The Tiny Fire That’s Burning Rape Culture Down

For me, the most potent things to come out of the Brock Turner rape case was the letter from the victim.

It is one of the most powerful pieces on rape culture I have ever read. I won’t diminish it by cherry-picking parts of it. It needs to be read in full, and in one sitting.

She told Buzzfeed:

“Even if the sentence is light, hopefully this will wake people up. I want the judge to know that he ignited a tiny fire. If anything, this is a reason for all of us to speak even louder.”

For women, she spoke from the heart of our collective female pain. Because if you are a woman, you are a victim of rape. You might not have been pummeled behind a dumpster yet, but you have been victimized by rape culture before your boobs grow in.

We all know intuitively what sexual shame does to a man. It can make him impotent, for one thing. We can see very clearly the psychological effects of fear and shame and guilt on a man’s sexuality. That’s why we protect them from it. That’s probably a big part of this unconscious movement towards protecting Brock Turner, especially from his parents. Sexuality is a touchy thing, and shame can make it really weird.

From the get-go, women don’t have any protection. From a very young age, girls are forced to swim in sexual shame. Our innocent photos of our pre-pubescent selves in bikinis on Facebook get really weird responses. From all corners, mothers, too, saying, “that’s disgusting that you should sexualize a little girl by putting her in a bikini,” while not seeing that the fact that they saw the little girl as sexual in the first place is where the problem lies.

Wear this, don’t wear that, be this, don’t be that, all the while being told tacitly, and blatantly, that our bodies incite men’s lust and we are responsible for them. The fear is real and it is immediate. From the first time you look up from your Judy Blume book and notice with a start that all the big, grown, hairy men are now looking at you weird, watching you walk down the street, smiling at you funny, the fear, the shame, and the panic sets in.

What does that do to a woman’s sexuality? Well, I’m just guessing, but it probably makes us impotent from the get-go. We see it in men, we see how even slight psychological pressure can cause male sexuality to withdraw. And in our society, this pressure is not slight. It’s ominous and ever-present. It’s on billboards and in the news. Be sexy, don’t be sexy, be beautiful, don’t be beautiful, be careful, don’t get raped, get raped and it’s your fault, and so on. The messages are loud but they all directly contradict each other. There is no way to do it right as a woman.

I don’t think we even know what female sexuality is anymore. It’s definitely not what you see in porn, anyway. Porn is very much the male ideal of what female sexuality is. It has some of the hallmarks, but my suspicion is that it is lacking their purpose. It’s a pantomime. The real guts and purpose is not there anymore.

I think our sexuality is much more playful than that, and has a lot more purpose than that. I think our sexuality can be used as a tool for healing. When a woman is allowed to deeply sink into her sexuality and not have it look a certain way, she will find herself in a myriad of postures, emotions, pain, and release. Our animal bodies have been so tortured, what usually comes up first is unfelt shuddering and anguish. But that’s not “sexy,” so we push that down. We try and give you what you want, and make it look how you want it to look. But when we really sink into our sexuality, our bodies first want to heal us before any pleasure can be felt. Anger, sadness, annoyance comes up, tears and shouting and shaking wants to be expressed. Because our sexuality has been so tied up for so long, our body memories urgently want to be released first before it can relax into pleasure.

That’s if we can get to that point. First, before we even get our clothes off, we must get past our ever-growing to-do list to fully be present in our bodies, and not in our worried thoughts.

And if we can manage that Herculean feat, we must get past our ever-present self-consciousness about our bodies. Just being naked is a challenge for a woman. We have been given so many specific messages by the time we turn of age about how each individual part of our bodies should look, and all of that cycles monotonously through our brain as soon as the clothes are off.

My hope for my daughter and for my son is that this recognition of rape culture and how diminished by shame a woman’s sexuality is before she even comes of age is the beginning of a re-birth of true feminine sexuality.

But first, we need male protectors to push back the weirdos and give us some space, because even spoken threats of rape are enough to scare our sexuality back into its cave. Like the two men on the bikes who helped the victim, we need all the healthy men to form a protective barrier.

We need all the healthy men to boom as one, “No. Don’t rape. Wrong. No excuses. Back off.”

We need the healthy men to understand how fragile our sexuality is, and to help keep us safe from the unhealthy predatory ones. We need them to say loudly — Don’t trick them, neg them, or guilt them into sex. That’s so wrong. How are we to ever know what true female sexuality is if women are being forced to bowl up a pretend version just for men’s pleasure? Let the women come to you. Let the women lead you. Because only women know where and what female sexuality is. You can’t force it like you can’t force a flower to bloom. Let them lead us home.

It’s up to us, all healthy men and women, to flame that tiny spark into a giant pyre, and burn this rape culture down.

[Image via Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office via AP]

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