What Nobody Tells You
by JS LEE
Little girls are raised to be aware of strange men lurking around schools in vans. They’re taught how to properly cover their bodies so not to appear like they’re asking for ‘it’. And when you’re a kid, ‘it’ equals sex. If you’re lucky, you don’t really understand what rape means beyond unwanted sexual attention until you’re much older, or it happens to you.
Unwanted sex is normalized as a fact of life—in sitcoms, movies, commercials, song lyrics, friends, older siblings, and parents. When pressuring a woman until she relents isn’t being romanticized, it’s framed as a mere inconvenience. Men complain when they’re not getting enough, as if sex is something they’re owed but are being denied; an unpaid debt. Women joke and confess to caving in because it can be easier to just get it over with, than deal with prolonged harassment. We’re conditioned to believe if we don’t give men enough of it on their terms, they’ll leave us. And that’s in the better scenarios with people we like and love.
Rape is more than unwanted sex. Rape is a terrorizing violation of one’s body, mind, emotional state, trust, sense of safety and self. Rape can interfere with or completely destroy one’s identity, education, career, relationships, family, and will to live. Rape is a brutal thing to survive—be it from a stranger or someone you know.
But what nobody tells you is that surviving the aftermath is often harder than surviving the rape itself. It never ends. There are constant triggers and retraumatizations. It’s physically and emotionally enduring the ‘rape kit’. It’s the whispers and questions over what you might have done to deserve it—and that’s if they believe you. It’s the criticism over whether you reported it or pressed charges. It’s the people who knew your rapist and claim he couldn’t have done it because he didn’t rape them. It’s the people who knew it was happening but said and did nothing. It’s hearing rape after rape hit the news and the excruciating conversations around them. It’s seeing women with more power than you being torn apart for coming forward. It’s statistics that claim out of 1,000 rapes, 994 rapists walk free. It’s seeing the ones convicted released in no time at all, because it’s unfair to ruin a man’s life over basic instincts. It’s feeling that nobody cares about what happened to yours. It’s having your life-changing trauma mansplained to you. It’s hearing other woman sympathize with the rapist, because women hating women is another societal dysfunction. It’s learning that most of the women you know have gone through it, too. It’s knowing that most of the time, we’re powerless against it, but we keep talking and fighting because sometimes the only thing that helps us get through is feeling like good survivors.
Rape culture, like racism, is a systemic problem often invisible to and denied by the ones with the power. It’s so interwoven into our society that we don’t question it until our eyes are opened wide enough to reexamine our normal. Just like injustices happen to white people, rape also happens to men. But the comparative frequency of which it occurs and the way it’s handled and discussed is quite different. All gendered people who are violated deserve empathy and our support. Let’s try not to use these cases to invalidate the big picture reality, though.
Last night, my husband commented on how so much of life as a man is becoming aware of your social conditioning and trying to reverse it. That’s their work. Women’s work is surviving them in the meantime.
Below is a graphic I made in 2014 after releasing “It Wasn’t Love“:
#IBelieveChristineBlaseyFord #RapeCulture #BelieveWomen