I don’t know much about Bristol Palin (‘cept I heard she did something weird to her chin lately?), but I did read about her experience of losing her virginity, via Persephone.
I may not know much about Bristol Palin, but I do know about not rape.
I’m guessing I know as much about not rape as every other woman. You know, too.
Those incidents in which, whatever else may or may not be true, consent is not freely given by the woman, but neither is it expressly not given. Those situations where the equation is not ‘I want to = consent’ but is torn and complicated until the actual equation is twisted beyond all recognition, but can be read as ‘I didn’t want to = consent, because I couldn’t, didn’t know how to stop it and didn’t even know I should try‘.
As a child, as a teenager, I stumbled along the path to sexual maturity with as little knowledge about what consent really meant as any woman. Incident upon incident of utterly normal experiences that were more or less distasteful to me, sure, but which it never, not once, occured to me to object to, not even on an experience-by-experience basis never mind on a this-whole-thing-is-fucked-up basis.
Experiences which left me feeling weird and disconnected but which were entirely within what I had learnt – by cultural osmosis – were normal.
Experiences I wasn’t sure I wanted to have at that time, with that person, and which, some way through, I just wanted to end, all the while understanding that it wasn’t for me to end them.
Experiences which I had learnt were how sexual experiences were for girls. We weren’t supposed to want them, despite what may or may not have been stirring in our underwear. Our own stirrings were, according to the model taught, irrelevant.
Girls couldn’t want these experiences, that wasn’t allowed, but we had to have them if we thought it was necessary; necessary to avoid being frigid, but without being a slag. It was a fine line which was impossible to walk, but which girls had to walk nonetheless.
This – this pressure, this coersion, this mocking, this assault – was just the way it was for girls. Girls didn’t want sex, boys did. Girls did what boys wanted whilst trying to stay on the tightrope of what was necessary.
And still, this is just the way it is for girls. Still, still, still girls are taught only one thing: they are to resist sexual adventures otherwise they are sluts, but they have to accept sexual adventures otherwise they are frigid. The model is resistance, then collapse. But only in the right circumstances, tut tut.
It is the way of things, they are taught.
It took me until my early thirties – way after my full conversion to feminism – to finally see my early sexual incidents for what they were. They were acts inflicted upon me. Acts which I knew I had to resist just as I knew I had to capitulate to them. But object to this rock-and-a-hard-place shit? Well, that took me a long time to realise.
I forgive my slow realisation. Uncontested paradigms are fucking difficult things to see through. Fish live in water without once thinking, Fuck, I’m wet. Like the time I, aged five, stood on a wasp and my grandma, who just happened to be making Yorkshire pudding, lovingly applied the batter mix to the sole of my foot, having told me (and ergo convinced me totally) , that Yorkshire pudding batter healed wasp stings. Years and years and years after a time when, had I given it a moment’s thought, I would have realised instantly that she was fibbing, I still held the idea in my head that Yorkshire pudding batter healed wasp stings. You trust in something and you believe in it totally until someone calls it different and you actually think about it, connect the dots in your head, and the scales fall from your eyes.
These sexual experiences weren’t rape, not by any legal definition and not by my own definition and not by the definition of millions of women and girls who are having them still, and who still have no words to describe them. Whatever you are willing to call them, however, is almost less important than what they were not.
And what they were not was about me. They were not about my sexuality, not about my sexual blooming. My sexual journey began and ended with knowing when to say yes while trying to still say no. They were not about my desire, my emotions, my life.
They had nothing to do with me. What is really fucked up is that it never occured to me that they should.
In her review of (among others) Caitlin Moran’s new book, How to be a Woman , Zoe Williams, says:
‘It ought to be obvious, beyond remarking, that a woman should be able to sleep with whom she wants, when she wants, as often as she wants, without danger and without shame.’
Which is laughable given how non-obvious that idea currently is, but it is also a beautiful thought, simply expressed, isn’t it?
But here’s the kicker to what is such a simple and beautiful thought: girls and young women are not, either in our society or elsewhere, given the tools to understand the underlying basis of that concept. They are not taught to understand how to want.
Nothing in what they learn teaches girls to think through exactly what it means, in a sexual context, to want something. They are taught instead that ‘wanting sex’ is about wanting many things but it is not about wanting sex. She ‘wants sex’ because otherwise she’s the only virgin in her class, or because she knows having sex makes her look ‘hot’, or because her boyfriend will dump her if she doesn’t. Or she doesn’t ‘want sex’ because then she’s a sl*t (quite, quite different to looking ‘hot’), or because her father will kill her if she does, or because she may get pregnant.
Because of any of a million extraneous reasons, a girl’s want of sex is not about ‘want’ at all. It is about not wanting. Not wanting to be a sl*t, not wanting to be frigid, not wanting to be different. Not only is Williams’ idea not the way ‘people’ think, it’s not even the way girls themselves think. It especially isn’t the way girls think – nobody polices teenaged girls’ sexuality like other teenaged girls.
We give them no instruction in how to remove all these extraneous considerations from a desicion as to desire. How to boil it down, clarify what their actual desire is, when the impurities of cultural mores are removed. Hell, we don’t even teach them that they should desire. We resolutely do not teach them how to say, I want this sexual experience because I desire the experience – this act with this person at this time – and I shall be joyful in it and it will reward me with not only sexual pleasure but with a deeper understanding of both myself and my desire.
Teaching Boogie and (and L’il Boo), the basic in-and-outs of sex education concerns me not at all. I’ll teach them, they’ll learn. Fuck, it’s biology, they’ll learn that by themselves, whichever way their biology takes them. Teaching them about the whole fucked up mess of girls’ sexuality is where my teaching resources will be going. My daughter will not grow up accepting these experiences. She just won’t, goddammit. She’ll kick not rape in the fucking throat and go about her business.