, the plastic’s melted into my arm. It’s become a part of me.
I don’t relive the experience exactly as it happened every night. Rather I find myself sleepless and paranoid at 3:39 AM searching Google for “How many guns can I legally own?”, “How difficult would it be to build a subterranean bunker?” or “Are T-72 tanks legal in this country?”
I don’t want to cry. Rather I’m volatile. I’m gripping a metal pen in my fist, waiting, while I walk home at night, for the next man to try me. I dare him. I’ll plunge it into his neck the second he tries to touch my breast. This is how I feel.
I feel hate like I’ve never felt before and I wish I could make it go away without having to say anything. It’s searing, roiling, burning hatred for people that take advantage of other people. I don’t watch shows like Law & Order or The Mentalist anymore because I find myself screaming at the TV, begging the officer with the gun to shoot the fucker standing over the beaten child or assaulted woman. All I can hear myself say is, “Kill them, kill them!”. I have grown cold in a way I am not comfortable with.
This is why I haven’t talked about this. It’s all considered atypical for women. I’ve always been scared that this reaction would somehow disprove my suffering. Scared that people would simply write me off as a “man hater”. Scared that people would think I was ill or creepy for unsympathetically watching a rapist get the royal crap beaten out of them, for watching as they were crushed with absolutely no guilt or emotion. for wanting to actually grab the nearest blunt object and help out, all the while screaming: “How does it feel?!?”
This just left me feeling even more damaged. It took me seeing other women expressing the same anger for me to start making peace with my own feelings regarding this. The rage I feel is not merely an individual experience. It’s normal to want to protect yourself. It’s normal to become paranoid after being sexually assaulted even once. Asking yourself if every stranger that smirks at you will follow you home. Asking whether the guy with the black hoody sitting behind you on the bus is staring at you. It’s normal to want to hurt the people that hurt you. It’s normal just like crying and denial.
Plastering things over with an emotion that isn’t yours in the moment doesn’t work. Everyone reacts their own way to rape. There is no homogenized, scientific, rule book entitled: “The Proper Reaction to Being”. We each react in the way that best suits us.
This is how I’m dealing with the assaults I’ve suffered. It doesn’t mean I hate men, or that I’m a violent psycho. I’m not going to kill anyone, and I have nothing against men because I know most of them aren’t rapists. I’m not going to buy a gun. I’m not going to steal a tank and go barreling through the city searching for the men that hurt me. This is how I feel right now though, and it’s ok, even thoughit’s scary,
I’ve never felt this cold, never laughed when someone on TV was beaten to a bloody pulp. I miss sleep, and I miss the ability to feel safe in my own house. But I will heal. I will feel safe again one day. Right now though I’m going to speak out, go to a SlutWalk, join a protest movement.
I’m going to school anyone that makes a rape joke. I’m taking a kick boxing class. I’m going to teach the men I meet about rape culture, because while most men aren’t rapists, most men also don’t understand how their inaction contributes to its perpetuation. I’m going to make it clear to people that wearing a miniskirt, being drunk, walking out late at night, wearing heels, dating someone, being high, or any combination of those things does not justify rape.
I’m mad as hell and I’m not scared to show it anymore. The first thing I’m going to do is this. Write this. To tell anyone who reads it, that you are not damaged. If your reaction to this is different, it’s ok. No one’s reaction is exactly the same.
Author’s Note: Thank you to Keisha Bond, who shared this video with me, which inspired me to write this:
(photo of crying statue via Wikimedia Commons)