Note: this is possibly the first time in years I had to get someone to read something for me before I posted it.
I'm probably going to say this wrong.
I'm getting more and more wary with each time the word 'strength' comes up in relation to victims of sexual crime in this post (Triggery, and warning for comments) and this post (Triggery, and also disgusting). By wary, I mean pissed off.
Strength of character really has shit to do with how you handle being sexually propositioned/sexually assaulted/raped. And maybe this is totally defensive of me, but I'm pretty sure I was filled with strength of character, and I still shut down when I was drunk and a guy shoved his hand down my jeans and into my underwear. Come on, fuck that bullshit, I was eighteen and I was drunk, but I was in a safe space in my own hotel room with my best friend on the other bed and this still happened and I still blanked out on what the hell I was supposed to do with this. Hand. Underwear. How did this happen?
Assault and weakness, coercion and weakness, aren't synonymous. I will happily listen while people talk about how they are stronger than they were the say x happen and I get that, I do, and I support it and I support them; they are stronger because of it. But I was pretty strong, and I was pretty good at saying no, and I'm five foot ten and I know perfectly well how to use my height to intimidate, and I know how to express utter disinterest and repugnance with my body language and I know how to close my legs. I know how to kick and how to scream and that day, at some point that night, I remembered how to stand up, go to the bathroom, and lock the door. Then I remembered how to get in an elevator (I'm severely claustrophobic) and ride it up and down until i thought just maybe, he wouldn't find me. Or I'd find somewhere that wasn't there.
I'm a woman; that means I've been trained all my life on how to avoid being sexually assaulted. I could PhD in it, in how to avoid, get away, get help, i know this shit cold. And yet.
It still took five minutes for me to do that and that's four minutes and fifty-nine seconds I can't account for.
I really wasn't upset after. I mean, sincerely, I hardly thought about it, ever, at all; it's funny. When I talked about this, this was my punchline, my joke, I made it for years and years until I stopped talking about it at all, when I was in Dallas this guy stuck his hand down my jeans while I was drunk and I ended up in the elevator and I'm claustrophobic! I did it for the claustrophobia bit; everyone always laughed. It's hilarious, honestly; if you've traveled with me, you know my love of stairs.
Now skip that.
It was maybe five minutes or less; I mean, five minutes is no time at all, really, it's like, the time it takes to cook two hot pockets. I couldn't think of anything. I don't know why I froze, I don't know why everything stopped, I don't know why I didn't pull his hand out of my jeans and strangle him, I don't remember being afraid, or upset, or angry, or anything. And on the scale from propositioned to torture-rape, it's like, barely a blip, five minutes. And it couldn't have been longer, he didn't even kiss me, unbutton my jeans, take off my shirt, my roommate would have noticed if had been longer, surely she would have.
The thing is, people who come out of a sexual assault are stronger than they were, but they sure as fuck didn't always start from a place of weakness. You freeze, you panic, you stop thinking and maybe when you can again, when it sinks in--he has his hand. in. my. underwear. wtf?--you can still get away. And then again--work with me here, five minutes--maybe it's too late and you can't. Five minutes, two hot pockets, and that was plenty of time to get my jeans down enough. It's forever.
You weren't, they weren't, we weren't hurt because of our skirt, the alley, our body language, alcohol, smiling, dancing, singing, or because we were weak and say that last part twice because it needs saying, we were not weak; it was because someone hurt us.
We were stronger afterward, right, but we were strong before, too.
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