Trigger warning: rape, sexual assault
Earlier today, I saw a post from my friend, blogger and model, Emerald Shaw that struck a chord so deep in me, I felt compelled to write about something that's been heavy on my heart for years. Everyday, I witness the objectification of women -- on the street, in comments on social media, on TV, etc. It feels inescapable. It feels like no matter what you say or do about it, there's another incident that pops right back up in its place. But today, despite how futile it feels, Emerald said something about it and I am going to as well.
A man that Emerald does not know put the comment "I wouldn't pull out" under her photo. When I read it, I felt an immediate rage because I knew that this stranger meant it. I knew he meant it because when I encountered a man that felt this entitlement to my body, he didn't. He didn't stop when I begged, screamed, and cried for him to stop.
To the men that think these comments are harmless, please know that this is how those comments make us women feel. Your comments are NOT compliments. Your comments are dehumanizing and at least in my personal experience, every sexual comment reminds me of my assault.
" 'I wouldn’t pull out' is not a compliment, nor is it attractive. It’s an incredibly trauma inducing statement carrying graphic imagery on its shoulders. It is a statement that fuels the Jezebel archetype; it makes the assumption that I am sexually available to any man so long as I am breathing. It is a statement that fuels rape culture, denying the right to consensual, emotional and protected sex. “I wouldn’t pull out” does not mean “I think you are a beautiful person.” It means “I am aroused by you and anticipate bringing myself to the point of ejaculation with no regard to your health or life plans.” Men need to understand that. Women need to understand that too. This kind of speech is not okay and it is not something you have to accept. You are not a toy existing only for thrills. You’re not a damn napkin."
We live in a culture where women's bodies are constantly degraded by society, policed by each other and fetishized by men. As a plus size woman with some level of visibility, I have received dick pics from strangers in my direct messages, a comment from someone who said they wanted to rape and kill me, comments comparing me to a literal piece of meat, and many, many, many comments about graphic things someone would do to my body.
Each of these comments feels like a violation. It never gets easier. It has gotten actually gotten easier to get called a fat whale or a piece of shit by someone who is body shaming me, but sexual comments hurt me every single time. When I told one of my male friends about my struggle with these comments, his response came all too quickly. He said:
"You can't control how men react to you. Your body is made for sex."
I will repeat that. He said "Your body is made for sex."
I was and still am appalled by him saying this with such frankness. This man was saying that the shape of my body. the same shape that society simultaneously shames and praises me for, gives me no agency over what people say or do in regards to my body.
My body is made for me. My body is made for me to travel around the world; my body is made for eat snow cones on the first day of summer; my body is made for me to wear crop tops in winter. I choose what I do with my body. I choose what I put in my body. I choose what I put on my body. My body does not exist for anyone else but me. And anything that happens to my body that is not my choice is a violation. Anyone who believes that the shape of my hips or the size of my thighs implies anything about what my body is to be used for is a straight up dummy.
No man is entitled to your body. EVER. But they will try and manipulate you to feel as if they are. I have another friend who I confided in about my rape. I spent three years hiding this experience from everyone in my life until I publicly came forward with this experience when I launched #ReadyToStareWokeUpLikeDis earlier this year. Coming forward about this experience was freeing but it meant that I had to acknowledge the trauma and the triggers it caused. I wanted to keep living my life the way I had been but my level of awareness had changed. And thanks to therapy, I finally had ways to verbalize my boundaries.
I verbalized a boundary to this friend when he ended up wanting more than friendship, and he said "You've accepted less in the past. You've trusted men with your body who raped you but vehemently denied me the same access."
His statement not only reflects entitlement but victim shaming. So let me repeat this again. No one is entitled to your body!
My rape is not an indication of my self worth. My rape had nothing to do with the clothes I wore. My rape had nothing to do with the things I said or choices I made. My rape had nothing to do with my thick thighs. My rape does not mean I will accept less than I deserve because what I know now that I didn't know when it happened was that there was nothing I could have done to prevent a man from making the choice to violate my body against my will.
Before I read Emerald's post today, I read something else recently that deeply triggered my experience. A woman, Sophia Katz, wrote publicly about a sexual assault where my former co-worker was the suspected perpetrator. After a friend sent me the article, I couldn't sleep. I cried and relived my own experience that whole night. And the next day, the story unraveled further when his former roommate confirmed the man in this story was my former co-worker and not only that but another woman had come forward about a similar experience. A man who my friends and I deemed a harmless doofus was a rapist. And Sophia's experience which was so clearly seen as sexual assault in the eye's of the public was just sex to him. This became apparent when Gawker published his Facebook apology.
He wrote: "During this experience, I did not think that that was what was happening, because consent seemed to have been given."
I bring up this instance in addition to my own because so often we see images of rape as violent acts by strangers. But in Sophia's case, her assault was by someone she knew. He assumed consent. He didn't listen to her. According to RAINN, 2/3 of all rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.
None of that entitles anyone you know and trust to your body. None of that entitles anyone you don't know to make comments about your body.
It's easy to see these comments on an everyday basis and just say well "men will be men" or "pervs will be pervs." I refuse to believe there's nothing we can do about this. I expect that men and everyone else will respect my body. I believe I have a right to accountability. The societal construct that makes both men and women justify this behavior will end with me. I'm not here for it and you shouldn't be either.
I asked Emerald for permission to share her story and her response really illuminated to me just how important it is to continue to speak up about our experience.
She said: "I've let a lot of comments like that slide, as I'm sure we all have, but I'm coming to a point where I feel like if I don't say it, who will? How can people know when something isn't okay if no one ever says "hey, stop it," you know? I want a world where the daughters I might have someday won't have to feel unsafe and afraid to defend their own bodies. One where my sons won't see girls as action figures. I've realized that the world starts with me."
This isn't a woman's issue. This isn't something men need to change. This is a human rights issue. And it starts with each and every one of us standing up and saying "the world starts with me."
This post was originally published on October 14, 2014.