***This post from 2013 was included in my latest book,
AMERICAN WOMAN The Poll Dance: Women And Voting .
I read a fantastic blog about what it’s like for women in our rape culture. The author of the post brings up the point that when a single woman goes on a date with a man she doesn’t know well, she sometimes has thoughts or takes precautions that a man would never even have to think about.
“When I go on a date, I always leave the man’s full name and contact information written next to my computer monitor. This is so the cops can find my body if I go missing. My best friend will call or e-mail me the next morning, and I must answer that call or e-mail before noon-ish, or she begins to worry. If she doesn’t hear from me by three or so, she’ll call the police. My activities after dark are curtailed. Unless I am in a densely-occupied, well-lit space, I won’t go out alone. Even then, I prefer to have a friend or two, or my dogs, with me. Do you follow rules like these?
So when you, a stranger, approach (sic) me, I have to ask myself: Will this man rape me?”
Her blog made me start to think about my experiences. I have never actually thought about this in an organized way before and as I started to, I was flooded with different memories. The idea that by simply going out, for what would hopefully be a fun romantic evening, could turn into a situation where I am raped, drugged, assaulted, murdered or all of the above, made me feel angry, sad and resentful. How many of the men I dated had these fears about me? I am guessing none of them did.
When I was 25, I was an aspiring actress and met a man who said he was casting a film that would shoot in Europe. As he strung along a group of actresses and had them believe this movie venture was legitimate (it was not and that came out later), he made it clear that I was the favorite and I was in the lead for the starring role. I went back and forth with him for at least a month. After we had met several times in a fancy hotel lobby & restaurant (The Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles), he called me very early one Sunday morning. It must have been 4 a.m., and he told me that “The Italians” who were funding the film were flying in and wanted to meet me as soon as possible. The meeting was to take place in his hotel suite. Immediately in my groggy state, I had images of my dead, bloody, ravaged body swimming through my head. I saw the headlines, “Young Actress Killed Because She Met A Producer In Hotel Room.” “Tragic Murder Of Aspiring Actress At The Century Plaza Hotel.” I called my mother and expressed concern. I wasn’t sure if this movie was a real thing but figured that I needed to pursue it because if it was, it would have been an amazing experience, and in Hollywood, you never know. So after discussing it with my mother, we agreed that she would accompany me to the hotel. We alerted the hotel staff of what was happening. Now, think if this were a man in my place. Would he have been worried? Called his mother? Taken precautions with the hotel staff? Probably not.
I have also attempted online dating. On the RARE occasions that I met someone for a drink or dinner, I have taken their name, phone number and as much information as I could find with online searches and then made sure that at least two people had the information before I went out. I also made sure to meet the man in a public place and avoided underground/covered parking structures if at all possible—this I do anyway. The enclosed parking structure is a very scary place for a woman. I took precautions before I went out. I did research. When a man meets a woman online, does he do the same? Does he alert his family and friends in case he winds up dead at the hands of his date? Probably not.
The last story I’ll share is about an evening I was out with my best girlfriend, who is also an actress. We were at a trendy coffee shop in Hollywood after hours. A group of us were sitting and talking. She and I were the only two women. There were about four or five men. My friend was talking about how she applied her make-up. The men were interested and paying attention. She is quite beautiful and she was being somewhat seductive and theatrical as she described how she applied eyeliner and mascara. It was clear she had a captivated audience. As she demonstrated the final touch of her make-up routine, I fell into a literal fear spiral of paranoia. She showed the young men how, after she applied lipstick, she would put her thumb in her mouth and would pull it out slowly so that excess lipstick wouldn’t get on her teeth. When she pulled her thumb out, she did so very slowly to the point that I almost crapped my pants. The men were obviously turned on and I was CONVINCED the deal was sealed. This would be the night I would be gang-raped. There was no question in my mind. If they wanted to hurt us, it would have been very easy. We were in a locked coffee shop late at night. She didn’t say anything sexual and didn’t offer to have sex but her delivery—performance—was very sexual (think Madonna-esque) and I was petrified. Does this mean she was asking for it? Did this performance make her a slut? Did we deserve to be raped or killed because she was flirting and showing off for attention? How would men feel if the situation were reversed—a group of women talking with two men? One of the men struts his stuff or flirts in a suggestive way. Does his male friend automatically assume he will be gang raped? Probably not.
Women have a unique circumstance in the world. We know that not all men are a danger, but we don’t know which ones are dangerous, so we have to be cautious. We have a lot more to think about, worry about and fear in the most common, daily situations.
One might easily say, “Well, you should have never been in that coffee shop situation.” Who would give a man that advice? I can actually see men encouraging other men to hang out with a group of women. We happened to be there at the close of the shop and we knew some the waiters and we were having fun so we decided to stay. Is that risky behavior? Was our choice to stay slutty? And why is it always the woman’s responsibility to make sure we are the ‘good girls’ and the ‘smart girls’ who don’t stay out late or park in enclosed structures???
We have accepted this for too long, and we need to work together to make as many common sense changes as possible. We will never be a society or culture without rape and violence, but we can improve the system and the most important start is to STOP BLAMING WOMEN! Stop putting all the responsibility on women. Men need to take on this responsibility as well, and men need to be vocal to their male friends and to their daughters and not worry that they will be criticized by the Neanderthals who see this as weak. If for NO THER REASON, daughters are raped. Daughters are abused. Sisters, mothers, friends, cousins and so on. Be vocal. Talk about it and make sure that when you hear your male friend making a bad joke or making a statement about how she deserved it, CALL HIM OUT. Tell him it isn’t cool and you don’t accept that attitude. What is stopping you? Fear of being called weak or a wuss? Think about it.
Why—when a woman is raped and then blamed for “asking for it” because she wore a low cut blouse—aren’t men outraged at the implication they are unable to control themselves at the sight of cleavage? That IS the implication. According to American rape culture and the flawed legal system, men are beasts with no sexual or violent self-control when they see a woman in tight pants. I don’t see enough men being vocal about this either and it’s a damn shame. Thank you to the men who are vocal. Men are also victims of rape, and the only way we are going to get some control and reduce the number of rapes is to be informed, vocal and to vote for politicians who prove they are working to make the necessary changes to address these issues. This means VOTE PROGRESSIVE. Republicans are having a very difficult time proving they will do anything at all to move the country in a forward direction. They voted against the Violence Against Women Act. They think there is something called ‘legitimate’ rape and that rape babies are gifts from God. They think rape kits terminate rape pregnancies, and that women have a natural, biological ability to shut down a rape pregnancy. That’s a big fat fail. FAIL!
When I posted the blog on Facebook, there were a couple of men who identify as progressive liberals who took offense and claimed that it is the women who need to be cautious. Yes, we do need to make smart decisions, but again, why is it only the responsibility of the woman NOT TO GET RAPED OR KILLED? If you are a man who feels this way, your logic is flawed and slanted toward the idea that men are in charge and women must obey and deal with the fact that men are just going to rape and commit violence and we all need to get used to it because that’s the nature of the male of the species. I don’t for one minute believe that to be the case and neither should you.
We need change. We need more progressive women to create legislation that makes it more difficult to get away with violent sexual crime and harsher penalties for those who are guilty. We need men to step up to the plate here and take on the responsibility of sending a clear message to their sons, daughters, friends and family. It’s the coward who chooses to say nothing.