I followed the rules and I still got raped

Yesterday, Jessica tweeted a section of a blog post that really hit home for me. It touched on how women are raised to behave and how those social standards are applied to unwanted sexual encounters. It said:

If we teach women that there are only certain ways they may acceptably behave, we should not be surprised when they behave in those ways.And we should not be surprised when they behave these ways during attempted or completed rapes.

Women who are taught not to speak up too loudly or too forcefully or too adamantly or too demandingly are not going to shout “NO” at the top of their goddamn lungs just because some guy is getting uncomfortably close.

Women who are taught not to keep arguing are not going to keep saying “NO.”

People wonder why women don’t “fight back,” but they don’t wonder about it when women back down in arguments, are interrupted, purposefully lower and modulate their voices to express less emotion, make obvious signals that they are uninterested in conversation or being in closer physical proximity and are ignored. They don’t wonder about all those daily social interactions in which women are quieter, ignored, or invisible, because those social interactions seem normal. They seem normal to women, and they seem normal to men, because we were all raised in the same cultural pond, drinking the same Kool-Aid.

And then, all of a sudden, when women are raped, all these natural and invisible social interactions become evidence that the woman wasn’t truly raped. Because she didn’t fight back, or yell loudly, or run, or kick, or punch. She let him into her room when it was obvious what he wanted. She flirted with him, she kissed him. She stopped saying no, after a while.

The original full blog post which was posted back in 2009 went on to say:

It’s a rude fucking awakening when a woman gets raped, and follows the rules she has been taught her whole life — doesn’t refuse to talk, doesn’t refuse to flirt, doesn’t walk away ignoring him, doesn’t hit, doesn’t scream, doesn’t fight, doesn’t raise her voice, doesn’t deny she liked kissing — and finds out after that she is now to blame for the rape. She followed the rules. The rules that were supposed to keep the rape from happening. The rules that would keep her from being fair game for verbal and physical abuse. Breaking the rules is supposed to result in punishment, not following them. For every time she lowered her voice, let go of a boundary, didn’t move away, let her needs be conveniently misinterpreted, and was given positive reinforcement and a place in society, she is now being told that all that was wrong, this one time, and she should have known that, duh.

I had never seen this particular post before yesterday but it hit so close to home for me I had to share it. I’m a survivor who can relate to every single word of this. I was a rule follower. I was “lady-like.” Polite. Well-mannered. Or whatever description you want to use to describe a woman who thought my respectability would save me from unwanted encounters especially when it involved a man who I considered a friend.

I know now that this is the greatest lie of them all.

Every single day I regret not screaming, kicking, punching, scratching and yelling NO! at the top of my goddamn lungs. And every day I know that I couldn’t because the me of four years ago didn’t like to make a scene. The me of four years ago was a rule follower.

The me of today says fuck all the goddamn rules, speak up, stay safe, and if possible work every day to change the conversation and the rules.

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/belldema/ Bell

    There have been advances in the fight for legal abortion in Argentina (where it’s legal only for raped and mentally disabled women, though in reality they are stalled by pro-life judges until abortion is no longer an option or forced to get one in a different country).

    Also, the father of one of the french tourists cruelly raped and murdered in Salta, Argentina, a couple of months ago sent a letter to the media explaining his plans of fighting to introduce the concept of feminicide as a crime against humanity. I think this is something you should report about and a fight that, as feminist, we should all be aware of and help however we can.

  • http://feministing.com/members/regynalonglank/ kelly walton

    Breaking all the rules doesn’t help either, in case you were wondering. I am as outspoken and directly verbally aggressive as they come and when I was raped despite my protests no one believed that it was rape because I am apparently too strong to be raped. Except I was. You see the rapist doesn’t care what you say or if you say no, or how loudly or forcefully you say it. Or how many times you say it. Rapists don’t care, that is the whole point.

    The thing that really sucks is when your own true friends look you right in the face and tell you it must not have been rape because no one could rape you, you are so strong. You would have stopped them, you would have never let that happen.

    I was raped. Apparently I am the only one who thinks that, I was there. And yeah, I’m tough but I am not invincible. So protest all you want, fight back, get mad. Don’t follow the rules. But don’t think that makes you safe either.

  • http://feministing.com/members/sandyaaaa/ Sandy

    My first reaction to this post is to be mad. Mad at my parents, mad at religion, mad at the society that condones the silence of women. When I ‘lost’ my virginity to what I now call date rape, I didn’t realize I had been taught to respond to my attacker in exactly the way I did. I did not yell or kick. I was a good Catholic girl. Obviously there was something wrong with me, even though I said NO.

    My second reaction is to be grateful for boat-rockers. I have always admired women who are not afraid to be loud, be passionate, even angry…I guess that was my budding feminism! My hope is that I continue to grow more like them, even as I make my way through middle age. Rule-breakers kick ass.

  • anyadnight

    Kelly Walton– I admire your strength as a survivor of not just the physical aspects of rape, but the mental rape that occurred when your friends thought it couldn’t happen to you. You’re right. Nothing makes us totally “safe.” Not modest clothes. Not our bodies. Certainly not the police or the justice system. My heart goes out to you.

    This post was a moving reminder of how rape culture works and the consequences of a society that silences women’s voices.

    The other day I ran into an old high school friend. As we were talking a guy catcalled me and then, when I didn’t respond, he said, “What? Can’t even say thank you?” I turned around and shouted back, “I’m not going to say thank you for street harassment!” When I turned back my old friend looked horrified. She told me she doesn’t do that, she just “looks awkward.” I spent the rest of the day wondering if I was wrong. I felt guilty, socially awkward, like I’d stepped out of place. I get in trouble for speaking up– with friends when I’m harassed by men, with my boyfriend when I want to tell our roommate not to use hate-speech, or tell his friends not to victim-blame. It’s hard to say these things in the first place and harder to see how it upsets people I care about. I make people uncomfortable. I’m not always silent when I’m supposed to be.

    This reminded me that speaking up is not the problem.

  • http://feministing.com/members/michellek/ Michelle Koufopoulos

    Those lines “Every single day I regret not screaming, kicking, punching, scratching and yelling NO! at the top of my goddamn lungs. And every day I know that I couldn’t because the me of four years ago didn’t like to make a scene. The me of four years ago was a rule follower” really hit home for me–brought me to tears, really– maybe more than anything I’ve read on sexual assault & how you survive in these past five years, and I read quite a lot of it for work (I’m a feminist blogger & Assistant Editor for The Faster Times, among other things).

    I’ve never commented on any posts before, never admitted this publicly, always veiled it my writing, but five years ago, on my 19th birthday, I was sexually assaulted by two guys–both I knew, had dated. One was my first kiss, one I had lost my virginity to. I never screamed, kicked, outwardly fought back. I lay there quietly and cried. One of them asked the other if I was ok, and he answered, “she’s fine, she’s just writing a poem in her head.” Thank you for writing this, and echoing what I’ve felt for years. Thank you.

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

      Wow thank you Michelle for sharing your story. No, need to thank me I only seek to create a space for people to do what you just did. Be brave and heal. *hug*