Letter from the Editors
Volume 1, Spring 2012 Editors Ellie Newell Mehera Nori Alice Minor Layout Editors Bo Erickson Sara Rasmussen Cover Art Lydia Lund
When The Pioneer published two articles on rape and sexual assault (March 1st & 13th, 2012), conversations seemed to explode. We heard from people who were angry about how common sexual assault is at Whitman. We heard from people who wanted to change our societyâ€™s culture of rape apology, rape jokes, and gendered violence. And most importantly, we spoke to many people who wanted to tell their own stories, who understood that the article in The Pio was only the first step to understanding how rape and sexual assault affect this community. The vast majority of pieces in Break Ground come from women, focusing on sexual violence through the gendered experiences of being women. While sexual violence certainly affects people of all genders, women are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence. Their pieces speak to the pain, shame, guilt, frustration, anger, and yes, empowerment that survivors experience. Many of the pieces in this publication come from intensely painful and personal moments, and we are honored to be able to share them with you. In return, we ask that you use them as starting points for conversations about rape, violence, and oppression in your part of the Whitman community. We compiled a list of campus groups that stand together against sexual violence. We are sincerely grateful for the outpouring of support that this publication received from this community.You have done a brave and wonderful thing, standing with us. But in pledging your groupâ€™s support for this message, you now have a responsibility to uphold your promise. This compilation of stories, essays, rants, poems, art, and letters is a continuation of the conversation started by those two articles, but is not an end in itself. We hope that this publication is a space of reflection and dialogue, demonstrating that rape and sexual assault happen with disturbing frequency to members of our community, often by members of our community. This is the reality of our Whitman. We are part of, not exempt from, a society that condones sexual violence. And so the burden is on us. The only way that any meaningful change will ever happen on this campus is if we decide that sexual violence will not be tolerated. This is going to take some pretty harsh introspection, but we believe this community is equal to the challenge. Ellie Newell, Mehera Nori, and Alice Minor Editors
Contents What Counts? // Mehera Nori
I call it rape // Anonymous Contributor
To Trajan, Ryan, Jimmy, Charles, Kevin, Fredo, and Sean: // Zoë Kunkel-Patterson Sex is fun. Drunk sex is fun. // Michael Putnam
My wetness was his consensus // Nanyonjo Mukungu Drawing // Nanyonjo Mukungu
/ 11 “Scratch out” // Madelyn Peterson / 12 Easy // Beth Daviess / 13 Being Eaten Alive // Daria Reaven / 14 Scissors // Lisa Beneman / 15 “Ahi Tuna” // Patricia Xi / 16 Gendered Language: A Retraction // Madeline Jacobson / 17 Photograph// Lydia Lund / 18 Untitled // Anonymous Contributor / 19 What I said //Anonymous Contributor / 20 Pistol // Lisa Beneman / 21 What I do doesn’t have to be who I am // Anonymous Contributor / 22 The Rant // Grace Evans / 23 // Evan Randall / 25 Boundary. // Alice Minor / 25 Of Survival and Solidarity // Anonymous Contributor / 27 Sandals //Anonymous Contributor / 28 “Vodka” //Anonymous Contributor / 30 Photograph //Lydia Lund / 31 Vulva // Anonymous Contributor / 32 Love your body // Anonymous Contributor / 33 “Ellie” // Evan Randall / 34 I was raped & it’s a big deal. // Ellie Newell / 34 Thread Count // Amelia Righi / 36 Coming of Age / Fairy Tales I write for my mother // Madelyn Peterson / 37 Whitman Groups in Solidarity & Walla Walla Resources for Survivors / 38
Break Ground is funded generously through the Associated Students of Whitman Collegeâ€™s Student Development Fund. Thank you, ASWC!
to take a break and visit a friend who lived across campus. I thought I was dressed like a nun in my pea coat buttoned all the way, black tights and hefty boots, but that didn’t stop a couple of guys from yelling “HOW MUCH?” at me out of their car (which they then followed up with “You’re beautiful” after I did not respond to their initial shouts). Does that count enough as sexual harassment? Am I allowed to be upset about catcalling or is that another societal thing I’m just supposed to accept and expect as a woman?
What Counts? At ten years old I experienced sexual assault. I was (luckily) not raped. I was forced into kissing someone. At twenty-one, I wonder sometimes if it “counts” as sexual assault. It was with my cousin. I was ten, he was maybe seventeen or eighteen (even now I’m not sure of our age difference—I haven’t spoken to or seen him in years). It started out as a simple request. I asked him for something trivial, I wanted to use the telephone or maybe I wanted a candy bar. At first he asked me to kiss him on the cheek, as payment for the candy bar or phone call. Then it was on the lips, and it was for anything I did. If I asked him a question, I had to kiss him. If I entered a room he was in, I had to kiss him. Anytime I did anything he’d say, “Give me a kiss first.”
I’ve come to a place where I recognize that my experience as a young girl was sexual assault, and that sexual assault isn’t black and white. Sexual harassment and rape culture permeate our society and our communities in ways we don’t always recognize. I don’t like feeling paranoid when I walk home at night. I want to be in a place where I feel safe and like a person, not like an object. I want people to recognize that my experience is valid. I don’t want to have to prove the validity of my experience. And I shouldn’t have to. My cousin forcibly kissed me when I was ten, multiple times. I felt scared and uncomfortable. That fear has never ended and I experience harassment and rape culture more frequently than I’d like. What more has to happen before we can change?
I knew deep down that it was wrong, that it wasn’t quite right for me to be kissing him how we were. But I couldn’t say no to him. I recognize now that what I was feeling then was fear, panic that he might ask me to do something worse. I kept kissing him because I didn’t want him asking anything more of me. I thought if I kept kissing him then that would be it. Thankfully my mother caught us one day. There was screaming, yelling, and crying. And I remember thinking that it was my fault, that I made all this happen, that I had to make sure no one touched me or did anything inappropriate. This is not an isolated case. The stories you hear about rape and assault are not far-away cases that happen to women who walk in dark alleys. They happen to your mothers, sisters, friends, girlfriends, and sometimes to your male friends. They happen to people of all sexualities and genders. To this day I still struggle with labeling my experience as sexual assault. I still think that it’s somehow my fault, that I should’ve recognized it, that I should’ve stopped it, that this isn’t sexual assault, it’s just an unfortunate experience I had when I was a young girl. That it doesn’t count. If my experience doesn’t count as sexual assault, what sort of actions have to happen before it does count? After working on this zine for a little bit one night I decided
Alcohol had not changed that. This guy Jason—he had a reputation. Be it as a charmer or as a womanizer, I wasn’t yet willing to weigh in. I had heard the rumors, I had seen him hitting on lots of women at parties, but I didn’t know anything firsthand. I had seen him putting the moves on Linda in spite of their already failed attempt at a relationship. In that moment, talking to Linda, I decided that I hated him. Linda would never have had sex without a condom. Linda would never have consented to sex with him—not some guy who had barely shown respect for her in their friendship. Most definitely not that guy who had failed in his relationship with her and left her sad and disappointed. This wasn’t what she wanted. It wasn’t possible. He wanted it—he wanted her. It had to have been his fault.
I call it rape This is a true story. This happened here at Whitman. The names have been changed and I am submitting this story anonymously to protect the identities of those involved and to respect their privacy. “Hey! Linda…” I said cheerily, but I trailed off at the end. Something was off. She didn’t look happy. She came into my room with her shoulders rolled forward and her head down. She flopped on to the floor, continuing to look down instead of make eye contact, and said in an emotionless voice, “I slept with Jason last night.”
Seeing her small, crumpled frame against the multicolored stain-resistant carpet and hearing the lifelessness in her answers, my heart was breaking for one of my best friends. I couldn’t find a voice for the questions I wanted to ask her: “Did you want to? Did he ask you? Were you even aware enough to consent?” I didn’t need to know any more details—for me at least, it was clear that she had been wronged. She had been raped. That face was not etched with regret, but with pain and shame. But she never said the word rape. She wasn’t willing to label it as such, wasn’t willing to label herself as a victim. She didn’t seem like she was really clear on anything from the night before. To me that didn’t matter, but it wasn’t my body, it hadn’t been my experience, and it wasn’t my place to tell her—to decide for her—that she had been raped. So, as much rage as I had seething inside of me at Jason, at his behavior, at what I imagine he had done to Linda, I didn’t say anything.
I stumbled over my words, “Well uh…did you…I mean… how did it…are you ok?” “We didn’t use a condom.” “Wha…did you…what are you going to do?” I was stunned. I knew my words were awkward and inadequate. It had been just a week ago when we had talked about our feelings about sex. We were both virgins at the time, discussing under what circumstances we could imagine our first time. She told me she wasn’t sure she bought into no sex before marriage. Her mom did, and she respected her mom, but she wasn’t sure waiting that long was for her. She did, however, explain that she wanted her first time to be with someone she cared about deeply, whom she trusted, and whom she had been dating for a good chunk of time prior. At the time, I remember nodding in agreement—that sounded like a good plan.
“I mean…I think it’s ok. I don’t think I could get pregnant at this point in the month.” Don’t think?! If this hadn’t happened, she would know she was ok—she would know she wasn’t pregnant. She would be in control of her life, like she had always been, like I had always admired. She would not be this broken person on the floor of my room and I would not be feeling so helpless.
Her voice brought me back to the present. “I was really drunk last night. So was he.” Running this information through my head, I asked myself, “Was she raped last night?” The Linda I knew was a thoughtful, cautious person. Linda attended to every detail meticulously and was brilliant, poised, and organized for it. Linda had started drinking this year, I assumed as a way to let loose. Our freshman year she never drank. She had been a somewhat hesitant and reserved girl and seemed to be coming out of her shell. She might have changed her behavior a little bit, but to me she was still the careful and thoughtful girl I respected so much. She just had a little more confidence.
“Are you going to get the morning after pill?” “I mean…yeah…” I hugged her—what else could I do? She slinked out of my room and that was it.
Linda hasn’t found that meaningful relationship she described to me. I watched her struggle for over a year with the disaster of a relationship/friendship with Jason. I could see her wanting something to work out with him—like she could retroactively fix it so that he was the one who she would want for her first time. I saw the hurt, frustration, and anger as she railed against a hopeless relationship with a guy who didn’t want her the way she wanted him to. It never worked out for her though. I don’t know if she ever decided that she had experience sexual assault like I had decided. She may have taken responsibility for what had happened or she may have resigned herself to the assumption that with two drunken people, no one could be at fault. I want desperately to take that burden off of her shoulders, make sure she knows that she didn’t do anything wrong and that it’s ok for her to hurt and to reach out for help in dealing with that hurt. I want to march up to Jason, punch him in the stomach, and tell him just what I think about him and just what he did to Linda. But this is just my interpretation of Linda’s story. This is her experience. I just sit on the sidelines, watching the damage play out, and wondering where my duty as friend begins and ends.
To Trajan, Ryan, Jimmy, Charles, Kevin, Fredo, and Sean: Be patient, she can’t bear to tell you tonight, with your hands circling her waist, weaving through her hair, cupping her dimples, with this illusion, temptation of happiness. Shaking, ashamed to tell you no, again disappointing eager eyes, those eyes that scare and overwhelm her with expectations she can’t fulfill so she whispers I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Not tonight. please. I’m sorry. She can’t bear to see her hurt in your eyes, so she holds it in her heart, alone, knowing, dreading the catch in your voice, the uncomfortable still. Worried it will weigh too much for your carefree hands, and you will drop her to fall, alone and exposed. Falling again, as she did last time, and the time before, but this time she might finally break, the pain will not be worse than now. She can’t breathe to form the words, those three little words, that bruised her hope and trust, words that scare away you with overwhelmed eyes, a deafening silence, and I’m sorry, this is too much for me. She can’t bear to be abandoned again, alone in the rumpled sheets of love’s beginnings, crying when your eyes change and arms stiffen, slowly disappearing from her life. All she wants are three little words, but I was raped rings so much louder, they make you, and love, run and hide.
I don’t want to say “Wait until marriage!” with a smile, talk about abstinence, maybe get a little judgmental. To “Sex is fun. Drunk sex is fun,” I want to respond, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured over; therefore the maidens love you” (Song of Solomon 1:1-3) and “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). I want to talk about the erotic God, the God of sex and love. I want to talk about “sexual healing” with minimal references to Motown. I want to talk about how it’s possible – I promise it’s possible – to invite the divine into your sexuality.
Sex is fun. Drunk Sex is fun. This piece was written in response to a comment on Rachel Alexander’s article “Victims find sexual misconduct process ineffective” that appeared in The Pioneer on March 1, 2012. Deepthoughtsbrochill wrote:
Well, this has taken an interesting twist. Have I gone from sexual assault at Whitman to the Kama Sutra? Perhaps that’s how this will look. Perhaps this will seem so strange, so uncalled for. What can I say in my defense? That my heart is broken for the victims of sexual assault. That it terrifies me that this happens here. That you’re hurting my sisters and my brothers, and that I can’t bear to see them in pain. But what most terrifies me is that I might have been him. I might have looked on with a “Sex is fun. Drunk sex is fun” attitude. I might not have cried when I heard about it. God forbid, I might have sympathized with the man that hurt her that night. I might have been him. And if it’s possible that he might change his heart – if there’s even a shred of hope – then that’s what I must not fail to proclaim. Oh, I don’t really care if you call yourself a Christian, like me. But I need to tell you that there’s more than “Sex is fun. Drunk sex if fun.” Because if that mantra was replaced by a new mantra – one of mine, perhaps – then maybe Zoë and Ellie and all my sisters would be safe.
“Am I a rapist? I don’t feel like a rapist. I feel like a guy that went out for a good time, got a nice beer buzz, flirted a girl up and shared in a wonderful night of carnal pleasure. As much as I sympathize with Zoe, I find myself also sympathizing with the “rapist” in this article. Sex is fun. Drunk sex is fun.” I pause, because I’m not so sure how to respond to this one. My first impulse, to be sure, is to just say it: that’s disgusting. Quickly I reel that back in, because it’s not exactly polite and it’s not exactly constructive. Maybe I should try to engage with him at his level, trying to get him to see that he can still have his carnality while adopting a more acceptable moral practice. But I can’t. I keep stopping, keep coming back to that line: “Sex is fun. Drunk sex is fun.” It jumps out of the comment like a slogan, like a mantra for the tongues of devils. It haunts me – because that’s what’s behind all this, isn’t it? Isn’t this really all about how drunk sex is fun, and hey, it’s complicated when you’re drunk, so how could you blame a guy for hooking up with a drunk chick? And at the deepest level, I know I can’t argue with that – all I can do is want to go vomit. And then I can want to scream, “You can be more than that! You can treat people better than that! Sex could be so much for you! It could be loving and unitive and beautiful and holy!” Because that’s what I’ve been hiding – that’s what’s been behind my comments the whole time, the secret that could expose me. It’s that last word – “holy holy holy” – that’s all I have against that mantra. Because I’m not thinking about this in terms of what you can get away with, or how far you can go before you violate Whitman’s policy or break the law. What I’m thinking about is love – pure, holy love – and wholeness, purity, sanctity, and redemption. Well, it’s only a step or two from there to getting all weird and Christian and stuff. Alright! You caught me. Now you know what I’m going to say about “Sex is fun. Drunk sex if fun” – you heathen! But that’s not what I want to say at all.
my shirt and bra. He said he had a surprise for me (it was his “big penis”). He asked if I wanted to see it. I said sure very unenthusiastically, hoping that he would get the hint. Then, he took off my bottoms and touched my vagina. He said “I know you want me because you’re wet”. In my head, I thought no, that does not make sense but nothing came out my mouth. I did not say no but I did not say yes.
My Wetness was his Consensus At the beginning of this semester, I was sexually assaulted. Although rape is more fitting for what happened to me, I am still not comfortable using the word. It is probably because I imagined that it only happens to women in war-torn countries. Or after watching For Colored Girls over winter break, I thought it could never happen to me. I would never let a strange guy into my one bedroom studio apartment in New York City because I know better! Also, because I decided that I was on dating hiatus, no more kissing, no more hooks ups, and no more dates until I graduate.
As he was fucking me, I thought I did this to myself.You wanted attention and you invited him into your house. It was my fault so I might as well try to enjoy it. It hurt at first but then it got better. He was talking in my ear about how nice my body was and how he knew he wanted me especially when he saw me on the dance floor. Also, he was chewing gum the whole time. I knew if I couldn’t ask him to spit out his gum that I couldn’t ask him to stop. It felt like a performance because I did not want it but I need to pretend like I did so he would not hurt me any further. When he asked me if I was okay (but seemed like he was just bragging about how hard he was going), I said yes, I’m not a little girl (I bleed a bit from the tearing). When he asked me if I was a virgin because I felt so tight, I laughed and said no (I wasn’t). When he asked if I came, I said no (I did twice).
After meeting him at a party early that night, I did let him in my house. He was charming, assertive, and flirtatious therefore very opposite from the majority of the guys I’ve encountered at Whitman. He was a total ‘bro so very different from my usual tall, skinny, white hipster-y type. Maybe that is what was so appealing about him. But also why I did not take our flirting too seriously.
I told him I was tired and that he had tired me out but really I just wanted to stop. He seemed pleased with himself but was still not satisfied. This time, he asked me if he could put his dick in my ass “because you have such a nice, round ass”. And this time, I said no but that did not stop him from trying. He kept trying to flip me to my stomach and place himself inside me. I kept saying no and tried to move away from him. I looked for my clothes on the floor. But he kept trying for what felt like half an hour. At one point, I got up but he put me back in my bed, convincing me he wouldn’t try again. Then, he took my legs and put them around his shoulders and said let’s just try this out. I yanked my ankle from his grasp and said no. I got up again and put my pajamas on.
When he came over, I knew I did not want him in my room. Given my hiatus, I wanted to contain it to the couch. Honestly, I did not know what to expect. We talked (meaning he talked at me for about an hour) and then we started kissing. I looked at his face to confirm that he was as attractive as I remembered. When we first met I did have a couple of drinks in my system, but by that time, I was sober. He was attractive. And I wanted attention from an attractive guy because I am human. He was also very aggressive. He wasn’t just satisfied with making out but wanted to go to my room. I smiled and said nothing because I did not want to move. He got up and pulled me off of the couch and led me to the door of my room. I stalled at the door, hoping that he would change his mind and respect my boundaries but no. So I hesitated and then opened my door. Beforehand, he asked if there was any man in the house and I replied no, just my four lady housemates. I have a tendency to miss and/or excuse red flags so instead I interpreted it as his weird way of asking if I had a boyfriend.
I told him I was on hiatus but he said “no, not until me” and put his arms around my waist. I muttered that I was a strong, independent woman and hid in my covers again. He started putting on his clothes because he said it would be awkward if he stayed. He asked me to call him and I replied that I don’t call or chase men. That was not my thing. I am a strong, independent woman. I walked him to the door and he tried to touch my ass and I said “show’s over”! He kissed me and left. I did not want to sleep in my bed but I did not want to wake up my housemates. So I thought what happened was not that bad. Just things did not go the way I hoped.
We started kissing again and he pushed me onto my bed. He took off his shirt. He asked me to take off my shirt so I took off just my Mickey Mouse sweater. He laughed and removed
The next day, I told my friends about the assault like it was bad hookup story. But then halfway through the day, I found myself sobbing on my couch in front of my friends. It was then I finally realized why I did not say no. If I said no, then it was real. It wouldn’t be a performance. It happened to me. It happened to me. But I had too much to do for it to be real! I could not let this derail me because then he would win! I had to keep going. Later that night when I was at a friend’s party, I realized only after drink number five that I was doing it to numb the pain. The physical pain of him being inside of me and ripping me (that lasted for two weeks). For weeks, I felt like a zombie. I was there but I wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t my fault but it was? I knew I wasn’t okay but I was? I went back and forth. My emotions went up and down. My acceptance and denial came in waves, some small and some felt like I was drowning completely. I felt like I needed to keep it a secret because I did not want to be pitied or to be that girl. I thought I could get over it on my own but that is impossible. Several times, I ended up lying in my bed going to a very dark, dark place. I realized with the help of my friends that I could not get better by myself. It was okay to ask for help and to trust. I could not imagine where I’d be without their understanding and endless support. Also, I cannot imagine where I’d be if this happened to me a year or two ago when I lacked self-esteem and did not treat myself right. Probably not here. But I am still here. I am not a victim but a survivor. I will be okay. I have decided to turn this pain into something constructive because this is only part of my life story not the whole thing. It has only made me stronger and made me realize if I have survived this then I can do anything. I am in control of my own life. It is okay to feel pain but for myself I cannot let it consume me. I am a strong, independent black woman. It gets better. It has gotten better. I’ll be fine and so will you. We’ll be fine. I promise.
Being Eaten Alive Slow burning, like a shortened candlewick the heat leaks and expands as you work (you always labor so tirelessly) with hands big and covered in warts. Being eaten alive isn’t so tortuous if you enjoy watching yourself disappear and unfurl in a new form, thinner and colorless ageless and full of air Your voice a howl, your skin salty I am starting to get at your intentions: even from here I know this isn’t over until you’ve finished, cleaned your plate, and let me sit behind your ribs— a stone in your pocket a coin to your name a small, female weight in your great gait.
This poem was inspired by seeing myself and many close friends suffer from a different kind of sexual violence than that which is explicit. It is a reminder to myself and to others of the slower, smaller ways women can be made to feel small.
“two of my girlhood best friends were raped. i think about it every day and every time i do i want to fill every terrifyingly white page i see with black and scratch away sexism and racism and violence and silence with my pen” Madelyn Peterson
Easy The cracks in my ceiling have more character and meaning and life than I do. They will be here long after me, getting stared at. Having their private parts touched, being caressed by someone’s eyes, blushing furiously, though no one can see because it is to dark under the covers, feeling a hand sneak up their inner thighs. Inner thighs. Inner tingly, smooth, stubbly thighs. Rounder and plumper and juicier they get as you slide up them. It’s like touching a kitten. Until you can’t help but run your nails down my inner thighs, peeling off my innocence, not that there’s any left. Was there ever any? Do you know? You all disgust me. I am not fantasy. I pick my nose and can’t use apostrophes and can’t chop onions or iron shirts. I am no punk fairy queen. I am no Greek idol. I am not your mother. But my inner thighs are creamier than expected. I have a waist that rises above my high-crested hipbones. I am surprisingly womanly, surprisingly weak. Surprisingly easy to wrap around, to stroke my cheek, to look into my eyes and maybe smile a little. It’s easy. I’m easy. (Too easy.) I make it easy. It’s easy. We all just want to believe we see things that no one else sees. That we are seen. It’s easy This is all I’ve got. And it’s goddamn plenty It’s not enough is it? I am sound asleep and worried The Holy Ghost and a minor demon I break mirrors every Friday the 13th. So, Odysseus, do you want to sleep with me? Yes: My ankles are old but my femoral arteries beat to the rhythm of your steps My eyelids sink like old jewelry but my lashes twitch every time you sigh My hands clench, flex and fail but my fingers play your skin like, Like old light switches Like grand pianos Like candy necklaces Like lawn chairs Like milk bottles Like snow globes Like nobody’s goddamn business No: “thank you” “thank you” “you saved me”
“Scissors” Lisa Beneman
Patricia Xi ‘11
there since the beginning of the activities of the night. There were a lot of men there. Not just men who looked like they had a lot of female friends, but dude bros and other men who looked like they could probably care less about these issues. They hung out in small groups amongst themselves and I wondered if they were there scouting out next weekend’s prey when the march finally began. Those men I had questioned in my paranoid mind were screaming proudly, “hey hey, ho ho, rape culture has got to go!” The chants were loud and said with such assertion, “however I dress, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no!” It was a beautiful mixture of female and male voices in such a fantastic harmony. A feeling of pride and relief rushed over me. These men really did care. It was something you could definitely see in their faces and hear in their voices. I smiled to myself feeling the support and realizing that this was the moment of true feminism I had been waiting for since I got here.
“Ahi Tuna” So I’ve been away, at Boston University, completing a Master’s degree in my post-Whitman life. First, yes, life does exist after Whitman. Now that we’ve got that initial shock out of the way, I will continue. Anyway, I’ve been less than pleased at Boston University, mostly because I’ve been less than pleased with the city of Boston. I walk past this one particular bar near my apartment quite frequently and every weekend it’s the same horror. Girls dancing in the middle of the dance floor as if they’re in a fish bowl with men circling around the outside, like hungry sharks, waiting for the opportunity to pounce. And they do pounce. I visited this bar once on “college night” and witnessed how men jump to dry hump the women there. I, myself, was attacked trying to get off the dance floor by random grinding men and by one somewhat forceful Jersey-shore-esque character who insisted on buying me a drink. The outside of this bar is almost as horrifying. Women exchanging insults at each other, poised for hair pulling, nail digging, and punches, and men outside watching and waiting for a show or themselves engaged in tension over a girl. Because I’m a graduate student and feel weird at undergrad parties (these people might be my students!) I imagine this is what every party in Boston is like. It doesn’t feel like that far of a stretch of imagination when I read the reactions to the recent allegations against two members of the hockey team. All the “she’s probably lying” and “she went to a party, what did she expect?” angered me at first, but it slowly began to be the way I viewed Boston University.
So there you have it. Feminism is alive and well, even outside the Whitman bubble.
So on March 30th, I decided to give Boston University a chance to make up for it. I went, for the first time, to a “Take Back The Night” rally. I’m ashamed to say that it was my first, but I’ve struggled for years over my own experiences and over sharing those feelings. Needless to say, I finally decided that the time to confront those feelings was much overdue and to haul my ass out there and stand up for something I believe in. I decided to go when they planned to hand out the candles because I was afraid that staying too long would overwhelm me with feelings of anger and guilt from not going to a rally sooner and from my own experiences. As I held my boyfriend’s hand, I looked around at the crowd that had been
It took me a surprisingly long time to come to the conclusion that specific traits, like wanting to talk about your problems or wanting to destress by playing sports, aren't inherently feminine or masculine. I mean, that point was brought up multiple times in one of my psychology classes at Whitman, but somehow I could never entirely wrap my head around the idea that the gendering of these characteristics is just a social construct. Now that I have finally figured that out, I'm kind of horrified that I ever thought otherwise, but I know it's really easy to get into the mindset that certain traits apply to a certain gender when that's a message that's regularly reinforced in our society.
Gendered Language: A Retraction A little over two and a half years ago, I said the following words to my ex: Sorry for being such a girl about this, but do you think we could talk through some stuff? At the time I saw absolutely nothing wrong with the statement; I genuinely felt bad about asking him to talk about “feelings” and assumed that my own need to get closure was some kind of flaw inherent to my gender.
I can't, in one short and sort-of-stream-of-consciousness essay, tear into all the complex factors that go into constructing gender roles in society, but I can at least take a small personal step by being aware of my own preconceived notions and the ways in which they influence my language and behavior. I'd like to rescind my comment from almost two and a half years ago, because I'm not sorry for wanting to talk, and I'm certainly not sorry for being a girl.
To give the situation a little more context, my genderapology occurred several months after the summer that I made it my mission to be a bro. I had more male friends than female friends back in my hometown that summer, so when I hung out in large groups I was usually one of the only girls. It was actually a really fun summer; my friends and I spent a lot of time playing ultimate Frisbee, climbing buildings that we weren't supposed to, and going to Denny's in the middle of the night (it was the only place open after 10 pm, okay?). And to be perfectly honest, I kind of enjoyed my role as the token girl. I felt like I was being Princess Leia or Hermione or Eowyn (and yes, I do often construct my life through the lens of pop culture), keeping up with the guys and breaking down gender stereotypes. However, while misguidedly attempting to bring honor and glory to women everywhere, I also became incredibly conscious of facets of my personality that might be conceived as “traditionally feminine”. I laughed at several borderline-offensive jokes because I didn't want to be perceived as a humorless bitch, I never brought up topics that I thought would sound too emotional, and I stopped myself from crying the time I got knocked to the ground in Frisbee and thought that I might have a concussion. I've realized now that my male friends probably would have been generally receptive if I'd called them out on their jokes or told them when I was feeling upset, and I'm sure they wouldn't have judged me if I'd cried after the Frisbee collision, because that really fucking hurt. In my mind, though, I needed to be stoic in order to be One of the Guys, and if I slipped up and expressed strong emotions, then I needed to apologize for being such a girl.
Untitled Last year I went to a small party at my friend’s house. I knew everyone at the party pretty well, and some of them were close friends of mine. I had too much to drink. I blacked out. The last thing I remember is playing beer pong and talking to my friends. They didn’t realize how drunk I was. The next morning I woke up confused and sore. I had anal and vaginal sex the last night. I didn’t remember this, but I knew from the bleeding. I didn’t want to call it rape. I didn’t know how drunk he was. Maybe he was just as drunk. Months later I found out this was not the case. My housemate told me I stumbled into my bedroom, while he sat in the kitchen and talked coherently to her and her friends. I don’t remember any of this. When I see him on campus it is uncomfortable, and I feel anxious. It has taken me a long time to realize, and be able to admit to myself: I was raped.
What I Said Bitch. Mamaâ€™s boy. Fuck. Whore. Suck it. Manly. Ugly. Slut. I am swimming in a sea of patriarchy and violence but I am drowning because it is coming in my ears and out of my mouth. It fills my body and poisons my intestines and I want to vomit, or wait until they pump my stomach, or my brain. But nobody takes me to the doctor because what I have is in fact the common cold, and everybody knows there's no cure for that. Maybe it is not a cold but it leaves me feeling stiff and fatigued and with a runny nose but maybe that is from the tears, but whatever it is it sure is common. I am surrounded by gendered and violent language and I am angry. I do not want to use these words because I am an educated almost-college graduate and I should know better. I recognize their power over me and over you and in the way they manipulate us into something we did not ever realize we could be. I despise these words for their etymology and their connotations and their weight and individuals who have fought and survived harder battles than me have much more of a place or role to attempt reclamation or reappropriation. But somehow a part of me wonders that if I didn't use them whether people would understand me because I would not be speaking their language anymore; I would be speaking some made-up language that only academics use, and only in their papers, not in their everyday lives. Without these words I wouldn't be part of the meaningless but truly notso-meaningless violence that peppers our speech until it's so saturated with these so-called seasonings that we've lost all our taste buds and can no longer feel the impact. I am surrounded by gendered and violent language but I have done little to stop it and somehow I perpetuate it and I don't ever want to speak in English again because it seems impossible to find any unaffected words. I want to learn Estonian because my friend from Tartu tells me they have no gendered pronouns but Estonian has fourteen cases and, granted, that leaves the small hiccup that no one in my life in Walla Walla will understand me, but most of all, somehow I suspect that it still won't fix the problem. For now I'm stuck with English, but I want to stand up to myself and to my language and to our language and to our culture. Maybe if I stand up I'll find the water isn't as deep as it feels right now.
“Pistol” Lisa Beneman
what i do doesn’t have to be who i am
VI. I am happier. I find things I love to do, I find people I love to be with. It seems like years since I have really cut myself. I am so happy and I wonder if this is how most people feel on a daily basis. I don’t self-injure for what seems like a long time. I start to think, for the second time, that I have really overcome it.
I. I’m twelve when I do it for the first time. I hear from someone else about what some people do to themselves – they call it “cutting.” One day I get so angry after an argument with my mother and I use an x-acto blade I bought for a science project on myself. I give myself my first cut. It’s a clean cut, too clean, but the x-acto is practically brandnew and hasn’t been dulled yet. It dulls with time, but not because of my science project.
VII. It never stops. I fear that this is something I will struggle with forever. I always come back to this. I begin to cut again, even scratch myself ‘til I bleed. I don’t know how to deal with my self-loathing, my guilt, anger, frustration. I don’t know how to deal with my lack of self-satisfaction. I channel my hatred of my body into my self-injury. Another, newer scar just on the side of my wrist proves I haven’t changed. I like myself more than before, but I don’t know how to stop.
II. I am good at hiding my cuts. I wear long-sleeves and sweatshirts and no one thinks twice about it. I sink deeper into depression, learning to hate everything about myself. I tell myself horrible things, things to make me despise myself and this body.
I see a counselor for the first time in my life. I laugh to myself about it, because it seems like our meetings come nine years too late. I wonder if seeing a counselor would’ve helped me nine years ago, when I first started. The counselor asks me about my feelings and I am so uncomfortable saying them out loud. I feel so embarrassed and can’t even speak when she asks me how I hurt myself. I force myself to say, “I cut myself,” but I can’t even talk about anything else.
I tell myself I am too stupid, too ugly, too fat. I ask myself why anyone would even be friends with me. I’m too weird. I have no redeeming qualities. I am no good. III. My friend finds out. She tells the school counselor. The school counselor calls my parents. My parents try to talk to me, but I think I am even more of a failure now -- I am a shameful daughter. The cutting gets worse. I enter high school with scarred arms and hips.
I wonder what has happened to me. When did I become like this? Most of my friends have no idea and those friends who knew about my problem think I’ve overcome it. I wish I could say I have. There isn’t a single day when I don’t struggle with telling myself I’m not good enough. But how could I have ever been pleased with myself? I’ve realized now, that I’ve been told over and over that I’m not good enough unless I’m stick-thin, white, blonde-haired and blue-eyed. I have to be fucking brilliant and mistakes are not allowed. I have to be completely beautiful and great at sex but not a slut. I have to be fashionable and kind and not get angry.
IV. I start to learn more about myself and discover that I’m not the worst. My cutting waxes and wanes, depending on how I feel about myself at any given time. Towards the end of high school, I’m barely cutting at all. By the time I graduate, I feel proud and think I’ve given it up altogether. I think I’ve evaded that saying: “Once a cutter, always a cutter.” V. The self-harm continues, but in different ways this time. I don’t cut but still manage to injure myself when I am especially frustrated and angry. I continue to punish myself for not being good enough. I fixate on my appearance and my weight. I begin to obsessively count calories. I talk to everyone else about loving themselves and sound like a broken record. I realize I have no idea what I’m really saying.
I can never achieve that image – it’s lofty and impossible. I always get angry, I’m definitely not thin and my hair will never naturally be blonde. I realize that I have to find another way to fight, but this time not against my own body. I am slowly learning that I have done nothing wrong by existing. I am learning new tools and skills to help me solve the problems that I struggle with every day.
At some point I forget about the calories. It becomes too much of a hassle to keep a food diary. I stop keeping track, but I continue to dislike my body.
But I am told over and over that I have to look, act, and be a certain type of woman. And sometimes it is so hard to let that go.
about age 8. And we’re at a liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest in 2009, for crying out loud. This isn’t Middle America, 1959. Frustrating heteronormativity aside, it’s also not like this is the first day of class. This boy has been in this classroom of girls for many weeks now, supposedly seeing us discuss a range of creations as complex as James Joyce and Pablo Picasso. And the best he can come up with is “girls like flowers”?
The Rant The second semester of my freshman year of college, I took an English class titled “The Shaping Spirit.” The class explored various novels, poems, photographs, and paintings through a creative lens, with an eye toward the flow and intention of the pieces as well as their various pieces, parts, and interpretations. One day, we read two different versions of a poem about a spider. The same author had written both at different times, and the earlier version was lyrically beautiful, with an unfocused flow of romanticized language while the second version was more clear, more concise, with a snappy, slightly sardonic tone. Though we conceded its beauty, the class agreed in small group that the sharper version was preferable. As with many of the classes I took freshman year, our discussions suffered from a considerable lack of Y-chromosomes.
Finally, another female voice pipes up, an echo of the first. Her voice sounds thin and high-pitched in my memory, although I’m unsure whether that was her response to the awkward situation or my perception through the hum of awakening rage. “But why do you think that poem would appeal to girls?” Brave Girl #2 asks. The Boy looks around the circle, down at the poem, and back up at Brave Girl #2. “Well, it’s got the word ‘love’ in it,” he says, and I sit back in my chair and quietly explode. Recently, I find myself slipping with increasing ease into the writing format I call “The Rant.” I have no idea if this is a common term, or one I’ve appropriated form some other form to which it rightfully belongs. By my definition, however, The Rant is quite a simple formula:
So that day, when the class splits into small groups to compare and pass judgment on the two versions of the spider poem, our section finds itself comprised of five females and one lone male. Within two or three minutes, we girls have articulated and agreed upon our position: we prefer the bold clarity of the second version, with its hint of bite, to the unfocused and flowery flow of the first. We sit back and prepare to tolerate several more minutes of that awkward silence that falls when no one else has anything to say. Then the Boy opens his mouth. “I’m kind of surprised,” he says, seemingly by way of casual conversation. “I thought you girls would like the other version better.” The silence turns confused, with a hint of tension as a few of us immediately consider taking offense, while several more just wonder what the hell he is talking about. Seconds of awkward silence later, one brave girl asks the question that none of us can figure out how to vocalize: “Why?”
1. Take some event, person, or theme that has really ticked you off. 2. Write about how much it has ticked you off. Use sarcasm, expletives and exclamation points where necessary. The Rant is remarkable for its versatility. What do Starbucks, Rush Limbaugh, and Twilight all have in common? I’ll take The Rant for 400, Alex. We live in a world where there are so many things and such readily available information about them that it is often the work of a few minutes to come across something that irritates or infuriates. Rants can take the form of book or movie reviews, social commentary, or political opinion. And while I’ve admittedly just read an inspired rant regarding the re-release of Titanic, I must also admit that my recent rant material of choice has been erring to the side one might call “angry feminist.”
“Well, you know,” he says. “You’re girls. I thought you’d like the flowery pretty one.” There is about thirty seconds of silence, as we look around the circle uncomfortably, trying to divine an appropriate emotional response. Is it laughter? Should we write it off as a joke? But he had seemed sincere. How outraged is it academically permissible to become in response to a remark like that? Because honestly, we’re girls? We’re girls? Who even thinks to make a joke like that? All the boys I know stopped making idiot assumptions like “girls wear pink” at
Nothing gets me riled up quite like another article, be it opinion or just straight news, about another white male politician from Virginia/Arizona/Oklahoma/Texas/Georgia who has decided that he has a right to decide what kind of healthcare women should and shouldn’t have access to. If he can manage to articulate his decision by comparing women to cows and pigs, that’s even the better. I’m infuriated by
the level of attention that absurd and demeaning rhetoric like this has achieved in the United States, leading a Spanish national newspaper to publish a recent article remarking on the “battle against women’s rights” as something that has “become very fashionable in the United States.” This coming from Spain, a country where, until thirty-five or forty years ago, women were subject to the complete control of a socially conservative and Catholic dictatorship and where now, there is a news story almost every day about a woman brutally beaten or murdered by an ex-husband, husband, or boyfriend. The point is, if Spain says the U.S. is fucking up women’s rights, we should maybe take that into consideration.
Footnotes  Okay, I know was tired when I read it, and I know that I think everything is more entertaining when I’m tired, but I maintain that this piece is really funny. “I Re-Watched Titanic So You Don’t Have To.You’re Welcome.” Jezebel.com. April 3, 2012.  Like this. I really like this. “10 Reasons the Rest of the World Thinks the U.S. Is Nuts.” HuffingtonPost.com. March 15, 2012.  Thanks for that, Senator Terry England of Georgia. I’m really glad that you’ve developed a patronizing regret for the poor calves and piglets after delivering them stillborn, but in what universe did you think that would come across as a compelling argument for a law forcing women to carry a dead fetus to term instead of being able to abort it? “Terry England, Georgia Republican Lawmaker, Compares Women to Farm Animals.” HuffingtonPost.com. March 9, 2012.  “…la subsiguiente e inevitable batalla contra los derechos de las mujeres. Es algo que, desgraciadamente, se ha puesto muy de moda en Estados Unidos…” “El sector Rick Santorum del PP.” politica.elpais.com. March 30, 2012.  I watched Spanish news at least once every day for five months. I think my sampling is fairly substantial.  Please note the passive voice. This is another construction designed to deal with issues while avoiding direct conflict or responsibility. I use it too frequently.  It has had a general tendency to endear me to adults much more than my peers. “You handle things with such maturity,” adults say. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on with you then I don’t know!” sigh my frustrated peers.
But really, the point is that when I start thinking about issues like this, stories like these, I put pen to paper and what comes out is The Rant. I think that my affinity for The Rant is a reaction by one part of myself to the other part, the public part that has been carefully cultivated by years of thinking before I speak, and trying to see an argument from the other side. I was taught to talk calmly before yelling, and put myself in another person’s shoes before dismissing their point of view off-hand. “Getting angry doesn’t solve anything,” is the model that was developed in me for dealing with conflict. Outrage and emotionality are much less productive than a calm, collected, if slightly passive-aggressive conversation. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the time it’s really nice to be productively upset and think things through. Often it actually solves problems, or at least avoids direct conflict and prolonged disagreements. I know that in many ways, the model has served me well. Sure, it does have that aforementioned passive-aggressive tendency, and it doesn’t really serve my blowing off steam, or actively expressing anger or frustration to other people. If you’ve been around me for a while, you’ll recognize the suppressed frustration on my face. If you don’t recognize it, I’ll probably never tell you. I’m getting better about that whole communication thing, but it’s a work in progress.
Photograph by Evan Randall
my way, to feel the newness of it. I did not want Muang-Hla to demand to know my whereabouts. To stroke my arms when I taught him English, to spy on me in the shower, to pull me aside just after I had taken his children to the river and kiss me with a look that said, ‘don’t tell, girl, you live in my home’.
Sitting on the floor, back erect, knees grasped tight to my chest I am looking anywhere but into Muang-Hla’s eyes. He paces, crossing from bamboo carpet to cooling cement floor, from Burmese curses to English pleas. Slamming a chair down two feet in front of me he sits, hunched forward, round arms pressing into the flesh of his thighs. He begs eye contact and explanation. Now his body is heaving sobs, now he’s throwing the same chair across the room, missing my shoulder. I’ve told him that I must leave. I think. I don’t remember any of the words shared that night, only the catch in my throat and the fact that my friend Flora had to speak for me.
Do I really need to explain to you that this was unpleasant? Most of my self-described progressive liberal friends I’ve tried to talk to about this episode couldn’t implicitly see or explain what was horrible here. And neither could I, it turns out. I am a victim? I have been cast as a vagina, the two breasts that follow me around, or the white skin that happens to hold me. I have been a prude and a homosexual deviant. I do not dwell in the mere fact of my personal relation to gender hierarchy - I empower and liberate myself through my subject positioning. There was never a perpetrator to my victim. There’s nothing unique or original about this victimhood. It has buoyed me through confused months, but it was never the most important or accurate thing I had to say about myself.
Two and half months previously we had moved in with Muang-Hla and his family – one suspicious wife and three children. We did administrative work for Muang-Hla’s NGO, taught him English privately and in classes of 30 young people in the community and wrote grants for another local non-profit. I was nineteen. All I wanted was to absorb any thought or smell or taste the Thai-Burmese border could toss
More than anything I want us to talk about sexual violence without it being a conversation about sober versus intoxicated or man-perpetrator versus women-victim. Come on, we’re capable of more nuance, aren’t we? It’s the culture that has made me feel “like a man” for initiating sex with my girlfriend. And made a man feel like he had to keep pressing sex on me even when I was crying - maybe in order to be a man in bed. Or WHAT?! That’s what I want to talk about.
raped whenever I was in the company of only men for over a year after leaving his home. This past summer I was assaulted. I was on a date and clearly stated that I didn’t want to have sex. But it was abroad and he was intelligent and I wanted to hang out with him and he was a close friend of a friend and so, I thought safe. I cried and he didn’t stop. He forced me to give him oral sex and forced oral sex on me reasoning, out loud, that we weren’t having sex so it was ok. In a bizarre twist, I felt almost vindicated the next day as if all the feelings about Muang-Hla violating my personal boundaries were now manifest in that physical violation.
My education has not been officially limited by my gender. At times I’ve left a politics classroom feeling like I just witnessed some primordial penis battle for airtime and attention. THough experiences such as the one with Muang-Hla fueled my anger verging on hatred for my male classmates I gradually regained ease with the male gender. Then I received a message declaring that, “I’m actually a professor and the whole student/professor thing, while very hot, is now officially verboten at Whitman. Haha, at least when people find out”.
So THAT is what was horrible. The contours of my self are mine but Muang-Hla didn’t believe that. That guy fucked up. He fucked up real bad. But I also really believe that he felt like we were having a good time together. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not a matter of whether or not alcohol was consumed. It’s not about that fine line that lets you prosecute - or not. Physical and emotional and mental violations are violations are violations are violations. The question needs to be: is everyone treating each other with love?
I’d love to believe that Whitman floats apart from patriarchy – a bastion of equality wherein professors see their students as younger people using their brains. I never honestly thought that was the case. But I also never thought a male professor would proposition me for sex with such shamelessly irreverent lack of regard for my well-being or possible ramifications against him. In the days following the longer exchange after that first message, I felt distinctly separate from my body when I walked on campus. Not since departing from Muang-Hla’s home had I felt so explicitly the subject of the male gaze. I responded to that message. I responded because though I am a radical feminist I am also a young woman, curious and unsure in her sexuality. His messages were increasingly explicit. Casually he noted that he was only interested in sex, that he enjoyed being dominant in bed, that he was no neophyte to student-professor sex. As our dialogue thickened I felt more tightly constrained and guilt-ridden by what I had done. What I had done. It took every ounce of vigorous affirmation from my close friends and my own deliberate feminist reasoning to convince myself that, in fact, he had crossed a boundary – my boundary. Muang-Hla never raped me. He stalked me for two months and forcibly touched me. When I looked at him I felt with utter conviction that I was, to him, my anatomy. More than the concrete actions I have described it is that violence which has lingered on me. The violence of imagining myself being
Of Survival and Solidarity I am a faculty member at Whitman College, but I was once a student on a campus not unlike this one. It was the second weekend of my sophomore year. I attended a party with friends from my first year floor. I had too much to drink and suddenly just wanted to be back in my room. As I headed out a “friend” insisted he walk me back across campus, “to be safe.” But it wasn’t safe. He brought me water and insisted on staying while I drank it. I curled up in front of my closet; I just wanted to sleep. I woke up to him raping me. I said that I didn’t want this. He said that he loved me. I remember feeling both grateful and disgusted that he had thought to grab a condom from the free stash near the entrance to our dorm. This “friend” lived in the same dorm, on the same floor, just around the corner from me. I saw him daily. In the halls. In the bathroom. Hanging out in the lounge across from my door. I quickly applied to study abroad the next semester. I only told my roommate. She would stare him down when he came to our door. She never left my side when he was in sight. But I never told anyone else at the college. I remember one professor offering me a chance to rewrite my final paper for his class. It wasn’t my best work, he said. He was right but it was the best I could muster. Time and space helped. So did counseling and the fierce love of true friends. Now as a professor I see students struggling. I see women who grow quieter in class, not more confident. I see depression and sometimes wonder if I see fear. I hope they have a kick-ass roommate like I did. I hope they reach out for support. Would it help to hear that some faculty members have had similar experiences? Would it make a difference to know that others stand in solidarity against such violence?
From: D Happy Valentine’s Day, Chuffington. Wish I was there to hand you flowers. Feb 14, 2011
From: D You’re a lot more varied & variegated than I was until much older.You’re a piece of work, . I admire your range. Dec 4, 2010
From: D Home but missing you. Love D May 29, 2011
walked me in stony silence back to my room. My roommates asked where I had been. I didn't answer. Word spread fast that something had happened, that Harry, the one so devoted to his girlfriend, and I had had sex. Every classmate glared at me. Only my roommates would talk to me, and they pretended nothing had happened. Harry didn't speak Spanish, so I had to go to a pharmacy and buy Plan B in Spanish. I didn't talk most of the day. I flew home the next day. I didn't talk about it. My family doesn't know. I don't want them to. Harry's only communication with me after that was to make sure I didn't have any STDs and didn't get pregnant. He says he wants to forget it just as much as I do. I don't know if I believe him or not. I don't trust him anymore.
â€œVodkaâ€? I was studying abroad in Spain. I knew nobody else on the program, so I quickly made friends. It was a small enough group that we could all get to know each other, but there were also a few schisms and subgroups. The vast majority also knew at least one other person in the group; I was one of the few who was truly a stranger to everyone. Since there were mostly women, I hung out primarily with my female roommates. We were good roommates for each other and quickly became good friends. I also made another friend who I spent a lot of time with, whom who? I will nickname Harry. We understood each other on many levels, and we spent lots of time going for walks and always sat next to each other in bars when we went with a group of classmates. A few times, we went shopping to find good presents to send back to his girlfriend, to whom he seemed very dedicated. They had a really sweet story, and I enjoyed being his friend and felt I didn't have to worry about him being a guy while I'm a single woman in a sea of strangers.
He and his girlfriend are still together.
On the last night, we all went out to a club. Many shots were had. Harry kept buying me more and more shots. I enjoy taking shots since I have a high tolerance, and that night, for whatever reason, I just wasn't feeling it. I thought this was strange, so when I ran out of cash, Harry used his credit card to buy me as many drinks as either of us thought I could handle. There was also dancing, and running out of the club to the waterfront to talk, and running back for more drinks. All of a sudden, it all hit me. I was extremely drunk. Alarmed, I told Harry this, and, looking concerned, he said, "Well let's go." So we left. My memory is spotty at this bit. I remember pretending to jump into the water, and him grabbing me back. I remember sitting on a swing set. All this was on the walk back to the dorm. Then I remember lying on the sidewalk outside the door to the building, and him kissing me. Words were exchanged, I'm not sure what, and stairs were climbed. We were on the roof. I know I stood without moving for a long time, with him trying to talk to me to get me to react. My brain was firing warning signals, but I didn't understand why. In my next memory, I was naked. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to remember it. In fact, I don't remember most of it, which is even more terrifying. I remember that when we were done, I started crying because I knew everything would be different. We could no longer be friends, and he had been one of my few friends. He
“Vulva” Anonymous Contribution
Love your body Love your body. He told me. Love your body. She said. Love your body? They asked me. Love your body. I read. Love your body. They whispered. Love your body. I cried. Love your body. He held me. Love your body. I lied. Love your body. But how? Love your body. Why not? Love your body. My child. Love your body. A lot.
Photograph by Evan Randall
I was raped & it’s a big deal. It’s hard to know what to say with my space in Break Ground. I’ve made myself pretty outspoken on campus so most people know that a man—a fellow student—raped me on April 10th, 2009, a few weeks before my 19th birthday.
I think the answer lies in the simple fact that as a society, we don’t care about women. Ok, bear with me. I know that 10% of all rapes and sexual assaults are committed against men. Every time I hear from a man who was raped it breaks my heart just as much as hearing from a woman who was raped. And I know that this gender breakdown can exclude intersex and genderqueer people. But when 1 out of every 6 women in this country has survived attempted or completed rape DON’T TRY TO FUCKING TELL ME THIS ISN’T ABOUT WOMEN.
Even calling it rape has taken a couple of years. While this man was forcing me to give him oral sex, I knew that it was deeply wrong. The kind of wrong that gets at the center of you and wrenches you sideways, so everything smells like dried blood and zinc tablets and all you can do is focus on breathing, or putting your feet on the ground because even that is suddenly complicated. When he put his beer-smelling hands on my body, two fingers jacking open my terrified vagina- that was rape. So why did it take until this year for me to call it that? And why do I, three years later in the midst of co-leading Feminists Advocating Change & Empowerment, organizing TheVagina Monologues and Take Back the Night, or just making myself the loudest feminist nuisance that I can be still question whether I’m making too big of a fuss?
Or maybe, more precisely, it’s about men. The man who raped me didn’t consider it rape. Months later, while sitting through Barbara Maxwell’s Green Dot training, I’d be able to read what happened to me as textbook, commonplace, normal even. I hate the idea of there being enough rapes to allow for a “median rape situation.” My rapist isolated me, a quiet and insecure freshman, kept refilling my Solo cup, and
took me outside so that we’d have to enter his room through his window, effectively hiding our whereabouts from the entire Sig basement. Spelling these details out raises them, clear as yesterday’s burn across my skin, and just as sharp. If he hadn’t gotten an email from the Dean of Students notifying him that he was under investigation for sexual misconduct, I doubt he would have given that night a second thought. I was just some girl he hooked up with who refused to have sex with him. A failed evening.
In order to survive, I barely confronted it for three years. I knew his schedule, who his friends were, where he liked to spend time. At first I avoided every public space, but slowly I regained them one by one: Jewett Dining Hall, Olin, Prentiss. Reid and the Library were never really my own. Too great of odds of seeing him, of some visceral reaction, fear and anger and instability. What a beautiful mercy it was when he was abroad, and then later when I lived in Scotland for four months.
He missed the part where it’s never ok to give someone alcohol so that they’ll sleep with you. That it’s a felony to fuck someone too drunk to do anything about it. That when I said “No, I don’t want to have sex with you,” I shouldn’t have had to repeat myself a second time, or about ten times after that. Because at Whitman, getting drunk is pretty much a prerequisite for getting laid. Which is bullshit and dangerous.
But this year, my senior year, was going to be different. I almost cheered as I watched him walk across the stage in front of Mem last May until I caught myself. All summer I looked forward to this being my campus, my Whitman. Safe. And for a semester it was. But then he moved back to Walla Walla. I have to walk by his house at least six times a day. Usually more than that. I no longer feel safe in my own home that I share with five friends. Suddenly I’m back to what feels like square one. I’m sobbing on my housemate’s bed and all I can say is “I miss who I used to be.”
But I don’t think what happened to me was just a sexual encounter gone wrong. The man who raped me thought that he was entitled to me. I’d drunk his beer and kissed him, and so that entitled him to putting his penis in my vagina. And basically, he could. For pretty complicated reasons that I won’t go into here, I dropped the Whitman disciplinary charges against him and never went to the cops, and so he had another two years at Whitman, happily being one of the most popular and well-liked men on campus. He got away with it.
My counselor finally tells me that eventually I’ll have to admit that being a rape survivor will always be with me, wedged into every human relationship I’ll ever have. I hope that I’ll be able to make love again, that someday that feeling of betrayal and violation won’t slip into my mind whenever I’m naked with someone. Some days, I can’t imagine what that might be like. But some days I can.
The thing about being raped is that it comes on slowly. First you realize that it was wrong. Then it’s everything you can do to hold on to the edges of the pit, but they’re made of sand and there are teeth down there and the edges crumble and you can’t catch any footholds on the rocks and things and then you’re in it and your whole identity has changed. No, that’s not quite right either. It’s not just you that’s changed; the world has changed, too. Things that were simple (getting out of bed, showering, eating breakfast, walking to class) are now complicated. I’d been depressed before, but nothing like this.
When I was eighteen years old a man raped me. I have survived sexual violence. But that is not all that I am. I am beautiful and good. I walked across England by myself. Last summer my legs and heart propelled me along 1700 miles of backroads on a bicycle. I’m dating again, and each time it’s a little less weird. Just a few weeks ago I stood on a stage in front of 125 people and faux-orgasmed 22 times in a row. I’m getting Ellie back, piece by piece. It’s not quite the same me as before, but I’m stronger where the cracks meet. I’ve had to fight for my sexuality, so I love it all the more. I read really hard books and talk about them with other smart people. I bake bread and dice onions and sing real loud to “Cowboy Take Me Away.” The girl I was before is gone, not dead exactly, but trapped in amber like an insect caught in that last violent struggle, the image sepia and faint. I’m filling out the bravery in the new woman that I am. And I like who she is.
I’m in the Health Center for a week, a mysterious virus causing sores to break out on the inside of my throat and none of the nurses and doctors can figure it out. The sores rub together when I swallow, cough, and speak. Sometimes they rupture and I gag on the pus that runs down my throat. It’s not an STI, just some weird virus because when you are raped everything shuts down, including your immune system.
8. We break up.You say you often felt pressured, obligated to touch me. I’m struck by how afraid we both were to say no, eclipsed by our mutual reluctance to recognize emotion. My body dries up and becomes concave.
Thread Count 1. It was pouring rain; we were standing between the Douglas Firs. I wanted to kiss you so badly but was too terrified.You leaned down to meet my face. I turn away and the gortex of my raincoat meets your lips. It kept pouring.
Our bodies avoid each other.
10. I come up from being blacked out and find myself pressed against the bar with someone I have never seen before and don’t know the name of. The next morning I take what feels like the longest shower of my life. No matter how many times I brush my teeth, I smell and taste like the night before. My lips, breasts, and clit are bruised.
2. It takes me more beers than I can count and several hits from the complicated Ecuadorian bong to muster up the courage to talk to you about us.You suggest we go somewhere more private. Our bodies press against each other in a drunken mess of limbs, tongues, and spilled beer.
11. It’s autumn. There are leaves and pumpkins and you. Finally, we kiss for the first time. Every time, we’re sober. I smell you on my fingertips in the morning and it is the most incredible thing.
3. The next time, we’re lying in the grass- I think it might have been a Sunday.Your body is rigid, nervous, and your hands stay glued to the middle of my back. These kisses are sober, timid, and gentle. I tell you that you can touch me places other than just my back.Your hand moves under my dress and into my underwear and I’m not ready for it. I like you so much, so much more than I think you like me, and I don’t want to do anything that will make you leave. I don’t say no. I don’t say anything, actually. My body falls silent in pain and resignation.
12. But sometimes, I still feel like I can’t say no. I still feel ugly. I feel the force of you pushing me into so many things I don’t want, am not ready for. 13. I say it. No. I end things. I am standing up for myself. This has never happened before. 14. The first and only time, we’re in a bathroom stall. Consent precedes each caress. I pull you towards me.You taste like sweet anticipation and excitement.
4. Your bed is where I both find and lose myself. Every touch seems contradictory- when you touch my scars, my stretch marks, my hips- I feel ugly and beautiful. The dark red silk sheets of your bed mock my naked body, how vulnerable I’ve made myself.You pass out with your tongue still in my mouth and your hand around my breast. I pull away and walk back to my room.
It comes in waves. Sometimes I sink back in, and feel myself slipping into darkness. But I’ve found how to say no; and yes; and please; and stop; and more. I’m speaking against my own silences and it seems hard to stay lost. Powerful and illuminated, I’m learning to love myself.
5. I am enveloped in the singularity of loving you. I dismiss my long list of doubts and shake off the logic that governs so much of my life. I pretend to not be questioning my sexuality, to not be constantly living in fear of us breaking up, to not be so in love with you that I am ignoring how incapable I am of loving myself. 6. The silences crush me. The intimacies, fears, and what I think are failings weigh on me, push my sense of self to a place I can’t find, don’t know. 7. I can count the number of nights when we were both sober on one hand. Do you remember the night before the start of second semester? Our bodies didn’t even touch, only our lips and hands. For once it feels like you actually want to touch me.
Coming of age Once, my mother told me about the nice boy who took her on a date in high school, who drove her home and then shoved his hand down her jeans in the front seat of his truck. She told me how she slammed the door hard and ran. Later, I hardly remember the story, but remember exactly the motion of her hand towards an imagined groin and the terror in her urgent voice, two decades later. I remember sharply what she did not say: I didnâ€™t tell anyone.
These are the fairytales I write for my mother I wish you would dust off your watercolors and paint yourself out of the kitchen. I want you to recognize that the chocolate cake in the freezer, no matter what Good Housekeeping tells us, is neither our destruction nor our salvation, but just a pastry. I want you to let your strong back wilt to wail and weep for the homes youâ€™ve left behind. I secretly hope that when I leave the house you are making wild love with your husband. I wish, sometimes, that you were screaming in joy.
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Walla Walla Resources for Survivors
Walla Walla Police Department 15 N. 3rd Ave 911 (Emergency) (509) 527-1960 (Non-Emergency)
Walla Walla YWCA
213 S. 1st Ave (509) 529-9922 -24 hour hotline -Medical, legal, and court advocacy -Safe temporary shelter.
Providence Saint Mary Hospital 401 W. Poplar Street (509) 525-3320 -Rape kits -Emergency health care
Walla Walla General Hospital 1025 S. 2nd Ave (509) 525-0480 -Rape kits -Emergency health care
Whitman Counseling Center
402 Boyer Ave (509) 527-5195 -Free, confidential counseling -Not required to report an incident to the Dean of Students
828 S. 1st Street (509) 529-3570 -Comprehensive reproductive health services including emergency contraception (Plan B), sexually transmitted infection testing & treatment, and HIV/AIDS testing and counseling.
Welty Health Center
11 Merriam Street (509) 527-5295 -24/7 medical care during academic year -Pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and HIV testing -Emergency contraception (Plan B) -Referal for advocay and support services -Referrals to area hospitals for forensic evidence collection -Safe place to spend the night -Not required to report an incident to the Dean of Students
Rm. 117 Memorial Hall (509) 527-5777 -Information about filing a criminal or College complaint -Will contact the police, if requested. -Safety escorts between 7pm-1am during the academic year. -Will report incidents of sexual misconduct to the Dean of Students Office
Sexual Misconduct Prevention Coordinator, Barbara Maxwell Reid, Rm. 202 (509) 527-5208 (w) (509) 529-1082 (h) email@example.com -Confidential help reporting the incident to Whitman and/ or the police -Can advise during the sexual misconduct hearing process -Assist with alternative campus housing requests, academic assistance requests, and college no-contact agreements -Not required to report an incident to the Dean of Students
Rape Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) 24/7 Hotline www.rainn.org