The one striking thing I take away from the slogan No Means No is that it’s aimed at the perpetrator, not the victim. It attempts to give victims some power in what is a powerless situation. No-one who is raped is to blame. Blame should always rest with the person who forcefully makes someone engage in a sex act they do not want to take part in. Sadly, often rape is between people who know each other. Often, it’s in the safety of the victim’s home. Due to mainstream media, protective parenting (of which I also engage) and shallow commentary, the notion of a “rape victim” is often firmly attached to the image of a drunk, young women, stumbling along dark streets alone, in short skirts and high heels. This does a number of things – makes rape seem avoidable if you “curb your ways”, puts the blame firmly on the victim’s shoulders and paints a picture of all rape victims as sluts. The main problem with that is – rape is not avoidable, it is never the victim’s fault and quite often the victim is not walking alone, wearing a short skirt or drunk. I’m not saying rape doesn’t occur under these circumstances as it does, but for the majority of women it doesn’t and for those women, they are too scared to come forward because they fear the judgement that comes with it. The notion that they somehow asked for it, or could have stopped it or they are dirty ho bags. It doesn’t help them, the ones who need the most help – it shames them. And for those who were drunk in a dark spot, alone, who were raped – it was not their fault either. It was the rapist’s fault. Full stop.
I have three girls. I am terrified for them all of the time. I spend much of my time trying to wrap them in cottonwool. My days are filled with statements of protection – stop at the curb, don’t touch that, watch out for the bees, put your sunscreen on. As they get older, the sentiment changes. As they get older I’ll introduce concepts of stranger danger and not letting anyone touch their special body parts. I’ll tell them no means no – whether it be someone trying to kiss them or ask them to do something against the law.
I will tell my girls my stories of how as a teenager at an underage disco, a boy I knew led me to a sheltered area next to a dark building and pulled my pants down. How he lay on top of me and whispered “Is it in yet?” and how I nodded (when I knew it wasn’t). How he thought we’d had sex, but we hadn’t. I’d tell them I was ashamed and how I told my friends what had happened while heaving with tears. I’ll tell them that when I did lose my virginity at the age of 18, I did so because I felt like a bit of loser, as I thought all of my friends had already lost their virginity, so I decided to let a more experienced man have sex with me. Of how I fully consented, but was too embarrassed to tell him I was a virgin and how it was woefully bad. I’ll tell them how I didn’t see him again after that and thought it was because I was lame in bed and how it took me a long time to feel comfortable to try it again. I’ll explain to them how I then embarked on a period of time that I drunk heavily and would go home with different men all of the time. How many of them I couldn’t even tell you their names. How sex was fun. How I often put myself in what could be considered dangerous and compromising situations. How I also took lsd and drove cars drugged and was a passenger in cars with people stoned out of their brains. I will tell them all of those things. I will tell them how very lucky I was not to die or be raped or kill someone myself or get a std. I will tell them not to get into cars with drunk people, not to get drugs off a stranger and never to go home with someone you don’t know without telling someone else first.
I will also warn them that there are men out there who will not listen to the words “no means no”. How no matter what you are wearing or where you go or however well you know them, that a lot still needs to be done to stop some men from raping women. I will also tell them how there are a lot of wonderful men out there. As they grow older, I will tell them that if anyone tries to touch them that they must speak up, that they must tell someone they trust or if they think one of of their friends has someone touching them that they must talk to us. I will also advise them not to walk alone down back alleyways, to always have a drinking or drug buddy and that they always stick together. I will try and protect them in that way as much as I will tell them not to jump off a jetty because of white pointer sharks. It makes me feel like I am doing my job as a mother, even though I know the risks are slim. Even though I know my argument is lacking and I am only feeding them my own fears. Even though I know a shark can come into shore and kill them just as easily. And if they do jump and a shark swallows them, it is the shark’s fault not their own for experiencing thrills. I can’t tell them to stop swimming, like I can’t lock my kids up at night. I want my kids to experience life.
I will also tell them that some men only want sex and that many women do too. And that’s ok. Sex is great, enjoy it, don’t be shamed into thinking otherwise. I will them to own their own sexuality, experiment, but to always be safe and always use protection. I will tell my girls to be safe as that is my perogative as a mother. But it’s also my responsibility to tell them that you can not protect against rape. That when someone is raped it is not their fault. That most often women are raped by someone they know and trust. I will tell them it is our responsibility as a society to teach men that they should never rape anyone – and that men are also raped and to always watch out for your male friends too. It is our responsibility as a society to talk about rape without ever blaming the victims, but instead provide better support for them. That there should be more discussions encouraging rehabilitation of offenders, all while ensuring better justice for victims.
We need to change the dialogue in order to truly change the actions of those men who think it ok to treat women (and men) so abhorrently. It is those discussions which will better protect our girls, not ones solely based on short skirts and drunken nights out.