When I was reflecting on the dream this morning, what struck me about it was how I reacted to the rape in the dream. I was unsurprised. I felt broken, but it felt normal to feel that way. I felt like I was used to being raped all the time.
This got me thinking about how I felt when I was raped in real life. It didn’t feel that strange or unusual, though I had never been raped before. I think I’d had an image in my mind of what being raped would be like, and it was much more violent and out-of-the-blue than what actually happened.
What actually happened was that I went on a date with a cute guy and agreed to sleep at his one room apartment. I was really clear with him that I just wanted to cuddle when he asked me to come over. When we got to his room, he wanted to have sex. I said no, and he didn’t listen to me. We had sex and I was pleading with him to stop the whole time. I didn’t try to push him off of me, and he didn’t physically hurt me. He didn’t use a condom. He stopped when he came.
It took me a couple of days to call what happened rape. I think this was mainly because “rape” sounded like a huge deal, and I thought it would be unlike anything I had ever experienced before. But my rape didn’t feel so unfamiliar. I had been touched without consent many times before (sometimes sexually, sometimes not). This was just a more intrusive version of the non-consensual touching I was familiar with.
You know what this makes me think of? Rape culture. To grow up in a world where being raped doesn’t feel so out of the ordinary because multiple men in my life have touched me without my consent – that’s messed up.
And it doesn’t have to be this way. Kids should grow up hearing, “Only have sex with people who want to have sex with you,” not, “Women who respect themselves don’t dress like that, and you have to respect yourself first if you want guys to respect you” or any of the other harmful messages prevalent in our culture about sex and consent.
I usually avoid using the phrase rape culture because it is pretty controversial, and it seems to pit people against each other. Some people are adamant that it is an accurate way of describing our current society where rape is a big issue that affects a lot of people, and where people often don’t get very good support after being raped, while other people are adamant that our culture is anti-rape and offended by the idea that the general population is being described as condoning rape. So I often prefer to talk about how rape is an issue in our culture (and in my personal experience) without using the phrase “rape culture” because I don’t want people to write off what I’m saying because of that one phrase.
But sometimes it just feels so accurate.