There is an older news story that I’ve wanted to talk about and not wanted to talk about, all at the same time. Search Prep School Rape Trial and you’ll come up with plenty of reading material. Whether or not you want it is a different question. This article posted in the NY Daily News specifically addresses the victim’s testimony, testimony which was parsed in various and assorted comment threads and used to cast doubt on whether or not justice was served.
Although I’m inclined to believe the girl, I have biases. I was that girl myself. My molester – not rapist – had that same over-sized brown hair. Clearly, I’m coming from an angle. Full disclosure, etc.
A common thread between many of these stories that have been in the news is what these girls do in the aftermath… Text messages between the girls and their accused rapists that are conciliatory or downright friendly, which are later used by the alleged perpetrators and the media as evidence that nothing bad happened. But having those kinds of post-trauma interactions with someone who hurt you totally makes sense, so long as you put it into context of what it means to be raised in female gender norms.
To be more specific, I’m talking about white middle class Christian female gender norms. The reason why I’m talking about white middle class Christian female gender norm training is because I can only speak from my experience. There are cultural nuances here and I don’t want to overstretch my understanding to encompass a cultural upbringing that I didn’t have. I suspect there are similarities, and I don’t want to exclude anyone who recognizes my experience, but I also don’t want to presume…
The pressure to be nice trumps everything. From birth, you get told to be nice when you want your boundaries, when you want to say “this toy belongs to me and I’m not going to share it with you.” You are told to hug people that make you uncomfortable, you are taught to shut up when someone says something you disagree with. You are praised when you sit in the corner in your little white dress, quietly, and color within the lines. Your parents say indulgently, proudly, how they could forget you are there, you’re so good. So quiet. So obedient. So nice. Your primary tool for self defense by the time you get to be a teenager is to make people like you. Your secondary defense is to make yourself small. The worst thing you can be is a bitch. You are trained from birth to put other people first, to not make a fuss. You are ultimately prized for your obedience, for your politeness, for being easy going, easy to get along with, easy to raise.
Isn’t it asking a bit much of our girls to stand up for themselves, to kick and scream, to make a fuss, to be disobedient, to be a bitch, to defend their boundaries… when there hasn’t been a single opportunity to practice these skills, a single instance where any of these behaviors were praised?
This girl didn’t want to be impolite.
As adults, we think “well, that just doesn’t make sense, that you’d be so polite you wouldn’t scratch the eyes out of someone who was trying to penetrate you when you didn’t want to be penetrated.”
But it does. Because where would she have practiced being impolite? When was she ever allowed to say no? When was she ever praised for setting boundaries and sticking with them?
As adults, we think “why would anyone communicate with their attacker in a friendly way?”
And the answer is because the only control girls in this framework are given is the ability to make things better by making people like them, by building and reinforcing relationships. We think, well, maybe if he genuinely likes me, then maybe this will be okay. I imagine this is a particularly common feeling in the immediate aftermath, anything to reassert some kind of control over what’s just happened to you. It was certainly one of my first reactions.
As adults, we think “why would anyone put off reporting over a graduation when they’d just been violated?”
Because girls are trained from the beginning to think of others, to put other people before themselves.
It takes time to grow into yourself, time to understand that you can establish boundaries and insist that other people respect them. Time to say no and not feel like a bitch. Hell, I’m still not 100% there yet and I’ve got 20 years on this girl who is being destroyed in the comments sections of many a blog for not knowing how to say no in a way that the commentators deem forceful enough to be believable.
There were only two people there, one with more incentive to lie about what happened than the other. She doesn’t get anything out of reporting the event or even the trial. Indeed, at least in the short term, she is better served by keeping a wretched experience private. At least that way, no one can add insult to injury by saying all the things that people seem to feel free to say on the internet. He has a great deal to lose in this process… I can only assume that being a registered sex offender isn’t great for one’s career prospects. The jury came back with its findings, I don’t really want to get into a debate about who was right or who was wrong.
There are just two things I want to say. One, her behavior makes sense in the context of being brought up as a girl in a society that still isn’t particularly kind to the xx who is unapologetic for demanding autonomy over her person. Two, please can we stop raising our girls xx’s as if “nice” were the only virtue available? That way, when they come across someone who thinks that they have a right to the xx body whether that xx agrees or not, they’ve said no before. And been heard. Believed. Respected for it.