We will not go quietly

The following is an essay I wrote for the forthcoming zine We Will Not Go Quietly. We Will Not Go Quietly is a project of two Australian feminists, Kate Ravenscroft and Mel Hughes, “who mourn the absence of survivors’ voices in their world and want to do something about it.” The deadline for submissions has passed, but Kate and Mel are currently seeking a designer to help them put the essays, poems and articles together. If you think you might be that designer, or if you know someone who is, email Kate and Mel at wewillnotgoquietlyzine@gmail.com.

**Trigger warning**

Earlier this year, my friend Jamie, who is a young feminist blogger living in Chicago, wrote a post called “Today I had to leave class to cry.” Her tears were tears of frustration and anger, the ones you feel when an injustice is being done – or in this case, excused – in front of you, and you feel powerless to stop it.

Jamie, who is in her first year of university, was in a class called “Free Speech,” and the topic of discussion was whether or not it would be a restriction of free speech to ban a manual for how to rape someone. The conversation soon turned to rape prevention, and to what women can do to prevent rape:

There is no such thing as “rape prevention.” The only way for people to not get raped is for people NOT TO RAPE THEM. We can’t end rape by dressing modestly or avoiding dark alleys or letting friends babysit our drinks when we go to the bathroom. The only way to abolish rape is for nobody to rape anyone else. It really isn’t a difficult concept.

I chimed in politely and explained this to the class. I fully expected at least one other person to agree with me. I looked around. Nobody agreed. A bunch more people raised their hands and tried to correct me. “They can at least be aware of a rapist’s techniques!” they argued. “It is silly to think that women can’t prevent rape.”

At this, Jamie writes, she could no longer control herself. “It isn’t the job of women to prevent their own rape!” she said. “The only people who can prevent rape are rapists!” And then, she left had to leave class to cry.

As I read Jamie’s post, I felt a hot, uncomfortable dread creep over me, that prickly feeling under your skin that you sometimes feel when you’re ashamed of something you’ve done. I sat for a moment and thought about what Jamie had written. And then I opened up my browser and wrote her an email.

I used to be one of those people who made you cry today. When I was a sophomore, I took a women’s studies class, and when it came time to discuss alcohol and consent in precept, I didn’t get it. I said things about being drunk and being responsible and being raped that I now deeply, deeply regret. I hurt the feelings of two girls in the room – that I know of – who had been raped while drunk. Things got heated and we all went and met with the professor teaching the class and it was really ugly.

Now, four or five years later, I get it. Like, really, really get it, enough to write about it for Feministing. I think about those girls in my class every time I write about this stuff, because I have to remember how much pain I caused them just by espousing stupid, poorly thought out and entirely mainstream ideas, and I have to remember what I used to think and how I used to justify it to myself. I guess all I’m saying is, you probably converted a person or two today. And if you didn’t today, you will next time or the time after that.

When Kate and Mel asked me to contribute to We Will Not Go Quietly, and told me that it was a resource for survivors, I wasn’t entirely sure what of use I could say. I am not a survivor. I am lucky to be one of the three out of four young American women who has not been the victim of rape or attempted rape. Every day, I am grateful for that. Every day, I live with the possibility, and the fear, that I will one day join the other twenty-five percent. But as it stands, I do not know how it feels to be sexually assaulted.

What I do know is that I have sat where Jamie sat and felt the frustration that she felt. But I have also sat across the table and inflicted that pain on other people. I’m not proud of the things I said in that class as a second-year student. I’m appalled when I remember the tears in the eyes of my classmate, a woman who, she told me later, was a survivor of a brutal rape. I wish I could take back what I said in that classroom – and even though I can’t, every time I write a blog post about victim-blaming and rape apologism now, I feel like I’m atoning, in some small way, for the fact that I said them.

I’m atoning because at some point, I saw the error of my ways. I saw how wrong I had been in believing those ideas I espoused back then. And ever since then, I’ve been on the other side of the table, Jamie’s side. I can’t remember exactly what it was that made me see reason. But it did happen, eventually.

My point, then, is this: conversations like the one Jamie describes are incredibly difficult to have. They can be triggering and traumatic and sometimes they can make you cry with frustration and disbelief that people just don’t get it. But they can also convert people. They can make those people question beliefs they’ve never really thought to question before. They can bring them around to see what you see, what Jamie sees, and what her classmates could not yet see: rapists cause rape. The only way to prevent rape is for rapists to stop raping people. Perhaps it won’t be your words that change someone’s mind, but that doesn’t mean that their mind won’t one day be changed.

As difficult as these conversations are, we have to keep having them. We have to believe that when it comes to mainstream ideas about who’s to blame for sexual assault, minds can be changed. We have to fight that good fight, even when it’s exhausting and enraging and frustrating beyond description. And sometimes, we have to leave the room to cry.

New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at chloesangyal.com

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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Join the Conversation

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    I think part of compassion is understanding how easy it is to not understand the basics of rape. Like you, I once took a similar view. It’s easy to miss the point when we live in a society that tries to hush up rape allegations. Your desire to atone for past sins is admirable, but if I were you, (and in this context, I am) I’d be more thankful for having finally learned.

    You’re right that sometimes it takes direct confrontation, even when it is uncomfortable to get a point across. The line of verse I think of is “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools”–the truth we’ve spoken can so easily be turned around by those with a self-serving agenda to trap those who are unaware of the particulars.

  • http://feministing.com/members/sjivany/ Sarah Ivany

    Chloe, Jamie – your conversations and other like them ARE working. People are changing. Policy is changing. I live in Alberta, Canada, where next month the Edmonton Police Force and Sexual Assualt Voice of Edmonton will launch a sexual assault awareness campaing called “Don’t Be That Guy.” From their website:

    “Typically, sexual assault awareness campaigns target potential victims by urging women to restrict their behavior. Research is telling us that targeting the behavior of victims is not only ineffective, but also contributes to how much they blame themselves after the assault. That’s why our campaign is targeting potential offenders – they are the ones responsible for the assault and responsible for stopping it. By addressing alcohol-facilitated sexual assault without victim-blaming, we intend to mark Edmonton on the map as a model for other cities.”

    Keep talking. People are listening.

    • http://feministing.com/members/mthvkg/ lilu

      Oh my gosh! As an Edmonton-expat (who’s studying in Mtl) that is totally rad news to hear! Fantastic!!!!

      And I thought that Edmonton had gone back to the dark ages with Bill 44! It’s crazy awesome that some real progressive strategies are coming from my home town :)

  • http://feministing.com/members/pillowinhell/ jen

    I often wonder just what it would take to get people to understand. Think about it, a quarter of women suffer through rape and assault, which means that everyone knows a survivor.

    When I was younger, I bought into the “well if she got drunk..”. My best friend started dating a girl who had recently been raped (within the last year). She was young and wanted companionship but triggered so easily that she hadn’t been able to keep a boyfriend for long. I found out what had happened to her when she woke me up at two in the morning screaming in abject terror. Lying next to her boyfriend and waking up was all that was needed to send her back to the worst hours of her life .That scream was blood chilling.. From that day on, no reason thrown against a survivor will ever wash with me.
    I squirm with shame to think of how callously I thought about certain rape survivors, All I can do now is educate my children to know better and offer support to anyone who might confide in me. I just hate the fact that teaching one person at a time is so painfully slow, for the victims.

  • http://feministing.com/members/evelyn/ Evelyn

    I went through a victim-blaming phase of my life. I’m ashamed of it, but it is part of my past and I won’t deny it. You know who helped my come around? The writers on feministing.com. A professor at my college first introduced me to the concept of victim-blaming. The seed was planted in my mind at the well-intentioned age of 19. But it was the bloggers on this very site who watered the seed and facilitated its growth. After I read the book Yes Means Yes (recommended to me by feministing), I was completely changed for the better. I am forever thankful that I had access to the content on this website because I might have never realized just how ignorant our society (myself included) is about the realities of rape and rape culture.

    • http://feministing.com/members/crystalsnowfire/ Ariel

      I second your comment. My story is pretty much the same, just a different book.
      It’s amazing how understanding 1 concept like victim blaming can end up changing how you view rape, and who is to blame for it.

  • http://feministing.com/members/balancingjane/ BalancingJane

    Thank you for writing this. Not only does it demonstrate the important progress that can be made by having the hard conversations, but it also shows that people who don’t get it are not the enemy. Too often, we think of those spots at the table as fixed, forever doomed to glare across at each other, but the ability to grow and change is directly intertwined with our ability to listen and communicate.

    I know I don’t always get it right, but I hope that I always leave myself open to the possibility that I will learn and try again.

  • http://feministing.com/members/veronicacharl10/ Veronica

    When I go to bars, I never go alone. I never set down my drink, I always have my friends watch my stuff, and I never accept drinks from people I don’t know.

    And it pisses me off that I have to do those things. It irritates me to no end that I have to be responsible for someone not dropping a drug in my cup. I have to be responsible for someone not trying to get me into his car at the end of the night. Why the hell do I have to be responsible for making sure I don’t get raped?

    I have wondered this often. I haven’t been raped, but I know 5 people who have. One of them, my cousin, has been raped 4 times. The psychological trauma she has suffered because of it has ruined her life completely. I refuse to ever think that any of that was ever her fault for not taking some kind of precaution against monsters that took away her humanity. I think to myself, “WHY? Why is it always the victim’s responsibility?”

    The only reason rape exists is because there are people who think that doing it is okay. That’s the problem. It’s not what we wear, where we go, what we drink, or what we say. It’s that there are people who think they have the right to desecrate others like that. And it’s THOSE people who need to take responsibility and not rape others.

    • http://feministing.com/members/robbieloveslife/ Robert

      You take precautions which could be a factor in you never being raped. A woman should never be raped but it doesn’t hurt to be aware of what tricks men will use. That is why I am not against any type of rape prevention classes. Yeah you shouldn’t have to do those things but that is like saying I shouldn’t have to lock my car door so I don’t get robbed. We have to do things in life to protect ourselves whether we like it or not.

      • http://feministing.com/members/feminister/ feminister

        Robert, either you’re trolling or you have completely missed the point of this article. It would be more helpful to society if you go read up on the innumerable situations where women have been raped and /or assaulted. Eventually you’ll learn that unless a woman barricades herself alone in a bomb shelter and never emerges, there is a chance she might be sexually assaulted or raped. And after reading about all the times women were victims of rape or assault despite all the precautions they took, finally you might see the light that the only true way to prevent rape and sexual assault is by teaching people to not rape or commit sexual assault.

        • http://feministing.com/members/robbieloveslife/ Robert

          I reread the article and I understand the point that the only way to prevent rape is for rapists to stop raping people. I agree that there is no other possible way to prevent rape completely. What I said previously is that I wasn’t against rape prevention classes specifically because it doesn’t hurt to be aware of potentially bad situations and in our society there are still men that rape. When I was in the military we attended classes that told us we shouldn’t rape or harass anyone but it still happened. We attended tons of these courses because of all the incidents and what I took away from that is that there will ALWAYS be a few bad apples in society no matter what you teach them. I am basing this on experience with thousands of men over 5 years.

          • http://feministing.com/members/feminister/ feminister

            Your second post makes the point of your first comment without all the victim blaming. Every sentence in your first comment is like a how-not-to lesson for commenting about rape/assault, and throwing in a car analogy and then closing with a pedantic “do things to protect ourselves whether we like it or not” statement is particularly offensive. If you’re honestly trying and not trolling, please try harder the first time.

  • http://feministing.com/members/portia/ Portia

    Articles like this are so important to me. I’m a survivor and even though it happened nearly three years ago, I still go through cycles of victim blaming. It’s immeasurably important to have communities like this, discussions like this. Thank you.

    • http://feministing.com/members/crystalsnowfire/ Ariel

      Portia,
      I am so sorry for what happened to you, as another survivor I can tell you that the self vicitm blaming can go away. (It’s easier is you don’t surround yourself with people who would actually blame you, I think.)

      If you would like then here are some *hugs* for you.

  • http://feministing.com/members/supercat/ SuperCat

    I read many rapes happen by friends, family, people you trust. I mean, I can’t think of anyway to prevent that without being an distrusting recluse.

    Distrusting everyone you meet, never being alone with someone, it would be hard to go through life like that.

  • http://feministing.com/members/thorn/ Jen

    Sadly, I think most of use grew up in an atmosphere of victim-blaming. My parents tried to teach me all the things to do to “avoid rape”, and subconsciously I absorbed the idea that if I got assaulted, it would be my fault, a direct result of my own behavior, and felt my own family would not have sympathy for me for being so “careless”. Worse, I think their well-intentioned lessons reinforced the idea that rape can only happen in obviously dangerous situations, rather than preparing me for the truth that a rapist is going to try and find a way to perpetrate their crime regardless of the circumstances; this did not prepare me for dealing with situations that arose with family or close friends, people that I had previously dismissed as safe to be around. I was fortunate in finding ways to protect myself, but not without a great deal of guilt, confusion, and fear about being judged by my own loved ones.

  • http://feministing.com/members/berlin/ Elmar Haus

    I understand that rape and everything related to it is a very sensitive and emotional topic, but as a trained social scientist I cannot approve this mixing of normative and empirical arguments.

    Yes, rape is NEVER justified and there is nothing a woman can do that makes it Ok for her to be raped or that takes away blame from the offender.

    BUT: of course there are things a woman can do to make it less likely that she is raped. The same is true for all crimes and all human action for that matter. You cannot ignore the fact that there is large national and international variation in where and when rape takes place. We don’t call Johannesburg the rape capital of the world for no reason, and to suggest that a young woman is just as save backpacking through Johannesburg as she would be in Freiburg, Germany, is simply delusional.

    The same of course is true for clubbing and following a guy you barely know to his flat.
    I myself was physically attacked 4 times since I moved to Berlin. 3 out of 4 times this happened late at night on the weekend, in front of clubs or on the way to clubs – just at the places where groups of young and drunk guys hang out. I don’t fool myself into thinking that these were coincidences and that I would be just as likely to become a victim in broad daylight in front of the public library. Of course that doesn’t mean that I don’t go out at night anymore, but I keep the risk in mind and I try to avoid those groups of young men, travel in groups myself and try to stay sober enough so that I can see a risky situation coming and react accordingly.