I’m not going to get political. I’m just going to tell some true stories.
Back in the Ice Age when I was a senior in high school, my friend and I provided entertainment at a fundraiser dinner for a Masonic girls’ organization, held on the grounds of the Masonic Lodge in San Marcos, Texas.
After we did our part, we were sitting at a picnic table enjoying plates of barbecue when a man sat down beside us and complimented us on our singing. He complimented us a lot. We smiled and thanked him, and so forth.
He had white hair and was probably in his sixties–ancient, to a couple of eighteen-year-olds–and he was also drunk.
In the course of the conversation, he said he was passing through town, and he would like us to bring our guitars to his motel room and sing for him. He asked us several times.
We said that would be very nice, but no, we couldn’t–we had to get on home. Sorry. We said that several times.
We did get on home, and on the way, we laughed and laughed. We were not accustomed to being propositioned.
Note: If the older man had been a younger man, we still wouldn’t have gone.
But if we had, there would have been a difference.
If we’d run into trouble in the older man’s room, people might have believed and supported us.
If we’d gone with a young man and run into trouble, they might not have believed us–or, if they had believed us, they might have said it was our fault, that we should have known better, that we’d gone to his room because we wanted what we got, that we’d asked for it, that we were, among other things, sluts.
My friend and I thought the picnic proposition funny because we were members of a Masonic group, the most conservative girls’ organization imaginable–we weren’t allowed to wear strapless formals (even spaghetti straps were suspect), slacks, or shorts at functions–and we were on Masonic property, chaperoned by Masonic adults. We thought the man was just tipsy, and he seemed nice, so it didn’t mean anything. And it might not have. But we should have mentioned it to one of the adults in charge.
Three years later, Janie, my college roommate, came in from a date. I was already in bed, awake but not inclined to start a conversation. She sat down on her bed and breathed as if she’d been running a marathon. I turned on the light and asked what was wrong.
Her date had tried to rape her.
Some background: It was their first date, they’d met through friends, and they’d gone to Austin, about thirty miles away, for dinner. On the way back, they stopped at his motel just outside of town so she could use the bathroom. When she came out, he was lying on the bed, naked.
She said all the words that mean No–a shocked, unmistakable No–and he grabbed her. A wrestling match ensued. She told me she’d vowed never to use her knee on anyone, but she used it. He got dressed and brought her back to the dorm, all the while telling her she’d asked for it, she’d given all the signals that she wanted it, and on and on and on.
I’d gotten to know Janie well over the year. I couldn’t imagine her giving signals. She was attractive, dressed in the fashion of the day but modestly, and was friendly and outgoing, but I never saw or heard that her relationships were anything her ultraconservative parents wouldn’t have approved of. The one blip: one boyfriend had hit her, but she broke up with him immediately afterward.
So how did she “ask for it”? She asked to stop to use the bathroom. It was several miles through town to the dorm, and public restrooms then were located at the poorly lighted sides of service stations; most weren’t especially clean. Her date’s motel, located on the sparsely populated interstate, was on the route to the dorm. It was conveniently placed and had a clean bathroom, which she needed then, not fifteen or twenty minutes later. Those were the only signals it took for him to strip off his clothes and blame her for making him do it.
I don’t know who else Janie told, but she didn’t tell the police: attempted rape, unreported.
Twelve years later–well past the Ice Age–following an evening interdisciplinary graduate course in women’s studies, female professors divided students according to where our cars were parked and we walked together to our cars. There’d recently been some rapes on campus, the profs said. The week before, the college newspaper had quoted the campus police chief on the topic: there had been no rapes on campus. Why the disparity? Because the girls hadn’t reported them.
I’ve known one nineteen-year-old who walked off a new job because her boss put his hand down the front of her blouse; a twenty-something chaperone on a religious retreat for teens who was accosted between the campfire and her cabin by a pillar of the church and who had to wrestle and run to get away; a forty-something wife and mother who was grabbed in a workplace storeroom, within hearing distance of co-workers, and who had to wrestle, quietly, to get away.
The first woman didn’t tell because she knew nobody would have cared; the man had the power, she had none, and she might as well quit and go home. The third woman told me, well after the incident occurred, but otherwise kept it to herself because if her husband found out, he might take matters into his own hands.
The second did tell. She and her husband spoke to the pastor and other leaders of their church, which had sponsored the retreat. They were told their problem was that they they didn’t contribute enough money to the church; not giving enough made them unhappy. They found a new church. The wife told me she was scared when the man grabbed her, and she worried about teenage girls on future retreats he chaperoned.
Another minister’s view on the topic:
In a blog post “Women Are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men),” missionary Jonathan Trotter writes
“I grew up learning of the guy’s responsibility to not look, and that’s great, but what I really heard A LOT about was the girl’s responsibility to not be looked at. Practically speaking, this is just really stupid. And it’s offensive, because it’s basically saying that guys can’t help themselves and we need women to save us from our own animalistic urges. “Please, ladies, put this blanket on.”
“Seriously, men? Give it up and guard your own heart. Not.Her.Job. You cannot blame your lust on a woman. Ever. Period. If you walk down the street by her house late at night and “fall into temptation,” that’s on you, man. I don’t care what she was wearing or if she came after you buck naked. Man up and run away.”
He says a lot more than that–the entire post is worth reading–but the above message bears repeating.
Or not the end, because there’s more of this to come.
Image of guitar by congerdesign, CC0, via Pixabay.